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 Post subject: The Magnificent Ambersons: Special Edition (1942) [CC1109L]
PostPosted: 26 Sep 2015, 20:30 
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As I had mentioned in a previous thread, I ordered a Pioneer CLD-R7G from Japan to replace my MIA CLD-97. It arrived yesterday, and after hooking it up to my TV VIA S-Video (which, as I understand, is the better of the two connections to use with that particular player, due to the integrated 3D comb filter), I decided to test it out using what is currently, for me, my "benchmark" LD -- Criterion's first edition of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons.

I thought I would also use it as an opportunity to post a 'review' of the LD.

The Magnificent Ambersons
Directed by Orson Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington

There's probably no film in Orson Welles' slim canon which elicits as much discussion as The Magnificent Ambersons. Regarded by Welles as ruined, the film was subjected to brutal editing and several re-shoots of key scenes in Welles' absence (after shooting wrapped and editing notes were made with editor Robert Wise, Welles traveled to Brazil to begin working on a film project for the State Department). Much has been written and speculated elsewhere about the final editing of the film, the damage it potentially did to Welles' career and, of course, the rough cut which was sent to Welles in Brazil (which, hopefully, will turn up someday in viewable condition), but I think it should suffice to say that, in spite of the damage done to the film by the choppy editing employed to "speed things up" (especially in the second half) and questionable re-shoots, the beauty of the intended film still shimmers in the muddied version which currently exists.

Ratings:
(All ratings are on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest rating)

The Film: 10
It is, admittedly, difficult for me to be totally objective about the film, because in spite of the flaws which exist due to the hackneyed editing and re-shooting, I still regard it as being one of the best American films ever made. Part of this is due to the strengths of Tarkington's original novel, part of it is due to the fact that Welles side-stepped most of the weaknesses of the novel (although one crucial one, the ending scene in the hospital, was shot and inserted into the finished film when it was determined that Welles' re-staged ending was one of the "problems" in his rough cut), but most of it is due to the level of personal connection Welles had with the story. For as much as later critics have condemned Welles for displays of empty virtuosity and shallowness, his best films really exhibit a level of empathy and humanism that you would expect more from the works of Ozu or Dreyer, and in those films, the technical 'achievements' were muted and well-integrated, serving the story at hand rather than drawing attention to themselves.

The Print: 9
This might seem a bit high to anyone who is accustomed to the modern era of digital restorations, but considering that digital technology as we know it was still in its infancy at the time and that the film itself was 44 years old at the time this LD was prepared, the source print(s) used was/were rather good. The damage marks to the film are almost never beyond the levels that one would expect, and outside of a few brief moments of image instability, never notably detract from the film presentation.

Audio: 7
Considering the age of the film, the mono audio track is good. Dynamics are present, equalization is pretty good (although, again considering the age of the film, there is some sibilant distortion, and some of the musical passages, such as during the ballroom scene, are perhaps not as robust as they should be) and damage noises were not noticeable by me during a cursory listen. Since this is an earlier LD, of course, the audio output is limited to analog tracks (which, depending on your viewpoint, may be a good or bad thing).

The Transfer/Disc Quality: 8
I decided to grade the transfer a bit more conservatively than I did the print (although, if you wish, consider them both to be an 8.5), although I should point out that it is still a very good transfer. This is a black & white film, of course, so the one major problem in this case comes from the amount of cross-color noise evident in the image. I seem to remember seeing more of it when I first viewed this LD through a Pioneer CLD-D503, but using S-Video from my CLD-R7G, very little (if any) cross-color noise pervades the image at any given time. There's also very little evidence of speckling or rot in the disc -- really, I only noticed one small traveling line for a few seconds in one scene, and you can see speckles here and there on still frames on the 4th side (which almost always disappear by the next frame). Given the LD's age, I can't complain too much about that. The film itself is spread over three CAV sides (with the 4th CAV side dedicated to extra features), but the side changes coincide well with fade-outs, and since I feel like CAV playback gives an upgrade in visual quality, it is a minute qualm at best.

The Extras: 10
It is a bit interesting to think of the fact that Criterion essentially pioneered "extra features" as we now know them. Considering that this LD is only a handful of releases from their second release (King Kong, which contained the first audio commentary as well as a visual essay accompanying the film), it is a bit impressive to see how much they pushed what were then the capabilities of the LD format to include content. For starters, a feature-length commentary is presented with Robert Carringer, and while it is not without flaws (mainly due to additional research since that time), I imagine it was a revelation at the time it appeared. Side 4, though, is where things get really dense: we're treated not only to storyboards, photographs, dialogue excerpts from deleted scenes, historical background on the production (and reduction) of the film and the text of Welles' original screenplay, but we also get a few excerpts from the BBC's Arena documentary on Welles (which, if you are interested in the subject of Welles at all, is very much worth three hours of your life, as it is perhaps the most extended film interview ever conducted with him and has been excerpted countless times in other documentaries), fragments of "The Pampered Youth" (a previous screen version of Ambersons, which is interesting mostly for how much the presented scenes diverge from the original story) and the complete radio presentation by the Mercury Theatre of The Magnificent Ambersons (which is also interesting for its divergences both from the story and Welles' eventual film). I could gripe about the fact that the theatrical trailer wasn't included (since it does contain a very brief snippet of the only currently known footage of the "boarding house" scene), but it is an extremely minor quibble in contrast to just how much material *is* included here.

