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Criterion working on "Stagecoach" restoration


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As many western fans already know, the Criterion Collection is working on a special DVD of Stagecoach, which was originally to have been released in December but has now been pushed back to 2010.

 

It looks like the wait just might be worth it. According to an e-mail from Peter Becker, president of Criterion, that was recently posted at the Criterion forums,

 

You also mention STAGECOACH. We never announced it for December, but

it's true that we had hoped to release it then. Again mastering turned

out to be more complicated than we anticipated. The original negative

of the film is lost, and we have been evaluating a number of different

elements. We are now working closely with UCLA's restoration team to

evaluate all available elements and create a new HD master, starting

from scratch. The bad news is that it's taking a long time. The good

news is that in the time we've been working on the master, we've had

the opportunity to unearth some interesting supplemental materials, so

the edition will be all the better for it. That said, it's frustrating

that it didn't come out -- the cover's been on the wall of our office

for weeks now, and we're looking forward to making it a part of the

collection.

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The original negative was melted down for its silver content during WWII if I remember the story correctly.

 

John Wayne's family owns one of the only 35mm prints of the film and that is the one (if I recall) that has been the basis for the previous DVD releases as well as special screenings and screenings on TCM.

 

Most of the film is heavily scratched with the exception of the last reel.

 

A new restored version has been talked about for a long time but the stumbling block has always been the $$$ needed to do the job right.

 

Sounds like we are inching closer to that becoming a reality.

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  • 4 months later...

Well, it's official now - the Criterion edition of Stagecoach comes out in May!

 

http://www.criterion.com/films/980

 

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Supplements will include:

* New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

* Audio commentary by noted western authority Jim Kitses

* Bucking Broadway (1917), a fifty-four-minute silent western by John Ford, with new music by Donald Sosin

* Extensive video interview with Ford from 1968

* New video interview with Dan Ford, biographer and grandson of the director, about Ford?s home movies

* New video interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich

* New video essay by writer Tag Gallagher

* New video feature about Monument Valley

* New video interview with stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong about Stagecoach?s stuntman Yakima Canutt

* Radio dramatization of Stagecoach from 1949

* Theatrical trailer

* PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by David Cairns and the short story that inspired the film

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...

With the Criterion edition coming out soon, here's a nice article in the L.A. Times:

 

*A Second Look: John Ford's 'Stagecoach'*

*The director's iconic western, now on a restored Criterion DVD, made John Wayne a star.*

 

By Sam Adams, Special to the Los Angeles Times

 

May 23, 2010

 

At a Directors Guild meeting in 1950, a tense session on the subject of anti-Communist loyalty oaths, John Ford began his dissenting statement thus: "My name's John Ford. I make westerns."

 

Typically for Ford, the assertion was both unassuming and calculated, grounding his patriotic bona fides in the quintessence of American myth, a myth that Ford both shaped and struggled with throughout his career.

 

"Stagecoach," reissued this week on Criterion's beautifully restored Blu-ray and two-disc DVD, was not Ford's first Western, although it did follow a 13-year hiatus from the genre. But it is a film of firsts, including the director's introduction to the iconic landscape of Monument Valley and the establishment of John Wayne as his favored leading man. On his commentary track, western scholar Jim Kitses argues against ex post facto analyses that place Wayne at the center of what is clearly structured as an ensemble piece. Only recently bumped up from B movies, and still saddled with the flop "The Big Trail," Wayne languished near the bottom of the payroll, banking barely a third of top-billed Claire Trevor's salary. But Ford gives Wayne a star's introductory flourish, a dramatic dolly-in whose focus blurs before resolving itself on Wayne's relatively unlined features. Framed against the soft-focus backdrop of Utah's buttes, he looks less like a rugged son of the frontier than a vision born of heat haze.

 

Although Wayne's Ringo Kid, jailed at 16 and bent on avenging the murder of his father and brother, is hardly an innocent, there's a stubborn, powerful naivete at his core that protects him from what Thomas Mitchell's disgraced doctor sardonically calls "the blessings of civilization." In classical terms, the western is the story of order imposed on a lawless land, the cavalry dictating by force of numbers what cannot be won by peaceful means. But "Stagecoach" is agnostic on the matter of social progress, which brings with it a wealth of hypocrisy and corruption. If foundational myths are a necessity, as Ford argued in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence," it is because the truth is too ugly to face.

 

Establishing the template for, among other things, the modern disaster movie, "Stagecoach" crams a motley crew into a rickety stage bound to make its journey despite the threat of attack from "that old Apache butcher Geronimo." Every string in Ford's ensemble vibrates in perfect unison, from John Carradine's gaunt Southern gambler, whose gallant gestures clash with his ignoble profession, to Trevor's pride-stung ****, whose expulsion from polite society takes the form of a joyless parade, a sanctimonious procession of black-clad matrons whose drawn faces suggest a world no living soul would care to inhabit.

 

Visually, "Stagecoach" is a film of fences and hallways, borders and passageways. As the stage sets out on its journey, the camera lingers just beyond the split-rail edge of town, surveying the magnificent vastness stretched out below. Ceilings hang low, inspiring the muslin-topped mise-en-sc?ne of "Citizen Kane," whose novice director watched Ford's film dozens of times to learn his craft. At a pivotal moment, just before Wayne's outlaw professes his love for Trevor's tarnished angel, Wayne stands framed in a glowing corridor, needing to pass outside before he can unburden himself.

 

The stage's thrilling escape from a thundering horde of Apache warriors is a logistical marvel, and was doubtless pivotal in "Stagecoach's" box-office success. (Criterion's disc justly celebrates legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, whose leap onto the stage's galloping horses was paid homage in "Raiders of the Lost Ark.") But it is not, surprisingly, the film's climax. Merely escaping the Indians' savage threat ? a one-note portrayal slightly mitigated by a close-up of a pensive Geronimo ? does not end the travelers' problems. The danger, the rough living conditions, may intensify their conflicts, but their roots lie elsewhere. They have brought their petty quarrels and vicious prejudices west with them, sullying the hope of a fresh start and undermining the dogma of an America of self-invention. The world where a person is defined only by what he or she does still exists, but only for a little while longer.

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I like to pass along what I know of the actual discovery of Stagecoach. It seems John Ford gave John Wayne a copy of the film and the Wayne family kept it for years. It wasn't until an AFI affair where John Wayne was at that not only did he hear the film was lost, and that he had the only surviving copy. True story as far as I know, I heard John Wayne say that on The Tonight Show many many years ago.

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