HTF REVIEW: Port Of Shadows - The Criterion Collection (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jul 24, 2004.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 7, 2001
    Messages:
    1,342
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    [​IMG]

    Port Of Shadows
    The Criterion Collection






    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1938
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 90 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: French
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $29.95
    Package: Keep Case





    The Feature:
    July is a relatively quiet month for new releases from Criterion with only two slated for the month. The first, is Yasujiro Ozu’s 1951 Early Summer and the feature, 1938's Port Of Shadows, a film from French director Marcel Carné, both of which debut on July 20th.

    En route to the foggy port city of La Havre, a trucker picks up a uniformed man hitchhiking. While it’s never clear, it’s assumed that Jean (played by Jean Gabin) is on the lam, a deserter from the French army, looking for nothing more than a change of clothes and a hot meal. During the ride into town, Jean reaches over and almost puts the truck into a ditch in an attempt to avoid a stray dog crossing the road. His actions cause a near physical altercation between him and the driver and it also leads to an unusual friendship that lasts throughout the film. During his trek through town, his new drunken friend, Quart Vittel (played by Raymond Aimos), takes Jean to Panama's, a flophouse of sorts, where he can get some food and rest. Like Jean himself, Panama (played by Edouard Delmont) has accumulated a group of reprobates who all seem to be fleeing something for one reason or another. Although it seems Panama knows Jean is up to no good, it makes no difference as he seems to understand the needs of those he shelters.

    While hiding out, Jean meets Nelly (played by Michèle Morgan), who he thinks is a prostitute but is quick to tell her he loves her. Another key figure is Zabel (played by Michel Simon), who is running from tough guy Lucien (played by Pierre Brasseur) and his thugs. While he is seeking shelter at Panama’s, the host notices that he is covered in blood and is asked to leave. Jean falls for Nelly hard and soon he discovers that her recent boyfriend has disappeared. After an unfortunate incident decides the fate of one of Panama’s frequent patrons, it provides a new set of clothes for Jean, but will the new clothes lead to an opportunity for the man to take advantage of a new lease on life, or seal his fate of inevitable doom…?

    I’ve read quite a bit about this shadowy film prior to the arrival of the screener but I’d never had the pleasure of seeing it. Port of Shadows just oozes atmosphere, and I can’t think of a better example of early French noir. Without question, the film is a quintessential example of French romantic fatalism though it lacks the German Expressionism often associated with earlier films noir.

    Port of Shadows is loaded with many examples of skewed camera angles while the overall feeling and mood of the film is that of bleakness and disillusionment. Jean’s character (beyond Gabin’s enormous charismatic screen presence), specifically is straightforward, cantankerous yet most likeable. Even though many of the other characters spend a great deal of time in certain scenes, we know little about who they are and what they’re involved with. It’s obvious that this film had a number of hurdles and roadblocks to pass through most of which Carné was successful and the film ends with a brutally violent murder that was most certainly not typical for the period.

    The Feature: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    Without question, rating older films (and their respective transfers) has to be the hardest part of the review. The transfer is only going to be as good as the elements that were used. So when a company does the best they can with elements that weren’t cared for or have deteriorated causing poorer video presentations, do we as reviewers assign a lower grade to the video presentation…? In my opinion, no. At least “no”, provided the company has a proven track record in delivering the goods in the past. All of which is why I tend to hold transfers of newer films to a higher standard.

    I preface my video portion with this because I believe that’s the case here with Criterion and their efforts with Port Of Shadows. When the film started, I had some serious concerns as the overall look of the image was rather poor. It soon becomes clear however, that only certain reels have some issues that need to be addressed. When the film starts, including and just after the intro credits, the image lacks any real definition and contains a hefty amount of coarse grain rendering a rather diffused image. However as the film progresses, it clearly looks wonderful. So, for the most part the overall image of this sixty six year old film looks pretty darn good.

    The level of image definition is much better than I expected although the level of grayscale is rather limited and shadow detail and contrast levels are just adequate. Much is this is due to the fact the black levels are just satisfactory while whites were rather grayish and not as stark as we would hope for. Except for the odd problematic scenes that crop up, the amount of fine film grain is moderate and appropriate however, when the troubled scenes do pop up, expect very coarse and heavy grain.

