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A few words about...™ My Fair Lady -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 555 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 02 2011 - 09:55 AM

Update 12/23


The more I consider what CBS has purposefully done to destroy one of our greatest films, the more I find that my recommendations at the end of this thread are incorrect.


For those who like to hum along with the tunes, I would not waste a single coin on this release, thereby aiding the CBS/Viacom bottom line, and making those who are behind the release of the disaster look good by increasing sales.


My suggestion would be to borrow a CD of the score, as well as that of one of the fine Broadway Cast productions, copy them to your computer, and enjoy via iTunes or whatever -- all perfectly legal.


Without a doubt, and based upon what it could and should have looked and sounded like, CBS/Paramount's release of Mr. Cukor and Mr. Warner's My Fair Lady on Blu-ray...


is the worst Blu-ray of 2011.


For those who follow such things, this is the third time that My Fair Lady has been placed in such a prestigious position.


"It was written, then."


RAH


Update 11/27


I finally realized that a single line from the film sums up this Blu-ray perfectly.


"What a disagreeable surprise!"




Update 11/12


A friend who worked on the MFL restoration stopped by to take a peek at the Blu-ray, and was aghast at the faded looking sides of the image, which on third viewing, not only fade out to about 40% density, but turn toward a reddish amber.


Rather gives the film a bit of that old-timish look.  Now if we added some scratches...


The thought in play during the viewing was "They've made a sow's ear out of a silk purse."





Update 11/9


Re-checking this Blu-ray, the amount of movement on the screen, as the image does its best to imitate a football player making his way downfield, bobbing and weaving, can only have been accomplished before modern equipment allowed a new digital image harvest, which would be rock steady.


This tells us that the base transfer is at least six or seven years old, and possibly older.


The more that I look at this, the more I feel that Mr. Kimmel spent far more bringing The First Nudie Musical (which is a superb image harvest) to Blu-ray than did CBS on My Fair Lady.



Update 11/7


Another interesting side note is that a number of the special features contain visible time code, ie. transferred from a back-up editorial sub-master tape.


I have no idea why someone involved in the project would have not done a search for the non-time-coded master.


Strangely, this is precisely what occurred on the second WB DVD release, c. 1998.



NOTE:  This post has been updated as of 11/6.


Readers of this offering should be aware that I view My Fair Lady quite differently than most everyone else on the planet.  And the negatives below are a fair and honest record of what I'm seeing in this latest incarnation, and the first in high definition.


When film elements and video masters were prepared for CBS in 1994, it was with the knowledge that at that time, there were some problems which could not easily be overcome, and any immediate use in the home would be at 480i toward laserdisc and VHS.


Seventeen years ago, abilities both visually and aurally were far more limited than they are today.  Since that time, digital has added a huge array of assets to our toolbox.  For that reason the 35mm element used for those early video masters is no longer the prime element that might be used in 2011.  As far as audio, we now have the ability to mix and match different masters, taking advantage of what each has to offer with reasonable transparency.  In 1994 the only complete extant element was a 6-track print master used for sounding 70mm prints, and which had been run over 120 times.  It lacked in both detail as well as high-end frequencies.  Some wonderful people worked extremely hard to get every bit of audio out of it, and at the same time hiding its faults.


That noted, none of the upgrades that should have and could have been made to My Fair Lady seem to have occurred.  And the cost to deal with the various problems would have been a virtual drop in the bucket, especially when one takes the prospective income of the film into account.


One of the more obvious problems on larger screens is the fall-off of density on left and right (more on the left).  This is a flaw in the optical field that was partially corrected on the laserdisc, and was almost obscured on DVD by the low resolution.  It now becomes glaringly real on Blu-ray, as there has been no correction.


The use of a different element, and a bit of digital magic, would have alleviated the problem.  Something shot specific comes into play in the single shot of Ms. Hepburn making her entrance down the stairs in her ball gown, just before the intermission.  The use of an alternate element would have eliminated the this dupe, which turns a bit soft and occasionally twitches, as the masters had shrunken.  A easy, and inexpensive fix.


Color and densities are generally pleasing, if occasionally off.  I note one shot which goes quite green, matching an early DVD, which was in error.  Cutaways do not always match in color and density, which creates some awkward cuts.


Shots originally derived from 65mm separation masters will look softer on large screens because of not only the generational loss, but the low resolution at which they were processed.  Abilities were further restricted in the recording and optical world.  Dupe shots also exhibit optical translucent "holes," which need not exist, as they are also correctible.


The audio, which for the most part is very good, could have been even better, but again, would have required investment.


