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HTF DVD REVIEW: Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition



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#1 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 06 2008 - 03:51 PM

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Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition

Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans


Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 1958

Rated: G

Film Length: 115 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Japanese

Release Date: September 16, 2008

The Film

Leslie Caron plays the title role in the MGM musical Gigi. Gigi is a young girl on the verge of womanhood in turn of the century Paris who is being raised and trained by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Gingold), and Aunt Alicia (Jeans) to be a professional escort for rich sophisticated men. Gaston Lachaille (Jordan) is a wealthy heir to a sugar empire who is casually successful in business as well as on the society pages for his romantic liasons. Gaston is becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle despite the encouragement of his uncle, Honoré (Chevalier), who has happily maintained such a lifestyle well into old age. Gaston finds refuge from his idle pursuits in his visits to the home of Madame Alvarez, a former flame of Honoré's, and Gigi. When Gaston, recovering from a well-publicized split with Lian d'Exelmas (Gabor), invites Madame Alvarez and Gigi to a weekend seaside getaway, they have a wonderful time. Shortly after they return, though, Madame Alvarez realizes that Gigi is developing strong feelings for Gaston and confronts him with this fact. Gaston realizes that Gigi has grown into a young woman and encounters complications both practical and personal when he tries to deal with these developments in his traditional ways.

Considered by many to be the swansong for the MGM musical, Gigi is a film that producer Arthur Freed had been considering adapting for most of the 1950s. Under the aegis of the Production Code, however, it presented a number of problems, the most significant being that its main character is a young girl who is being raised to be a high class call girl. The Production Code folks were eventually placated in the grand Ernst Lubitsch tradition. Not only were the more tawdry elements of the story handled delicately with wit and good taste in the script, but just as importantly, Freed was able to comfort the censors by assuring them that the main chracaters would ultimately make moral decisions and that the enterprise would be in the hands of a group of collaborators with an established pedigree of restraint and taste: Director Vincente Minnelli in collaboration with Writer Alan Jay Lerner and Composer Frederick Loewe.

Lerner and Loewe were a very hot property at the time thanks to the Broadway success of My Fair Lady, as was designer Cecil Beaton who was retained as the production designer for Gigi. This Broadway pedigree was exploited successfully in the promotion of Gigi, making frequent mentions of the My Fair Lady connection in advertisements and even opening the film in an exclusive reserved seat engagement at a New York theater. Thematically,Gigi is even a variation on the same Pygmalion story that inspired My Fair Lady mixed with elements of Cinderella. There was plenty of steak to go with the sizzle, though, as Lerner and Loewe came up with a batch of songs of comparable quality to their recent stage success including such enduring standards as "Thank Heaven for Little Girls", "I Remember it Well", "The Night they Invented Champagne", "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore", and the recycled My Fair Lady outtake "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight". Beaton's costumes and sets are impeccably detailed, mouth wateringly lavish, exquisitely tasteful, and effectively lighted by veteran MGM cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg.

Minnelli, who had arguably not had a completely successful musical film credit under his name since 1953's The Band Wagon (author's bias: I have always been somewhat cool on 1954's Brigadoon), reversed that trend fabulously with Gigi. From an artistic standpoint, Minnelli and Beaton were a match made in heaven and the use of actual Paris locations adds even further to the film's high production value. While I have gone on record as saying that I thought that Vincente Minnelli should not have won the 1959 Oscar for Best Director for Gigi, that was only because I thought that Vincente Minnelli should have won the 1959 Oscar for Best Director for Some Came Running.

