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Quality of Prints Shown Recently on TCM


kingrat
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I thought it might be useful to open a thread about the quality of the digital prints for some of the movies seen recently. Sometimes the versions we see are beautiful re-creations that look brand new. Occasionally, that's not the case. Sometimes no better version exists.

 

 

WICHITA, alas, turned out to be a panned-and-scanned version of a widescreen original. The giveaway was seeing only half of Edgar Buchanan playing cards in the saloon. The colors looked faded and the texture looked grainy. The film seemed in need of restoration as well as needing its proper widescreen dimensions.

 

 

THE DEADLY COMPANIONS had two extended night scenes which were so dark you couldn't tell what was happening. Perhaps some of you who own or have seen the film know if this was poor work by the filmmakers or another film in need of restoration.

 

 

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>THE DEADLY COMPANIONS had two extended night scenes which were so dark you couldn't tell what was happening. Perhaps some of you who own or have seen the film know if this was poor work by the filmmakers

 

That was because of Sam Peckinpah's day-for-night photography. He did the same thing in Major Dundee.

 

The scenes were shot during the daytime, then filtered down (way underexposed) when printed.

 

In night-for-night filming, Side spotlights can illuminate people's faces enough to see them, while not illuminating the rest of the scenery. But in day-for-night filming, everything is dark and underexposed.

 

See the nighttime battle scenes in Major Dundee, in which the cannon fire, camp fires, and gunfire can not even be seen because the flames are filtered down and way underexposed too. Whereas in night-for-night shooting, the flames of cannons, camp fires, and gunshots are seen as very bright flashes.

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> {quote:title=kingrat wrote:}{quote}

> Sometimes the versions we see are beautiful re-creations that look brand new. Occasionally, that's not the case. Sometimes no better version exists.

 

I must wonder if the conversion to digital has had an effect. To create a digital copy of an unrestored movie would be preserving forever a poor copy. I believe it would make sense to spend more during conversion to perform even a partial restoration. Such would explain why the process of converting entire libraries to digital is proceeding at such a slow pace.

 

I believe this explains why there are fewer older movies available but many of those which are available are prints of much higher quality.

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Keep in mind that DEADLY COMPANIONS is in public domain, which means that anybody with even the worst 16mm print can copy it and sell it. What often happens is as those PD copies circulate the originals are pretty much left to rot because nobody wants to put money into restoring a film that everybody else will copy and sell. So before too long the poor copies are all that's left.

 

There have been examples of major studios restoring PD films that they use to distribute, even though they don't actually own the rights, Warners did it with THIS IS THE ARMY and some smaller companies have done it with films like THE RED HOUSE, OUR TOWN and A WALK IN THE SUN to name a few. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen as often as we'd like.

 

As for day-for-night shooting, it was very common during the days of "B" westerns and in the 1950's with cheaply made horror films. I've always thought it was very noticable because the lighting, or lack of it, just didn't look natural.

 

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Here is a day for night scene from MAJOR DUNDEE, showing mens faces, but the exposure is so bad, the scene is too dark to see the faces. This was photographed in daylight but underexposed during printing:

 

major_dundee_image%20(2).jpg

 

Here is a night for night scene from THE THIRD MAN showing a mans face:

 

the_third_man_movie_image__1_.jpg

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I am going to comment on this. In MAJOR DUNDEE, I think the technique is fine. In the dark, even with moonlight and a reflected beam from somewhere, we will not always be able to see the human face. In THIRD MAN, it is a little too stagey, and not at all realistic either. Since when did you stand next someone in the dark outside and their face was perfectly illuminated by the moonlight? In THIRD MAN, there is too much spotlighting. It gives a very nice visual and atmospheric effect but it is hardly naturalistic lighting. Welles probably gave pointers to the cinematographer, but he would have been drawing on his experience in theatre, not in on-location filming.

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Fred is not mentioning with those images that in the Peckinpah films, the day for night is using color film. Let's see an example of day for night using black-and-white film. That is what we should be comparing to THIRD MAN.

 

And let's see a night-for-night example using color film. That is what we should be comparing to DEADLY COMPANIONS.

 

I also think we need examples of cinema verite or Italian neorealism, something that was shot outdoors and not with formalistic lighting like we see in THIRD MAN.

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I also want to refer back to the original post here. I think this is another one of those threads where the purpose is to find fault with TCM. And it gets it wrong.

 

TCM is not to be blamed for a director's or cinematographer's lighting and exposure choices.

 

But TCM should be held accountable for passing off public domain prints, trying to sneak these cheapies in between GONE WITH THE WIND and THE RED SHOES.

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> {quote:title=TopBilled wrote:}{quote}

> ...In THIRD MAN, it is a little too stagey, and not at all realistic either. Since when did you stand next someone in the dark outside and their face was perfectly illuminated by the moonlight? In THIRD MAN, there is too much spotlighting. It gives a very nice visual and atmospheric effect but it is hardly naturalistic lighting.

