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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can We Improve On Perfection?

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) Is Like Being Back There

Have we reached the point of maximum quality for home viewing? Warners' Blu-Ray of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon convinces me so. I can't imagine anything improving on this, unless ... 4K? There are some classics (mostly from Columbia) we can stream in ultra-advanced clarity, but would labels release familiar titles yet again on 4K?  Question becomes how much perfection the human eye can discern. My own can go no further (I have to wear chair-to-screen viewing glasses as it is). She Wore A Yellow Ribbon isn't likely to look better unless afterlife permits visit to Monument Valley circa 1949 where John Ford and crew are shooting. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. A 4K disc of this or any favorite might reveal more than filmmakers intended. That's already a complaint among purists toward HD, especially where wires and other artifice are exposed in special effects. There must be some distance between us and the image we watch. Getting much closer to She Wore A Yellow Ribbon would have us invading Ford's space (but you know it's coming with the inevitable She Wore A Yellow Ribbon in virtual reality, release date 2026).

1966, and the National Near It's End
Like other, and famous RKO's King Kong and Citizen Kane, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon took years achieving optimal quality, at least for watchers at home. For too long, it played black-and-white on television, arriving after other RKO titles because of a 1957 theatrical reissue. By the mid-sixties, and after takeover of the library by United Artists (in April 1959), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was made available in color for syndicated broadcast. The RKO lot of 720 features had been broken into sixteen smaller packages, and sold to 152 markets. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was part of "Group 16," which included 25 titles. The only other one in color was Blackbeard The Pirate. The old RKO's would be a tougher sell as the decade wore on and station buyers became more color-conscious. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon meanwhile lingered in theatres well into into the 60's. Greensboro, NC had a downtown grindhouse, the National, whose double, if not triple, bill policy, brought forth oldies long unseen elsewhere. Closed by the end of 1966, one of the National's final bookings was She Wore A Yellow Ribbon with Wake Of The Red Witch, Yellow Ribbon presumably one of the 1957 35mm prints still in service.

Film collectors dreamed of having She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. It was regarded an acme of Technicolor cinematography. There were B/W prints, of course, objects of contempt and to be avoided, while color prints on Eastman stock fared little better for likelihood of pinkish or faded hue. There had been Technicolor prints made in 1949 for military and non-theatrical rent. Identifiable by their bright blue soundtrack, these were lovely for full and un-faded spectrum, but focus was soft and physical condition iffy, survivors (precious few) having passed through unskilled operator hands and meat-grinding projection. Still, this was a closest we could come to an authentic She Wore A Yellow Ribbon on 16mm. I mention all this to demonstrate how truly lost this great show was for so many years, and what a revelation the Blu-Ray is by comparison. It is a wonderful film made more so by a best-ever presentation. If there are 1949 theatrical prints extant (or an 1957 IB on safety stock), I'd love seeing how one would look beside this new disc. Our already high estimation of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon will be enhanced by what Warner Archives has put in circulation. They are to be congratulated for such a beautiful job.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Your comment about unskilled projectionists hit a mark with me. When I rented 16mm I learned the print was only as good as the last person who rented it. I once had to keep a finger lightly on both the top and bottom loop of a 16mm print of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS because the last person had mucked up most of the sprocket holes. People have no idea of what DVD and Blu-ray has brought to the table on top of these great restorations done by people who so obviously love the material.

When colleges, schools and universities asked if they could use my 16mm prints for film courses I insisted on traveling with them and handling the projection myself. The one time my rule my color tinted copy of a silent film masterpiece came back with a deep emulsion scratch that ran through twenty minutes of the film. I quickly earned a reputation of being hard to deal with as I insisted on doing things MY way.

The same thing now with digital. I use excellent equipment. A friend who teaches at a major Canadian university borrowed one of my projectors for his courses because the ones he was provided could not measure up. Money had been saved by buying lesser quality equipment. Film students walk in with low expectations due to what they are used to on their campuses. They walk out going, "WOW!" That "wow" is the magic of the movies which only comes from surpassing expectations.