Aspect ratio is 2.35:1, which is fine, as a bit of image,  normally cropped in 70mm projection is visible.  Nothing is missing or cropped vertically.  Going with 2.2 would have allowed for a higher resolution image, while losing the far sides of the field problem.


My Fair Lady is one of our greatest pieces of cinematic art.  The Academy Award winning Best Picture of 1964.  And, as the jewel in the CBS crown, could have been shown just a bit more respect.


All of the above noted, it must be understood that what I seek in My Fair Lady is attainable perfection.


The average viewer will be blissfully unaware of these problems, and should therefore be thrilled with the new CBS/Paramount Blu-ray.


Having received both private messages as well as discussion on line regarding my recommendation of a Blu-ray that I find problematic...


Let us make things easier at HTF.


The new Blu-ray, especially with its field problems, is not representative of the film.


It is therefore NOT recommended for anyone who cares about the cinema.


It is recommended for those who simply like to hum along with a good musical, and have a image not much larger than 60".


Please let this satisfy everyone.


As a final note, I believe that I've now figured out the overriding problem with the Blu-ray of My Fair Lady, and why it doesn't look nearly as good as releases like The Sound of Music or West Side Story.  Just for fun, I'm going to keep this one to myself for the time being to see who else will figure out the great My Fair Lady mystery.



RAH

 

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 555 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted November 02 2011 - 10:19 AM

My Fair Lady was the first DVD I ever purchased, but I'm willing to wait for a proper transfer that does the film justice.


One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#3 of 555 OFFLINE   marsnkc

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:07 AM

All our fears, due simply to the lack of fanfare that usually accompanies a high quality restoration/transfer, and expressed in Greg Pasqua's earlier announcement thread, have apparently been realized. Most heartbreaking of all is the lack of will to achieve "attainable perfection" for this beloved masterpiece. It's so ironic that Warner Bros. has to suffer their flagship production getting the bargain bin treatment while they themselves lavish money and attention on other studios' greats. It seems that, with a few stunning exceptions but with increasing frequency, we're getting tired old masters being ported over to BD, with its cynical promise of 'The Look and Sound of Perfect', as HD-DVD used to put it. I mentioned in another thread my disappointment that the UK BDs of important Miramax titles have been dismissed as mere phone-in jobs, and now we have this and WSS to contend with.

#4 of 555 OFFLINE   GMpasqua

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:14 AM

So glad to hear it meets your approval for the home veiwer Mr Harris.


I've seen the restored 70MM print quite possibly 8 times now (4 at the Zegfeld in New York in 94 alone) and twice at the Motion Picture Academy. In 70MM the restoration was quite stunning, yes there were a few instances where more restoration was needed, but the film looked great.


I have also seen a few 70MM prints (The Egyptain where the film had it's LA premiere) where the image wasn't as clean and had a lot more grain (Back in the mid 90's)


If we could get an image close to what I've seen at the Motion Picture Academy I would be very pleased



I would expect at some point WB will do a digital restoration since this film does indeed bring in a lot of money. CBS would be wise to enter into a joint venutre with WB on this "1964 film version" and give it to WB for restoration work.  Then share in the profits going forward.


CBS of course still owns the stage property/music rights so they will always have that income at their hands.





#5 of 555 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:24 AM



Originally Posted by GMpasqua 

So glad to hear it meets your approval for the home veiwer Mr Harris.


I've seen the restored 70MM print quite possibly 8 times now (4 at the Zegfeld in New York in 94 alone) and twice at the Motion Picture Academy. In 70MM the restoration was quite stunning, yes there were a few instances where more restoration was needed, but the film looked great.


I have also seen a few 70MM prints (The Egyptain where the film had it's LA premiere) where the image wasn't as clean and had a lot more grain (Back in the mid 90's)


If we could get an image close to what I've seen at the Motion Picture Academy I would be very pleased



I would expect at some point WB will do a digital restoration since this film does indeed bring in a lot of money. CBS would be wise to enter into a joint venutre with WB on this "1964 film version" and give it to WB for restoration work.  Then share in the profits going forward.


CBS of course still owns the stage property/music rights so they will always have that income at their hands.




CBS owns the entire enchilada.  WB has no ownership rights, whatsoever.


Had this Blu-ray been released under Mr. Feltenstein, it would have been letter perfect, but CBS

did not re-license, which is their right.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#6 of 555 OFFLINE   GMpasqua

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:26 AM



Originally Posted by marsnkc 

All our fears, due simply to the lack of fanfare that usually accompanies a high quality restoration/transfer, and expressed in Greg Pasqua's earlier announcement thread, have apparently been realized.

