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Old 20-08-2006, 22:31   #1
John Hodson
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The Searchers DVD Transfer; Warners Tell Their Story...

As discussion of the latest iteration of The Searchers on DVD threatens to dominate others threads, at Quinnsey's suggestion, I agree that the issues surrounding the transfer, in both R1 and R2, deserves a thread all its own.

Tomorrow, 'The Bits' will publish Robert Harris's interview with Warners' Ned Price on just why the new transfer looks the way it does; anathema to some, acceptable to others. For myself, and I'm sure many others, the central issue is; does it accurately reflect the desires and wishes of the great John Ford and his Technicolor cinematographer Winton Hoch. And if not, why not?

Robert Harris has recently posted this in the 'Classic Western' thread:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Harris
As I noted on HTF, the problems -- and I do see problems, as HHW sees problems -- are based upon the information that can be extracted from the 1950's sep masters, and how it is technically massaged to create something as closely representative of the original as possible.

My efforts to try to make sense of some of this is not meant as argument. Mr. Price is not in hiding, and did not give his time to answer my questions as part of an argument.

The only intent here is to expand the knowledge base within the DVD consumer world, and attempt to illuminate the cause of problems.

Every archivist in charge of a project takes with them the responsibility for the final look of that project. My Searchers would look similar to Mr. Price's variant of Searchers on a number of levels, and would differ on others. Our use of elements would be different, as would, to a certain degree, the final look of the film.

What is undeniable here is the quality of the image at least up to and inclusive of most of the final color, which has herein brought us together.

I will attempt to answer whatever queries arrise over the next few days, after people see the final result, and can certainly return to Mr. Price for additional information, as he has been extremely open and available thus far.

RAH
I'd be eternally grateful if all discussion on the issues could be posted herein, and, please, can they debated in a civilised and adult fashion. That's my hope anyway...
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Old 21-08-2006, 07:57   #2
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A fabulous, classic movie, of course.

I'm intrigued by the idea that it's possible to arrive at a definition of Ford's desires and wishes, though. Also, the discussions of this or that DVD transfer (I have the double-sided snapper issued in 2000) seem to beg the basic semiotic question of whether it's possible to recreate a cinema film on the small screen, in a completely different format (a CD, rather than celluloid).

I remember in the 80s, when publications like Sight & Sound would discuss the benefits of the widescreen TV image over panning and scanning. If one sees the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers panned and scanned on the telly, is one actually seeing the same film that was released widescreen for the cinema? Panning and scanning sometimes "recuts" films to get around widescreen framing (compare the widescreen Alien with its panned and scanned cousin).

In the same way, films like Barry Lyndon and Apocalypse Now are dramatically different experiences on the small screen. I saw the Coppola in 70mm Dolby Stereo and gazed in awe; it's not the same on telly, whatever the quality of the transfer.

And what about the audience? I saw E.T. in 1982, in the presence of Spielberg himself and a huge audience which cheered, wept, laughed and screamed. The presence of the audience was essential to the experience of the movie. Years later, I saw it on television and it just wasn't the same. Similarly, Hitchcock's back catalogue is a completely different experience on the big screen with a large audience. Check out Rear Window if it comes on at the NFT or at your local rep cinema: Hitch plays his audiences like a grand piano.

Some directors (Kubrick, David Lynch) have specified how their films should be projected.

So, is the hunt for the "perfect" DVD transfer, or at least something that approximates the "director's intentions", based on a begged question?

A few issues there, anyway.

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Old 21-08-2006, 12:13   #3
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The "hunt" for a transfer that properly approximates a filmmaker's wishes, and the creation of that transfer, as well as the film elements toward theatrical presentation are all a part of the film restoration ethic.

One gets as close as present printing techniques and film stocks, extant film and audio elements, and technologies will allow. It is virtually impossible to reach 100%. 95% is a wonderful point to attain, and the filmmakers understand that.

On a strictly budgetary basis, the difference between 92% and 95%, or 95% and 96% can be another major addition to one's budget.

As our technologies change, and the power of our tools increase, one can get far closer to one's goals, which means that work performed in one way in 1997 may be ready to for re-visitation a decade later with much finer results.

RAH
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Old 21-08-2006, 15:16   #4
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I do wonder if some of the guys posting here pay far more attention to the colour of the Searchers than John Ford and his team themselves did. I think that sometimes people read into films more than is really there.
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Old 21-08-2006, 16:47   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gareth101
I do wonder if some of the guys posting here pay far more attention to the colour of the Searchers than John Ford and his team themselves did. I think that sometimes people read into films more than is really there.
I think there is a distinction to be made: the great work done by people like Robert Harris, to restore films for theatrical reissue, is of key importance. For example, his superb work on Vertigo really did transform the look of that film, and I feel it's crucial to preserve the riches of cinema for audiences in the future.

