Universal: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection

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zedz
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#51 Post by zedz » Thu Oct 06, 2005 6:12 pm

I first saw Vertigo in its 80s rerelease, and found it evocative and mysterious. When I saw it again in its 'restored' form, I was much less impressed, finding it far more ordinary and patchy (though still admirable in parts), lacking the subtlety and mystery that had been its dominant characteristics when I'd first seen it.

I assumed that the film was simply over-rated and that my taste had changed, since that first viewing had largely pre-dated my encounter with much European cinema, but since then the scary possibility has arisen that my reaction was occasioned by the deficiencies of the restoration. A brasher soundtrack would certainly destroy much of the dream-like mood I had expected to rediscover.

I think flixy has pinpointed the dangerous difference between "restoration" (returning a film to its original condition) and "renovation" (trying to make a film conform to contemporary presentation norms). Big studios continue in their idiotic assumption that there is a mass audience for old films so long as you can trick the stupider members of that audience that the film was made in the last ten years. I'd hoped that the advent of DVD had assisted the demise of some of the more egregious examples of this (such as colorisation), but it looks like it's just getting more insidious. Frankly, I don't see the need for beefed-up, remixed soundtracks, even as an option, but when it becomes the 'official' version (and the original film is allowed to fall into disrepair), that's appalling.

Titus
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#52 Post by Titus » Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:12 pm

Whoa there UncleHulot. Dave Kehr is one of the best film critics in America. His reaction might be a bit overstated but that could probably be attributed to the fact that he's one of the biggest champions of Hitchcock around (I believe he stated Vertigo was one of the greatest achievements of 20th century art). You're not going to provoke much of a stance against this sort of thing unless you can heap on some old-fashioned hyperbole.
Last edited by Titus on Fri Oct 07, 2005 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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david hare
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#53 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 07, 2005 12:03 am

Zedz and Titus are right.

The whole crummy truth of the "official" Vertigo and Rear Window masters now is that THIS is what people are supposed to think they should look like because they never saw them in any other form. I once again happily show my age - first saw Rear Window in a ragged from wear but still fine IB 35mm shown in academy ratio at the Paris Cinematheque in 1978 (when it was otherwise totally unavailable for copyright and other reasons - it knocked my socks off. ) The 83 reissue version and the subsequent Laserdisc were very attractive Eastman prints with nice fine grain, good contrast and detail and perfectly well balanced color. (I could kick myself for not keeping the LD.) The same year the Vertigo theatrical reissue with mono track, and in 1.78 (the correct ratio) also played convincingly For instance the graveyard scene didn't look buried in fog as it does on the DVD. Again colors were not startling but were balanced. (If you want to get an idea of the level of IB saturation have a close look at the Vertigo trailer on the DVD and compare the grab from the opening chase in it, to the movie. ) Along came a TV screening in Australia which was (off the record) from a 16mm collector's IB print, shown full frame (this was pre-digital TV) - even given analogue PAL TV standards then, it was beautiful and glowing. The LD around that time (an Eastman print also full frame) was, if not as richly saturated, still well color balanced. Then along came the theatrical resoration of the 90s with THAT soundtrack, and far far worse the manipulations of color, contrast, the graveyard scene with massive obscuring filtering etc. Both the opening chase with Scottie and the Belltower scene - theatrically - were almost too dark to make out detail. THe LD then "tweaked" a few of these things (although it neither addressed the original sountrack isue, or the overly dark final scene, for instance.)
Perhaps an even bigger shock was the 35mm Restoration print of Rear Window which I saw around 1997/98. Harris went to the trouble of printing it in the resurrected IB/dye transfer process (which has since been used with some new titles.) If I must be charitable I would credit the appalling image quality to the inadequate application of the printing process by whoever did it. The grain was simply overwhelming and the print looked like a 16mm blowup. The entire audience at my screening left the movie ashen faced. I heard someone say "Is THAT what Technicolor looks like?" Of course it never ever did. And the DVD replicates this awful experience.
As I said somewhere else - one could just go on and on about these two prints. And these are fucking preservation masters!

unclehulot
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#54 Post by unclehulot » Fri Oct 07, 2005 12:04 am

Titus wrote:Whoa there UncleHulot. Dave Kehr is one of the best film critics in America. His reaction might be a bit overstated but that could probably be attributed to the fact that he's one of the biggest champions of Hitchcock around (I believe he stated Vertigo was one of the greatest achievements of 20th century art). You're not going to going to provoke much of a stance against this sort of thing unless you can heap on some old-fashioned hyperbole.
It's not his standing as a critic I call into question, but the legwork, which is almost never done by the Times critics to critique VIDEO quality issues with any reasonable standard....comparing to previous versions, etc. They're just making up the vast majority of it. I shouldn't have just picked on him, however, and indeed, he does write well about FILMS.