 

The lighting in *The Third Man* isn't meant to be "realistic," or "naturalistic." "A very nice visual and atmospheric effect" was its intent, which it accomplishes stunningly well. The excellent photography of *The Third Man* is a significant part of its greatness.

 

But, I do agree with your points that comparisons are best made between films that are both color, or both B&W, and where the intention is to show as natural as possible a rendition of night time.

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> {quote:title=markfp2 wrote:}{quote} There have been examples of major studios restoring PD films that they use to distribute, even though they don't actually own the rights, Warners did it with THIS IS THE ARMY and some smaller companies have done it with films like THE RED HOUSE, OUR TOWN and A WALK IN THE SUN to name a few.

 

Who restored OUR TOWN? Commercially?

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I hope people will also use this thread to call attention to some particularly outstanding prints they see on TCM as well as noting some of the occasional problematic ones. L'ATALANTE looked spectacular; presumably this is the Criterion Collection version. Fred has answered my original question about THE DEADLY COMPANIONS; the night scenes are the result of Peckinpah's poor decisions rather than being in need of restoration.

 

 

The other film I mentioned in the original post, WICHITA, is clearly a bad print, panned and scanned and very much in need of restoration. If this is the best version TCM, so be it. That's sometimes the case.

 

 

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>I hope people will also use this thread to call attention to some particularly outstanding prints they see on TCM

 

I've mentioned that in several threads.

 

I think we are now seeing new HD dubs of 35mm films.

 

An HD film dubber (whatever they might call it) has a higher quality image CCD/Tube/whatever, so we benefit from the increased image quality, even if we see the new dub on SD TV.

 

In fact, these are the highest quality film dubs ever to be shown on TV, because back in the 1950s and on up until this past couple of years, all the film dubs to eletronic media had to go through the older SD projection processes. Now the networks like TCM and the DVD makers and the owners of the films have access to these new HD-35mm dubbing machines.

 

In the old days and even in the 1980s at local TV stations we had what we called "film chains", which was a primitive movie projector showing a 16mm print into an old image pickup tube. Really old technology, and local TV stations couldn't afford 35mm film chains.

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Another factor that may have caused problems for Peckinpah and the cinematographer of *Deadly Companions* was that was an era where new faster film stocks were being tried. What had worked previously for lighting day for night scenes may not have had the same results with the faster film stock. It sounds like there wasn't enough money in the budget to go back and reshoot the night scenes after the scenes were processed.

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The reason they shot day for night was because it was cheaper. They didn't have to pay a union crew to come back at night and they didn't have to pay for lighting technicians to light it at night when they shot it during the day and filtered it down.

 

Generally the entire day for night scene is evenly dark. When they film gunshots, cannon fire, and camp fires in daylight, and then filter those scenes down to make them look like night, then all the gunshots and fire flames go way too dark, and the whole scene doesn't look natural.

 

A lot of interdependent productions shot day for night in the 1960s and 70s to save money, and there were no studio heads to forbid it.

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>Fred is not mentioning with those images that in the Peckinpah films, the day for night is using color film

 

That doesn't matter.

 

Most day for night scenes that I recall were shot in the 1960s and 70s, so most of the films were color. They shot that way, expecially on independent productions, because it was cheaper.

 

Remember the great candle-light scene with Tom Joad and Muley? I think the lighting technician used a small car or truck tail-light bulb and ran more voltage through it to brighten it up, since Henry Fonda actually held that light in his hand and covered it up as if he were covering up a candle flame.

 

I have seen a few low-budget 1940s mystery films that are way too dark in some of the night scenes, either studio shots or outdoors, so some directors might have shot day for night back then too, but not very often.

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I think it does matter. And I am disappointed you did not provide other examples. Instead, it seems like you just wanted to trash DEADLY COMPANIONS while glorifying THE THIRD MAN. Both films have fans and detractors. But what we need is a more complete presentation of the facts in these arguments.

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The photography in THE THIRD MAN (night for night) was so much better than the photography in THE DEADLY COMPANIONS (day for night). That is one reason why more people have heard of The Third Man but have not heard of The Deadly Companions.

 

Plus, the Deadly Companions print I saw recently was overall too dark. It looked like a bad print. Plus the day for night scenes were much too dark.

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Ray, I really shouldn't have referred to OUR TOWN "restored". The version I was talking about was the one that was released by FOCUSFilm Entertainment maybe ten years ago. It was "remastered" from the original film elements. So in the truest sense of the word it was not a restoration. Still, it's the best version I've ever seen of that title and is a hundred times better than any of those "dollar store specials" that plagued us for years.

 

The point I was making was that when a film falls into PD, many times, studios, even those that may have the original film elements, are hesitant to put money into a restoration if the market is already saturated with many bargain basement DVDs.

 

The studios know that many people, who are not knowledgeable about these things, would balk at paying twenty or thirty dollars for restoration when they can get a copy of the same title (probably mastered from some beat up, fourth generation,16mm dupe) for a buck. They don't understand the difference and if they do it makes no difference to them.

 

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