The issue of distinguishing between one DVD transfer and another, and the idea of trying to capture the auteur's original vision in an entirely different medium and format, is entirely another matter - and much thornier. Video and DVD are an approximation of the original theatrical experience; they offer a flavour, albeit a reasonably strong one. We look at DVDs for reasons of economics and convenience: we can't own celluloid prints of all our favourite films. But DVD is no effective substitute for seeing films on the big screen, with an audience.
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Old 21-08-2006, 16:53   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanWilde1966
I think there is a distinction to be made: the great work done by people like Robert Harris, to restore films for theatrical reissue, is of key importance. For example, his superb work on Vertigo really did transform the look of that film, and I feel it's crucial to preserve the riches of cinema for audiences in the future.

The issue of distinguishing between one DVD transfer and another, and the idea of trying to capture the auteur's original vision in an entirely different medium and format, is entirely another matter - and much thornier. Video and DVD are an approximation of the original theatrical experience; they offer a flavour, albeit a reasonably strong one. We look at DVDs for reasons of economics and convenience: we can't own celluloid prints of all our favourite films. But DVD is no effective substitute for seeing films on the big screen, with an audience.
I agree that DVD is no substitute for seeing films on the big screen, nor a substitute for seeing an actual print. However, many DVDs get it right and the color is accurate and the look is accurate. That's all some of us are talking about. When a DVD transfer has color that is faded or yellowish then, yes, that's a problem, and for me it's as serious as an incorrect aspect ratio or redone sound that subverts the original. As I've said before, what's most fascinating about these debates is people's willingness to accept color problems (the new Breakfast at Tiffany's transfer is especially egregious) but not aspect ratio or sound problems. I grew up loving the look of IB Technicolor printing. There was nothing like it. Many DVDs have approximated its look.

Is the article up yet?
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Old 21-08-2006, 17:22   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by haineshisway
As I've said before, what's most fascinating about these debates is people's willingness to accept color problems (the new Breakfast at Tiffany's transfer is especially egregious) but not aspect ratio or sound problems.
A very good point. For my own part, using DVD for the past seven years has provided a sort of benchmark for TV picture and colour quality. Looking at old VHS tapes of movies has often highlighted the point you're making. I recently screened a tape of Rosemary's Baby, and the faded colour quality was almost unwatchable. I noticed a similar thing while looking at a tape of Sirk's Magnificent Obsession.

At the other extreme, I bought a DVD of Reservoir Dogs when it was first issued, then I got the subsequent release, which was - apparently - a different, improved transfer. I couldn't tell the difference between them...
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Old 21-08-2006, 19:44   #8
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Okay: Warner's Ned Price on The Searchers.
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Old 21-08-2006, 20:15   #9
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Robert; at the HTF you said: 'he (Mr Price) and I are in agreement on virtually every point, with the exception of a density issue.' Could you explain that a little further?
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Old 21-08-2006, 20:29   #10
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I'm seeing density disparities in several scenes, which I've noted in my original comments. One is the raid on Scar's camp, which I don't see as tracking from shot to shot.

One of the problems of working on a restoration with neither director nor DP, is where to go if what you're seeing, and the way that elements are reacting either aren't matching reference, or reference is flawed, or even worse, if one checks the desires of the filmmakers and scripts and production notes and finds comments such as the following, which is from the screenplay, and refers to the look of time of day:

Example:

45 EXT. THE EDWARDS HOUSE - MED. CLOSE SHOT - MARTHA AND BEN -
SUNSET

(NOTE TO W. HOCH: What J. F. has in mind for this and the
following scenes is the same kind of dramatic use of red
you achieved in "Yellow Ribbon" in the scene telling of
Custer's defeat.)

They are standing in the ruddy glare of the sunset and
Ben has Ethan's sabre in his hand. We hear Aaron coming
at a run, breathing hard. Ben takes a step as though
to go to him, but Martha's hand at once is on his
shoulder. Aaron gains the porch.

AARON
In the house, boy...and...

He puts finger to his lips, sign for Ben to say nothing.
Ben nods and goes inside. Aaron and Martha face each
other, the question large on her face. Slowly he nods
the confirmation of her fears, then gently propels her
ahead of him through the door.

46 INT. THE EDWARDS HOUSE - FULL SHOT - SUNSET

The room is deeply shadowed except where the dull crimson
of the sun through door and windows slashes the blackness.
Ben is waiting and Martha turns toward Aaron as he pulls
the door shut, bars it and sets the shotgun down. He
takes the revolver from his waist and Martha holds it
as he reaches for his gun belt.