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#55 Post by Doug Cummings » Fri Oct 07, 2005 1:45 am

I think Kehr in particular is making an effort to educate himself about the technology--he even quoted DVDBeaver in one of his columns recently. For an established critic, that's impressive. And although I haven't seen the new reissues, I don't doubt that he's exactly right about them. Does anyone want to claim his criticism of these transfers is wrong?

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david hare
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#56 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:00 am

Hulot, both Dave Kehr and A O Scott devote considerable time to discussions of video quality issues in their DVD columns for the NY Times every week. There is also no doubt they both owe a lot to websites like Beaver and indeed this very forum. And I would be surprised if they don't wade their way through the frequently wayward but usually fascinating paths of a_film_by (although it is not a DVD specific site.)

I for one am delighted by this because, even as a group we have no real power ourselves in terms of influencing the quality and quantity of classic dvd releases by the majors. I notice with great satisfaction over the last couple of months Kerr and Scott have - obviously taking a lead from several of us posters - begged the Universal question of "where are the Sternbergs/Paramounts." And so on. Scott even used the expression "the world's first single disc box set" to describe the Lugosi box/disc which I am sure originated in these pages. More power to them and thus to a voice for many of our own concerns.

unclehulot
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#57 Post by unclehulot » Fri Oct 07, 2005 3:04 am

Oh well, guess this just caught me in a peevish mood. For all of MY criticism of the output of Universal, I just would not have called those 2 transfers "essentially unwatchable", for all their problems, and was surprised that if he was familiar with the "Veritgo" theatrical prints of a decade ago, that he only now seems to hear what they did to the sound. But I'll try and keep my own hyperbole down to a dull roar, and apologize for trashing someone who obviously has their priorities straight.......which is to keep nailing those lazy video companies asses to the wall for substandard work.

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ola t
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#58 Post by ola t » Fri Oct 07, 2005 3:46 am

unclehulot wrote:was surprised that if he was familiar with the "Veritgo" theatrical prints of a decade ago, that he only now seems to hear what they did to the sound
The fact that he doesn't explicitly say he was aware of it before doesn't mean he wasn't.

There was a great series of lectures and screenings on film restoration at the Copenhagen Cinematek last year. Robert Gitt (UCLA), Michael Pogorzelski (Academy Film Archives) and Grover Crisp (Sony Pictures) were asked in a Q&A session if they could think of any famous restorations that didn't deserve to be called restorations. They all just looked at each other at first, clearly not sure they wanted to say anything bad about a colleague's work -- but after some hesitation Robert Gitt mentioned Vertigo and they all seemed to agree that what had been done to its soundtrack was unacceptable.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#59 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Fri Oct 07, 2005 9:25 am

Doug Cummings wrote:Dave Kehr in the NYTimes:

"But the real disappointments are "Rear Window" and "Vertigo" - two of
Hitchcock's supreme masterpieces, both of which were subjected to
dismal "restorations" for theatrical release a few years back, and
both of which are now essentially unwatchable. Of all the prints I've
seen of these films - and that makes for quite a few over the years -
I've never seen a single one with the color values they've been given
here.

"Rear Window" is yellowish and grainy, and "Vertigo" has mysteriously
shifted to a reddish purple. But the biggest problem is the
completely factitious surround soundtrack that has been grafted to
"Vertigo," a spectacular betrayal of Hitchcock's intentions that I've
come to think of as the "Rambo" soundtrack. With its ear-splitting
gunshots and pounding footfalls, it sounds like a hastily dubbed
Italian action film of the 1960's rather than the muffled, dreamlike
soundscape that Hitchcock created for the film.

Buried under the "language" option is a choice to use a mono mix that
at least is closer to Hitchcock's intentions, but sounds as if it
were lifted from a 16-millimeter television print played through a
transistor radio. These are not trivial alterations to a work of art
as meticulously planned and executed as "Vertigo" - they alter the
film's meaning and impact, as surely as if someone had touched up
"Guernica" with a can of red spray paint."
Robert Harris counters on the Home Theater Forum:
http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htforum ... ost2814884
Although Mr. Kehr is a fine journalilst, he apparently has no idea what he's viewing, from whence it came, why it needed to come from wherever it did, and what it would look and sound like...

had it not.

An bit of education can go a long way, and is offered.

Doug Cummings
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#60 Post by Doug Cummings » Fri Oct 07, 2005 1:47 pm

Umm...that's hardly a counter-argument, he just basically says Kehr doesn't know what he's talking about without offering a single shred of evidence. Lame.

A few posts later, Harris writes: "The reality of the situation is that we were limited in the tools available to restore 'Vertigo' / "Vertigo" to perfection. This is one of those cases where, if we could do a bit of fixing, the image could now be made perfect."

