Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Digital comparisons

First chance last week to compare, on a big cinema screen, a new digital print with its 35mm celluloid version. In 1986 I was lucky to work with the newly restored National Film Archive print of Black Narcissus (1947). We made slides directly from the print on a Steenbeck in the basement of the BFI. I certainly got to know the print well and so I was fascinated to see the digital version. Overall, the digital print is beautiful, clean and bright. But perhaps it is too clean and too bright? I particularly noticed three examples of 'over clarity'. There are many close-ups in the film, especially of Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh. Her eyes sparkle with reflected light but it gets a little spooky when the shot is faded out and two sparks of light remain as a kind of afterglow, long after the rest of the image has gone to black. Much more disturbing is the way that the digital print exposes all the matte work so that the imaginary kingdom of Mopu, with its palace perched on a shelf above a vertical drop, looks just like a studio set joined together by flourescent turquoise cement that pulsates gently drawing even more attention to the join. Finally, I noticed that the painted still images of the mountains now look exactly that -- painted images, seemingly with some damage from the ravages of time.

Black Narcissus is one of the most beautiful films ever made (a double Oscar winner for colour cinematography and art direction in 1947) so a process that exposes some its magic is not all good news. On the other hand, it won't deteriorate any further in the near future. The jury is still out on digital.

(The image is from a first generation DVD copy of the film.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Red Road

Kate Dickie (left) and Natalie Press in Red Road (image from Verve Pictures -- see below)

I'm often knocked out by movies, so I shouldn't be surprised by Red Road. One of my evening class students raved about it and I can see what she means. Fortunately, I didn't read anything about it first (although I was well aware of its basic scenario and had followed the triumph at Cannes). I was able to watch the film without any preconceptions and it worked a treat.

Since it is part of a Lars von Trier project, it shares a great deal with the Dogme aesthetic. In fact, perhaps because I haven't seen that many Dogme films, I thought it was very similar in impact to Festen. Apart from having a widescreen aspect ratio, I don't see why it couldn't be a Dogme film.

It so refreshing to see a film which simply introduces a character without explaining everything about them. We have to work it out from what we see and hear – appropriate really for a film about a woman who watches CCTV screens all day long. The pace in the beginning is slow but builds to a terrifying sequence -- built largely on characterisation, camerawork, editing and mise en scene.

I was disappointed by Sight and Sound's review. The reviewer assumes a distanced rather superior stance. She starts from the premise that as a viewer, she knows everything and therefore criticises the film's ending. But the way to approach this movie is to invest in Jackie, the lead character, and feel what she feels. I'm sure most audiences will do this and will react to the ending of the film from within a confused state of relief, exhilaration, anger or whatever other emotion is evoked for them.

The IMDB User Comments and Bulletin Boards are interesting. Several users seem upset by the explicit nature of some sex scenes. That's understandable, but not the comments that the two leads are unattractive. They are both excellent and believable. There is also some discussion of Glasgow as a location. I don't know Glasgow that well, but it always strikes me as both invigorating and desperate, a fun place and a fearsome place. It's a great city and the film uses the setting very well. I'd urge anyone to see this film. Well done Andrea Arnold, cast and crew and well done Verve (see website for images and production notes) for getting the film out on 38 prints in the UK. Things are looking up for real British films.