An additional strength of Gigiis its near perfect cast. Alan Lerner had apparently wanted Audrey Hepburn for the role, which she had played in a successful non-musical theatrical adaptation of the story a few years earlier, but Leslie Caron proved to be a piece of casting that was both obvious and inspired. Despite being in her late 20s, Caron does a wonderful job of physical acting in the role of a teenage ingénue. Louis Jordan is also perfectly cast as Gaston, in what I believe is his best film role. He would frequently be cast in roles of gigolos and bored playboys, but rarely would he be allowed to embody a character as fully realized as Gaston, whose journey of self-awareness drives the film. The most perfect of the perfect casting coups, though, is Maurice Chevalier as Honoré, the film's narrator. The part was written by Lerner with Chevalier in mind, and it resulted in a late career resurgence (including a special Oscar) after a period of being ostracized from films due to bad feelings stemming from his performing for the Vichy government during World War II. Supporting roles, both large and small are equally well-filled, with special mention deserved for the work of Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans as Gigi's grandmother and great aunt, which skillfully balance comedy and drama.


The Video

While the transfer is an improvement in many ways over previous video releases of Gigi, it still has problematic areas that may have as much or more to do with its late 50s "Metrocolor" origins than with anything that was done in the telecine bay. Contrast is on the high side, with whites on the verge of being blown out during certain scenes. Perhaps the most problematic shots in the film are the ones that occur in the home of Gigi and Madame Alvarez. While the deep crimson wall coverings are rendered without a hint of chroma noise, other colors seem "off" and surface textures lack detail and depth. On the positive side, compression artifacts and ringing along high contrast edges are minimal to nonexistent.

The Audio

The film's audio is presented via a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at a 384 kbps bitrate. Overall, this was a very satisfying mix/track. The orchestral score is presented in wide stereo. There is directional dialog, but it is "pulled in" somewhat, not using the full width of the front channels. The surrounds are used primarily for support of the music track. In terms of fidelity, the dialog and vocals are not recorded quite as well as the orchestra. Louis Jordan's vocals during numbers such as the film's title song stick out particularly strongly in this regard. A dubbed French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is also available.


The Extras

The two-disc special edition of Gigi comes with a nice array of extras. All are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound unless indicated otherwise below.

Starting on disc one, we have an Audio Commentary from Jeanine Basinger with Leslie Caron. Basinger handles the lion's share of the commentary and introduces recently recorded interview snippets from Caron at a half dozen or so points throughout the film's running time. Basinger offers a thorough and well-researched commentary on a broad range of topics including the film's genesis, production, and key contributors with surprisingly few gaps and only a few instances where she lapses into narration of what the viewer can obviously see. She actually echoed one of my own thoughts from watching the film when she pointed to a dialog exchange about a suicide attempt as one of the film's most "Lubitschian" moments. Caron's comments, while infrequent, are informative and refreshingly frank.

Continuing on, we have Million Dollar Nickle, a 1958 single reel propaganda piece from the Common Council on American Unity encouraging Americans to spend a nickel to buy a stamp to send a letter abroad letting people know the truth about their country. Celebrities enlisted for the appeal include Pier Angeli, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Caron, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, each who makes a subtitled appeal to viewers in their native language. It is presented in 4:3 black and white video.

Next up is The Vanishing Duck, a 1958 Color MGM Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry and Little Quacker discover vanishing cream that makes them invisible and use it to wreak havoc on Tom. Listed as a CinemaScope cartoon, the credits are letterboxed to 2.55:1 while the body of the short fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. I am not familiar with the history of this particular short, but a number of the later Tom & Jerry CinemaScope shorts were produced simultaneously for both flat and scope ratios.

The last extra on disc one is the Theatrical Trailer which is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video and runs three minutes and 31 seconds. Its plays up the songs, the stars, and the Lerner & Loewe My Fair Lady pedigree.

Disc two is a double layered disc that contains only two features. First up is the 1949 French version of "Gigi" which runs 83 minutes. This black and white non-musical adaptation of Colette's story was directed by Jacqueline Audry and stars Danielle Delorme, Yvonne de Bray, Gaby Morlay, Frank Villard, and Jean Tissier. It is presented in 4:3 full frame video representing its original theatrical aspect ratio with French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio. English subtitles are burned in, and player generated subtitles are also available in English (with captions for the hearing impaired) and in Japanese.
The video and audio quality leaves a lot to be desired, but an explanation is provided on a printed insert included with the disc:

Among the array of bonus features, the rare 1949 French movie of "Gigi" is taken from the only known surviving print.

