War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1966)

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unclehulot
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#26 Post by unclehulot » Wed Dec 12, 2007 1:28 am

One thing I'll be curious to see (well, hear) in that theatrical showing next month, is whether there's anything at all in the sound design resembling the ping-pong match going on between front and surround channels in the Ruscico edition! I strongly doubt it. It's funny, I've even read great praise for the sound on the Ruscico.......I guess these are different folks than the Tarkovsky crowd that took them to task over the original "Stalker" release! Perhaps it's just different types of films, but I'd like to have the original, thank you very much, and make my own decision whether to experience the plethora of either re-directed, or more likely, ADDED effects that Ruscico provides. Surprised nobody's carped about this yet........or is their a sneaking affection for excess in a film that, after all, is not a small one?

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Darth Lavender
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#27 Post by Darth Lavender » Wed Dec 12, 2007 10:42 am

I *still* haven't watched this DVD with my surround system (when I bought it, I could only connect surround-sound to my vcr/tv and thus had to choose between the superior image quality of my computer and the superior sound of my TV/VCR)

But, just in case you didn't know, the film was originally released in surround sound. The biggest advantage of screening films in 70mm in those days (and the reason so many films like Star Wars, shot on 35mm, were released on 70mm in some theatres,) is that it allowed the addition of a surround soundtrack. If I recall correctly, 70mm accomodated 6 tracks; Centre, Medium Left, Medium Right, Far Left, Far Right and Surround.

Given Ruscico's track record, I wouldn't be surprised if they did a little excess manipulation (if you hear something from one surround speaker, but not the other, that would have had to be added in the DVD) and a certain very minimal amount of manipulation is required in converted 70mm 6-track to DD5.1 (combining Medium & Far left into just 'Front' Left, etc.) redirecting all the deeper sound into a specific subwoofer channel, etc. but I suspect the 5.1 probably is a lot closer to the original than you might expect.
Also, certainly worth noting, although the film elements were stuck in Ukraine, Russia did still have possession of the original sound elements (which have been used in the DVDs restoration)

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Barmy
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#28 Post by Barmy » Wed Dec 12, 2007 12:16 pm

I just looked at the DVDBeaver caps and the color levels aren't that far off the 35mm print--a little more faded but not hugely off base. Obviously the detail is much worse, and, umm, they are too DARK.

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jsteffe
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#29 Post by jsteffe » Wed Dec 12, 2007 12:39 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:
Barmy wrote:I suspect that the color on the original 70mm was not exactly "technicolor". Many Soviet films of this period are slightly muted.
VERY VERY molto true. Not the most sensitive or creamy color film stock there. Looking at Klimov, the non-bleached scenes in STALKER & Mirror, Anna Karenina, etc, bears this out. I learned this after bitching about my Kino disc of Come And See... I thought it was a typical Kino glurtch from their ho-hum talkie catalog. Then I saw the native pal discs-- same weird degraded, faded, grainy look. Very weird stock indeed.
I think the Kino disc of COME AND SEE may be sourced from the same Ruscico master as the PAL discs.

But there's a larger issue here--Soviet color film stocks were notoriously variable in quality. If I recall correctly, in an interview on the DVD set Karen Shakhnazarov mentioned how there were insect parts stuck on the 70mm negative for WAR AND PEACE. Paradjanov complained in telegrams to Moscow about the defective film stock he was forced to use in THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES, and we all know about how Tarkovsky had to reshoot STALKER from scratch. I've also heard from American distributors that their prints of Russian films can simply "die" after a period of time.

My impression is that Gosfilmofond is good about preserving its materials, but if you shoot or print a film on mediocre film stock to begin with, there's only so good you can make a transfer look. It's a shame, because it meant a lot of great filmmaking artistry was undercut by a slipshod manufacturing base.

Also, I suspect that Ruscico is not always given the best materials to work with, through no fault of their own. Don't forget that many of the same titles are released domestically in Russia through Krupnyi Plan/Lizard, sporting "restored" transfers that are obviously from superior elements. There may be an element of favoritism at play behind the scenes.

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Barmy
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#30 Post by Barmy » Wed Dec 12, 2007 1:52 pm

I've seen the 35mm print of Come and See and, again, it has that recognizable "Soviet" color.

gordonovitch
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#31 Post by gordonovitch » Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:14 pm

Barmy wrote:I'm somewhat skeptical that the 35mm print currently circulating has been "restored". It is no better than the print screened at MoMA approximately 15 years ago. I am not that picky about prints, and I thought it was fine. But there is some artifacting and color fading. To me it looks like an average decent print of a 60s color film.
So you went to the showing at the Film Forum? I would say that if the print now circulating looks average and decent, it must look better than Ruscico's. Did the color saturation oscillate between densities like Ruscico's edition? For me, that's the worst aspect of their release. Faded color I can deal with.

