Technicolor productions -- what needs to be released and/or re-released (all studios)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Bill Burns, Jun 20, 2003.

  1. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    Inspired by Robert Harris' recent comments about Hitchcock's Under Capricorn in the Software forum, I thought this might be a worthwhile thread. I haven't seen Image's Under Capricorn, but given Mr. Harris' comments, it would seem to be in need of a superior transfer that better represents its 3-Strip Technicolor heritage.

    In that spirit, here is a list of Technicolor pictures (I believe all either 3-strip or single negative IB {dye transfer} Technicolor, but please correct me if I'm wrong in identifying any of these titles as such) which I believe need to be reissued on DVD, primarily due to the lackluster picture quality (and, where true, the lack of meaningful supplements) found on their current editions. I would gladly purchase new, carefully transfered (and, if necessary, restored) editions of each:

    1. Oklahoma! (is this IB? I'm not sure if Todd-AO supported IB or not ... anyway, the film is still my vote for the finest musical ever made, and should be offered in both its CinemaScope and preferred Todd-AO versions in one set, with both versions restored at least in the video realm -- full film restoration is costly, but of course always preferred for purposes of preservation -- anamorphic, and perhaps offering a Shirley Jones commentary, which is an asset for the future that I hope Fox is getting in the can now, while the beautiful Ms. Jones is still in good health and, I trust, willing to contribute her valuable insight into the production and the history of the film; this would be a truly priceless addition to all future home video editions of Oklahoma!, and one I would personally treasure; the current DVD is all right, but falls far short of what the format can bring to such a picture)

    2. Carousel (a magnificent musical from Henry King which, as with Oklahoma!, needs to be restored in at least the video realm -- and preferably mastered from its original CinemaScope 55 negative materials, rather than the standard 35mm CinemaScope at which it was issued to theatres; anamorphically enhanced, a future DVD should also offer, if possible, the one extra I'd truly treasure: a Shirley Jones commentary or running interview, as requested for Oklahoma! above. Also as above, I'm unsure if this CinemScope 55 production is IB, but I'll include it on this list in the event it is, and yes, the current DVD is "all right," but a far cry from what it could be with a little effort and a little love [​IMG]).

    3. Under Capricorn (see above)

    4. Royal Wedding (I've only seen the UAV public domain edition on DVD, which I eventually tossed in the garbage)

    5. Show Boat (George Cukor's version; currently available in a "contrasty," poorly defined edition from WB, this is in great need of a careful remaster; as it is, it bears virtually no resemblance to the glory of Technicolor, with highlights often blooming, distracting edge enhancement, "ghosting" I'd presume to be the result of misregistration, very poor color definition, "plugged up" reds that almost hurt the eye -- yes, on a display with no red push -- and so on)

    6. On the Town (one of my favorite musicals, the current DVD is easily better than Show Boat, but lacks good definition; fades look terrible, with contrast blooming and poor color gradation, but this is common, and scenes beginning and ending in hard cuts look better. Still, whites are "dirty" and lack sparkle throughout -- a big minus given that the leads are dressed in white from head to foot! -- and color definition and gradation is never sharp; WB's own Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which isn't perfect, is substantially better and should serve as a minimum standard in acceptable picture quality, to my eye).

    7. Brigadoon (another of my very favorite musicals; anamorphic enhancement for this CinemaScope picture is the first important improvement, and it must also be uncropped, if there's any cropping in the current edition, which I have not seen -- due to the extras, I've held on to my laserdisc copy, a part of the Gene Kelley Collection set, but will gladly upgrade for an anamorphic edition; the extras found on the laser, including alternate music sessions, should be included).

    Among titles I'd like to see which are not yet available on the format (nor announced for future release), I'll name just one:

    1. It's Always Fair Weather

    Many of these are musicals, but my hope is to see all IB Technicolor product at least suggest, and perhaps even truly capture, the beauty of an original print on DVD, and that hope is bolstered by the lovely, currently available DVD editions of The Harvey Girls, Singin' in the Rain (digitally restored by Lowry in its radiant new special edition DVD, but the earlier non-restored DVD also looked very good), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and others.

    These are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Technicolor, in its dye transfer iterations, can look truly spectacular on DVD, and each title that does so only increases my respect for the format, and of course my love for the beauty of cinema. My thanks and congratulations to Warner Bros., Fox, and other studios who have redoubled their efforts to make these films look and sound the best they can on the format.
     
