A Few Words About A few words about...™ The French Connection -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Feb 14, 2009.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The French Connection, director William Friedkin's Academy Award winning New York City crime drama from 1971, has made its way to Blu-ray.

    And it makes a very interesting case study.

    I'm not going to discuss the film. Everyone knows that Mr. Friedkin created a superlative, taught, heart-pounding drama. If you've not seen it, don't waste any more time. Grab a copy!

    What I want to discuss is the color, and how it has been adapted to the filmmaker's desire to see it in a certain new (and different) way.

    Let's get a couple of fine points out of the way first.

    Personally, I like what Mr. Friedkin has done with the film, and as the director, has the right to update and change the film. The original negative still survives, unchanged. His new color concept, which is actually an old color concept, is quite different from the way the film looked 27 years ago when it had very natural color by deluxe.

    The other point that needs to be noted is that what one is seeing in this Blu-ray incarnation, is no longer the Best Picture of 1971. It is a re-vision. Like many of the Disney animated classics, it has been visually "re-imagined."

    Might it still have won awards at the time of its release if it looked as it does now?

    Probably.

    Could this look have been achieved in 1971?

    Absolutely.

    What Mr. Friedkin, and his colorist have done is to cross-pollinate 1930s and '40s dye transfer technology with the modern digital world, and the fact that they carried out this experiment, which IMHO works, shows just how talented Mr. Friedkin remains as a filmmaker and technician.

    But let's go back to the not so lusty, color drenched years of early Technicolor.

    To many, dye transfer Technicolor was an extremely problematic system, that needed not only a great deal of hand holding, but also needed to be tamed.

    Producer David O. Selznick, one of the format's earliest proponents, along with Walt Disney, felt that the potentially heavy Technicolor look was too much for the modern audience to appreciate. Fox used it undiminished for many of their "40s musicals.

    So he toned it down.

    The earliest prints of Gone with the Wind, along with other productions as disparate as his own Nothing Sacred (1937) and Fox's The Little Princess (1937), had extremely low color saturation with overall sepia cast.

    One of the problems of early Technicolor was an apparent lack of depth in the dyes and their ability to render a image heavy enough and sharp enough to properly project. A way around this, which was standard into the mid-1940s was the use of a fourth record, black & white, derived from the green information.

    Thus, when printed, the final result had (as a single exposure) a black & white soundtrack, a black & white exposure at a lower than normal density to both add sharpness as well hold back contrast, and frame lines -- and over this, the yellow, cyan and magenta dyes.

    Mr. Friedkin references John Huston's Moby Dick as the precursor to his work on The French Connection, and while true, the reality goes directly back to the mid-1930s and the period up to WWII.

    There is also a bit of information that comes across incorrectly in the Color Timing piece, which is that Moby Dick was not a Technicolor production. It was photographed on standard Eastman Kodak 5248 color negative, and then printed by Technicolor in dye transfer, but with the extra black & white record. I'm sure that he knows that.

    What is interesting here, is that Mr. Friedkin and his colorist take it a step further. Not simply wishing to add the extra record, they also extracted the color, de-focussed it, reduced it, and laid it back on top of the black & white, to yield a higher contrast with lower chroma.

    Not your father's French Connection, but a very interesting and beautiful one.

    If I were able to make a single change, it would have been a simple one.

    I would add a third disc -- the film is certainly worth it -- with the original Academy Award winning version of the film, as seen in 1971, the new version of French Connection "redux," and the third disc of extras.

    From his appearance on the Blu-ray special feature, Mr. Friedkin appears to be a very young 73, and is certainly in tune with modern processes. I'd very much like to see him behind the camera again ASAP. Just imagine what he could turn out going full digital with a Dalsa or Red, and taking it to a digital intermediate.

    Highly Recommended.

    RAH
     
  2. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    I've seen this film only once, and I remember finding the story extremely well done. However, as I was only 4 years old when it was in the cinema, my viewing was on a pan and scan VHS version, not the original film. In this particular case, I believe I will benefit from the "ignorance is bliss" syndrome as I have no idea what the original "look" of this film is supposed to be like. As much as I try to pursue "original intent" with movies, I believe I'll avoid getting caught up in the debates sure to ensue over this release and enjoy it for what it is--a great film reflecting its period. As for the "look", I can't miss what I've never seen. With your recommendation behind it, I'm sure I won't be disappointed.
     
  3. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    Have you seen BUG yet? It is, IMO, a near brilliant film, incredibly emotionally intense and with amazing performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon (himself nomintated for a Supporting Actor Oscar this year for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).

    Vincent.
     
  4. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer

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    I really don't have a problem if a director wants to experiment; however, the least that could be done is to make sure that a decent copy of the original release is included as part of the package.
     
