Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Four Flaws in Shameless Spinnery

Here's the full, official word from Shameless Screen Entertainment's own forum:

Shameless has investigated the alleged audio defect which had been reported by a few people. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

This is what we did:

We reviewed the issue with our authoring house which in any event always do a complete technical quality check of all output before releasing the assets for mastering and replication.

The original 4 track magnetic sound of 4 FLIES is being made available on the Shameless release for the first time since the film’s original theatrical opening in the 1970s – therefore the track is from a 40 years old (analogue) support, which was transferred with as little digital treatment as possible in order to keep to the purity of that original audio. The lab stated: “Essentially all (audio) are as source, nothing has been introduced. Due to the age of the material we wouldn't ... fail it because of these audio faults and in all instances they're fairly brief.”

We ourselves tested the discs on half a dozen different players and we asked friends to do same on their players. We've had a good listen & noted that each player delivers slightly different rendering (in the same manner that different players and even different firmware can each read and display a disc in a slightly different manner).

The areas which have been reported were for the most part only audible after careful scrutiny, however we did note that on mid-to-high end home cinema systems the audio glitch itself gets very amplified and therefore very noticeable (the glitch is not a harmonious signal and just gets amplified raw through the amp and sounds very loud).

We apologise if the audio glitches towards the end might be noticeable when played on some players/audio system but we can assure you that the discs per se are not faulty. And as can be gleaned from reviews at large both in print and on the web, both the Blu-ray and DVD releases have received positive reviews in regards to the film and its visual and audio re-mastering which reflect the genuine efforts we make to try and bring you the best results from often highly difficult materials to work with.

Shameless Screen Ent

I've tried to write down what to make of this disc off and on for a week now. By far, Shameless' UK Blu-ray is the best presentation of Dario Argento's 'lost' giallo 4 FLIES ON GREY VELVET yet, but I wouldn't call it an especially good presentation, either. It's clearly cobbled together from the 2008 Italian HD restoration - which is, supposedly, from the original camera negative, the German bootleg DVD release from Retrofilm, and the aformentioned English 4 track audio master with... well, let's call it mixed results.

First the good news; 95% of the time, the disc actually looks and sounds pretty damned good. It's covered in minor debris, some unfortunate luma banding and the color leans slightly towards crushed blacks and orange skin tones. It'd be a perfectly average transfer, maybe even a bit below par were it a catalog release from one of the big Hollywood studios, but in the sea of mediocrity that "genre-friendly" labels like Blue Underground, Media Blasters and Arrow Video have let drip out of their collective ass crack in the last few years, this stands as a pretty bold improvement from the expected analog-noise infested masters slathered in syrupy noise reduction. I'd even be willing to say that - MOST of the time, at least - it's the single most film-like presentation of a 35mm two-perf Techniscope feature we've seen in High Definition yet. Keep in mind that it still pales in comparison to Wild Side's French restoration of Tenebrae, Criterion Collection's Salo and Midnight Legacy's white glove treatment of Alien 2: On Earth... sadly, the silence from both of these not-Criterion studios towards realizing a second independant transfer in the last year or two speaks volumes over how prohibitively expensive and difficult the process of doing it yourself must be. (I'm all too certain there are "other" issues we don't know nearly enough about preventing more titles from crawling out of the gate, but those are the sorts of things you never hear about until years after the fact...)

The "extended" version presents the roughly 40 seconds that were supposedly cut from the Mya Communications DVD (and all other subsequent DVD releases, as far as I know?) due to "print damage". Let it be said that while I have little doubt the reel changes were in rougher shape than the rest of the film - the ends of each reel wind up getting exposed and thus scratched up through normal use, even on archival prints - I don't in any way, shape or form buy that they couldn't have been restored or that footage was out and out 'missing'. The footage includes some brief dialog exchanges, but barring one brief line that introduces Mimsy Farmer's cousin the losses were arguably minor in the scheme of things. You guys know me - more than a few frames and I start clenching my fists - but I've got enough to say that I really don't want to get into how "every scene is essential, even when it's not". Either you already care or you never will, and by the magic of seamless branching, this disc has you covered either way!

Shameless has already said that a new HD transfer for these scenes wasn't financially feasible, so, they sourced the footage from... wait for it... the German Retrofilm DVD. Yes, the bootleg made from what appears to be a vintage American theatrical print was actually used for the Blu-ray. I don't mean "the Retrofilm 35mm print" or even "the Retrofilm Digibeta" - this was a gray area release made outside the typical channels where the Italian licensor would doubtfully even have access to these materials. I mean that it looks like the Shameless Blu-ray literally upscaled the actual Retrofilm DVD. Now I could be mistaken - I don't work for Shameless, after all - but I can find no other sensible excuse for there to be such ugly, patchy blocking on this footage despite modest bitrates. Adding insult to injury is the fact that they weren't even color corrected properly, leading to washed out and heavily color-infused "blacks" that make even the print's matte bars dark green. It's bad enough that we're watching upscaled PAL footage, but the fact that they didn't even have the decency to present said PAL footage properly is enough to turn my stomach.

