You may be under the impression you've seen Billy Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD, but you haven't -- not really. But satori will be yours for the purchase on 11.26 when Paramount Home Video's new DVD of this classic 1950 film hits the shelves.
Beautiful isn't the word for this all-new version, which PHV spent a pretty penny on to fix up and was delivered by Lowry Digital Images with a specially-designed software that eliminates 99% of the grain and dirt from the celluloid image.
This BOULEVARD is a much more richly valued and finely detailed thing than any version you may have seen on any 20th century format -- projected film, laser disc, videotape.
It amounts to a rebirth of sorts; a transformation.
In layman terms, what you'll see is almost the same mint-condition film that first-week audiences saw when it opened 52 years ago, except for the fact it's probably richer and cleaner. The visual values in any given scene are twice as sharp and rich as they've ever looked before, perhaps even better than the way they looked to Wilder and his colleagues when they first saw daily rushes at the studio
What the DVD tells us, in effect, is that the SUNSET BOULEVARD we've been looking at all
these years (I first caught it on the tube, and then in the late '70s at New York's Carnegie Hall Cinema) has been the visual equivalent of a guy on the bum -- tattered, unshaven, down at the
This new version looks so good it's almost enough to make you not pay attention to Wilder's dialogue or to the story or the acting....almost.
Just look at the stucco walls alongside Norma Desmond's staircase as William Holden's Joe Gillis walks down the steps -- you can detect variations and gradations that weren't there before. Look
at the trees and shrubbery alongside the entrance to Desmond's faded mansion as Gillis makes his
initial approach -- you can see the shine and texture in each little leaf. Look at the
weaving in Gillis' cheaply-made sport jacket, or at the fibers in the welcome mat lying outside the front door, or at any of the dozens of different surface textures inside her living room. It's a trip in itself.
The software that allowed the dirt and grain removal was designed by John Lowry, who explains the process in a featurette on PHV's new DVD of William Wyler's ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), to which his company also gave a digital makeover.
"The fundamental principle is to clean up the image," Lowry says, "and the first problem was cleaning up the grain -- the granularity and noise in the picture, and the 300 to 400 pieces of dirt in each frame of the film."
Dirt, he explains, "was the biggest challenge in processing ROMAN HOLIDAY and SUNSET
BOULEVARD" -- notice he doesn't use the term "restoring," which from the photo-chemical
purist point of view is another thing entirely. "The film is extremely dirty and in a very,
environment, [but] we were able to take that dirt
and remove 99% of it, and also remove the grain."
I paid a visit to Lowry's Burbank offices to look around and learn a little something. The digital
processing of each film is handled on some 300 Macintosh G4 computers that Lowry has lined up
in perfect little rows in a large room. The film was originally scanned in what Lowry calls "2K,'"
which amounts to an image composed of 2048 by 1536 pixels -- a significantly denser image than
what the average television can deliver.
With Lowry supervising the processings of SUNSET BOULEVARD and ROMAN HOLIDAY, Patrick
Cooper and Ryan Gomez served as respective project managers. The digital work on
BOULEVARD took about four months (from late April to late August of this year),
and has resulted not just in a new DVD but a brand-new, cleaned-up negative from
which supposedly better-than-ever prints will be made. The proof in the pudding
will be evident or not when Paramount screens one of the new prints at the Museum
of Modern Art on December 1st and 2nd.
It's been argued that digital processings of this sort give the owners of negatives of
classic films an excuse not to perform real photo-chemical restorations involving core
photographic elements. But it's hard to argue against what Lowry Digital is doing when
you consider the beauty of the improvements given to SUNSET BOUEVARD and ROMAN HOLIDAY.
If you're talking strictly DVD, I think every classic film should get a Lowry makeover.
The work is too good to dismiss.
[Warning: SOPRANOS spoiler contained herein.]
That fight-in-the-kitchen scene between James Gandolfini and Joe Pantoliano in last Sunday's episode of THE SOPRANOS (Episode # 48, "Whoever Did This") is one of the best I've ever
seen on any-sized screen. Sloppy, frenzied, desperate, ungraceful -- everything a real-life fight usually is, and what the movies almost never show.