AARON
Ben, close the shutters.

Buckling on his gun belt, he moves toward the middle of
the room, looking around him, taking inventory of his
resources. Lucy slowly approaches, biting a knuckle,
eyes wide with fright.

LUCY
Pa?

One shutter closes and the bar of light they were standing
in goes out. Martha, Aaron and Lucy are dark silhouettes
now against the red beam from another window.

MARTHA
(sudden fear)
Where's Deborah?...
(calling it)
DEBORAH!

Debbie emerges from a shadowed corner into a beam of
light. She is clutching her rag doll, nibbling a
cookie. She holds it for them to see.

DEBBIE
I only took one, ma...Topsy was
hungry.

Ben closes the shutter. And now the room is almost com-
pletely blacked out, except for the dying light filtering
through the rifle ports of the closed shutters.

Let us assume that the Oneg is no longer printable, that separation masters do not provide full imagery, and the reference does not match what appear to be the filmmakers original desires, as noted in script.

Having not personally worked with these elements, I can nothing but make assumptions, which is dangerous. Also, comparing, once again, the first DVD with the new version, I'm seeing everything to my liking, except the aforementioned grading. Although the former has more beautiful Technicolor skies, the rest of the information in the frame generally suffers because of the enhancement, which I don't like.

RAH

Last edited by Robert Harris; 21-08-2006 at 20:34. Reason: addition
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Old 21-08-2006, 20:32   #11
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Understood; thank you.

EDIT - it might be helpful to tell those that don't know that, that this discussion is also taking place simultaneously at the HTF, starting on this page and also in this thread.

Last edited by John Hodson; 21-08-2006 at 20:43.
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Old 21-08-2006, 21:07   #12
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Well, I think that little interview just gave me a migraine.

"NP: Realize that there are brilliant blue skies in the original Technicolor print. Very brilliant skies of blue. But unfortunately we cut to the sequence where there's nothing to be had in the sky. I was surprised by how much the Technicolor dye matricy mimicked the original negative. Again, I think we're talking about the inability to pull stuff out of a negative if it's not in the negative itself."

See?

Yes, having had 35mm and 16mm prints, there were and are brilliant blue skies in the original Tech prints and that, as far as I'm concerned, is the end of the story. Is Mr. Price suggesting that he decided not to have brilliant blue skies that are clearly in the studio print, because HE didn't think they cut well with other shots. If so, I'd have to say that's the height of chutzpah. One thing is very obvious to anyone who has been in this business - Mr. Hoch would have approved the IB Tech answer print. You know, the one with the acknowledged brilliant blue skies.

Mr. Price also states that he did the 1991 restoration - I may be mis-remembering names here, but I interviewed the two gentlemen who were responsible for the restoration (at least according to them) for the DGA magazine back in 1991. Again, my memory may be faulty here, but I don't believe Mr. Price was one of them.

I certainly understand all the comments made by him, Mr. Harris and everyone else about the sharpness and detail - that has never been questioned by me or criticized by me. So, for me, this interview is just tap dancing, plain and simple and filled with enough techno-babble to make one's head spin. But what comes out loud and clear, at least for me, is the acknowledgment that in the studio print the skies are, as Mr. Price clearly states, brilliant Technicolor blue. And, as we all know, in the new DVD, they are clearly nowhere near.

Now, I know that maybe in doing the restoration they might not have been able to correct certain color for PRINTS - that I get. But, for the DVD, all that would have had to happen to MATCH their very own studio print, is to turn a few knobs in the telecine room. They have pretty sophisticated knobs these days. Even Mr. Harris twirled a few knobs at his home, as did a few others, including someone who posted the results of said knob twisting. The image of the sky was much more pleasing in those - point being, if amateurs can do that at home, why couldn't Mr. Price do it in the telecine room where he has total and complete control?

The other pesky little omission is why were we told by Mr. Harris that Warners was aware there was a problem and were going to fix it. If we're to believe this little interview with Mr. Price, there was never a problem to fix because the DVD pleases Mr. Price and he lives by his decisions on having made the color what he made it (and in the process, not matching his studio print). I'd love to sit down and do a side by side of the new DVD and their studio print (which I'm assuming is the same studio print that the guys who DID do the 1991 transfer mentioned to me in my interview with them) - I think that would be so illuminating for so many people, and I think it would once and for all put an end to all of this.

Anyway, thanks RAH for the interview - I don't buy it, but that's just me, because I've seen what The Searchers should look like, as have you.