It reflects the ravages of time in picture and sound quality but nonetheless we share it with you to enhance your enjoyment of the charming chronicles of Colette's indelible character.

It is interesting to compare to the Hollywood film as it is structurally very similar and makes some decisions in adapting the story that were retained, such as making Honoré a full-fledged foreground character.

Finally, we have the newly produced featurette: Thank Heaven! The Making of "Gigi". It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and runs 35 minutes and 44 seconds. It is not quite as thorough an overview of the film's history as Basinger's commentary, but it is certainly more compact and benefits from a broader cross-section of perspectives. Some of the comments from Leslie Caron are excerpts from the same interviews as were used for the audio commentary. One of the more interesting segments covers the dubbing of Leslie Caron's singing voice, and an excerpt of a scene with her voice is included. Apparently, there are complete takes of her performing "Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" and "The Night they Invented Champagne" that have appeared on CD, and it is too bad that they were not included here for the sake of completeness. On camera interview participants include Author/Historian Drew Caspar, Author/Colette Expert Diane LeBow, Caron, Author/Historian Hugh Fordin, and Lerner and Loewe Biographer Gene Lees. Audio and video footage from archival interviews with Vincente Minnelli and Alan Freed secretary Mildred Kaufman is also incorporated into the featurette along with a mix of film clips and behind the scenes images. Japanese subtitles are available on this featurette.

Packaging

The disc is packaged in an Amaray style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate two discs. The cover has the familiar painting of a winking Gigi with the film's title spelled out in the Cecil Beaton designed font style. The hard case in turn is enclosed in a cardboard slipcover that exactly reproduces the art on the hard case with no additional enhancements such as foil or embossment. Both discs are dual-layered DVD-9s. The second disc is authored as if it were an independent release of the 1949 French version, with "Play Movie" "Scene Selections" and "Languages" options available from the main menu. The menu image is from the 1958 musical version, though, so viewers who accidentally place the wrong disc in their player may be surprised when the French version appears.

Summary

Gigi receives a fairly substantial audio/video upgrade with this two-disc special edition DVD, although there are still some source related issues with the film that prevent the image from looking ideal. A generous array of extras are highlighted by the rare 1949 French adaptation of Gigi, a very good "making of" featurette, and an excellent scholarly commentary from Jeanine Basinger with interview excerpts from Leslie Caron.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 47 Mark-P

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Posted September 06 2008 - 04:08 PM

I'm glad I held off buying the first DVD as I expected a special edition to surface at some point. So the picture has some Metrocolor related imperfections - at least they didn't DNR the hell out of it.

Glad to hear about the bonus of the 1949 version. Somehow I missed this information in the press release.

Tom & Jerry short is OAR for the credits only? Bummer.

#3 of 47 BillyFeldman

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Posted September 06 2008 - 04:41 PM

"Metrocolor" is just Eastman color, no? It shouldn't have any problems at all - the last DVD (which I'm getting the impression the reviewer hasn't actually seen) had pretty good color as I recall, even though the transfer was one of the earliest, I think. So, if there are problems, perhaps it is a telecine problem. Can anyone provide comparison screencaps between old and new DVD - that might show what the story really is.

Nice review, Ken.

#4 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 06 2008 - 05:02 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
"Metrocolor" is just Eastman color, no? It shouldn't have any problems at all - the last DVD (which I'm getting the impression the reviewer hasn't actually seen) had pretty good color as I recall, even though the transfer was one of the earliest, I think. So, if there are problems, perhaps it is a telecine problem. Can anyone provide comparison screencaps between old and new DVD - that might show what the story really is.