  2. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    OKLAHOMA! & CAROUSEL were shot with Eastman negatives, so discussing them in terms of Technicolor is not really relevant. There were dye-transfer release prints made of the 35mm version of OKLAHOMA!, but as has often been mentioned here, a release print, especially a dye-transfer print, is not an ideal element for film-to-tape mastering.

    The ROYAL WEDDING DVDs out there are all grudge-garbage from unauthorized distributors. The film is perceived to be in the public domain (although the music in the film is very much protected by copyright). If and when its legitmate owner (WB/Turner) releases it on DVD, it should look terrific, as TCM broadcasts a rather beautiful new transfer of that title, looking far better than the old, awful laserdisc released many years ago.

    BRIGADOON was also not shot in Technicolor. It was shot in
    Monopack Ansco color (a highly unstable, muddy process), although there were release prints made by Technicolor. MGM used Ansco neg for several films before their own Metrocolor lab started printing from EK negatives in 1955.

    SHOW BOAT was indeed filmed in Technicolor, but both the current BRIGADOON and SHOW BOAT DVDs issued by Warners are just repackages of the awful, shoddy transfers given to them by MGM in 1997. Warners just repackaged the existing discs when the rights reverted back to them. Both these films deserve revisiting.

    IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER was shot using Eastmancolor negative, and has never looked particularly great. It's last LD incarnation was an improvement over the first version, but this underrated and fascinating film deserves an overhaul and a proper DVD release.

    ON THE TOWN & TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME were both done by Warner after the rights reverted back to them from MGM, and
    I don't think either DVD is too problematic. However, neither of them glisten the way they should, or the way WB's more recent HARVEY GIRLS does. I don't think either of these are as bad as BRIGADOON or SHOW BOAT, but they certainly could look better, especially ON THE TOWN.

    Mr. Harris' point about UNDER CAPRICORN is well-taken, and
    I think that film has suffered due to the rights being transferred from one entity to another over the years. I highly doubt that anyone has gone back to the original Nitrate YCMs and properly restored this film.

    One of the best examples of a dye-transfer Technicolor film on DVD remains WB's stunning SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. It's highly recommended! I also think Fox did an admirable job with GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.

    The one I can't wait to see is the rumored ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. One of the quintessential dye-transfer Technicolor classics.

    It is true that no video process will ever exactly capture the look and feel of 35mm dye-transfer Technicolor prints, but some of the excellent transfers I've mentioned certainly do an admirable job of coming close.
     
  3. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Don't forget The Quiet Man.

    UCLA has the original nitrate 3-strip negatives. I don't think Republic uses their restoration.
     
  4. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

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    Four words: Gone With The Wind. The film needs a true, full restoration.

    Four more words: A Star is Born (Janet Gaynor/Frederic March version). The Image DVD is an affront to God.

    I wouldn't mind a better DVD of National Velvet.

    There's also a very sad fact I should mention:

    In the 1970s Fox threw out all their nitrate material believing the dangers of nitrate outweighed the necessity of preserving original elements. This included the 3-strip elements for their 3-strip Technicolor pictures. They made CRIs thinking they would never fade. Wrong!

    They may still have 3-strip separations for Eastmancolor films.
     
  5. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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  6. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    The Quiet Man and A Star is Born (Wyler) are great additions to the list -- I'd love to see these in quality DVD editions (I've seen, and in fact own, the current A Star is Born, which indeed doesn't look like much, and while I haven't seen it, informed parties have had a very poor reaction to the current Artisan edition of The Quiet Man ... I, too, imagine they bypassed any original negatives! Heh).