Now you have me eager to see this restoration. Thanks.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Saw a great 35mm print of YELLOW RIBBON at UCLA almost a year ago, then watched the digital restoration at the TCM Fest, which also looked great. The Blu-ray is, as you indicate, simply stunning. I was struck by the "you are there" feel of immediacy the Blu-ray gives. You can almost feel the cold when you watch the horses' breath in the early morning, and you can smell the dirt as the raindrops hit during that famous storm. The viewer is almost right there on the scene standing next to the camera. Really one of the best discs I've ever watched.

Thanks for a fascinating article on the history of the movie prints and for highlighting a great restoration of one of my all-time favorite films.

Best wishes,

1:52 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

LA LEGION INVENCIBLE, as the title in Spanish for Latin America and Spain for this film. It first surfaced in Argentina in a rather poor quality VHS in the mid 80s. Then, when TNT launched its Latin American channel, in 1991, this film was among the ones that they constantly featured. First they aired it in English with Spanish language subtitles but after two or three years, they replaced it with a version dubbed in Spanish in the early 60s, until they completely dropped the classic movie films altogether (TCM Latin America never shows movie classics, which explains why there is a lot of piracy in the region). But TNT on its day used a rather worn print without vivid colors. Around one or two years later, quality video editions begin to emerge.

What we see on HD or Blu-Rays are badly referred as restorations. They are nothing more than high quality telecines.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Got it. You are right. Beautiful, clean, clear, crisp picture and sound. I had a friend who worked for a major film lab. He said they can only make four top quality prints. Those prints are for New York, Hollywood, London, Paris. Then in order of market importance the lesser prints go to Toronto, etc.. With Digital everyone gets a top quality print that can't get scratched, won't warp and will never need splices. This is a golden age for film preservation and presentation.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. I don't believe I'd seen either of your photos with George O'Brien before. Loved them.

Best wishes,

11:18 AM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

Recently watched HIGH SOCIETY (TCM) on a 4K set and was almost unnerved by the clarity of the picture, which revealed minute imperfections in Grace Kelly's otherwise flawless complexion.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

The RKO lot of 720 features had been broken into sixteen smaller packages, and sold to 152 markets.

Were all of those huge, pre-48 feature groups broken up into smaller packages like that? Where I grew up, pre-48 movies from Warner Bros., MGM and Paramount were common, but it was very obvious that none of the stations had the entire 700-odd title blocks. Just selected titles from each studio.

5:28 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

The largest feature packages were offered as smaller groups, as was case in stations here in NC. Our Channel 8 in High Point had a pre-49 Paramount lot, which included a handful of W.C. Fields and Mae West films, the same titles over and over, while others of theirs never showed up.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

"That's already a complaint among purists toward HD, especially where wires and other artifice are exposed in special effects. There must be some distance between us and the image we watch." While not a BlueRay owner (I refuse to buy The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, etc... AGAIN; I've now owned Beta, VHS, Laser Disc and DVD copies and I'm just DONE), I returned a Samsung LCD set because the 120 Hz refresh rate was making the Taylor/Burton Cleopatra look like it was shot on video, like a soap opera.

I downgraded to a 60 Hz refresh rate, and suddenly the film once again had the "texture" of film. I'm not so sure I'd appreciate the BlueRay SWAYR. I think we've already reached the point of "too much clarity," though it has nothing to do with exposing strings, wires, or the flaws in Grace Kelly's complexion -- it's about wanting film to look like FILM, not video.

Would welcome other's takes on this, and thanks, as always, John, for another interesting post!

8:34 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Well, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON looked like film last night when I projected it onto a BIG screen. Thought I had seen it. Discovered I may have looked at it but until last night I certainly had not seen it. It was watching it for the first time. They have programs to remove scratches (just watched the Japanese highly scratched footage restored and inserted seamlessly into the 2012 restoration of the 1958 Hammer DRACULA last night and WOW!) so they should be able to remove wires, etc..

9:46 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

I think we have indeed reached the sharpness saturation point if we have to remove "wires, etc" and other artifacts actually in the films themselves when we didn't used to be able to see them in the actual films. I'm still annoyed that they remove cue marks from the ends of reels.


11:45 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I'll go with removing the wires. I love the clarity of this film. We are seeing it at its best.

2:18 PM  

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