Nice review, Ken.
"Metrocolor" would mean Eastman single strip film with MGM in-house lab work. I do not think they had an original negative from which to work, so the element used for transfer would likely be a product of lower generation elements and protection separations. The quality of the lab work in creating these elements would directly affect what they could coax out of them for this transfer.

I have seen the previous DVD, but only as a rental a few years back, so I could not do a thorough A/B comparison.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#5 of 47 Lord Dalek

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Posted September 06 2008 - 10:51 PM

I don't think MGM ever got their printing process "right". Even stuff from the 70's and 80's like Ghostbusters looks subpar compared to contemporary films printed in Technicolor.

#6 of 47 BillyFeldman

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Posted September 07 2008 - 04:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord Dalek
I don't think MGM ever got their printing process "right". Even stuff from the 70's and 80's like Ghostbusters looks subpar compared to contemporary films printed in Technicolor.

There were no films printed in Technicolor after Godfather II in the US (it was either Godfather II or Chinatown, if my memory isn't playing tricks on me). I think the last film printed in Technicolor in the UK was Star Wars or something of that year. Unless you're not talking about IB Technicolor and just regular printing by the Technicolor lab.

#7 of 47 Jefferson

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Posted September 07 2008 - 04:47 AM

I'm glad this first-class movie has finally gotten a first-class release. Forgive me if this is mentioned above already, but isn't there a blu-ray version of this to be released sometime in the spring?

#8 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 07 2008 - 04:56 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
There were no films printed in Technicolor after Godfather II in the US (it was either Godfather II or Chinatown, if my memory isn't playing tricks on me). I think the last film printed in Technicolor in the UK was Star Wars or something of that year. Unless you're not talking about IB Technicolor and just regular printing by the Technicolor lab.
I'm pretty sure he meant printed by Technicolor. On the trivial side, there have been IB Tech prints since then, but they have been rare. The "Gone with the Wind" reissue prints released in the late 90s (anamorphic windowboxed to 4:3) were IB Tech prints. The "Funny Girl" restoration went out with IB Tech prints. There were likely a few others.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#9 of 47 Billy Batson

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Posted September 07 2008 - 05:34 AM

Techincolor (UK) sold their dye-transfer printing system to China, late 70's ? (I can't remember). I worked with an ex-Techincolor employee who went over there to show them how to use it. I don't know if they still do.

#10 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 07 2008 - 07:00 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
... I do not think they had an original negative from which to work,...
I may be wrong about that. From the Press Release:
Quote:
Gigi was produced after the demise of the original Technicolor system, photographed in the industry-standardized Eastmancolor process. For this new DVD release, Gigi has been photo-chemically restored from its original camera negative and safety separations to produce a much sharper and colorful image than has been seen in decades.
In any case the result can only be as good as the materials from which the transfer element was derived.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#11 of 47 Mark-P

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Posted September 07 2008 - 07:49 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
...The "Gone with the Wind" reissue prints released in the late 90s (anamorphic windowboxed to 4:3) were IB Tech prints...

Anamorphic? That makes no sense. Don't you mean that it was optically reduced so the 1.37:1 image would fit inside the 1.85:1 frame-line?

#12 of 47 RolandL

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Posted September 07 2008 - 09:18 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark-P
Tom & Jerry short is OAR for the credits only? Bummer.

That is strange as the Tom Jerry Collection 3 has it in scope.

Roland Lataille
Cinerama web site

 


#13 of 47 BillyFeldman

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Posted September 07 2008 - 10:08 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
I'm pretty sure he meant printed by Technicolor. On the trivial side, there have been IB Tech prints since then, but they have been rare. The "Gone with the Wind" reissue prints released in the late 90s (anamorphic windowboxed to 4:3) were IB Tech prints. The "Funny Girl" restoration went out with IB Tech prints. There were likely a few others.

