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Wagner (1983)


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 11:42 PM

I've written about this film before... and I just posted these new comments on Facebook tonight but they are more suited to this forum.

 

One of my guilty pleasures is the mini-series "Wagner" starring Richard Burton and photographed by Vittorio Storaro. I'm one of the few people I know who watched the 8-hour 10-episode version that aired on the old Z Channel multiple times (because I taped it on VHS). It's not a glamorous portrait, Burton plays Wagner basically as a narcissist jerk and the screenplay by Charles Wood is rather elliptical with a meandering style (he wrote some Richard Lester movies like "Help!" and "The Bed-Sitting Room" and this has that sort of muttering non-sensical but almost musical dialogue at times). But as a college student, I fell in love with Storaro's lighting and the locations across Europe where it was shot.  There was a version cut down to 3 hours that plays sometimes on TV.

 

I have a 4x3 PAL DVD of the 8-hour version from the 1990's and was thinking of replacing it with the NTSC version just so I wasn't forced to play it on my region-free DVD player, but a newer transfer came out in 2011 that claims it was "mastered in HDTV in a widescreen transfer approved by the director", released in standard def DVD unfortunately.  So I just bought it.

 

I compared to the two transfers and the new one has its own problems. The original transfer looked like it was from one of Storaro's ENR prints, so very high in contrast but this 2011 one looks like a transfer from an old IP or low-con print and its not any cleaner in terms of dust problems.  The contrast is more natural but some scenes are transferred to light and now looked washed-out.  I had sort of gotten used to the old transfer with huge parts of the frame falling into black all the time.
 
And the newer DVD is interlaced-scan so even though it is a 16x9 anamorphic, it is actually softer than the old 4x3 PAL DVD, which at least was progressive scan. The whole thing should probably be redone one more time and properly color-corrected and released in blu-ray. Here is an example of the two versions.
 
You can see that the 4x3 is slightly cropped on the sides and the 16x9 version is slightly cropped on the top and bottom, suggesting that the negative itself was hard-matted to 1.66.  It probably should be shown in 1.66 instead of 1.78 like the newer version.
 
Here are some examples of the old and new transfer:
 
wagner13.jpg

wagner14.jpg

wagner15.jpg

wagner16.jpg

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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 11:53 PM

Wow, that's beautiful. Do you think the grain in the original transfer comes from the ENR process? The first frame reminds me of Lubezki's work on 'Sleepy Hollow.'

Would love to see a Blu-Ray version.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 12:01 AM

Possibly -- ENR made prints grainier because black silver grain left in the image is sharper-edged than color dye clouds, plus it's an additional layer of grain over the regular grain.  But again, it's silver, not color-coupler dyes, so the texture is different.  This movie was made in 1982 I'm guessing so it's possible that Storaro was using the new "high-speed" Kodak stock 5293, which was 250 ASA.


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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 12:23 AM

There's also something fitting about the 1.33 aspect ratio for close ups. I wish it was used more often.

Do you know if the miniseries was originally intended to be shown in 1.66?
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 01:25 AM

I think if it were meant to be shown in 1.33 they would have just shot 4-perf 35mm Academy or Full Aperture, but the fact that the 1.77 transfer shows more side information suggests that the negative was hard-matted to 1.66, which was fairly common back then for European features.  Plus the widescreen version is the one that the director says is the correct way to show the movie.


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