    There was a fair amount of light shimmer and more dust and dirt particles than I would have hoped for but still very acceptable. Thankfully, there were no signs of any compression errors or artifacting issues.

    For the most part, the overall look of this film is terrific, other than a few problematic scenes. Given Criterion’s track record and their history for producing exceptional transfers, I have to assume they did the best they could with what was provided to them.

    Video: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    The track provided is a French mono Dolby Digital (1.0) with optional English subtitles.

    There is a fair amount of voice activated hiss present throughout much of the dialogue of this film. It wasn’t what I would describe as annoying but it was noticeable. The overall tonal quality of the track is rather natural, bordering on slightly harsh.

    Although much of the dialogue was rather thin and slightly veiled, for the most part it was usually clear.

    Beyond the inherent limitations of the monaural format itself, the track does what it needs to – no more, no less.

    Audio: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    [*] First up is a Gallery of 34 shots of various posters, stills and publicity shots which are all captioned with brief descriptions. Thanks and credit is given to Iconothèque/Biblothèque Du Film and Studiocanal Image, Paris as well as the Marcel Carné archive at the French Library & Cultural Center in Boston.
    [*] The next special feature is the Theatrical Trailer which is in pretty rough shape. If the original elements were in similar condition to the trailer, it might be a good indicator of how good a job Criterion actually did with the film itself. Duration: 3:50 minutes
    [*] The last special feature is 32 page booklet/insert. Other than the typical Cast & Crew information, the insert lists all chapter stops as well as two essays. The first essay is by Luc Sant and the second essay is a long excerpt from Marcel Carné's autobiography, "My Life with Gusto”. He discusses the casting of the film as well as numerous hurdles he had to overcome, while the first essay spends a great deal of time touching on the film’s influence in future French pictures. There are also a number of gorgeous frame captures of the film interspersed throughout the booklet. Both essays are great reads and certainly worth your time.

    As for the single disc itself, it is in a keepcase with drop dead gorgeous cover art that captures perfectly the mood and feel of the film. Although the special features are not in a great abundance, what is included is solid and undoubtedly accounts for the lower price point of this Criterion release.

    Special Features: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    I’ve often said that it’s the better films that stick with you long after screening them, and it’s been awhile since a film has stuck with me like this one has. Some don’t consider films from the 30’s to qualify as film noir, others have a difficult time buying into foreign films fitting into the noir genre. Frankly, I can’t think of a better example of an early entry film that qualifies strongly in both categories not to mention a film that is a truly remarkable.

    Considering Criterion’s past history, one has to assume they did the best they could with the elements they had to work with and even beyond that, the film is just too good to dismiss due to a rather average A/V presentation.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Recommended…!



    Release Date: July 20th, 2004
     
  2. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2001
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    50
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Real Name:
    Rich

    Herb,

    Thanks for the review. I enjoy with noir elements so this looks like a film that I would like to see.

    However, I would suggest you might want to reconsider your video rating system. I would suggest that when rating consumer products it is all about the result, not how hard we think they tried.

    It is also just too subjective. Company A is quality established DVD producer and Company B is not established. Yet, the results being equal - you would rate company A's product higher. Should a boxing judge rate a boxer higher because of past performances or what he did on that night? And more importantly, how does that help the DVD consumer? What are you going to do if a company slips in their quality over time? Go back (after the fact) and lower the grades you gave them?

    I also think that results are results no matter when the film was produced. Video results should be based on how outstanding the image quality is ... period. Otherwise you just confuse the consumer based on a subjective bias as to when the film was made.

    For example, does a terrific film image of 1940's Cocteau's Orphee get a higher grade than the very pleasing image of the 1960's 8 1/2? If so, does the 1930's Grand Illusion now get bonus points over 8 1/2 as well? If so, where does that leave the 2001 B&W The Man who wasn't there?

    I understand what you're trying to do. I just think you're better off just commenting in the verbage about it. Such as 'this is such a terrific film with a mediocre image quality but probably as good as can be achieved given the elements.'

    Anyway, my 2 cents worth.
     