Gordon Thomas

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Barmy
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#32 Post by Barmy » Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:00 pm

Yes, Film Forum (in lieu of seeing "I'm Not There").

There is some oscillation, but not to a bothersome degree.

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HerrSchreck
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#33 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:13 pm

jsteffe wrote:I think the Kino disc of COME AND SEE may be sourced from the same Ruscico master as the PAL discs.

But there's a larger issue here--Soviet color film stocks were notoriously variable in quality.
As I recall, the Kino transfer (no doubt provided to them) preceded the big hoo-ha about the film being restored "at last" and presented on a new dvd... drums rolled... the tension mounted... and the fucking thing looked just as strange and grainy/off. I've a raging migraine so I'm not going to hunt up the edition but many will remember what I'm talking about-- not the same transfer as what was on the Kino.

Uniquely bizarre stock.

gordonovitch
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#34 Post by gordonovitch » Fri Dec 21, 2007 1:19 pm

Okay, excuse my ignorance here, but Image still has the NA distribution for Ruscico's War and Peace, right? But Kino has an apparently stronger, on-going relationship with Ruscico, as evidenced by all their releases with that Ruscico logo on the case. It seems likely that Kino's 2008 W&P release, if it happens, will be the same damn Ruscico transfer that Image issued years ago, so with that edition still available why would Kino be issuing it now? Are they merely taking over distribution from Image? I guess anybody can put out a DVD of this thing; Kultur, who had the VHS release way back, beat Ruscico and Image with a crappy, P&S of its own. But why flood the market with a multi-disc release of a film like this? What's Kino thinking? I don't get it. And then there's this print, distributed by Seagull Films, going 'round.

unclehulot
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#35 Post by unclehulot » Fri Dec 21, 2007 4:42 pm

Maybe just a change in the distribution, maybe packaging, with the old one becoming unavailable. I haven't followed how much has changed when Kino puts out a Ruscico port.

BTW, has anyone dug into the new Pevear/Volkhonsky translation yet? Thinking of picking it up, even though I read the Garnett trans. a couple of years ago.

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#36 Post by gordonovitch » Fri Dec 21, 2007 7:00 pm

Nothing much at all changes when Kino puts out a Ruscico, at least in my experience--not that that's such a bad thing if Kino's issue is the only way to secure such titles in NA.

I'm expecting the Pevear/Volkhonsky W&P under the tree and anticipate it mightily. I know at least that they leave the French passages as French, and that in itself is a good sign. I've read their Brothers K and Anna Karenina and both were fabulous, another good sign.

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jsteffe
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#37 Post by jsteffe » Sat Dec 22, 2007 3:59 am

unclehulot wrote:Maybe just a change in the distribution, maybe packaging, with the old one becoming unavailable. I haven't followed how much has changed when Kino puts out a Ruscico port.
I can't speak for the Image/Kino issue, but I believe the reason why Kultur put WAR AND PEACE out on DVD was because of their relationship with Corinth films, who distributed many Soviet films back in the day. They're probably still claiming US rights to it, or maybe there was mutual agreement that both Corinth and Image could distribute their own versions.

Yes, I just saw the nice fat hardcover edition of the P & V translation of WAR AND PEACE at Borders, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it. That is, after I finish Orhan Pamuk's THE BLACK BOOK, which is a modern-day masterpiece.

I could never get through Garnett's old translation of THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, but I found the P & V translation a gripping read, the way Russian readers must have felt when it was first published serially. Their ANNA KARENINA is also beautifully done, and I was thrilled that Oprah promoted it through her book club.

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HerrSchreck
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#38 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Dec 22, 2007 5:38 pm

The only hint or light I may be able to shed on the upcoming Kino is the fact that the film just toured (as already mentioned) based on either a new print or restoration-- something "new" about the roadshowing i e "closer to the original release experience" yadda.

And I recall reading in the film forum mailer that they were going to be selling in the lobby (of NYFForum) a "new limited edition dvd release" of the film in tandem... perhaps this was a slaptogether disc based on new telecine (hopefully-- please-- hd transfer from a restored or "better" quality newly struck print), which will then be put together with extras essays etc for the coming Kino???

Just a speculation. I do distinctly recall in the mailer the fact that a "new" dvd of the film would be onsale in the lobby.. something I've never seen FF do before (doesnt mean squat though, just that its not 'normal'.. and probably means this disc is not available in stores.. or not YET).

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Barmy
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#39 Post by Barmy » Sat Dec 22, 2007 5:51 pm

NYFiFo was selling the new book translation, not a DVD.

Someone might contact Seafood or whoever the distributor is for details on the alleged restoration, which IMBO is at best a new print from a decent negative.