Most heartbreaking of all is the lack of will to achieve "attainable perfection" for this beloved masterpiece. It's so ironic that Warner Bros. has to suffer their flagship production getting the bargain bin treatment while they themselves lavish money and attention on other studios' greats.

It seems that, with a few stunning exceptions but with increasing frequency, we're getting tired old masters being ported over to BD, with its cynical promise of 'The Look and Sound of Perfect', as HD-DVD used to put it. I mentioned in another thread my disappointment that the UK BDs of important Miramax titles have been dismissed as mere phone-in jobs, and now we have this and WSS to contend with.


If this is a good representation of the original 94 restoration we should be happy.


Further restoration work still needs to be done but that does take time and money. At least we will have a good version on Blu-ray until the film undergoes another facelift - but that could take a number of years.


Remember "West Side Story" has transfer errors  - not restoration errors - and not the same thing


Remember WB held "Ben Hur" up an additional two years to get it right, I would glady purchase a new restoration of "MFL" in the future, but will be happy with an accurate presentaion of the 94 restoration this November


like so many others ("It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" the studios do not seem to be putting uch money into restoring their assets





#7 of 555 OFFLINE   Khai L

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:29 AM

Surely I cant be the only one that is becoming more and more disheartened this year with the quality of bluray catalog releases. It seems to have gotten to a point where studios just dont seem to care about improving quality, and would rather just get a product out on shelves they know will probably sell regardless. Sure from a business perspective (and I know it IS a business), but where has all the passion in continuous improvement gone? There are so many catalog releases that I look forward to that I wish could be stated are as perfect as they can be for the medium. I'm not saying every release needs care and attention, but these are Best Picture winners we're talking about in WSS and MFL! The ones I'm most disappointed about recently: - Star Wars - Back to the Future - West Side Story - Pulp Fiction (Australian version) - Jurassic Park Why couldnt these major releases have received the same amazing care as: - Sound of Music - Ben Hur - Bridge On The River Kwai - Disney animation (Beauty and the Beast, Pinnochio, Snow White etc) When done right, some catalog releases can truly blow you away and make you appreciate your favourite films like never before. My Fair Lady is one of my favourite musicals, right up there with Sound of Music, The King and I, and Oklahoma. I'm hoping those last two get some decent care soon!

#8 of 555 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:30 AM



Originally Posted by GMpasqua 


If this is a good representation of the original 94 restoration we should be happy.


Further restoration work still needs to be done but that does take time and money. At least we will have a good version on Blu-ray until the film undergoes another facelift - but that could take a number of years.


Remember "West Side Story" has transfer errors  - not restoration errors - and not the same thing


Remember WB held "Ben Hur" up an additional two years to get it right, I would glady purchase a new restoration of "MFL" in the future, but will be happy with an accurate presentaion of the 94 restoration this November


like so many others ("It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" the studios do not seem to be putting uch money into restoring their assets



MFL does not need another "facelift."  It merely needs to have image and audio harvested from the correct elements, a bit of hand-holding, and color correction performed properly.


My Fair Lady does not need to be restored.



RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#9 of 555 OFFLINE   GMpasqua

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Posted November 02 2011 - 11:31 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 




CBS owns the entire enchilada.  WB has no ownership rights, whatsoever.


Had this Blu-ray been released under Mr. Feltenstein, it would have been letter perfect, but CBS

did not re-license, which is their right.


RAH


Actually I'm well aware WB only license the film rights for seven years ending in 1971. CBS does own the film and funded the restoration (I actually worked for CBS/Fox during that time)



Hopefull CBS will once again license the title to WB in the future. I'm guessing Paramount egos and money are, of course, gonna mess this wish up



#10 of 555 OFFLINE   rsmithjr

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Posted November 02 2011 - 12:09 PM

Mr. Harris, Thank you for your review. I had been waiting to hear from you before ordering this since I still have some nice LD's from the 1994 restoration. (I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the 1994 LA premiere.) My big concern is that it seems that film itself is very much on the way out in all respects. Therefore, in the future, the only way to watch films like MFL will be digitallly. We are seeing this with the Ben-hur restoration, which is apparently only being distributed digitally even to 70mm archive houses like the Seattle Cinerama theatre. [They tried to get a 70mm print for their recent series but were unable to do so, so they ran it in 4K instead.] I see a lot of potential for this digital future and am not overly pessimistic. However, we are running the risk that our only/best record of these films will be suboptimal digital versions that no one wants to pay to improve. We will have something acceptable for the films, but not something truly great or representative of what it originally was like.