  3. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    5,548
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    6,610
    Location:
    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler
    Herb, another fine review. Particularly the VIDEO portion. I think it's very important, especially to those tentative about purchasing older films, for you to lay this primer. This film is another demonstration of Criterion being in a class of its' own. If this received even half the treatment they gave to Carne's 1945 masterpiece Children of Paradise, it appears to be a good title worth purchasing. On that disc, the restoration demonstration is quite telling of the condition of some of these older films and the effort that Criterion puts into their releases. I, from your review, and the strength of other Criterion releases will give this a blind purchase.
     
  4. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2000
    Messages:
    12,251
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Just watched this last night and will wholeheartedly second Herb's recommendation - Port of Shadows is a great movie and proto-noir. [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  5. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    5,548
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    6,610
    Location:
    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler
    SteveGon recommends this also, make that three good reasons for a blind buy.
     
  6. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2001
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    50
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Real Name:
    Rich


    Zen,

    A little transparent, aren't you? [​IMG]
     
  7. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    5,548
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    6,610
    Location:
    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler


    Sure Rich, there's a first for being called anything, I suppose. So why not transparent? I could have been a tinge rude, quoted your whole post, and then responded to it.

    I was not trying to be sly in my response, but simply trying to show support for a review that got minimal response and encourage those tentative about classic titles. I thought I made my ignorance of the title pretty obvious. BTW, transparency is not always a bad trait.
     
  8. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2001
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    50
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Real Name:
    Rich

    Hopefully what we are here for is honest discussion. If you disagree with a post, why not direct your comments to those that you disagree with?

    Postering a response to Herb while covering points you really want to direct to me is just being passive aggressive or at the least a bit smarmy.

    My points to Herb were not intended to be critical of his reviews (which I enjoy) but to give him my honest thoughts as to the video rating ideas that he raised.

    If you want to share your thoughts on that subject, I'd love to hear them and perhaps Herb and others would too.
     
  9. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 7, 2001
    Messages:
    1,342
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Hi Rich:

    Given your participation in the noir thread in the Movies forum, I’m fairly confident you’ll enjoy this one.



    I don’t necessarily disagree with you Rich regarding the rating system, but many members voiced their opinions, wanting a star/rating system. And to add to that, I do try and explain in great detail (in a manner of verbiage) why I have given the mark that I have to a particular transfer.

    Rating the older films (PQ) has to be a balance. And remember, we as the reviewers are critiquing the transfers. A proper transfer (the process) isn’t necessarily, going yield perfect results. But if the company (studio) was given elements that were less than favorable as a source and they’ve done the best job conceivable, how can they be faulted - especially for something that’s almost 70 years old? I have a ton of discs in my collection from older films and the Now, Voyageur, The Bad And The Beautiful and Casablanca SE discs are exceptions to the rule - something you’ll see me reference quite a bit in my reviews in an attempt to keep things in perspective. It simply isn’t realistic to expect every vintage disc to look like these.

    Rarely (almost never) do we have the luxury of learning or hearing about the source that was used for the transfer. In August, I’ll be reviewing two noirs (Bury Me Dead and The Chase), for VCI Entertainment where Jay Fenton is providing the 16mm films from his collection for the transfers. In this rare case I will be able to ask questions if necessary – the exception, hardly the rule.

    I do however strongly disagree with your comment regarding newer films. I have, and always will hold new releases to a higher standard. With the technology that now exists, there is no excuse for a new release from one of the larger studios, not to be as faithful as possible to its theatrical presentation. You mentioned films from the 30’s, 40’s and 60’s. My specificity for films looking “a certain way” through various decades wouldn’t be that literal, however, I would expect The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) to be darn near perfect.

    In the case of Port Of Shadows, there are several reels that look rather poor. The overall transfer is somewhat of an exception in that it is rather “spotty”. Spotty meaning much of it looks quite good, but some of it looks quite bad. Given Criterion’s history, why would it be unreasonable to think the elements for those specific scenes were not up to par for one reason or another? Don’t you agree, that if they were able to, the spottiness of the film would have been eliminated so that the film in its entirety, would look terrific? The trailer is another possible indicator, if the film even slightly resembled it originally in similar fashion. On the The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse disc, Criterion indicates several reels were obtained from various sources, thus the reason for the varying PQ. On The Third Man disc for example, Criterion shows us comparisons from the restoration process, still, some of the restored sequences don’t look ideal, but most certainly a vast improvement from what it may have looked like. I think in this case, they have to be given the benefit of the doubt.