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Darth Lavender
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#40 Post by Darth Lavender » Sun Dec 23, 2007 2:04 am

A few small technical observations/thoughts on my own recent re-viewing of this film (finally with a surround-sound system)

- In one of the extras, the president of Mosfilm says that they found some 'original materials' in Russia, which were used in the restoration. This could mean that only some of the original film reels are in Ukraine, and at least some of the footage we see on the DVD is from the original 70mm negative (downconverted to SD, and then degraded again with the PAL>NTSC conversion)
But, most likely, I'm guessing that the fellow being interviewed just meant by "original materials" any film negatives as opposed to the videotapes used for television broadcasts (which are discussed earlier in the interview)

- As for sound, it seems Ruscico has done a little re-arranging of the original 6-track. The Waterloo DVD uses a 4.0 sound mix (same as Fox, on their 6-track releases) and in Voina i Mir's case I suspect the main change is a frequent shifting of sounds (including offscreen voices) from the Left speaker to the Rear Left speaker (same with right,) etc. It's impossible to tell if Ruscico has added any sounds (with all sound in the battle scenes, etc.) Oddly enough, the Ruscico Region 2 release includes a mono, which is probably true to 35mm prints of the time, but is primarily just Ruscico misunderstanding viewer complaints about the lack of a mono track on Stalker, etc.

- As a point of interestm despite being shot on superior film-stock, Waterloo is probably about the same as Voina I Mir in terms of color, etc. (it's difficult to judge; my overall impression was of a much more vibrant movie, just because of all the bright red and blue uniforms, but thinking of comparable scenes, the overhead battlefield shots, etc. I'd say the dull colors were intended by Bondarchuk all along) *however* even on what is essentially a budget, single-layer, DVD release from Columbia, Waterloo is definitely much sharper than War & Peace.

With Criterion having recently gotten rights to a release of Ivan's Childhood, and with Kino's recent moves towards professional-quality DVDs (with Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu, etc. in original languages and fine transfers) I'm holding out *some* hope.

gordonovitch
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#41 Post by gordonovitch » Fri Dec 28, 2007 10:32 am

Someone might contact Seafood or whoever the distributor is for details on the alleged restoration, which IMBO is at best a new print from a decent negative.
The distributor for the current release of War and Peace is Seagull Films (http://www.seagullfilms.com/), whom I e-mailed awhile ago with questions about any supposed newer restoration vs. the one done in the 90s by the Russians. I received no response. However, War and Peace has finally hit Boston, and I'm gonna see it on Jan.5 (all four parts in one day). I'm very familiar with the Ruscico release (altho it's the Region 1) and am eager to note any differences.

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Person
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#42 Post by Person » Sun Jan 06, 2008 12:23 pm

Did you see the film, Gordon? Any difference in quality?

gordonovitch
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#43 Post by gordonovitch » Tue Jan 08, 2008 1:51 pm

Person wrote:Did you see the film, Gordon? Any difference in quality?
Yes, I did. The all-day marathon showing of W&P was prefaced by a young woman announcing that what we were about to see was a "restored 35mm print," which, as to the restored part, turned out to be nonsense. First of all, all four parts featured a consistent hail of dirt, speckles and scratches. The print was also very grainy in parts, so some of it must be of a generation pretty far from the negative. The color ranged from fairly pallid to an improved vividness, especially in the earlier sections of Pt.2 (Natasha Rostova), especially Natasha's first ball and dance with Andrei. Audio was strong, clear and fortunately mono, but the subtitles were less complete than on the Ruscico version: in Pt.1, when Pierre goes to Kuragin's apartment for a night of debauchery, Dolokhov asks him to rip a window frame out, saying something like, "See what you can do, Hercules." The line's in the novel and in the film, but not in the print I saw Saturday, but it is translated on the Ruscico. Interestingly, though, the prevalent color oscillations I see in the Ruscico were much less noticeable in this current print, but when I went to check the Ruscico discs for some comparison, I was amazed at how vivid the color often is, in spite of the fluctuations. Also, in terms of speckles, scratches and other damage, it's clear that the 90's restoration represented by the Ruscico edition really was a restoration, since its amazingly clean in those respects. The color stock of Ruscico's print, however, wears its deterioration on its sleeve, and, short of the kind of treatment Lawrence of Arabia got--and I assume they were working with original negs there--this thing's probably never gonna look better than the Ruscico (and Bondarchuk's film probably never looked like Lawrence in the first place).

I'm now assuming Kino's just negotiating for the distribution rights from Image. I hope they're not going after that lousy print that Seagull is distributing; no wonder they (Seagull) never answered my e-mail.

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Barmy
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#44 Post by Barmy » Tue Jan 08, 2008 2:17 pm

I didn't see a "hail" of dirt etc. But at least some of that may be due to the fact that, as far as I can tell, there are only a few prints (possibly just one) touring, and the tour started many months ago. At this point there would certainly be damage to the print(s).