Okay, so it has problems, he admits it. What still needs to be fixed? What doesn't? What things have been "fixed" that shouldn't have been?

BWilson
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#61 Post by BWilson » Fri Oct 07, 2005 1:48 pm

This set deserves a big red flag.
Got this set last night and decided to watch Marnie first. Dropped it into my Toshiba and it would not load. After turning the player on and off a few times it finnally loaded. On the first shot of the film after the credits (the yellow handbag) the player froze. After a little rewinding it played fine. It played fine all the way through the film. Then, two minutes before the end it froze, jammed, would not play, would not return to menu, and after being turned on and off would not load at all.

I should have heeded all the warnings and not bought any Universal discs. Everything they release is flawed. The biggest problem is the size of this set. What am I supposed to do, watch 14 movies looking for problems? And then when I get my replacement set am I supposed to watch all 14 movies again?

Buy with caution.

Eclisse
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#62 Post by Eclisse » Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:27 pm

BWilson wrote:
I should have heeded all the warnings and not bought any Universal discs. Everything they release is flawed. The biggest problem is the size of this set. What am I supposed to do, watch 14 movies looking for problems? And then when I get my replacement set am I supposed to watch all 14 movies again?

Buy with caution.
You said everything.Every time I buy some crap from Universal I feel like I have to watch the whole thing as fast as I can.So you buy some of the movies you love and it never is a pleasant experience.At all.

Rear Window looks like crap to me.I also watched Vertigo.As it always happens with Universal some of the discs have a lot of scratches.My dvd of "Trouble with Harry" has so many scratches that I will be amazed if it actually works.

Only 15 minutes of the AFI tribute to Hitchcock.The greatest moments of that night are not in here. To me,(again-That means => in my personal opinion)this is not the best DVD Release of the year,month or even week.This is Universal getting your money one last time before HD dvds.It is an "upgrade" (of sorts) but maybe(for some people) an unnecessary one.
Last edited by Eclisse on Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#63 Post by Doug Cummings » Fri Oct 07, 2005 2:41 pm

I'm really curious why the Vertigo mono track should sound so bad?

In the HTF thread linked to above, PatrickMcCart writes:

"The mono track for Vertigo has massive amounts of compression (I mean dynamic range compression, not data compression). There is virtually no depth at all, and whatever the relative levels of music dialog and sound effects were supposed to be in the original mix, you would have a hard time telling by listening to this track."

Robert Harris replies:

"The mono track for "Vertigo," once again, is derived from an assemblege of used 35mm optical prints. What would have been at least partially hidden amongst the components of 1930s to '40s theatre sound systems, in place when the film was released, is now front and center via modern audio playback technologies.

Very, very few films released to DVD from this era are mastered from optical dupes.

You cannot add high or low end where it no longer exists."


...so the question remains, why was Vertigo mastered from optical dupes?

kekid
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#64 Post by kekid » Fri Oct 07, 2005 3:52 pm

I just want to clarify whether the objections raised here against the quality of "Vertigo" and "Rear Window" equally applied to the previous incarnation of these films on DVD, or are they specific to the recent boxed set.

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#65 Post by mbalson » Fri Oct 07, 2005 5:51 pm

They are not specific to this set at all. The Vertigo intro thing is a bit annoying however. I just finished watching the new Vertigo disc and it is a HUGE improvement over the older disc. Fine detail and color are vastly improved. People are being extremely rough on this set and while it's not 100% perfect, what set could be that included this many films of this age for under $100? I love it so far. Even the packaging.

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Lino
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#66 Post by Lino » Fri Oct 07, 2005 6:03 pm

mbalson wrote: People are being extremely rough on this set
Maybe we all need to upgrade our TV sets and DVD players and I'm not being ironic: my CC copy of The Leopard which should and has every right to look fantastic on my TV, just doesn't. I get better results on PC monitors.

I personally think this is an important point that people are forgetting to consider.

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#67 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 07, 2005 9:55 pm

I will throw in another two hundred centrs worth about this. Annie is right about the vagaries of older players and displays - BUT very often bad discs look better than they do on technically superior equipment. I sample everything in this order - a lowtech 20 inch Panasonic through composite, then on a standard def high quality DLP projector through component (which is not perfect for color saturation), then on a brand new expensively calibrated and very fine Pioneer Plasma through an HDMI Hidef upscaling player. The differences are astonishing. It is impossible to generalize but here's a sample or two: Rear Window looks bearable on the 20 inch TV, not good on the PJ and terrible on the upscale/Plasma - every skerrick of grain is visible.
THen the Local R4 release of Black Narcissus wich IS evidently a port of the restored UK edition. Simply looks pale and even understaurated, and lacking in contrast on the TV but on the Plasma/upscale every tiny subtle gradation in color is brilliantly rendered - example. Deborah's second flashback, in which the nuns are shown praying in icy deep blue, Cardiff cuts to Deb's face and segues to the colorful pincushion in the flashback, which becomes enveloped by Debs' gorgeous pale aqua dress. The camera pulls back to show the log fire in the hearth and the purple/scarlet dress on Deb's mother - a color which is repeated later of course in Kathleen Byron's scarlet dress in the penulatimate climactic scene. The gradations are even better rendered than the Criterion whcih I always liked. The primaries, say the startling red lippy in Kathleen's big CU are even more astonishing as the flesh tones are rendered even more subtly pale in contrast.