    Thanks for the detailed update, Roger -- I feared a few of those were not properly Technicolor, but went ahead and included them as color productions in need of restoration/retransfer (as long as we have the studios' ear, if we do ... [​IMG]). I believe the specifics of transfer methodology for 3-strip would involve, ideally (correct me if I have any of this wrong), the creation of a single B&W interpositive from an optically combined negative, which would then be color-corrected digitally to tones and saturation levels carefully determined from print examples of the original Technicolor (and combination of the negatives could also be accomplished digitally at great cost for increased precision) ... but I didn't think it worthwhile to get into all of that. The studios are all undoubtedly very familiar with the best methods for capturing 3-stip brilliance on DVD at this late date in the format. If not, hey, do it the WB way. [​IMG] The best 3-strip film I've seen on DVD is the special edition of Singin' in the Rain, owing its luster to digital registration of the strips and video restoration, to my understanding (vague recollections of descriptions offered by Robert Harris, but I believe this is right), and for my money it bests even the (optically registered?) quality of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but both are fine examples of just how beautifully 3-strip can come across on the format (I understand the dye-transfered Apocalypse Now Redux also looks great in its DVD incarnation -- the film itself deriving its limited engagement dye transfer prints from a single negative source, I presume -- but I haven't yet seen the DVD myself). Matthew -- I hope Fox does have B&W separations for most (if not all) of their Eastman titles, and it seems to me the disc for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mentions the use of B&W separations (Technicolor in this case) ... would these be the original 3-strip negatives, or B&W separations from a combined negative, or ... something else? If they meant 3-strip camera negatives, I presume they'd have identified them as such. It's possible the DVD explains the matter further, and I've forgotten. I'll revisit the disc here soon. Oh, and by the way, what are CRI's? I'm unfamiliar with the acronym.

    At any rate, that's just personal curiosity. As to the lists: wonderful titles, everyone. I particularly hope Show Boat and On the Town are revisited, as they hold large chunks of my heart, but the gems mentioned from Wyler and Ford are excellent candidates as well. Incidentally, The Digital Bits reported that Gone With the Wind is rumored to have a 65th Anniversary Edition in the works for sometime in late 2004, inclusive of cut footage and other supplements, and, of course, a new transfer ... which I expect, given WB's history, will be handled by Lowry (who mentioned a desire to work on the title at 4K, I believe, in their last chat ... perhaps WB is making this wish a reality?). A new theatrical engagement (I saw the last) to coincide with a full digital restoration to film resolution would be very welcome.
     
  7. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    Bill, an interpositive is a color film element. Interpositives can be manufactured from negatives, whether Eastman color original, or B&W YCMs or duplicate separations. Perhaps that's where the confusion came from.

    Indeed, it's widely known in certain circles that Fox did trash their original nitrate negatives. Sad indeed.

    GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was made in the safety era, so it is likely that Fox still has the original B&W YCMs on this title, or at least safety separations. I remember seeing new 35mm prints of this film made in the 80s by (gulp) Deluxe labs, and even those prints looked good. This is one film that, thankfully, still looks terrific in most instances. I only wish that the surviving sound elements were better.
     
  8. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    An interpositive is always a color element ... for color films only, correct? B&W productions have interpositives which are, of course, B&W, do they not? I'm certain I've read of interpositive elements in use for B&W video masters from B&W films. It was my understanding that an intermediate positive element is struck from either an original or a duplicate negative element for the purposes of both making prints (which could also be struck directly from a duplicate negative, or -- heaven forfend -- the original camera negative back when dupes didn't look like much) and creating video masters. If that's the case, and they're indeed struck from B&W negatives (all three strips in Technicolor photography are B&W, and use color matrixes by Technicolor in their printing to achieve the "dye transfer" color), interpositives would presumably be B&W (but would be in color when struck from a multiple-emulsion single strip color negative). Do I have that wrong? (Yes, I do -- see my update below [​IMG] -- the interpositive comes, in the chain of processing, after the application of color matrixes to the B&W negative, and would therefore be in color for all color productions, both B&W 3-strip and color-on-film single negative). Now ... Robert Harris has discussed the use of Technicolor print samples for color timing the restorations of Spartacus, Vertigo, etc. (along with other sources when original print samples prove insufficient or unavailable), and it was from these two pieces of information (interpositives in use for video masters and Technicolor timing references) that I presumed a combined negative for a 3-strip picture would be taken first to an interpositive step, and then from there to the creation of properly color timed prints and video masters. Three B&W film strips, optically or digitally combined, are still B&W, of course, so the color must either come from the dye transfer color matrixes (applied as a positive element?), or from digital color application. I presumed the results would be more suitable to digital mastering for disc if all such "processing" were performed in the computer, rather than chemically, but I may have that wrong. Creating a video master from a color print yields inferior results to the creation of such a master from an interpositive element, again to my understanding. Thus, from the above, my piecemeal suggestion of how 3-strip might best be transfered for DVD. How far astray from the actual process have I drifted? [​IMG]*

    *Update: I've just reviewed the brief restoration info on the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes disc. I'm not certain that this clarifies the issue, but according to the disc that film's 3-strip negatives do, indeed, survive, and were used to strike both a color timed interpositive and an answer print. The disc isn't clear about just what was used for the high definition video master ... but it's obviously one of these new elements. Master positives and interpositives are both intermediary elements between a negative and a release print, though just what distinguishes one from the other ... I dunno. If an interpositive is a combined element (3-strip), and it is, then it has, of course, had the color matrixes applied, and would thus be a color element.