At least the 'restored' footage has fine audio... it's too bad I can't say that for the "newly discovered" scenes dubbed into Italian during the final reel. The video I posted a few weeks ago is absolutely a fair representation of the Blu-ray's completely borked English track, and the clipped, static noise that invades the otherwise acceptable sound levels are - at best - embarrassing. Shameless can sweep that shit under the rug all they want, the fact is the Italian mono track sounds perfectly fine during these scenes, and it would have taken all of 10 minutes to splice the Italian track in for those brief inserts and save it out one last time before replication. The thought that they're trying to preserve the analog origins sounds commendable, but for fuck's sake guys, those are blatant analog distortions and they're not just obnoxious, but they're potentially dangerous and could blow out your fucking speakers!

Allowing some level of constant analog hiss through to not distort the high end of the mix is one thing; this is a blatant, obvious flaw and it should have been fixed by their authoring house LONG before Shameless ever saw it. I know the odds of the giallo-import enthusiast crowd and the home theater hi-fi buffs being too large to fit in a single McDonalds restroom is probably astronomically slight, but even so, this isn't about trifling over minor issues; this is about something called "professionalism". There's a difference between having less than perfect standards and simply not having them, and blatant audio clipping in newly restored scenes when you already have perfectly acceptable audio materials is flat out not just giving a fuck. The similarities between this release and Media Blasters' similarly as-decent-as-it-is-infuriating presentation of Joe D'amato's Beyond the Darkness are just too much for me to bear, and it's with the same gritted teeth and OCD fury that I recommend only hardcore fans of the title actually spend their money. It's certainly not a show off piece, but short of Koch Media besting Shameless at their own game (and making the Germanic release "English friendly" to boot!), this is as good as it's probably ever going to get.

Whilst discussing the release with a friend of mine, I basically threw my hands up in the air and said it was "good enough". I didn't mean that, not exactly, but in a world where most genre labels are either releasing shitty BDs or no BDs at all, the Shameless presentation of Dario Argento's so-called lost thriller was everything I already expected it to be, and absolutely nothing more. Fans who are familiar with prior DVDs or - even worse - barely watchable VHS bootlegs will be thrilled, and those of you who have come to appreciate the level of standards Blu-ray has brought to the table in recent years will hang your heads and weep. I'm somewhere in the middle, appreciative that Shameless tried to fix the film... they're just absolutely clueless about how to pull it off. That's a damned shame, but it's so much better than that turd Mya Communications released a few years ago that, under the circumstances, I'm sorta glad I have a copy... and just as thrilled that it was a gift.

For the record, I'm not a particularly big fan of the film to start with. It's not awful - and there are plenty of awful thrillers out there - it's just a little dull and hasn't aged particularly well. I think Deep Red and even The Bird with the Crystal Plumage hold up reasonably well over 35 and 40 years after the fact respectively, but Michael Brandon is a bland lead and his character is such a self-centered douche that it's hard to feel especially worried for him. The murder set pieces are shot well enough, but they're few in number and lack the visceral impact that they needed to really stick out; I honestly had forgotten one point-of-view camera shots of a girl being dragged down the stairs until I saw it again in the film's UK video trailer, and considering I have vivid memories of each and every kill in Tenebrae, that can't be a good sign. The film's final reel is all great stuff, the killer's motive and violent breakdown in particular being a memorable and satisfying expansion of a similar theme that was brought up in an earlier Argento penned gialli, but more than that I can't get over the absurd image that the film's bizarre title conjures up, one that I WISH had more to do with the following poster:

'Cause seriously. That's just straight out bitchin'.

The reality is that the culmination of that lurid one-sheet is the sort of eye-rolling psuedoscience bullshit that makes the twist ending in Cat O' Nine Tails look downright sensible. Argento was freed on so many levels in Deep Red when he introduced a psychic and decided "Y'know what? She can do this because fucking magic." Trying to work in dated and 'experimental' scientific theory into a thriller that's rooted in the very realistic universe of childhood trauma and serial killers is a dangerous game, and here, it bites what was an otherwise poignant tale of a mysterious madman on the loose right in its crazy ass. I've probably just inadvertantly un-invited myself from any local movie nights should I find myself lost in Glassgow, but hey, I'm calling it as I see it: It's certainly a unique, perhaps even fascinating experiment, but it's not one that ever comes together in my own yanked out eyeball.

If you love it already, or if like me you're an Argento completest despite knowing better, this Blu-ray is the only game in town and you can finally dump that spunkpile of a R1 DVD in the dumpster where it always belonged. If you're already on the fence, or you've never actually seen the flick before... honestly, I'd say keep your money, or at least watch it before you pull the trigger. The film isn't all that great and the presentation, while better than most of its contemporaries, is still frustrating enough to warrant a fair warning. I'm sure that epic Luigi Cozzi interview will be worth the price for some people alone, for whatever it may be worth to you, personally.


Wtf-Film said...

I think what makes me so angry with regards to how the European Techniscope productions that have made it to Blu-ray thus far have been treated pretty much boils down to this:

I know that's a Criterion release, scanned at 4k from a fresh 2-perf interpositive, but these transfers aren't rocket science. They just keep getting fucked over again, and again, and again.

As for the audio issues... Just.... ugh. It's a sad state of affairs when the fandubbers on CG are beating these companies at their own game.

Kentai 拳態 said...

WOW, that looks good! I honestly tend to forget that there are non-Italian films that use the format - in my defense, it was created by Technicolor Rome - so the fact that Criterion had released anything sourced from a two-perf 35mm print is all very interesting news to me.