    Herb.
     
  10. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    5,548
    Likes Received:
    20
    Trophy Points:
    6,610
    Location:
    Southern, Ca
    Real Name:
    Zen K. Butler


    Trust me, I'm sure many mods here can confirm, I don't have a problem doing that. We'll leave this one as my fault. Careless, irresponsible reading and post response.
     
  11. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Messages:
    671
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I hope to watch my copy of Port of Shadows this evening--thanks for a nice review, Herb.

    On the subject of how to grade the video quality of older films, I disagree with Rich. It is pointless to rate a 1938 film with the same criteria one uses for a 2004 release. In that case, most older films could hardly muster half a star. For recent films, the elements are (or should be) pristine, so the video quality comes down to how well the authoring was done.

    Another way would be to compare the video quality with that of other films made around the same time. This, however, doesn't take into account the variability (and condition) of surviving elements (that is, for some films the original camera negative may be available and in good shape, while for another the best available element is a third-generation dupe negative in poor condition).

    Herb's method in this review (if I'm reading him correctly) was to compare the quality to a hypothetical ideal transfer of the best available elements. If you reason that Criterion works from the best available elements (in this case, a second-generation, 35mm finegrain master positive), this allows one to judge the digital clean-up, encoding quality, the bitrate, and the presence or absence of digital artifacts. Now maybe you also factor in the quality of the elements, such that a perfect transfer of poor-quality elements still wouldn't rate a 5/5. The problem with this method is that outside of Criterion, few other companies reveal the elements which were used for the DVD.

    A fourth way is to have a separate rating system for older and newer films (perhaps using letter grades for one and numerical grades for the other).

    The point is that rating older films is always problematic (and we haven't even begun to discuss how one judges a DTS 5.1 Surround track of a modern film against a mono track of an older film). I think Herb did the right thing by assigning a number, and then explaining his method of arriving at it in the text of the review.
     
  12. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2001
    Messages:
    2,024
    Likes Received:
    50
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Real Name:
    Rich
    Herb/Zen/Brian,

    Thanks for weighing in on this issue.

    Herb,

    Naturally, you are the reviewer and I see no point in reinterating old points. But I appreciate your points and look forward to your thoughts on the two 16 mm prints.

    Zen,

    Yes, that's exactly what went through my mind. I certainly take you at your word, no proof necessary. I apologize for choosing to assume the worst.

    Brian,

    Certainly you bring up some very valid points and well-described to boot.

    Rather than reinterate points already made consider my analogy to coin grading. Just like it is easier to obtain a 2003 video with a pristine video quality than a 1936 video it is also true that it is easier to obtain a pristine 2003 minted coin than a 1936 one.

    However, when coins are rated for appearance, they are all on the same exact rating scale. Time has no weighting whatsoever. Even though that means that there are a lot of old coins that don't get a top grade there are other factors that come into play such as rarity, opinions as to the artistic value of the coin etc.

    I'm suggesting the same is true for a DVD. So what if the video image is poor compared to some other film from some other time period. If the film has other merits such as a great story, great acting etc. let those other merits be the ones that differentiate the product to the consumer.

    The bottom line is that people will then know what is being delivered to them rather than more subjective measures. And quite frankly, one that they are more likely to understand.
     
  13. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 1998
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I was a little wary about this title when I read a few reviews on the net that suggested that the picture quality was not up to Criterion's usual standards. Anyway, since I really enjoyed Criterion's DVDs of other French classics such as Pepe Le Moko, Le Corbeau and Quai des Orfevres, I went ahead and ordered it.

    I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the picture quality. Granted it is not on par with the other titles I mentioned, but it is very good for 75-80% of the movie. Some scenes are intentionally hazy because of the pervasive fog and there are others where a poor quality dupe was used, or the print is badly damaged. This however doesn't detract from the overall experience of watching this very fine film.

    I hope Criterion rounds out their collection of French classics with two more Gabin titles that I have wanted to see for a long time - namely Carne's Le Jour Se Leve and Renoir's La Bete Humaine.

    -D
     

Share This Page