Considering that I own a 65″ Sony 4K TV, it’s conceivable that I may eventually spring for a 4K Bluray player. Down the road, I mean. Because all the 4K Blurays on sale now are action-driven or CG fantasy spectacles, and almost none are aimed at serious film fans like myself. When and if I purchase a 4K Bluray player it’ll be great to own the 4K disc of Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas, which will pop in early December. The only problem, of course, is that this will almost certainly be a 4K rendering of Brownfellas, the remastered Bluray version of Scorsese’s 1990 classic that came out last year. This version looks like it was marinated in gravy, lentil soup and butterscotch sauce and then left to bake in the afternoon sun. So I’m sorry but no. If Warner Home Video was to announce a 4K version that will remove the brownish effect that covered last year’s remastering, fine.
For those who may been away or not paying attention in early June, you need to avoid the 25th anniversary Bluray of Goodfellas (which popped on 5.5.15) because it looks darker, thicker and browner than the 2007 Bluray version, which is far superior. Don’t be misled by the fact that Scorsese approved the 25th anni version — sometimes it looks okay but mostly it seems covered with a mixture of lentil soup and butterscotch sauce. To my eyes it’s a constantly irritating thing to sit through. Just remember the name Brownfellas and the fact that Warner Home Video has helped you to remember this by tinting the cover a brownish amber. One more time: Brownfellas is bad, but the 2007 and 2010 Bluray versions are just fine.
The most persistent argument against my Beware of Brownfellas piece is that (a) the 2007 Bluray version of Goodfellas was artificially brightened and (b) the new Goodfellas Bluray is a truer, more film-like rendering of what the original answer print looked like — i.e., nice and dark and murky. My response is simple. The 2007 Bluray version, which I’m completely happy with, contains a good amount of shade, shadows and darkness where appropriate. I saw Goodfellas three times in theatres in 1990, and I’m telling you that the ’07 Bluray is by no means an artificially brightened thing. It looks gritty, unaffected, like reality. How in the name of God can it improve the experience of watching Goodfellas by darkening and brown-tinting the image? How is it better for the viewer to remove details that were visible on the 2007 Bluray and bury them in shadows?
This morning I asked restoration guru Robert Harris about the why and wherefores, and his response was that the 2007 Bluray is “totally irrelevant.” What matters is the Scorsese-approved answer print that was supplied for the 2015 Bluray transfer. The 2007 Bluray, he says, “didn’t have stable reds, didn’t have proper black levels, didn’t have proper shadow detail.” The guys who mastered it, he says, “were using a more primitive technology.” And yet 2007 was ironically the first year “in which we had the ability to recreate film on Bluray.” It just wasn’t part of the ’07 Goodfellas. So, boiled down, the new Bluray is a welcome thing because it’s giving us a version that really looks like film, or so Harris and his brethren are saying.
Last night I watched the 25th anniversary Bluray of Goodfellas…the fuck? If clear, sharp, realistically colored images mean anything to you this new disc should be called Brownfellas. It’s absolutely darker, browner, less robust, splotchier and somewhat desaturated. It looks like somebody dipped the 2007 Bluray in gravy and then baked it in the afternoon sun. Don’t listen to snake-oil salesmen like Bluray.com’s Michael Reuben, whose 4.27 review is my idea of a flat-out lie. The 2015 disc’s “clarity, sharpness and densities are superb,” he said — bullshit. This is a splotchy, less robust Goodfellas with unnecessary shadows and a dupey, grainy look. Reuben said that the 2007 Bluray seems to be “covered with a layer of haze, largely because the contrast is too high and the image is overbrightened.” No, it doesn’t seem covered with a layer of anything — the 2007 Bluray looks clear, sharp and life-like. Don’t buy the 2015 Bluray — don’t be suckered by “reviewers” whose role in life is to give blowjobs to Blurays regardless of quality so the distributors will keep giving them freebies. The 2015 Bluray is Martin Scorsese-approved, apparently because Scorsese likes the darker, muddyish, film-like textures. How in the name of Michael Ballhaus could Scorsese want today’s generation to regard Brownfellas as the ultimate standard? Brownfellas is the worst desecration of a major American classic since that blotchy, desaturated French Connection Bluray came out in early ’09. Avoid it, avoid it, avoid it like the plague. As Henny Youngman would say, “Buy the 2007 version…please!”
Henry Hill’s blood-stained handgun as seen in the 2007 Bluray
Same shot, 2015 version.
Trying to write about Glenn Kenny‘s “Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas“, which put me into some kind of serious hog heaven…I don’t know where to start. Or end for that matter. Talk about a package stuffed with goodies and more goodies, and before you know it you can’t keep up and they’re falling off the conveyer belt and you’re Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory.
Please understand this is the most devotional and meticulous making-of-Goodfellas book that anyone could ever possibly write. I mean, Kenny burrowed and burrowed deep…talked to or library-researched every possible source, living or dead — director Martin Scorsese, producer Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, “Wiseguy” author Nick Pileggi, Robert De Niro (whose casting as Jimmy Conway happened at the last minute), editor Thelma Schoonmaker, crew guys, et. al. — and generally oil-drilled for a two-year period and then assessed this 1990 gangster classic from each and every imaginable angle.
But it’s so great to sink into this thing, which is like…I don’t know, a combination college course, shiatsu massage and mineral bath. At times it’s almost (and please don’t take this the wrong way) exhausting, and yet in the best possible way. It works you over, and at the same time delivers an amazing cumulative high. If you want to know, like, everything and I mean everything about this film, this is the well you need to jump into.
If Goodfellas means as much to you as it does to me…if you’re a Goodfellas junkie (which I’ve been for the last 30 years anyway) you don’t have much of a choice. You have to pick it up and keep this ultimate couch-potato companion on your coffee table and pick it up when the mood strikes.