At one point Pantoliano picked up a hot frying pan and swung it at Gandolfini, and then tried to
stab him with a carving knife, and then sprayed some Raid into his eyes. Then Gandolfini, who
was in this fight for purely emotional reasons, rebounded and got him on the floor and pounded
Joey's head and strangled him to death. I bought every second of it.
It had none of the usual wham-bam,
Hollywood usually trots out. It was just
messy and breathless and wonderfully
Why is it with organic naturalism being the absolute rule among actors in movies over the last 45 or 50 years have there been so few great fight scenes over the years? We've all seen one or two and know how they usually look and feel, and yet Hollywood gets it wrong 95% of the time.
I include almost every boxing movie among the offenders. RAGING BULL wasn't fake, per se, but the boxing scenes were stylized to the point of unreality. Even FIGHT CLUB felt slightly wrong. Too many perfect punches to the cheekbones, and the impact sounds always felt foley-ized.
I blame the stunt professionals. There is nothing worse than watching stuntmen go at it.
They're unionized and regulated and dominated by old-school practitioners, and their
act doesn't play like it used to in the Hopalong Cassidy days. Unimaginative second-tier
directors use stunt guys all the time, and they usually end up with stuff that looks
I can think of maybe four or five naturalissimo duke-outs off the top of my head. Joaquin Pheonix and Mark Wahlberg's rolling-down-the-stairwell clash in THE YARDS. The one between Bruce Willis and bad guy Alexander Gudinov on the building staircase in DIE HARD. James Caan's furious street bashing of Gianni Russo (a.k.a., "Carlo") in THE GODFATHER. Any others? Send 'em along.
Robert Towne recalled an incident in an interview fifteen or twenty ago about how he once wrote a fight scene in which the hero picks up a rocking chair to defend himself, and how the rocking chair breaks apart as he uses it against his attackers. The producers he was writing for didn't think the rocking chair device was macho enough and suggested that the hero pick up a baseball bat instead.
"And that's what's wrong with Hollywood," Towne concluded. "Baseball bats!"
Starting with today's column on 11.13.02, I'll be running an
updated master list of all the DVDs mentioned since this side-column
started two or three weeks ago...
The Hospital ('71, d: Arthur Hiller, w/ Scott, Rigg, Hughes). One of the
most acerbic, best-written social satires ever made. Needs re-mastering; color on
laser disc has faded, flirting-with-monochromatic color. Stockard Channing has a
memorable two-line appearance in opening act that's fascinating for the enormous
promise it conveys.
The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer ('47, d: Irving Reis, w/ Grant Loy, Temple, Vallee, Collins). Again -- on laser disc but no DVD. Waiter to distraught Grant, who's just been dissed by everyone and had wine thrown in his face: "Is there anything I can do, sir?" Grant to waiter, fuming: "For instance?" Also: "Mellow greetings, yukey-dukey!"
The Wrong Man (1957; d: Alfred Hitchcock, w/ Fonda, Miles, Quayle). Far from tip-top Hitchcock, but that third-act moment when the detective steals a glance at the Fonda look-alike culprit as he's being brought into the police station but doesn't put it together until he's outside on the street...I've sat through the whole plodding thing just to enjoy that moment.
Le Mans (1971, d: Lee H. Katzin, w/ McQueen) "One of the few Steve McQueen
movies that hasn't been released on DVD and the best movie about car racing ever. So
far only Days of Thunder (watchable) and Driven (utter garbage from
both a filmic and racing perspective) are on DVD. -- Owen Greenwell, Plug & Play Technology
"P.S. - the second best film about racing, ironically, is Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966)
which is also AWOL on DVD" - O.G.
Year Of The Dragon ('85, dir: Michael Cimino; written by Oliver Stone). "It's probably Mickey Rourke's best film (okay, besides Barfly), and one of those movies that absolutely needs audio commentary from the main guys; I can't believe Cimino's Heaven's Gate was released with out Cimino supplying a commentary." -- Christopher Hasler, Manager, Business and Legal Affairs, Scholastic Entertainment Inc.
Wells to Hasler: Cimino is too much of an elf-sized control-freak weenie to supply audio commentary about his pivotal role in the most repugnant and catastrophic episodes in Hollywood history, ie., the making of Heaven's Gate. Forget it -- he hasn't the balls.