Ditto the best of the Warner Fox and indeed Universal B&Ws look like real theatrical prints of the finest quality on the Plasma/Hidef setup. I personally think Criss Cross could have taken out disc of the year last year. I also think the Bela and other UNiversal horror boxes are extremely fine (and mercifuly haven't had lock up problems.)

Annie is right about having good gear for viewing. I mean how many tens of thousands of dollars have most of us spent collecting discs! How big a deal is it to extend that to spending say 300 or so on a very good quality player, and say 2 grand on a superior display device. This bizarre mentality is repeated in Oz daily where customers queue up to buy $3000 and upwards plasmas and then refuse to buy a 300 dollar Hidefinition STU! (Or even replace their 30 year old aerial!)

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#68 Post by unclehulot » Wed Oct 12, 2005 1:27 pm

Anyone catch this on thedigitalbits.com the other day?

One last note today... we've noticed a strange thing here at The Bits. In going back to a lot of our very early Universal DVD releases (released in 1997 and 1998), we've discovered that many of those discs have simply stopped working in our DVD players. We don't know if the discs' bonding layers have gone bad, or if they're simply not compatible with newer players, or what. Affected so far are our original copies of the special collector's editions of Apollo 13, Psycho, Vertigo and others. We recommend that you check the older Universal titles in your own collections for similar problems. Let us know if you're encountering this as well.

I checked my copies of the 2 Hitchcock titles and ditto.... not a peep out of ANY of my players. Strange, I know I threw these in the player last year at some point. Kind of a scary thought if there are more titles involved.

One more reason I'm keeping the new set, for all of the problems.

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#69 Post by mbalson » Wed Oct 12, 2005 1:46 pm

Anyone wanting to know more about the new vs. old transfers should check out this page:
http://www.daveyp.com/hitchcock/dvds/bo ... /index.php

Just select a film, select a screen shot and use their new Javascript screen capture toggler. It works great and really shows how almost all of the new transfers better the old ones.

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Lino
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#70 Post by Lino » Wed Oct 12, 2005 5:22 pm

mbalson wrote:...really shows how almost all of the new transfers better the old ones.
Agreed. Vertigo now looks so much better it's unbelievable! And the same goes for almost all the others too. Trouble with Harry looks like a million bucks now!

Of course, this boxset is reserved and aimed to that film lover who wants to have the very best versions of Hitch's Universal movies and in that respect, it delivers in spades. Bravo!

Eclisse
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#71 Post by Eclisse » Fri Oct 14, 2005 11:49 am

I changed my mind about this box set because of the "expiration date" on the old discs.

from digital bits:
One last note today... we've noticed a strange thing here at The Bits. In going back to a lot of our very early Universal DVD releases (released in 1997 and 1998), we've discovered that many of those discs have simply stopped working in our DVD players. We don't know if the discs' bonding layers have gone bad, or if they're simply not compatible with newer players, or what. Affected so far are our original copies of the special collector's editions of Apollo 13, Psycho, Vertigo and others. We recommend that you check the older Universal titles in your own collections for similar problems. Let us know if you're encountering this as well.

Back tomorrow. Stay tuned...
=D>

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dx23
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#72 Post by dx23 » Thu Nov 17, 2005 9:54 am

The Universal Studios website is reporting that Family Plot, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Shadow of a Doubt, and Torn Curtain are going to be released individually on Febraury 7 2006.

http://homevideo.universalstudios.com/c ... F01%2F2006

Anonymous

#73 Post by Anonymous » Thu Nov 17, 2005 12:31 pm

Do you think this means they'll release the other titles in the box set individually as well?

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dx23
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#74 Post by dx23 » Thu Nov 17, 2005 12:55 pm

Do you think this means they'll release the other titles in the box set individually as well?
Most likely. And it wouldn't surprise me if they re-re-re-released Psycho and Vertigo as part of their deluxe Legacy Series.

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dx23
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#75 Post by dx23 » Fri Jan 27, 2006 7:47 am

From thedigitalbits.com:
In other release news, Universal has announced that the Hitchcock classics Frenzy, Rope, Saboteur, Topaz and The Trouble with Harry will each be available in singly on 6/20 (SRP $19.98 each). These are the same remastered versions available currently as part of the studio's Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection box set.

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