The Packaging: 9
The LDs are housed in a sturdy gatefold sleeve. The color scheme, like most early Criterions, is mainly based on a flat grey background with black text, which (in my opinion) looks classy and distinctive. The front cover contains a portrait of what is presumably a shot edited out of the "dinner scene" (where George declares that "automobiles are a useless nuisance"), which is a nice touch. Another nice touch is that the interior of the gatefold dedicates one panel to black-on-silver reproductions of Norman Rockwell's portraits, which were used on the film's poster (and, presumably, in other advertising materials). The back cover of the sleeve has a chapter index, as well as an essay by Robert Carringer. The only real gripe I have about the packaging is that the left interior panel of the gatefold is taken up solely by another chapter index of the film, albeit one which breaks down each chapter by the commentary provided by Carringer. It feels a bit superfluous to me, and while I like the amount of space in the design, I can't help thinking that it would have been better utilized by either enlarging the portraits on the right panel and placing them across both sides, or perhaps even by reproducing the theatrical poster (which, as mentioned before, used the portraits) across the gatefold interior.

Final Average: 9
While I imagine the Warner Brothers DVD (which finally came out in 2011) of this film, and any eventual (if it ever makes it to the format) Blu-Ray editions of this film best the visual appearance of this LD, this LD still knocks the socks off of any previous DVD edition that I have seen, and in terms of extras, no release of the film in the digital medium has yet touched it. If you're interested in the films of Orson Welles, or of American cinema in general, this deserves a place on your shelf.


Last edited by kevinloy on 29 Sep 2015, 18:13, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: The Magnificent Ambersons: Special Edition (1942) [CC110
PostPosted: 29 Sep 2015, 05:42 
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kevinloy wrote:
The Transfer/Disc Quality: 8
I decided to grade the transfer a bit more conservatively than I did the print (although, if you wish, consider them both to be an 8.5), although I should point out that it is still a very good transfer. This is a black & white film, of course, so the one major problem in this case comes from the amount of chroma noise evident in the image. I seem to remember seeing more of it when I first viewed this LD through a Pioneer CLD-D503, but using S-Video from my CLD-R7G, very little (if any) chroma noise pervades the image at any given time.

I presume you're referring to cross-colour, where luminance information is misinterpreted as chrominance ; "chroma noise" ordinarily refers to noise appearing in the colour channel (which bleeds over into luminance owing to the nonlinear transfer function, but that's another story), & is most noticeable in pictures with strongly saturated colours. Of course this effect wouldn't appear at all in a grayscale picture. The better the comb filter, the less the cross-colour.
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 Post subject: Re: The Magnificent Ambersons: Special Edition (1942) [CC110
PostPosted: 29 Sep 2015, 18:09 
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publius wrote:
kevinloy wrote:
The Transfer/Disc Quality: 8
I decided to grade the transfer a bit more conservatively than I did the print (although, if you wish, consider them both to be an 8.5), although I should point out that it is still a very good transfer. This is a black & white film, of course, so the one major problem in this case comes from the amount of chroma noise evident in the image. I seem to remember seeing more of it when I first viewed this LD through a Pioneer CLD-D503, but using S-Video from my CLD-R7G, very little (if any) chroma noise pervades the image at any given time.

I presume you're referring to cross-colour, where luminance information is misinterpreted as chrominance ; "chroma noise" ordinarily refers to noise appearing in the colour channel (which bleeds over into luminance owing to the nonlinear transfer function, but that's another story), & is most noticeable in pictures with strongly saturated colours. Of course this effect wouldn't appear at all in a grayscale picture. The better the comb filter, the less the cross-colour.


Thanks for the clarification. Another thing I should note is that I watched this LD with the DNR settings off, which might "clean up" the image even further...but honestly, I played with the settings a bit after adjusting my brightness settings (one thing I did notice is that enabling it considerably darkens the image output), and I didn't see an appreciable difference in the signal output. Maybe I'll notice more with an LD of test signals, though even on an LD with static images, like the featurette at the beginning of Greed (which I'm planning to eventually review here), I found it difficult to notice a difference, so I just leave it off.
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 Post subject: Re: The Magnificent Ambersons: Special Edition (1942) [CC110
PostPosted: 25 Aug 2018, 12:44 
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This is one of my favorite Laserdiscs, too. (One of my favorite movies, as well.) I don't know if you've heard, but Criterion recently announce the Blu-ray/DVD version of The Magnificent Ambersons on their website. I'll definitely buy that Blu-ray when it is available. I'll be happy to finally see this movie in high definition, but it also saddens me a bit that the wonderful LD will now be obsolete. I loved the packaging Criterion created for this LD.
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