That’s how I got through it, to be honest. After the first three or four chapters I decided it might be better to read it in short spurts, 10 or 15 pages at a time and then put it down and then come back. It felt better that way. Because otherwise it’s a big fat chocolate bear.
I’ve watched Goodfellas…I’d almost rather not say. At least 15 or 20 times, which isn’t as obsessive as it sounds. Not once a year since it opened, which would be 30 times, but a whole lot of times in my living room…VHS, cable, streaming, laser disc, DVD, Bluray (including the infamous 25th anniversary “Brownfellas” version, which definitely isn’t as pleasing as the 2007 and 2010 Bluray versions) and of course 4K streaming, which I’m cool with because the lentil soup and caramel have been removed.
It’s frankly gotten to the point that I can’t really get off on it like I used to…I know it too well…backwards, forwards and sideways. And yet I’ll never stop savoring and re-savoring all the great parts, which is pretty much every shot and scene.
Why, then, would I want to re-immerse all the more via Glenn’s book? But I wanted to without question. I had to. An uncorrected trade paperback proof is sitting right next to me, and I know that the next time I crack it open it’ll be good sailing.
If I’d written “Mad Men” I would have blended the history and facts and quotes with how this film has always made me feel about my suburban New Jersey past, and those aggressive Italian guys I used to run into from time to time, and particularly those black pegged pants, starched white shirts, pointy black lace-ups and black leather jackets they all wore. And how they’d taunt me from time to time (Them: “Are you a guinea? No? Then what good are ya?”) and how I’d scowl and mutter “aagghh, fuck those guys.”
And yet nothing in the history of cinema has ever made me feel so warm and comforted and at ease among friends as that tracking shot when the camera (assuming the POV of Ray Liotta‘s Henry Hill) strolls through the Bamboo Lounge, amber-lighted with tiki torches and packed with friendly wiseguys who say to him “hey, what’s up, guy?” and “I took care of that thing for ya” and “I wenna see that guy, wenna see him” and so on. Strange, isn’t it? I hated the guineas as a teenager but I’ve loved their company ever since.
I’ve said that I won’t even flirt with the idea of buying a 4K Bluray player until the distributors start issuing 4K discs of classic or quality-level films instead of bullshit CG fantasy flotsam.
But I’m open to streaming. Last December I was more than pleased by the micro-detail in a 4K streaming version of Lawrence of Arabia that I bought on Amazon, even though it wasn’t real-deal 4K due to intense compressing. I’ve been told this version is probably delivering between 2K and 4K, but that the physical 4K Lawrence Bluray, due later this year, will be the real prize.
Five or six weeks ago I streamed a 4K Brownfellas, but I found it too lentil-soupy — too dark, too many red faces, too inky.
Last night I watched a 4K streaming version of The Bridge on the River Kwai, and I have to say that while 15% or 20% of it looked like 1080p with the color cranked up, 80% or 85% looked phenomenally sharp and vivid. From a certain purist perspective the detail and general vibrancy are almost too much as I’m certain that reserved-seat audiences at the RKO Palace in 1957 didn’t see images this clean and needle-sharp. I’m not complaining, mind — this new Kwai stream delivers an unmistakable 4K bump.
Hell, I liked it so much that I bought it lock, stock and barrel, as I did the 4K Lawrence stream three months ago.
I’m also noticing that a UHD Bluray of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven will pop on 5.23.17.
I’ve had my top-of-the-line Sony 65″ 4K TV since last March, but until last night I’d never watched a feature film in 4K streaming. Mainly because I was presuming that only CG flotsam flicks were available in this format, and I really couldn’t give less of a shit about watching Independence Day Resurgence, The Martian and San Andreas in 4K. Thanks all the same.
But last night I shelled out $20 bills in order to watch Amazon’s 4K streaming version of Lawrence of Arabia, and I was really, seriously stunned by the micro-detail.
I’ve seen the restored, 8K-scanned Lawrence digitally projected via DCP under high-end conditions and at home via 1080p Bluray, and the 4K streamed version (which is not real-deal 4K due to intense compressing, I’m told, but somewhere between 2K and 4K) is really a cut above.
Every now and then the digital cache-ing would slow down and the 4K sharpness would fuzz out, but for the first time in my life I was noticing textures (wood, sand, wardrobe threads, even the subtle composition of fine cement in the opening credits sequence) that I’d literally never seen before, not with this degree of crispness and clarity, and that’s saying something.
I’m told that as good as this version of Lawrence may have appeared to my bespectacled eyes, the 4K Bluray, which may be released sometime in ’17, will look even better.
Right now Amazon and Netflix are offering less than 50 4K streaming features for rent or sale, and most of them are 21st Century eye-candy for the cretin class. But once classic films (and particularly those shot in 70mm and Vista Vision) start appearing in 4K Bluray (or 3840 x 2160 pixels) to some degree…that‘s when I’ll pop for a new Oppo 4K player.
I need to acknowledge that this Goodfellas examination by 1848 Media‘s Julian Palmer is one of the smarter, better-edited ones — a comprehensive, connect-the-dots essay that makes an overly examined classic seem almost fresh again. But this has to stop. We’ve all done the Goodfellas backstroke though too many swimming pools now, and it’s time to ease up and celebrate something else. I may be extra sensitive or gunshy because of my recent grappling with the traumatic Brownfellas episode, but it’s bad for the soul to stay too long in the same foxhole. How about a thinky essay on….oh, Stephen Frears‘ The Hit? Or an essay that explains chapter-and-verse why Zero Dark Thirty is a truthful, dead-on masterpiece and why the Hollywood Stalinist left should be eternally ashamed for torpedoing it?