The Big Country

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by PaulBigelow, Jan 27, 2003.

  1. PaulBigelow

    PaulBigelow Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello,

    Been studying the MGM DVD of "The Big Country". This
    wonderful movie is in desperate need of a restoration.
    Gorgeous Technirama photograpy. After viewing on a Toshiba
    SD-P1000 (incredible, vivid, dense, if somewhat small LCD
    picture) it is noticed that there are many scratches and an
    odd bright colored dot (not the LCD display) that appears
    from time to time. Maybe MGM used inferior materials but
    if this is the best they have avaiable for use, it is
    a sad situation.

    One would hope that a restoration would include a
    soundtrack (stereo) restoration.
     
  2. andrew markworthy

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    Paul, I agree entirely - the current DVD is a travesty. If schlock like [insert name of old movie given treatment way in excess of your view of its worth - my choice would be Cleopatra] can get the deluxe treatment, why can't ... etc, etc.

    It may be worth looking through some old threads - the problems with the BC DVD were aired about a year ago, with Robert Harris adding some (as usual) very pertinent comments.
     
  3. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    While a DVD usually isn't a good indicator of the condition of prime elements for a film (The Quiet Man looks horrible on DVD, yet the Tech negs are in great shape), it does show the condition of what "master" video transfer elements look like.

    MGM has a library in terrible condition, so who knows? Technirama means it may be in less-than-optimal condition.
     
  4. Rick Blaine

    Rick Blaine Stunt Coordinator

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    Paul

     
  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

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    Big Country which appears on a rather impermissible dvd release looks to have been derived from separation masters, probably optically printed from 8 perf down to 4 anamorphic.

    This has raised the contrast to a higher than proper level, while the color and density timings from dupe to video transfer have created a pretty world, which is incorrect for the film.

    The densities appear to have been timed much too dark, giving the film (which is actually a western, much of which takes place in bright hot daylight) a late in the day look with perfect exposures of backgrounds and skies, while placing faces in shadow.

    This is not what the film looked like.

    The "dots" which have been pointed out are most likely dirt printed thorugh from the sep masters, which will print as yellow, cyan and magenta niz.
     
  6. alan halvorson

    alan halvorson Cinematographer

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    I brought this up a while ago - I compared the dvd to the widescreen LD and was surprised to find that not only was the dvd darker than the LD, it's considerably cropped on the top and both sides. My estimate is a 25-30% picture loss in relationship to the LD. I also noted that the sound was no improvement. Also, the LD has a nice set of supplements but the dvd has none.

    I highly recommend the LD - the dvd, despite it's low price, is no bargain. Unless you just gotta have it, wait and hope for a better release.
     
  7. Jo_C

    Jo_C Second Unit

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    I remember reading somewhere the film was originally released in stereo, but I think the composer's daughter had said something to the effect that the composer was not happy with the stereo mix of the score, that's why all subsequent prints are/were in mono. Can anyone confirm this?
     
  8. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    That sounds silly. William Wyler makes a astereo film, cut the composer doesn't like the mix so all prints go out in mono? Gibberish! this film was certainly stereo but there is only two prints - both with collectors who won't give them up. This is the same situation with other films - the studio didn't keep the stereo tracks but private collectors have stereo prints. There are at least four stereo prints of Giant floating around and two stereo prints of Auntie Mame out there - but the studios don't have access to them.
    ONe collector a few years ago had the only stereo interlock tracks for several films including Calamity Jane, From Here to Eternity and a few others. He passed away andhis wife, not knowing what the stuff was threw it out!!
     
  9. PaulBigelow

    PaulBigelow Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello,

    Thank you for the responses. Actually the "dot" is fixed
    on the middle upper right of the picture. It is not a dark
    spot but rather a whitish, cream-colored spot. It is
    present in some scenes, in other scenes I suspect it is
    washed out by the sky. It certainly isn't my display as
    other films do not show this problem. I think it's a
    defect in the print.

    I guess we can only hope MGM will conserve/restore
    this fine film soon.
     
  10. Mark Anthony

    Mark Anthony Second Unit

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    I remember reading an article about Martin Scorsese in Laserviews magazine about the time El Cid was re-issued theatrically 10 or 11 years ago, as his film foundation had put a lot of money and time into the restoration...to cut to the chase he was asked what other films he'd like to restore and the B C was one of them...so if MGM's listening I doubt Mr S's views have changed...

    Incidently when the special edition laserdisc was re-leased (in mono) there was a massive chunk of text about why this stereo film was being presented in Mono - I don't suppose anyone could put that text on here for reference, I never had the disc, so never got to read it.