Also wanted by Hasler: Greetings ('68, d: Brian De Palma), "Dated or not, this is still a pretty funny movie," he says. "De Palma is one of those highly particular and fascinating direct- ors who is deserving of having his entire oeuvre getting the deluxe treatment -- even his lesser movies like Body Double."
Electra Guide In Blue ('73; dir: James William Guercio, w/ Blake, Bush, Ryan, Riley) "Blake playing a uniformed cop long before he started working the other side of the law; very
70's, very strikingly photographed.
All Mann, all the time: Man of the West (1958, d: Anthony Mann, w/ Cary Cooper); The Naked Spur (1953, d: Anthony Mann, w/ James Stewart); The Far Country
(1954, d: Anthony Mann, w/ James Stewart); The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964,
d: Anthony Mann, w/ James Mason, Alec Guinness); El Cid (1961, d: Anthony Mann, w/ Heston, Loren) -- Patrick Dailey, Springfield, MO
Also suggested by Dailey: Secret Honor (1984, d: Robert Altman, w/ Philip
Baker Hall); Anna Karenina (1997, d: Bernard Rose, w/ Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean,
James Fox); New York, New York (1977, d: Martin Scorsese, w/ De Niro); The
Trojan Women (1971, d: Michael Cacoyannis, w/ Hepburn, Redgrave); Hamlet
(1996, d: Kenneth Branagh, w/ Branagh, Winslet, Heston, Jacobi); Surviving Picasso
(1996, d : James Ivory, w/ Hopkins); The Sugarland Express (1974, d: Steven
Spielberg, w/ Goldie Hawn); Julia (1977, d: Fred Zinnemann, w/ Fonda, Redgrave);
Short Cuts (1993, d: Robert Altman, w/ Moore, Downey Jr.).
Two Japanese movies that reader Jon Mochizuki would desperately would like to see
on DVD: Ikiru (1952, dir. Akira Kurosawa, with Takashi Shimura) and
Shall We Dance? (1996, dir. Masayuki Suo).
"Ikiru is my favorite Kurosawa movie," Mochizuki writes. "A tremendously intense,
transcendently emotional experience. The only DVD I could find is a Hong Kong-produced
release, with an awful English translation. Dance was a big hit for Miramax, so I've always been puzzled as to why it never got a DVD release. The closest I've come to a digital-quality copy is an Asian-produced VCD (which still contains the 20 minutes cut out by Miramax for the American release)." -- Jon Mochizuki, Irvine CA
"What about Whit Stillman's best screenplay-nominated Metropolitan"? - William Couper Samuelson
"John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday and Grand Prix should definitely be on
DVD, as should William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA. Frankenheimer was one
of the best directors at providing insightful commentary on his DVD's as opposed to
self-congratulatory pats on the back. Sadly, we won't have the opportunity to hear
any more of Frankenheimer's commentaries, but we should at least get the opportunity
to see a couple of the enjoyable action films he made. -- Steven R. Silver
Michael Caine is in Los Angeles this week doing interviews and promoting his performance
in THE QUIET AMERICAN (Miramax, opening 11.22). The current betting is that his assured, underplayed performance as a fatalistic, love-struck British journalist in 1952 Saigon will most likely land him a Best Actor nomination, and I'm starting to think he may be the front-runner in this category.
As they currently stand, my Oscar Balloon predictions pit three older guys (Caine, ABOUT SCHMIDT's Jack Nicholson, INSOMNIA's Al Pacino) against three or four younger guys, the most promising among the latter being ANTWONE FISHER's Derek Luke and THE ROOKIE's Dennis Quaid.
Caine leads among the older crew, I feel, because his role is a tad richer and more satisfyingly written than Nicholson's Warren Schmidt, a performance that's mainly about a comb-over and
is finally more morose and enervated than anything else, or Pacino's stumbling-around, sleep-deprived detective in INSOMNIA, which amounts to a sturdy but less-than-crowning turn.
There is Daniel Day Lewis's supposedly awesome performance in GANGS OF NEW YORK to consider, but Miramax's curious decision not to screen it so far indicates some kind of conflicted feelings about its award-winning potential. It'll be splendid for Luke if he winds up with a Best Actor nomination, but newcomers never take the prize. Quaid would be well-positioned to win
if he lands a Best Actor nomination for THE ROOKIE, although there are those who contend interest or awareness in Quaid is limited due to the Disney release having opened too early, etc.
