A Few Words About A few words about...™ Fritz Lang's M (Import) -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Jun 1, 2011.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    This is a piece about heroes and passion.

    About a classic film of extremely high importance, possibly the finest work of a great filmmaker.

    And about a search for excellence through decades by archivists who would not take “no” for an answer.

    The name of the film could not be shorter or more simple.

    M.

    I was fortunate to spend some time with the lead actor in 1961, after a chance meeting in the Fox parking lot, as he attempted to enter his car, someone having parked just a bit too close. Mr. Lorre, at that point in time, was not quite as wide as he was high. A charming man, who seemed genuinely surprised that a teen would want to discuss his Warner classics, and M, which he was shocked that I had seen.

    What I didn’t understand at the time, was that while I thought I had seen M, what I had actually viewed (in 16mm) were but fragments of a once-great film. The fact that the film has been available over the past eight decades in only re-cut, revamped and damaged versions is not unique in the cinema.

    But this is where the heroes enter, and there are several in this drama. And I apologize for, in many cases, simplifying their years of work.

    We can begin with Enno Patalas, archivist at the Munich Film Museum, who decided to bring in all known extant prints of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece, M, as well as Metropolis, (much of the material coming from the Soviet Union). He dupiicated the footage and, bit by bit, was able to come close to reconstructing M to its original state, as described to him by Mr. Lang.

    Some two decades later, archivist Martin Koerber was able to locate and photo-chemically reproduce, much of the original negative in its original 1.19:1 aspect ratio. This was of extreme importance, as all early duplicating materials had been handled incorrectly, with a phantom frame line appearing at the top of the image, and picture being lost. In addition, he was able to locate nitrate prints and bring them together, allowing missing material to be added. At that time, the original audio was rendered by Martin Sawyer. New fine grains and dupes were created, and the elements cleaned up both visually and aurally. This is what made its way to the Criterion DVD, and later to the Criterion Blu-ray.

    Most recently (2010-11) Torsten Kaiser arrived on the scene, and taking the now preserved elements, located more material, missing in the 2001 restoration, completing the shattered masterpiece, even further. Among other things, he was able to fill in gaps in the preservation elements with the French preservation negative. It was at this time that image stability was handled. This had also been a huge problem, as damaged elements would not permit the film to be copied in the analogue world with stability. He was also able to match the correct original timing (gradation and density).

    The film was once again digitally cleaned, frame-by-frame, of dirt, detritus, dust, tears and scratches, and where possible, frames long lost were replaced from other elements, and blended as transparently as possible, into a feature length film. The audio had always been a problem; with most of the difficulty stemming from the way the tracks had been created.

    M was a silent film with sound passages. The silence as important as the sound. As an early German experiment into sound film production, and with no standardization at the time in Germany, the original M track negatives were literally rolls of clear 35mm film, with the sections of track containing audio, glued to the clear base. From an archival perspective, this created a myriad of problems, as glue, dirt, nitrate stock and wear and tear all came together to do their worst.

    Here’s a quote from Mr. Kaiser regarding the audio. If it doesn’t place the problems faced by the archival team in perspective, nothing will.

    [Audio] is an issue that was of great concern to us, but in a different way than you might think. What you heard [a sound akin to gently running water] is the noise floor that came to be due to a combination of a number of factors over the decades - wear, poor storage, dust, moisture, decomposition and the way the track and the element itself was produced. First something about the digital work we did compared to the Criterion track, before I get to how the soundtrack was actually produced at the time, which explains a bit why it is rather shrill.

    There are 2 audio tracks on the [new] Blu-ray edition. The 2001 Preservation Soundtrack is presented here, in its original form, unfiltered. The 2011 Restoration Soundtrack is based on that preservation, and we made absolutely sure that the audio would neither be limited nor affected in dynamic range, definition and registration of the frequencies or by digital artifacts during our work. [That work] was essentially to reduce the noise floor as best as possible (not entirely as it would produce artifacts, as we expected and found out the hard way when even limiting the intensity of that noise floor) and to present the intended silent sequences Lang specifically wanted "dead silent" to create a very uneasy atmosphere as the audience (then more used to just the picture) would follow the drama of the hunt for the murderer.