  5. Paul Arnette

    Paul Arnette Cinematographer

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    A fascinating read, as always, Mr Harris. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this disc, as it is one of my favorites. I was immediately trouble when I heard about the 'tinkering' being done to the film.

    I will try to go into my viewing with an open mind, but as you:


    And I completely agree with the above. How hard would this have been and would it have really added that much extra cost to the production? In the meantime, I will have to keep holding onto my SD DVD copy as well.

    Incidentally, it is a good thing I am holding onto my uber old SD DVD copy of The Exorcist, as who knows what version, let alone what color will see a Blu-ray Disc release.
     
  6. JohnMor

    JohnMor Producer
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    Mr. Friedkin uses this same system on the recent DVD of The Boys in the Band which looks terrific.

    I wouldn't begrudge an original version being included in TFC, but it certainly isn't a deal breaker for me. I'll be picking this up as I never got around to picking up the dvd.

    The one movie where it really is a deal breaker is Badham's Dracula (1979). His later desaturation of the film ruins it for me. It had such lush and beautiful colors on the screen. I find it dull and ugly now.
     
  7. Shawn.F

    Shawn.F Supporting Actor

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    Paul,

    I read that the version of 'The Exorcist' that will be released on Blu-ray will be the 2000 'Version You Have Never Seen' edition. [​IMG]
     
  8. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

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    It's fine if the director experiments with his film....as long as he includes the original to keep everyone happy. Since the original version is not provided here, I'm sure that the purists will be bashing this disc for months to come.
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I'm not certain what they'll "bash" here, as the disc looks fine, along with the fact that Fox has not tainted the grain or resolution in any way. Must be the new Fox home video techs. This is a very nice package.

    For the record, no third disc would not be a deal breaker for me. Simply something that would be nice. And for those unfamiliar with the film, totally irrelevant.

    RAH
     
  10. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    Unfortunately it is a deal breaker for me.

    and if Mr. Friedkin or any Warner reps ever come across this thread = it will be a deal breaker for The Exorcist on BD if the original unaltered version isn't offered alongside any revisioned version. Whether it be tinkering with the look of the film or only including "The Version I Wished I'd Never Seen".
     
    Ken Volok likes this.
  11. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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  12. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

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    Must be as I've been impressed with the Fox catalog titles I've seen as of late.
     
  13. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    There has been and probably will be, ad infinitum, people who squawk about "director's intent", and rightfully so, when a producer of medium makes changes to original material out of convenience, anticipated public reaction, or whatever.

    Okay, guys and gals, here it is: nothing short of director's intent. Why not honor that intent now? I'll certainly pick up this disc sight unseen. I'm intimately familiar with the original, and I'm eager to see the changes that Friedken has implemented; it was, after all, his intent.

    I don't know...maybe my ego isn't sufficiently large to get in the way. Maybe I'm too plastic, or too eager to approve.
     
  14. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Some people simply want the film as they originally saw it in a movie theater while others want director's or extended cuts which may or may not be as good as the original theatrical release. IMO, I think the filmmakers/studios and their enormous egos are making a mistake not giving the general public the original and altered versions on a video format that can accomodate both versions which originally was one of the selling points for Blu-ray.

    Edit: By the way, I think most of the general public either won't notice the differences or care enough about the differences as long as it looks good on their television displays which probably factored in the filmmakers/studios decision-making process to only offer their intended version on Blu-ray.
     
  15. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    Film makers have every right to tinker around with their films ad nauseum and I support their right to do so. I also claim no public ownership to any film unlike the unending debate of certain ravening fans of a specific 70's space opera. But in cases like this to omit the original version is a deal breaker for me, the consumer. If that upsets certain people who can't respect differing viewpoints then that's just too bad. I just don't care.

    I see no viable reason to not include the original theatrical version of this (and others like it) other than to hold something back to try and sell it to us again down the road.
     
  16. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Cmon Jim, tell us how you really feel.[​IMG]
     
  17. Brian Borst

    Brian Borst Screenwriter

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    I saw some caps that showed a lot of color bleeding, especially when something red came into the picture. Is it there, or was there something wrong with the caps? I've been a bit hesitant to buy this because of the screenshots that looked wrong to me.
    And why didn't Mr. Friedkin do this when the film came out? He would've been able to, wasn't he?
     
  18. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    Always do [​IMG]
     
  19. David Wilkins

    David Wilkins Supporting Actor

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    Ditto.
     
  20. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    There is color bleeding, which with de-focussed chroma is part of the product, rather like coloring outside the lines. Most noticeably in the opening scenes as the red santa outfit drags across the screen, slightly behind the actual movement.

    One would believe that Mr. Friedkin created the film desired at the time, although with deluxe as Fox's lab, the ability to use Technicolor may have created huge, if not insurmountable problems.
     

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