Caine is in the lead, I feel, because his AMERICAN performance has no negatives to speak of,
and because he's hugely popular with Academy types. The only possible strike against the 69-year-old veteran is that he's already won twice in the Best Supporting Actor category -- for his '87's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and '99's The CIDER HOUSE RULES -- but I suppose a case could be made that a Best Actor Oscar carries a tad more prestige and that Caine has finally earned this final tribute.
There is a well-written piece about Caine in the current issue of PREMIERE (by Jill Bernstein, page 76) in which his money quote is, "I used to get the girl -- now I get the part."
Last weekend a journalist friend wrote and asked me a question for a piece he was working on. "What do you think is the secret of Michael Caine's long-term appeal?," he inquired. "That is, why do you think he's been a star -- one who, even now, continues to get top billing in films -
as long as he has?"
"Because less always seems to be more, and probably is," I answered, "and because Caine hasn't worn out his welcome by delivering too much of this or that and thereby allowing his cup to spill over. Time and again and going on forty years now, Caine has performed the odd feat of nailing each role honestly, with skill and conviction, but always with that dry, droll, succinct manner of his. And dry, droll and succinct has always aged nicely, I suppose, in any era.
"You always know Caine will either be good or at least not painful, and if he's in one of his crap movies (THE SWARM or JAWS 4: THE REVENGE are among my personal all-time faves) you know he'll at least make his scenes tolerable."
I added that I've "always had a soft spot for Caine since I heard him describe THE SWARM on
the Tom Snyder show in the late '70s as 'a bee movie.'"
Milchan vs. Criterion
"A few comments about your slightly misinformed piece [about] the pending DVD releases of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and KING OF COMEDY.
"What you did was paint a picture of Milchan as a controlling ogre who doesn't understand the cultural value of the movies he 'apparently owns the negatives and most of the paper' on. But you must remember that Milchan produced these movies, not just as a five-times-removed money man, but as an active producer trying to put out great films. Remember -- these two came long before Milchan's mogul days...
"Yes, Criterion has released some amazing DVDs. But what could they have done for these films that Milchan hasn't done already himself? Are you aware that for both films, Milchan's folks went through a painstaking restoration process, created new IPs from the original negative, and did high-definition transfers at two of the best facilities in Los Angeles, working with some of the same technical folks that Criterion uses? The work that's gone into creating a high quality image for both films has been insane, possibly even beyond the resources of a boutique company like Criterion.
"As far the bells-and-whistles factor, both discs are supposedly loaded with extras -- no worries there. The proof will obviously be in the pudding, but from what my inside sources are telling me, both of these discs are going to be first rate and then some.
Which leads me to wonder why you would run this piece in your column. Your source for this piece was obviously a crying titty-baby from Criterion. What would they have to gain from leaking this sort of propaganda, other than sour grapes? Certainly it's not going to change Milchan's position. Criterion should focus their energy on the business of DVDs and not trying to make Arnon Milchan look bad." -- Rocky Stewart
"I agree wholeheartedly with your complaint about the poor shots most villains in the Bond series seem to be. My favorite complaint is with scenes showing a hail of bullets peppering the dust just
behind the hero as he runs for his life. Where are these idiots aiming? At the guy's toes? A missed shot that would actually do some damage (in the head and/or torso area) would never be seen, since it would be whizzing silently past the target and expiring a few dozen feet away.
"By the way, DIE ANOTHER DAY features a really tasty torture sequence throughout the titles (reflected in ice with the usual bevy of undulating chicks in silhouette) in which Bond has been captured and doesn't escape just in time, a la every other Bond title in history." -- A
Partially Loyal MGM Employee
Bigger is Better?
"The big event pictures seem to do better when they're longer. Probably because ticket buyers feel the need to see it several times to catch everything. The opposite seems also to be true - MEN IN BLACK 2's short length seemed to guarantee that patrons felt slightly cheated for their ticket price. The all-time top list, either in raw dollars or inflation-adjusted, is filled with long films such as TITANIC or GONE WITH THE WIND. And this past year's biggest four films at
the box office were all fairly long.