    M
     
  11. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    Is the "dot" you speak of that is stationary through a great portion of BIG COUNTRY, similar to the one that is present on the dvd of FUNNY FACE. It looks like a light
    got left on in the room they were doing the transfer in.
    Not saying that is it, but that is what its appearance is...like a light reflection.
     
  12. Doug Bull

    Doug Bull Advanced Member

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    Here is an excert from a letter that I received from the Composer's ( The Late Jerome Moross ) Daughter Susanna, back in Febuary 2001.

    It relates to the score of "The Big Country".

    Susanna writes...

    "According to comments made many years ago by my Father "The Big Country" may have been recorded in Stereo.
    Unfortunately no one has been able to find out if that is true or not.
    There have been a lot of folks looking for the possible Stereo Tapes in various Warehouses in the US and London, all to no avail.
    So what we have, is all that there is (Mono tape?) unless a miracle occurs.

    Do you have the complete Soundtrack Doug?
    It is available in an archival edition through Screen Archives Entertainment.
    For some fortunate, but unexplainable reason, my Father had the complete original tape of the Score and it was, miraculously, in excellent condition, even after sitting in my Parent's Apartment closet for some 30 years.
    The same for "The Proud Rebel".
    Screen Archives Entertainment was able to remaster both of them, but they are not available commercially, only through them".....



    In response to Joe,
    I find it curious that the movie was given any sort of Stereo general release back in 1958, as Magnetic Stereo tracks were on the way out by that time.
    Even when I worked for U-A in the mid 50's, optical mono had become the prefered choice and it was rare to come across a 4 track Magnetic Print of any U-A release here in OZ.
    Can you say Joe, if these Stereo prints you mention are normal release Magnetic 35mm or are they larger gauge prints meant for Roadshow release?
     
  13. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

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    Doug, It depended highly on the studio. UA, was never ever big on anything other than optical at any point in time, while MGM and Fox were releasing MagOptical prints into the early to mid '60's.

    One thing that really bugs me about DVD's created from optical tracks is the lack of quality of the resulting DVD audio.

    Optical was flat down to easily 20 Hz and with a little bit of tweaking of the scanning lens and a little bit of pre-emphasis, was reasonably flat out to 10k Hz.

    I have run optical prints on a projector with a tweaked sound head that were a joy to listen to, and yet the same title transferred to DVD winds up with no bass and muffled highs.

    It's really frustrating.

    Ted
     
  14. Doug Bull

    Doug Bull Advanced Member

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    You're absolutely right Ted, most 35mm and 16mm Projectors that I have either owned or used over the years had moveable, adjustable soundtrack focus facilities.

    I am constantly amazed whenever I come across a DVD with terrible quality sound, often caused by the simple lack of beam focus, failing to find the best part of a soundtrack.
    Of course the other problem is heavy handed noise gating of the soundtrack, but that's another matter and one that only gets my blood pressure boiling.

    What gives with all the expensive modern Film to Video transfer equipment, that they occassionally can't simply scan an old optical soundtrack properly?
    Or is somebody just too lazy or incompetent. ( Thankfully it doesn't happen all the time)
     
  15. Stephen Pickard

    Stephen Pickard Auditioning

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    From my own experience post houses have dolby stereo optical heads and usually stick to the standard alignment. When they get an old mono track they will choose which side or channel (one or two) sounds the best. The optical track whether on a combined print or on it's own is usually threaded on the telecine machine. Telecine colorists are not audio experts, and people possessing audio expertise are rarely present, and audio listening conditions are usually far from perfect in that area. It is hard sometimes to detect a low hum for instance, and one normally has to do a high pass to get rid of it later on during the audio sweetening area. Only if it is an obvious problem will the clorist call an engineer. I qwn my own optical playback head, which is mono and I always optimise the track using the focus and lateral adjustments. This is the ONLY time to ensure you get the best out of the track. Nearly all optical reproduction I hear in home video releases sound awful. Trying to improve on an already badly aligned track can only finish up the way I always here them, tubby rolled off high end, no definition, noise gated, wow and flutter from incorrect tension setting in the threading stage, and 'hiccups' caused by dirt embedded on the surface of the drum which keeps the film going at a constant speed.

    With regard to the "Big Country", I co-produced and wrote the notes in question on the laserdisc and the mono music tracks we used were mixed down from a stereo source. The log that I received had an illustration of the back of the quarter-inch mono tapes stating that they were transferred from the stereo masters (probably three-track). We could not find a composite stereo track, neither did we have any concrete proof that one existed. I contacted the Library of Congress and they said their print was optical mono. I think UCLA had several Technicolor prints, optical mono too. I hope that a 4-track print falls into the hands of MGM soon.
     

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