I hope nobody construes anything in this post as being disrespectful to anyone, because that is not my intent. These are my opinions, and they are based on many viewings of this film in IB Technicolor prints. I would have stopped ages ago, but The Searchers, for me at least, is one of the cinema's highest moments.
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Old 21-08-2006, 21:15   #13
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To HHW...

I don't read your opinions as in any way disrespectful, and they do make sense. I was not in the room as color was being tuned, so I can't speak to that.
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Old 21-08-2006, 21:15   #14
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Having read the threads elsewhere, I can see everyone, including John, is buying this completely. Even Crawdaddy is backing off. So, Mr. Price - bravo, you did your job. Those of us who know better, know better. And, sorry, it's there in Mr. Price's own words - brilliant Technicolor blue skies in the studio print, but not on the DVD. If everyone wants to believe that that's what Mr. Hoch wanted, great. So, the air is cleared - not.
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Old 21-08-2006, 21:24   #15
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I made my views on the new transfer perfectly clear in the 'Classic Western' thread days ago. However, I'd be grateful if we could keep this discussion to purely the technical issues - agree or disagree - and make an attempt to try and not personalise this. Everyone holds their own view; whether they concur with your own should not, I think, be a matter for debate.

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Old 21-08-2006, 21:42   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hodson
I made my views on the new transfer perfectly clear in the 'Classic Western' thread days ago. However, I'd be grateful if we could keep this discussion to purely the technical issues - agree or disagree - and make an attempt to try and not personalise this. Everyone holds their own view; whether they concur with your own should not, I think, be a matter for debate.
My discussion IS based purely around the technical issues and has been all along - and I have stated my opinion, which fortunately or unfortunately must take into account other people's postings on the subject. This interview was clearly designed to do what it in fact has done. And there you have it. As I said in my last post - those who know better, know better, and deep down I know that Mr. Harris, as he's stated many times, is not unaware of what I'm talking about, and I know, deep down, that he knows that for all the back-and-forth on this topic that one thing remains clear - the DVD does not represent the IB Tech look of this film. Whether it could have, should have, would have is all moot - it doesn't.

You'll be thrilled to know, John, that I'm done (well... maybe not completely done).
I hope that everyone enjoys their new The Searchers DVD, whether in SD or HD - I shan't be watching it again because it nauseates me to my core.

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Old 21-08-2006, 21:57   #17
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If I read the interview correctly, Mr. Price admits that the colour is off. At least, the SD transfer does not (and can not according to him for technical reasons) look like a Technicolour dye print because those rich Technicolour colours are simply not in the negative which is Eastman Kodak single strip. Perhaps Mr. Price should have kept the credits a bit more in mind when they tuned the colour. After all, they read The Searchers color by Technicolor. Not Eastmancolor.
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Old 21-08-2006, 23:05   #18
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Thanks for doing the interview, Mr Harris. And for the great news about the HD release of The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Something still puzzles me: I had the pleasure of seeing a pristine new print of The Searchers at London's NFT about 2 months ago. I was totally blown away by how clean and sharp the image was. From memory, the sky appeared very blue, certainly more like the old DVD than the new one (based on the screen captures on DVD Beaver). Shouldn't the new transfer, whether in SD or HD, look the same as that print? My HD copy should be here this week so I'll know for sure whether it looks anything like that wonderful print I saw.
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Old 21-08-2006, 23:29   #19
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That's very interesting, Henry! That would seem to indicate that someone who worked on the DVD screwed up. Some incompetent knob-turner slept on the job and should get the sack. But, (as we fans of The Naked Spur recently learned), it doesn't matter if you've seen a better print in theaters or elsewhere. The Warner DVD is the way it should be. Warner can do no wrong. You can't fight the mass consumer brainwashing, Henry. All the other zombies will swarm over you.

Wow, I'm so distracted by that shiny bouncing ball over there (ie: the promise of Robin Hood in HD) that I don't even care about The Searchers anymore! La la la!
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Old 21-08-2006, 23:39   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisRose
That's very interesting, Henry! That would seem to indicate that someone who worked on the DVD screwed up. Some incompetent knob-turner slept on the job and should get the sack. But, (as we fans of The Naked Spur recently learned), it doesn't matter if you've seen a better print in theaters or elsewhere. The Warner DVD is the way it should be. Warner can do no wrong. You can't fight the mass consumer brainwashing, Henry. All the other zombies will swarm over you.

Wow, I'm so distracted by that shiny bouncing ball over there (ie: the promise of Robin Hood in HD) that I don't even care about The Searchers anymore! La la la!

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