    To muddy these waters further, the disc goes on to say that B&W separation masters were created from each strip of the 3-strip negative for preservation purposes, and these could be used in coming years in tandem with digital technology to create a more precisely registered element. Now, the elements are registered as a color element -- again, of course, because the matrixes are applied to each of the three B&W negatives, and that registered element is then ... well, it must be either a combined negative (if matrixes are applied to a negative, and not a positive, step), or an interpositive (if the matrixes are applied as a positive step, yielding a combined, positive element).

    Thus I see one of several possibilities: either color matrixes are applied as a negative step, producing three new negatives, each with their individual color (green, blue, and red), or they're applied as a positive step, creating three positive elements which can then be registered. I'm assuming it's done as the latter, but the more I read of "color negatives" from 3-strip Technicolor, the more I'm leaning toward the former. Perhaps both methods are/were used. The full nature of film processing is very difficult to properly decipher outside a film lab, but narrowing the options logically would still, hopefully, lead in the right direction. Dye transfer either goes to three individual negatives, as negatives, or to three individual negatives printed to positive. Whichever the case, positive elements made from these dye transfers (or the dye transfers themselves if positive) can then be combined (registered) as a single element, fit for the remainder of the processing required for creating video masters and prints. Whether, today, video masters of 3-strip films are best created in the computer (computerized color matrixes?), or optically (with Technicolor's labs closed, I'm not sure how a studio would create a new dye transfer element, unless Technicolor licensed the technology when they closed, or unless the studios are simply "allowed," by trademark or copyright law, to issue dye transfer now that Technicolor no longer does so ... but then why did Technicolor's labs have to re-open to issue Apocalypse Now Redux as dye transfer to theatres?), and, and ....

    Phew. All of which means ... the facts occasionally contradict one another when important info remains unknown. But so far as I can determine (and it remains likely that even studio press and product insert sheets mis-indentify elements and their correct names from time to time), an interpositive would be used for the video master, or a master positive, if that's distinct from an interpositive (the first positive step after negative is what I'm trying to get at, as this step would be the truest to the camera negative without jeopardizing that element). But, if the registered element is not, in itself, an interpositive, but rather an answer print ... oh, forget it. [​IMG] Something other than the original camera negative and a final release print is best used for superlative high definition video masters, and whether that's a B&W element struck from the unprocessed camera negative, or a color element from a registered negative ... it would have to be color timed, and the studios have department heads who've actually performed all of these steps (unlike me) and therefore have a visual reference (unlike me) to know what's best. So ... my own curiosity isn't important here as studio feedback, but rather all of our interest in the films themselves, so the rest I'll leave for another day (or a clear explanation in some yet undiscovered book). Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Singin' in the Rain, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Good News (or so I've heard, but cannot personally confirm, as I haven't seen it), and The Harvey Girls are all great examples of what 3-strip can look like when carefully handled for DVD. I trust this care will be exerted (to the extent of Singin' in the Rain's special edition when cost factors allow, and at least to the optically precise extent of the other titles in this group) in crafting future entries from both 3-strip and single color-on-film negative Technicolor pictures, a group whose membership is vast, and whose presence on DVD cannot grow quickly enough for my eager eyes.

    One final thought: if I recall correctly (I haven't checked the transcript), the head of Lowry Digital promised, in his chat, that The Adventures of Robin Hood was going to blow our socks off when we see just how good 3-strip can indeed look (I presume he meant on home video), which was around the time he also talked of restoring such luster to Gone With the Wind ... so, I fully agree, Roger -- The Adventures of Robin Hood (which, the last I checked, was rumored for September, along with Yankee Doodle Dandy and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but has not yet been officially announced? The studio's SE of Casablanca arrives August 5th) is certainly one to anticipate, and hey, if they can still blow our socks off after Singin' in the Rain ... life is good. Life is good. Heh. [​IMG]
     

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