    And if you listen more closely, you will no doubt realize immediately that it is, in fact, the Criterion that has been heavily filtered especially in the upper band, but also in the mid and lower ranges. This is not what the original (that Criterion used in 2003 as basis, just as we did) sounds like. Note the ringing of the bell when the woman with the laundry basket comes up the stairs at the beginning of the picture. It is clearly reduced in dynamic range compared to the original, which we were able to refine even more by making a new pre-mix on the 2011 Restoration. There was a lot more detail hiding even in the original, and we carefully got it out. On the Criterion, detail both in recorded dialogue as well as ambient sounds so essential to this film is no longer present - due to filtering.

    Now, to the noise floor. We analyzed the original preservation track, made in 2000 from a new sound master positive directly minted in very long, difficult work by Martin Sawyer in London off the original Variable Density Sound Negative, very carefully and did long, [and] very tedious tests on the noise floor that seemed to go nowhere, as always artifacts would become an audible issue and the dynamic range/detail would also be very much affected.

    It took two months and several re-written programs [until] we finally found a workable solution that also surprised Martin Koerber in a very positive way. I played the track for him when we made the preparations for final playout, and he was genuinely surprised and relieved that the quality came out so good - as was I, after so many weeks of "dead ends" that turned out to be fruitful in the end.

    As I said before, a lot of the issues you heard are very much tied to the sound element, its treatment (in the previous decades), storage and (de)composition beginning with its very production. This particular sound neg (a Variable Density Track Neg) was crafted right at the very start of German experiments with sound in 1930; the process was devised by a German company called TOBIS (who named their process/format KLANGFILM). Essentially, in this particular case, you have to view this element as a stack of reels of BLANK FILM, with the variable density track segments, literally, glued to the element.

    When you examine the elements, you will find that the silent portions in the film are actually BLANK, no VDT, no trace of glue, no damages or hint of anything ever being (glued) there. As for the sound segments, part of what you are hearing is misregistration due to the "opposing" wobbling and shrinkage of the two different layers and the edges of the VDT layer. What makes this even worse is that the element has of wear and tear, together with dust and scratches.

    Now add to that the most problematic part in handling this element: moisture. It serves practically as glue itself that binds together any dust and debris that came through in storage over the decades in sometimes evidently not so good conditions. Removing it photochemically was out of the question. Only very few labs/technicians still remain who can handle this kind of material, so Martin Sawyer was asked to do the job of making another - as pristine as possible - positive sound element in order to get the modulation of the VDT correct. It was very difficult, as you may imagine, getting the registration off the thinly produced, deteriorated VDT Neg just right in balance of gray scale despite shrinkage, decomp, wobble etc. was a huge challenge - but the worst part was that all the dust, scratches, debris, wobble, tears etc. had to be imported into the digital realm and only here could these be "tackled".

    This was what made the preservation track so "noisy" and this was why we had to work with the thought in mind that we would not get to the point where we could get everything perfect as on day one, but as best as possible and as CORRECT as possible. In other words: our job was not to get the track de-noised to get rid of background noise as was done on the Criterion, but to get it CORRECT in registration so that it would be audible as closely in the way it was produced.

    Now, as for the silent sequences: Due to the copying process involved even back in the ‘30s the optical track on any minted positive off the OSN would have had a VDT record printed onto it, even if it was, under best conditions, in one shade of gray. The optical head would have read this during projection, especially after numerous uses with now added dust and scratches, as SOUND, albeit "ambient". This was a technical problem that Lang did not produce for; he even referred to it as something he would gladly get rid off. He wanted this silent sequence truly silent, which is what we made sure after very extensive analysis in these articular sequences would be the case. As a result, many sequences may sound now very alien to the "next generation" viewer, but one has to keep in mind that production in sound was still alien to the makers, then, as well. Still it is amazing how well this was done, gluing the VDT to the blank elements and all.

    I’ve just screened the 80th anniversary Universum Blu-ray of M, and have come away amazed at the quality. There is now a transparency to the audio, allowing us to hear something even closer to what audiences heard in 1931 in Germany, as the audio image comes alive.

    Likewise, there is now an overall stability to the film that I have never before seen, and bits and pieces previously missing, have been reclaimed.

    To say that I’m thrilled by this release would be an understatement.

    While the Criterion Blu-ray remains easily accessible, beautiful, and still highly recommended, those who desire to get as close as possible to the original are advised to import this very special Universum release.