Regards,

Yes, I know that there have been IB Technicolor prints more recently, but I was not talking of those, which, I hope, was obvious. I'm sure you know that the US IB Tech machines were also shipped to China after the last films were printed here, which were in 1974. Until the nostalgia fest of the late 90s kicked in, there hadn't been any IB Tech prints made in the US since 1974. Hope that's clearer.

If he did mean Printing BY Technicolor, that's something different, but in the 70s and early 80s, after the demise of IB Tech, there really wasn't much difference whether the films were printed by MGM labs, or DeLuxe, or Technicolor, all working off Eastman source material.

#14 of 47 Billy Batson

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Posted September 07 2008 - 11:14 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark-P
Anamorphic? That makes no sense. Don't you mean that it was optically reduced so the 1.37:1 image would fit inside the 1.85:1 frame-line?

Well it was re-released in the 70's as 70mm & stereo (!) with a bit cut off the top & a lot off the bottom of the frame. I'm sure local showings has 35mm amamorphic prints & showed it in 2:35. Let's hope they've all been junked.

#15 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 07 2008 - 01:04 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark-P
Anamorphic? That makes no sense. Don't you mean that it was optically reduced so the 1.37:1 image would fit inside the 1.85:1 frame-line?
I meant exactly what I said. They were scope prints with a windowboxed 4:3 image in the middle. IIRC, the reasoning was that for a fairly wide reissue release, it was the best way to insure that it was shown at the proper aspect ratio since a lot of multiplexes would over matte 1.85:1 prints to as much as 2:1, but none of them would over matte the top and bottom of scope prints. There was an epidemic of mall-based theaters matting everything to 2:1 by overmatting flat prints and cropping the sides off of scope prints.

The prints already were carrying a bit of built in extra matting in a few scenes where the image was shifted up in the frame dating back to when they had reformatted it for 70mm reissue several years previously.

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Ken McAlinden
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#16 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 07 2008 - 01:11 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
...If he did mean Printing BY Technicolor, that's something different, but in the 70s and early 80s, after the demise of IB Tech, there really wasn't much difference whether the films were printed by MGM labs, or DeLuxe, or Technicolor, all working off Eastman source material.
Arguably so, but in the 50s, it would often make a very significant difference.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#17 of 47 Edward Weinman

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Posted September 07 2008 - 01:57 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jefferson
I'm glad this first-class movie has finally gotten a first-class release. Forgive me if this is mentioned above already, but isn't there a blu-ray version of this to be released sometime in the spring?

...as I understand it, yes...along with the likes of "An American In Paris"...

#18 of 47 BillyFeldman

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Posted September 07 2008 - 02:23 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
Arguably so, but in the 50s, it would often make a very significant difference.

Regards,

Correct, but in the 50s it wasn't printing BY Technicolor, it was IB Technicolor prints - a significant difference.

#19 of 47 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 07 2008 - 02:32 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
Correct, but in the 50s it wasn't printing BY Technicolor, it was IB Technicolor prints - a significant difference.
That's not was I was talking about. My comment was within the context of Eastman stocks. When studios started doing their own lab work with single strip Eastman film (Warnercolor, Metrocolor, etc.) there was a pretty significant learning curve. Technicolor was still doing by far the best lab work.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#20 of 47 DeeF

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Posted September 08 2008 - 02:31 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Billy Batson
Well it was re-released in the 70's as 70mm & stereo (!) with a bit cut off the top & a lot off the bottom of the frame. I'm sure local showings has 35mm amamorphic prints & showed it in 2:35. Let's hope they've all been junked.

I can't imagine what you're talking about here.

Gigi, the 1949 black and white French movie, is 4:3.

Gigi, the 1958 color musical, is in Cinemascope 2.35:1. The 70mm version release of this movie would have been correctly shown at 2.35:1.

I've seen it in the theater about 5 times, and I've never seen it cropped in any way (except on television).

If there was a 70mm version of the 1949 Gigi shown during the 70s, I'd be very surprised.


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