"I agree that THE TWO TOWERS' three-hour length won't hurt its box office. The loonies like myself will fill theaters on it's opening Wednesday and Thursday. Then it gets seventeen straight days of weekends and holidays. Last year that gave the film a huge second week of $80 million despite only 5,700 prints and fewer showings than most blockbusters. It won't kill on any single day but it will chug along and clear $200 million before the holidays are over." -- Leonard Speakman, Hockessin, Delware
Wells to Speakman: That's reassuring.
"The second you asked for suggestions for someone to play Winona, I thought of an Australian actress called Pia Miranda. She has the same pixie-like quality of Winona and can act to boot! Miranda was most recently in GARAGE DAYS, an Australian film about a rock band (the usual
stuff). If you give her a Google image search, you should come up with some pics." -- Katharine Blessin
"How about Paul Giammati as the lawyer? Why not Sam Rockwell as the main juror? And possibly someone like Michelle Branch or Avril Levigne to play Winona?" -- Wiz
"Winona was guilty as hell, but like you, I find her so fetching, she should've been given a pass. In the old MGM days, store security would've contacted the studio, been paid off and it would've been all covered up. Ah, the good old days. And who should play her in the movie? That's easy: Winona lookalike Rachel Leigh Cook." -- Dixon Steele, Los Angeles
"I can't figure what the admirers of LOVA LIZA have been talking about. It's just awful.
[Philip Seymour] Hoffman is supposed to be grieving widower, but his energy is so oddly
channeled he comes off more like an escaped mental patient. I wanted out of this one
after about 15 minutes, but stayed for the whole, unbearable thing. Kathy Bates has
nothing to do. There's no dramatic momentum, nothing interesting to say about grief
and loss -- just someone wandering around crying, drooling and screaming for 90
painful minutes. Hoffman plays more or less one emotional state through the entire
film. Rarely seen an actor this good be so badly wasted and misguided."
-- Lee in Chicago
Wells to Lee: The movie left you writhing in agony, okay, but you stayed for the whole thing. What does that tell us? Just asking.
Bob Shaw was first to identify Friday's cast. They appeared together in Robert Altman's Quintet ('79), "which was apparently filmed inside a meat locker with packs of wild dogs," Shaw
Today's cast: Richard Harris, Bette Midler, Gene Hackman, Caroll O'connor, Jocelyn Lagarde, Max Von Sydow and an unnamed lead actress.
What's That Line?
Michael Adams of South Orange, New Jersey, was first to identify Friday's dialogue. It's from THE LAST DETAIL ('73), directed by Hal Ashby with a script by Robert Towne, from a novel by Daryl Ponicsan. Older guys #1 and #2 are played by Jack Nicholson and Otis Young; the younger guy is Randy Quaid.
A successful, big-name talent is talking to a comedy writer and would-be performer. They're in the big talent's office.
Big Talent: Dynamite! This is dynamite!
Writer (shyly) You think so, [name]?
Big Talent: Look, I've been at this for fifteen years, [name], and I haven't come up
with anything like this -- not me, not any of my writers.
Writer: (smiling with obvious pleasure) Well, I'm glad you like it, [name].
Big Talent: Tell me something, [name]. (pause) How do you do it? I'm not asking
to use the material myself. I just want to know how you... (waving his arms in a gesture of frustration) ...y'know, how you do it!
Writer: Well, I don't know if I can explain it, really.
Big Talent Come on. Try, [name].
Writer Well, it just sort of comes. I think about my life, see, mainly about the
worst parts, all the awful things, and I just try to see them in a funny light. That's all.
Big Talent (eagerly) Is that what you do? The worst parts, and then you look at them in a funny light? Is that what you do?
Writer: More or less. It's hard to describe how it happens.
Big Talent: But that's just it, [name]. It doesn't happen for me. Why do you think the
show is in so much trouble? By the time I've done my monologue, everyone has switched to [a competitor]. Maybe if you did a little writing ... ?
Writer: Sure, [name], I'd do anything I could to help out.
Big Talent: You would? Great. Why don't you come out to my place this weekend
and we'll hash it out. I'm having a few of my friends but we should be able to get a little work in.
Writer: Would you mind if I brought someone?
Big Talent: (smiling) A girl, [name]?
Writer: A very special girl, [name].
Big Talent: I'd love to meet her.
Name the film, the year of release, the director, the screenwriter(s), and the actors in the scene.