    Very Highly Recommended.

    RAH
     
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  2. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    I love these posts. It's like pulling back the curtain a bit on the archeology of cinema. The expertise of RAH and -- just as importantly -- the expertise of his colleagues at the various studios that is shared, as above, is one of the many reasons the HTF is my go-to place for movie discussion.
    A haunting film, dealing with a subject matter people are uncomfortable discussing even now.
     
  3. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Worth looking at these shots of the quite gorgeous packaging; I'm told the booklet comprises mainly (quite beautiful) illustrations, so for the monoglots amongst us, language should not be a barrier.
     
  4. dpippel

    dpippel HTF Premium Member
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    Can anyone recommend a good overseas source for ordering this release?
     
  5. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Amazon.de; if you use Amazon.com, your details, user name, password etc., are just the same as is the ordering sequence.
     
  6. John Morgan

    John Morgan Supporting Actor

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    I went to the above link and it said REGION 2. Does that mean I am out of luck if I don't have an all-region BluRay player? It did list English subtitles, however.
     
  7. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    No, that is plain misinformation by Amazon. The full specs (provided by Torsten) are:

    MEDIABOOK Design with slipcase and 60-page booklet with Premiere program book in 1931, sketches, photos & rare press censorship and materials as well as excerpts from the comic Jon Muth "M", inspired by Fritz Lang film
    Content & Extras BD Edition Disc 1:
    "M" 80th Anniversary Restoration
    Image: HD 23.976p 1080 / 1.19:1 frame centered in 16x9 HD
    Sound:
    - 2001 Preservation Master Track: DTS Master Audio 2.0 Mono
    - 2011 Restoration Master Track: DTS Master Audio 2.0 Mono
    Content & Extras BD Edition / DVD Edition Disc 2:
    Image: SD 50i/480 / 1.33:1 (4x3)
    Sound: Dolby Digital Mono, Dolby Digital Stereo **
    Extras Disc 1:
    - Trailer for "M" (re-release trailer 1960) in High Definition * (* only on the BD disc)
    - Audio commentary on the film, the parallels to the real killer Peter Kürten and the inspector, who chased him (Ernst Gennat) which were based on the screenplay and the Berlin of the 20s & 30s, and its social structure and the life of the underclass -
    with:
    - Prof. Elisabeth Lenk - author of "Peter Kürten - genannt der Vampir von Düsseldorf", Dr. Regina Stürickow - author of "Mörderische Metropole Berlin" and "Der Kommissar vom Alexanderplatz", a biography of the real police inspector Ernst Gennat
    - Torsten Kaiser moderated - executive producer of the digital restoration of "M"
    Extras Disc 2:
    - THE HUNT FOR "M" **- documentary about the real events on which "M" is based, the profiling of an offender and what serial killer is identifiable, and the work of the police then and now, details and background on Lang, Lorre and what later happened to them and the film after the ban of "M" by the Nazis
    - THE HUNT FOR THE FIL"M" ELEMENTS ** - second part of the documentation about the re-release, the fragmentation and drastic change of the film in 1960, the various reconstructions, and the Restoration / Preservation on 35mm and digital
    (96 minutes, 2003)
    - U"M" DIE WELT IN 80 JAHREN - new, 45-minute documentary featurette with comparisons of the various versions of "M", the British rental version of 1932, the re-release of 1960, the reconstruction of 1995, the Restoration / Preservation 2001 and the 80th Anniversary Edition 2011
    - Optional audio commentary on this featurette with Torsten Kaiser (executive producer of the digital restoration) and Martin Koerber (executive producer of Restoration / Preservation in 35mm, 2001)
    - ZU"M" BEISPIEL FRITZ LANG- 44-minute interview with Fritz Lang (1968) transferred from the original, 35mm camera negative and 35mm Sound Negative
    - Trailer for "M" in standard definition (25fps)
    - The censorship cards with the script in PDF (DVD ROM segment)
    - and (think at least in the featurette "U"M "THE WORLD IN 80 YEARS" with partial extensions, further we do) the French Rental Act, 1932 "" M "- Le Maudit" newly scanned negative from a preservation duplicate and Sound Negative (Here you will find in comparing the 1932 British rental version of the 1960 re-release and the 1995 reconstruction of the 2001 Preservation and Restoration of the 2011 and the 2001 "raw" Preservation Material vs. on display in 2011 Restoration Final Master).
    The Blu-ray edition is Region A, B, C - the DVD Region 0.
    Film and extras have optional German and English subtitles.

