Drop-Dead Beautiful

I’ve just sent the following to George Stevens, Jr. regarding last night’s levitational Shane screening at the TCM Classic Film Festival: “George — I just want to extend a crisp, respectful salute and heartfelt congratulations for a magnificent digital restoration job on Shane, which I saw last night on the big screen at the Chinese in glorious 1.37. Chapin Cutler of Boston LIght & Sound (whom I spoke to in the booth yesterday afternoon) was overseeing the digital projection. It was drop-to-your-knees — the most beautiful rendering I’ve ever seen of this 1953 classic. It was like seeing it new and fresh all over again. It was almost like being there on the set. The detail was to die for.

Poster from Bob Furmanek’s 3D Film Archive site. Thanks to Bob got letting me use it.

“For the first time I noticed the reddish-violet markings on the pearl-white hand grip on Jack Palance‘s six-shooters. For the first time I noticed the pancake that was applied to try and cover Jean Arthur‘s crow’s feet. For the first time I noticed dozens if not hundreds of little details that hadn’t popped through on that DVD from 12 and 1/2 years ago.

“I have some perspective because in addition to seeing Shane countless times on TV and via that 2000 DVD, I saw what looked like an excellent, scratch-free 35mm print at a special Academy showing about ten years ago. (Or was it 15 years ago?) I remember that Palance was there and he delivered some pithy remarks to the crowd. Anyway, what I saw last night was a much sharper, cleaner and more vivid Shane than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. And with a wonderful Technicolored vibrancy (i.e., natural tones, not over saturated).

“For what it’s worth I was enormously impressed by the night scenes, which really look like night. There’s ‘fake’ day-for-night in which everything looks brighter than it should so that the audience can see things more clearly, and there’s authentic, genuine-looking day-for-night which I saw last night — a look of actual moonlight. You told me earlier you weren’t entirely satisfied by the night scenes but the integrity was obvious. The more commercial way to go, obviously, would have been to render them with more light, but you stuck to your guns. Hats off.

“I wasn’t just delighted by how good Shane looked last night — I was spellbound if not close to shocked. My eyes were going ‘wow,’ ‘wow’ and ‘double-wow.’ The Bluray is going to send the faithful into spasms of delight. I wish I could see it again on a really big screen. Sincere congratulations to you & your Technicolor colleagues.

Side note: The reason it looked better than that 35 mm print I saw 10 or 15 years ago was because the grain has been slightly velvetized with a higher contrast effect. This was a 4K scan, of course, and the elements were presumably captured by the proprietary process known as Ultra High Resolution. Developed by Warner Brothers in collaboration with two sisters who created the process for AOL, UHR “digitally realigns and sharpens the color on classic movies shot with the three-strip Technicolor process.”

“I only know that the mint-condition Technicolor prints I’ve seen of numerous three-strip Technicolor films over the years have not looked as sharp and radiant as what I saw last night. I suspect that one or two pain-in-the-ass purist monks are going to write reviews that say “this looks too good!…this isn’t what the original Technicolor version looked like!…it’s been artificially sweetened!” I only know that in all my years on this planet, Shane has never looked so drop-dead beautiful. The classic content brought tears to my eyes all over again, and the look of it brought tears to my eyes as well so it was a heavy emotional experience.

“I’m going to write Joe McBride about this right away. And also Robert Harris and Woody Allen and the world in general. I’m only sorry I wasn’t able to see Giant earlier yesterday. — Respectfully, Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere”

  • Glad to see the spoils were worth it. Nice write-up!

  • Edward Klein

    Impressive to see the makeup on Jean Arthur, but should we be seeing it? I love Bill Moyers, but it’s hard to watch because his makeup is so apparent. The most use a trowel, because it’s so thick looking.

    • The makeup is fine. In exchange for seeing the pancake on Jean Arthur’s face we get to see and savor so many other wonderful details.

      • Edward Klein

        I really need to revisit Shane. This sounds sumptuous.

        • I’d love to see Stevens Jr.’s response to this, in the event that he doesn’t just delete the e-mail upon seeing the sender. In any event, I hope the man isn’t a refrigerator puncher.

          I especially like the part where you explain to Stevens how the restoration was done. Because, you know, why would he have any idea, right?

          • Obviously he knows the basics about restoring and refining a film, but could he recite chapter-and-verse the ups and downs and ins and outs of the Ultra High Resolution process? I don’t know, Glenn — what’s your guess?

            • If the whole thing were being done under his supervision I expect he would make it his business to know.

              I’m not always a big fan of “you can see the makeup” sharpness—as with too much grain, it really IS an anomaly that arises from not making a scanner compensation for projection throw—but it’s not something I’m always apt to complain about. It’s not the same thing as making the picture over-pop for the big box stores.

          • And by the way, I wonder if you or Dave Kehr are going to be one of those purist monks who complains that “Shane” looks too good & that it should instead resemble how a good 35mm print looked way back when. I just wonder.

            • Edward Klein

              This is interesting. How should a film look? I can agree it should be as good or better than the original negative, but how much better should a film look. Is this being a purist monk? I don’t know, but it’s a valid question.

  • hdvision

    “Glorious 1.37:1”? NOT the theatrical aspect ratio, even the poster you used for this review states clearly this movie is PANORAMIC WIDESCREEN 😉