:: reader feedback ::

On DVD quality assurance – or lack of such

The following are two emails received in response to our recent articles on PAL Speedup and the New Yorker DVDs A Man Escaped and Lancelot of the Lake. The correspondence is reproduced by robert-bresson.com with the kind permission of the authors.

From    : Glenn Kenny
Subject : PAL speedup: "fact of life"?
Date    : May 30, 2004 10:24:36 AM MDT
To      : Trond Trondsen / robert-bresson.com

Mr. Trondsen:

In your illuminating and upsetting article about the problems of "A Man
Escaped," you write, accurately:

"PAL speedup is needlessly inflicted upon NTSC material and this is widely
accepted as a 'fact of life.'"

I recently had a conversation with Ian Ritchie of the U.S. company Fantoma,
which recently issued first-rate discs of Fassbinder's "Martha" and "In a
Year With 13 Moons." We were discussing the disperal of the materials
restored by the Fassbinder foundation, and he informed me (not to my
surprise, alas) that Wellspring's Fassbinder transfers were plagues by PAL
speedup. He then informed me that this problem could be eliminated in the
mastering/authoring process at an expenditure of only five hundred dollars,

Which makes the neglect of such companies all the more maddening.

It's particularly galling in the case of New Yorker, as Dan Talbot was
responsible for bringing these films to U.S. audiences. Unfortunately, he
has never "gotten" home video, as we used to call it, and apparently still


Glenn Kenny
Premiere Magazine U.S. 

From    : Daryl Chin
Subject : bresson on dvd
Date    : May 30, 2004 9:38:29 PM MDT
To      : Trond Trondsen / robert-bresson.com

New Yorker Films was the slowest to put anything out on DVD, though many of
their titles were on VHS for a long time. However, the fact that both A MAN
ESCAPED and LANCELOT DU LAC have been transferred to DVD in a way which is
defective (using a PAL master instead of a careful film-to-digital transfer)
seems to be par for the course for many New Yorker titles (one of their
first DVD releases, Alain Resnais's MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE, is plainly
hideous, with a totally cropped image, and very bad, washed-out color). That
said, I agree with your assessment, that A MAN ESCAPED is tolerable (it's
like watching a good, not-pristine, not-restored old print), but LANCELOT DU
LAC is rather difficult. One of the only consolations is that Rialto
obtained the rights to AU HASARD, BALTHAZAR and MOUCHETTE, and any further
home-video transfers will be handled by Criterion for those titles.

(At one time, New Yorker had the rights to A MAN ESCAPED, PICKPOCKET, THE
One of the things that is important to remember is that, in the 1950s
through the mid-1960s, there were numerous small distributors in North
America; some of the companies i remember include Films-Around-the-World,
Astor, Lux, Pathe, Union; for 16mm distribution, Audio-Brandon was one of
the biggest companies. As many of these companies folded, their backlists
became available, and there was a period when New Yorker Films was actively
trying to obtain many "classic" titles that were on the market, such as
Godard's BREATHLESS and MY LIFE TO LIVE. New Yorker Films started in the
mid-1960s, when Dan Talbot realized that there was no distributor for
several important films which he wanted to play at his New Yorker Theater in
New York City; one of the first titles to which he obtained the rights was
Bernardo Bertolucci's BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, and he followed it with Chris

The problem is that the secondary market (16mm prints for schools,
educational showcases, film societies, etc.), which was the big market for
New Yorker Films, has vanished, and New Yorker Films did not want to rush
into the home video market, which is what the secondary market has evolved
into. They waited so long, and other companies (Fox-Lorber, which evolved
into Winstar, and is now Wellspring, as an example) took up the slack,
making arrangements for home video rights to films which New Yorker Films
had the theatrical (35mm and 16mm) rights to; this happened with most of the
Fassbinder titles (all of which had been with New Yorker Films). This has
wrecked havoc on New Yorker Films, and because they are now playing
"catch-up" in terms of the home video market, specifically the DVD market,
they are trying to cut corners as much as possible. Their "trump" is the
importance of their titles (in terms of Godard, for example, New Yorker
Films still has the rights to LA CHINOISE and WEEKEND; in terms of Bertolucci, 
of Chris Marker, they still have THE KOUMIKO MYSTERY and SANS SOLEIL; in 
terms of Bresson, they still have PICKPOCKET, THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC, 
THE DEVIL PROBABLY, L'ARGENT, in addition to the two titles that have just 
been put on DVD), but it has become a serious problem.

The whole difficulty of the home video market and New Yorker Films's very
slow response to the "challenge" has been a bone of contention: it was the
leverage that brought the Fassbinder catalogue to Winstar (now Wellspring).

I should also point out that, last week, in The New York Times, Dave Kehr
was very pointed and direct in his criticism of the New Yorker DVDs of A MAN
ESCAPED and LANCELOT DU LAC.  He discussed the problem of cropping, the
problem of time compression, the problem of "ghosting" and, in general, the
relatively undistinguished quality of the transfers, especially in light of
the films' historical and aesthetic importance. [ Kehr's fine capsule review
appeared in the Tuesday May 25, 2004 issue of the NYTimes, Late Edition, 
Section E, Page 6, Column 4. Kehr's findings are remarkably similar to
those of robert-bresson.com. —Ed. ]

Daryl Chin

© 2004 — robert-bresson.com / mastersofcinema.org.
Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of robert-bresson.com and mastersofcinema.org personnel.

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