It is certainly not "DVD pristine", but frankly I don't mind a few scuffs--that's just part of the experience of film.

gordonovitch
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#45 Post by gordonovitch » Tue Jan 08, 2008 2:51 pm

Well, okay, characterizing it as "hail" is hyperbole, I guess, but there was a lot of it, more than the road show has put on the print, I think. It was of course less distracting as the film went on, and I agree you go to screenings of older films and accommodate these things. Plus, I have low expectations for how this film can look. Back in '69, when I first saw it on the screen, it was the truncated, six hour, two part edition, and I thought it looked somewhat substandard even then(again, think Lawrence as the standard). But in the sixties the Soviet film industry was still recovering from the strictures of the Stalin era when using Western equipment was forbidden. Bondarchuk simply didn't have great film stock or terrific equipment either, so it's remarkable what he achieved anyway.

My goal--other than watching and enjoying the film projected onto a screen all in one day--was to observe differences with Ruscico's print.
There were little things just in the opening title screens: Mosfilm's graphic appeared in a different place, and, in my viewing, there were no introductory screens listing the awards the film had won.

Gordon

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Person
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#46 Post by Person » Tue Jan 08, 2008 4:17 pm

Cheers, Gordon, that was a good description of the print. It really would take a substantially improved new transfer for me to triple-dip on this one (I owned the badly-converted NTSC Image Ent. set, which I sold and now own the PAL Art. Eye set which looks slightly better and has better packaging).

I also want to see Bondarchuk's, They Fought for Their Country (1975), which had a UK DVD release last year.

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MichaelB
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#47 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jan 08, 2008 4:48 pm

Person wrote:I also want to see Bondarchuk's, They Fought for Their Country (1975), which had a UK DVD release last year.
I watched it a couple of months ago, and spent much of the time being struck by the extraordinary lengths Bondarchuk went to to abuse himself on screen - no other character undergoes anything like the same level of graphic close-up brutality, which continues on the operating table afterwards (no anaesthetic, natch).

There are also some stunning large-scale battle scenes, though one of them is very badly marred by a shockingly dirty camera lens on the long shots of massed tanks in action - I'd love to have been a fly on the wall of the rushes screening room. As with Gance's Napoléon, though (where the triptych panoramas simply don't join up properly at several points), reshooting was presumably out of the question.

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Person
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#48 Post by Person » Wed Jan 09, 2008 10:19 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michael - I was sure that no one here had seen the film. I'll try to get around to seeing it soon.

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MichaelB
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#49 Post by MichaelB » Wed Jan 09, 2008 10:28 am

I've just looked up my Sight & Sound review (in the February issue, out any day now), which reminded me that the DVD is a typical Ruscico job - 4:3 (the OAR as far as I can see) with compulsory 5.1 remixes in either Russian or English. If you pick Russian, the English subtitles are fixed. Extras are pretty perfunctory - interviews with one of the actresses (Irina Skobtseva) and what appears to be a Russian literature specialist discussing Mikhail Sholokov's source novel.

One mildly annoying element is that the film is presented in two parts - not, thankfully, in the sense of being split over two discs, but each part has been encoded separately so that the DVD player won't read the timings correctly. My initial reaction on seeing that the film was (apparently) only 70-odd minutes was "blimey, that's one hell of a lot shorter than expected", but that's the halfway mark. It's not a particularly big deal when watching it (the changeover is no worse than a typical layer change), but it's annoying if you have to check accurate running times for review purposes!

(Incidentally, these comments apply to the British Nouveaux edition - I imagine Ruscico's own is rather more versatile when it comes to both the range and removability of the subtitles).

yoram

PAL NTSC

#50 Post by yoram » Wed Jul 09, 2008 7:20 pm

As you all know, there are several dvds out there; some 4:3 and a few 16x9. The ones interesting is of course the widescreen issues! All stems from RUSCICO - there are no transfers made by any other companies yet (even though one would hope for a Criterion release in the near future). The IMAGE issues is a port of RUSCICOs NTSC disc. As suggested - and true - RUSCICO first transfer their film-stock to PAL, and then to NTSC for the north American market. For best picture one have to chose the PAL versions and there are two out now:

1 RUSCICOs own
2 Artificial eye

I own Images port and have compared it to AE´s and this is my conclusion: Go for the PAL issue! No ghosting, actually seems progressive even though I really don´t think it is. Better detail. Though if you already own the NTSC the difference is not night and day - the film stock used are anyway problematic and some digital artifacts are still there. If you change it is for the clearer details - for example in the beginning you can more clearly see the flowers and the grass in the PAL issue, in the NTSC it´s more like a mess. It´s worth it if you will watch the film over and over (as for me) and if you are buying it for the first time. And maybe for the reason that AE also includes a mono-track and has a much nicer package!

Hope this helps someone!

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