    Import with confidence.
     
  8. marsnkc

    marsnkc Supporting Actor

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    Just my luck to have jumped on the Criterion DVD and Blu on their respective release....
     
  9. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Blu_rayfan66 likes this.
  10. dpippel

    dpippel HTF Premium Member
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    John - Thanks for the link and the additional info on the release.
     
  11. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Quick technical question: will an imported Blu-ray like this play on standard U.S. equipment in terms of screen format? I know for PAL DVDs that I have, I have a DVD player that converts from PAL to NTSC, but I don't have the equivalent in my Blu-ray player.
     
  12. Torsten Kaiser

    Torsten Kaiser Film Restoration & Preservation
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    No conversion necessary. The Blu-ray Disc will play without any problems on any player worldwide; the BD is open A,B,C regions and the screen format is just the same as the discs coming form all majors and all renowned independents, and High Definition is also in frame rate rarely different in Europe compared to the U.S. as the standard merely is different in frame rates, but not resolution. And here few manufacturers deviate from the one the international majority supports by a huge margin, which is 23.976p 1080. Very few discs are produced in other frame rates.
    As for the DVD (Disc 2), it is PAL, and ALL regions as well and most DVD players worldwide have little trouble to either play it in PAL directly or convert internally to NTSC/PAL 60 as your does.

    Hope this helps.

    My thanx to Robert for the very kind words by the way about the work done by all involved, named and not. I know the whole bits and pieces drama rings familiar bells in the ears of someone who has struggled much in the same way, (all too) often against the odds, which makes me appreciate the review the more.
     
  13. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Producer
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    Thanks for clarifying Torsten - I'm gonna have to pick this up. This has to be one of those few times where having never gotten around to picking up the Criterion actual worked in my favor! Thank you and your team so much for all of the excellent work that's been put into this release. It's one of those movies that really blew me away when I saw it as a young man and changed my idea of what cinema could be, and I'm truly grateful for the work that's been done to bring it to being as close as possible to its original release.
     
  14. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    And wouldn't your time with Lorre be a wonderful subject for a thread. Actually, you've probably got so many stories you could tell, you could write a book.
     
  15. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    My time with Mr. Lorre was probably under ten minutes. Not the makings of a thread.
     
  16. TheHutt

    TheHutt Agent

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    I already got my copy at release date (due to the continuous flow of information from Torsten Kaiser I was really thrilled to see the result).
    Apart from the crisp restoration efforts, it is the "Um die Welt in 80 Jahren" featurette (actually, this is rather a comparison of the different versions of the feature) which offers the greatest insight in the history of the film. I was astonished to see some scenes reshot with entirely different actors for British and French releases (for what reason soever) and see how much (or how little) effort the British and French distributors have put into reshooting the final monologue by Lorre (the French, for instance, simply painted some pipes on a studio wall in the background).
    Unfortunately, some of the features have no subtitles (like the audio commentaries in German) but the movie itself does have English and German subtitles.

    PS: The packaging is a piece of art.
     
  17. Douglas_H

    Douglas_H Stunt Coordinator

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    What I hate about Robert's "A Few Words About" is that it almost always increases my AMEX tab.
    What I love about it is that I am never disappointed.
    For whatever reason I have soft spot for early German cinema, Faust, Caligari, Metropolis, M.
    Suffice to say I just ordered the Universum release of M.

    Thanks to Robert and to Herr Kaiser I look forward to spending 111 minuten transfixed by this film.
    I will also give shout out the TheHutt for posting this on another forum and getting my attention.
     
  18. Blu_rayfan66

    Blu_rayfan66 Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello everyone- this is my very first post on HTF...I made a video showcasing the beautiful packaging of the German 80th Anniversary Edition for those who may be interested.
    I had not read Robert Harris's wise words about the resto prior to making the video so apologies for not mentioning in the vid.
     
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  19. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Welcome to Home Theater Forum! I hope you will come back soon and visit us often!
     
  20. tele1962

    tele1962 Supporting Actor

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    Can anyone confirm that the German release is the same print used for the MOC version?
     

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