#11 of 555 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted November 02 2011 - 12:14 PM

I popped the disc in and pretty much agree with Mr. Harris' statements. The aspect ratio was off, the lack of density on the left is especially telling in some shots (if this is present in other releases, I had never noticed it before, but it jumped out at me on Blu-ray). Most disappointing for me was the sound. Whenever someone starts singing, there is reverb in the back rear channels (it's a 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix). At first I thought it was just with Rex Harrison's singing since his was recorded live, but it happens with all of the vocals I listened to: "Why Can't the English," "Ordinary Man," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night."


I won't get back to MFL for probably a week, but I have to say my first impression was slightly disappointing.



#12 of 555 OFFLINE   marsnkc

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Posted November 02 2011 - 12:58 PM

I popped the disc in and pretty much agree with Mr. Harris' statements. The aspect ratio was off, the lack of density on the left is especially telling in some shots (if this is present in other releases, I had never noticed it before, but it jumped out at me on Blu-ray). Most disappointing for me was the sound. Whenever someone starts singing, there is reverb in the back rear channels (it's a 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix). At first I thought it was just with Rex Harrison's singing since his was recorded live, but it happens with all of the vocals I listened to: "Why Can't the English," "Ordinary Man," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night." I won't get back to MFL for probably a week, but I have to say my first impression was slightly disappointing.

Heartbreaking!

Remember WB held "Ben Hur" up an additional two years to get it right

Exactly, and I wish CBS/Paramount had followed their lead. Sony/Columbia have resisted years-long calls to release Lawrence on BD until, the word is, they're satisfied that their icon has all the respect it deserves.

#13 of 555 OFFLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted November 02 2011 - 01:34 PM

Sad, frustrating, and senseless.



#14 of 555 OFFLINE   AnthonyP

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Posted November 02 2011 - 02:35 PM

Probably too simplified of a question but what type of cost and time might it have required, above and beyond what a release such as this took, to achieve those results? Thank you RAH for being, seemingly, one of the few that speaks on behalf of end result quality and trying to further the debate in that regard.

MFL does not need another "facelift."  It merely needs to have image and audio harvested from the correct elements, a bit of hand-holding, and color correction performed properly. My Fair Lady does not need to be restored. RAH



#15 of 555 OFFLINE   JohnMor

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Posted November 02 2011 - 02:38 PM

So sad.  What a wasted opportunity.  It must be especialy hard for you to see, Mr. Harris, given all your incredible work on the restoration.


I might still purchase this.  We'll see.  I'm tired of "upgrading" certain dvds to blu that really aren't much of an upgrade at all in some respects.  It's a waste of my time and money.


#16 of 555 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted November 02 2011 - 02:52 PM



Originally Posted by AnthonyP 

Probably too simplified of a question but what type of cost and time might it have required, above and beyond what a release such as this took, to achieve those results?
Thank you RAH for being, seemingly, one of the few that speaks on behalf of end result quality and trying to further the debate in that regard.


Time was never an issue.  As to costs, it would be inappropriate for me to offer hard budgets, but "the low end of six figures" would not be inaccurate.  Considering the asset value and income stream, the funding would have been "a trifle which they take take from a great box they have.  In Aqaba."


Actually, it would be quite self-sustaining.


RAH




"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#17 of 555 OFFLINE   Andrew Budgell

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Posted November 02 2011 - 04:10 PM

This is disappointing, especially after the incredible "Breakfast at Tiffany's" release in September.

#18 of 555 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted November 02 2011 - 04:54 PM

Jesus. First Scrooge, then West Side Story, and now this. Do they just plain not like musicals or something?


Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then.


#19 of 555 ONLINE   Mark-P

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Posted November 02 2011 - 05:06 PM

Well I'm glad to see the "recommended" stamp, even though the disc doesn't attain the perfection it could have. I guess that's the best we can expect in this economy where CBS probably had limitations on how much they were willing to invest, and it's hard to fault them because catalog Blu-rays (even ones of the stature of MFL) are just not earning back their costs when given full restoration budgets. I won't cancel my pre-order as I did with West Side Story, due to the fact that that disc is rumored to be getting a "running fix."

#20 of 555 ONLINE   Brian McP

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Posted November 02 2011 - 06:05 PM

Sad that My Fair Lady is getting short shrift this way -- some of this suggests a 'double dip' a few years down the track. I agree it must be galling to Robert seeing this and noting the quick fix faults, but when you look at the drab cover art of the bluray disc (with Audrey Hepburn's picture printed back to front), you know, somehow, this is going to get another release, one of these days....





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