A Few Words About A few words about... Hell's Angels

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Robert Harris, Dec 1, 2004.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    NOTE: I want to stress that I've now edited this commentary twice, as I'm seeing different results on different monitors.

    Universal has finally released another in a series of films acquired from the Hughes organization.

    Hell's Angels was begun as a silent production, and then almost entirely re-shot for sound -- the only remaining silent material seemingly the air footage.

    Directed by Howard Hughes, with dialogue directed by James Whale, the film would be a forgettable early sound production were it not for the huge budget, the liberal use of two-strip Technicolor and tinted footage along with what appears to be either tinted and toned or some form of stenciled scenes.

    Which means that Hell's Angels is a poorly acted technically brilliant cornucopian bag of tricks.

    Anyone with an interest in the silent or early sound cinema will find everything they're seeking on a filmmaking level in this film.

    The scenes with huge zeppelins stretching across the screen can not be forgotten, nor the brilliance of the air-war cinematography. This is a film which demands to be seen on a huge theatre screen.

    There is so much background information to this film, that it could have had its own documentary.

    The UCLA Film and Television Archive did a superb job of restoring Hell's Angel's to its road show proportions, inclusive of intermission, and their highly professional work should have been supported by an equally high end transfer.

    So what we have is a coulda, shoulda situation.

    Hell's Angels could easily have been one of the most important releases of 2004. But for whatever reason, it has been relegated to the bargain bin.

    Because of the historical importance and technical brilliance of this film, I'm forced to recommend the purchase of a DVD which fails to fully deliver in technical areas.

    NOTE: I have now viewed this DVD on five different systems. The less high end the system, the better it looks. When viewed via projection with line doubling in place, problems seem to disappear. They are most evident on monitors set for high definition. So in all fairness to this release, I must suggest that what one sees will be based upon one's system.

    On higher end monitors, what appears to be film grain seems actually to be video noise. I suspect that this release is based upon an older transfer, but as it has taken on an almost chameleon-like appearance on my reference systems, I cannot be certain.

    RAH
     
  2. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    edited out.

    I have the DVD and it's a beautiful transfer.
     
  3. Charles H

    Charles H Screenwriter

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    In promoing a recent showing of HELL'S ANGELS, TCM showed an amazing trailer of the premiere of HELL'S ANGELS at Grauman's Chinese Theater. It was as much about that theater and the Hollywood of that era and its stars as it was about the film itself and it seemed to run over five minutes.
    I cringe to think of Sturges' THE PALM BEACH STORY -- one of my all time favorites -- relegated to the dustbin of Universal's now notorious "Studio Selections." They don't even have "Scene Selections." Most of the films thus far (MISSING, COLOSSUS, andCHARLEY VARRICK) deserve better than "ending up" in their toxic catalog dump.
     
  4. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Just noticed this thread and had forgotten HA was coming to DVD.

    Wow, Universal must WANT to be on our sh*t-list (what with this and the recent pan & scan releases). What a shame this film didn't get the treatment it deserves. [​IMG]


    Side note: this was one of the first pre-code films I saw and I remember being impressed by the great special effects and shocked by the cursing (Did he just say that? But...but...this is an old movie!). [​IMG]
     
  5. Rob Willey

    Rob Willey Screenwriter

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    The film that launched Harlow's career and contains the only color footage of her. I was hoping for better, but didn't pre-order because of Universal's track record.

    Rob
     
  6. Kyle_D

    Kyle_D Second Unit

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    What a timely thread! I've been taking History of World Cinema this semester and my final paper has to compare a film from the early sound cinema to the silent cinema. I was having trouble deciding what film to write on (first it was M, then King Kong when I realized the new Criterion edition of M came out the day AFTER my paper was due, then Freaks because I couldn't find a decent copy of Kong anywhere around here) and then I came across this thread and decided Hell's Angels would be perfect for my assignment, with its origination as a silent film and with Scoresese's Hughes Biopic being released later this month.

    Sadly, the local video store only carried the VHS copy so I can't comment on Universal's recent DVD release, but I can say my experience watching the film was enlightening. I might have to quote in my paper Mr. Harris' post on this thread where he described the film as "a poorly acted technically brilliant cornucopian bag of tricks." I couldn't have said it better myself. The awkward beats in between line readings and the odd moments on which scenes end really demonstrate the growing pains the artform experienced during the transition to sound, but the aerial footage is still remarkably impressive.

    I can say without fear that I'll have plenty to write about. Thank you Mr. Harris and to this entire forum for helping a student out. A wonderful recommendation [​IMG]
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Kyle...

    While you're viewing these early sound films, somewhere in a corner of your mind, always consider the poor camera operator inside a hot soundproof box --- locked down with the camera.

    D.W. Griffth created the language of the cinema, Abel Gance gave it wings...

    and the advent of sound took an extraordinarily fluid cinema, lopped off its wings and buried a camera's tripod in cement.

    You might wish to take a look at some early Mamoulian, who helped the cinema regain some of that fluidity. Kino's releases of Applause and Love Me Tonight are good examples.

    RAH
     
  8. Jeff(R)

    Jeff(R) Second Unit

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    I just rented and viewed Hell's Angels for the first time and was very impressed. I recommend that all of you see it if you haven't yet. I actually enjoyed it more than The Aviator (the film that introduced me to Hell's Angels.)

    Jeff
     
  9. ReggieW

    ReggieW Screenwriter

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    A film that could've EASILY been a two-disc SE. Why didn't Universal simply license this one to Criterion? There is so much extra footage and outtakes available for this 75 year old film, that releasing it as a bargin bin title is a crime. With "The Aviator" in theatres at the time of this DVD's release, there is no excuse to have not given us a decent release of this title. This film has the only color footage of Jean Harlow ever shot, and this footage was in fact re-discovered in 1979 in the John Wayne Estate after being missing since the films 1930 Graumann premiere! The film was restored in 1988 and given a new premiere at the Smithsonian in 1989. Hopefully, we will get a decent release of this film someday. Man....If only WARNER had owned this title instead!
     
  10. Neal K

    Neal K Agent

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    I discovered an odd thing about this intermission music. The Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony recording sounded very familiar...rather like I remembered the Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra recording...only that recording wasn't made until 1934. Sure enough, pulled out my cd of it, and that's what they used. No big deal in my book, but so much for it being the "original" intermission track!
     
  11. Larry Geller

    Larry Geller Supporting Actor

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    If you think this is bad, you should see the print used on the copy of The Outlaw that was given away with The Aviator by CC. This could be the worst quality DVD I have ever seen.
     

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