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The French Connection Blu-ray controversy


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#1 Alex Lindblom

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 06:27 AM

Over at Back By Midnight. There are two great audio interviews, first with Owen Roizman and then Bill Friedkin about the new French connection transfer (starts about 31 min in the Roizman interview and 23 min in the Friedkin one)

To recap Roizman says he is appalled by the new transfer and want nothing to do with it.

Friedkin seems a bit heated on the subject and basically says he is the director and this is the way he want it to look. He also says that Roizman won't be invited to oversee the Exorcist Blu-ray transfer.

I have not seen the Blu-ray version yet, but I have watched and enjoyed the DVD more times then I can remember.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 11:03 AM

http://www.dvdtalk.c.../s2838conn.html

Fox's new Blu-ray of The French Connection is already raising a controversy on the web, for William Friedkin's personally supervised transfer. The original movie had a purposely ugly look; release prints were slimy, grainy and colorless. (I can see the Fox people in 1971 approving any mess that came from Deluxe as ready for the screen: "Looks terrible! Good Work! Ship it!") The previous DVD release worked digital magic to bring out all the color and detail in Owen Roizman's cinematography, reducing the grain and boosting the colors to the point where some of the mid-winter scenes looked downright cheerful.

In a new HD featurette, , Friedkin demonstrates his revisionist rationale. He wanted to mute the colors and retain a lot more grain, yet not lose the sharpness of Roizman's images. To that end he had his colorist create an element that oversaturated and de-focused the color. This smeary color image was very lightly superimposed over a B&W rendering of the film, resulting in a sharp, grainy movie with pastel colors. Because the colors are de-focused, they don't stay strictly "within the lines" of objects. Gene Hackman is as sharp as a tack, but his red Santa Claus suit bleeds softly all around him. Blacks clog up at night with almost a hi-con look. New York appears cold and inhospitable. It's an interesting effect that indeed achieves Friedkin's stated goal of creating a degraded color image. And he makes no bones about stating that it'll stay that way because that's the way he likes it!


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#3 K Borowski

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 12:08 PM

Have you a personal opinion on this David?

I guess I am walking the fence on this. I mean it is one thing to completely redo a movie, like what Lucas did with SW:IV. However, in cases where the original elements have faded, the process is obsolete, or they were just employing whatever was easy/popular at the time, I can see employing digital means to achieve a similar effect.

It's not like the optical processes are holy or sacred or anything. And, while arguing for a new element or restoration, or making a B&W dupe negative optically might have some benefit were this to be a theatre re-release, it's really becoming a stretch justifying doing this for a home video anyway, even if it is an HD one.

What I would object to would be a radical re-design, or a digital de-grain like what was done in "Eyes Wide Shut." Having never seeen the film in theatres, I feel this is a real shame. There are shots too where the degrain takes on an almost cartoonish quality, further aided by the fact that these scenes take place during the orgy scenes where everyone is wearing masks.

And when it is done by the director, as opposed to some other filmmaker or producer (like in "EWS"), it's hard to argue that it is "going against the original vision", although people obviously change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, as they age.

I mean, even film re-releases are going to vary somewhat. Film fades, and even color-seps have a different "texture" than a print struck from the OCN. Even in an all-digital realm, lamps age, colors fade. One would drive oneself crazy thinking about this stuff to too much detail.
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#4 Richard Vialet

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 12:09 PM

As a follow-up on all this, here's a review at dvdbeaver that includes some hi-res screencaps of the blu-ray release if anyone is interested...

http://www.dvdbeaver...ion_blu-ray.htm
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 12:20 PM

Funny to read parts of that review Richard. Guy goes from hating grain to defending it as being original. Maybe I should just try to forget all of the technical knowledge I know about imaging media and try to see the world through the eyes of a video armchair technophile.

It's 1080P, it's digital, shot on 16mm 7250 pushed a stop, but now it's digital so it's good! Sometimes I really would love to be able to read a sentence like that in total ignorance of the contradictions :-)

I have to admit I've never seen this film from beginning to end. Certainly haven't seen it in theatres. How do the stills from Richard's posts compare with people's memories of this film from the theatre and past transfers, I wonder?
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#6 Thomas James

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 02:29 PM

The screen grabs look plenty grainy and gritty to me but I do not think that this 16mm film is a real high definition format. Of course there probably exists some 16mm fine grain stocks that may indeed meet high definition specifications.

Edited by Thomas James, 03 March 2009 - 02:31 PM.

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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 05:19 PM

It was shot on 35mm 5254 and I'm sure a number of scenes were underexposed and push-processed, as was common back then.

The Blu-Ray was quite grainy, I thought it was just a case of enhancing the existing grain by sharpening it rather than hiding it like most transfers do. And I thought it was rather muted, but then 5254 was a somewhat muted stock. But it did seem a bit more desaturated and grainy compared to other movies of the time, almost like a skip-bleach look. So it makes sense that this was created in post.

If you see the Blu-Ray, it certain feels appropriately gritty and not modern at all, but I can see why Roizman might object to a new look being added to the transfer. Also, for scenes that were quite dark and pushed, the lack of shadow detail and extra grain becomes quite pointilistic in the new transfer because of the way it was done.
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#8 K Borowski

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 06:57 PM

The screen grabs look plenty grainy and gritty to me but I do not think that this 16mm film is a real high definition format. Of course there probably exists some 16mm fine grain stocks that may indeed meet high definition specifications.


Thomas, "French Connection" was shot on 35. I was just pointing fun at the very amateurish review found in one of the links, and doing an exagerated mimic of it here.

French connection was 35, '54 as David further clarifies.

Yeah, today, I'd say '01 is probably border-line same quality as '54 was then, at least '54 pushed a stop.
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#9 Thomas James

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 07:46 PM

Fair enough however while we are at it I do not think that 35mm film will make a good 4K transfer. To maintain quality control 70mm film is needed. So if a 4k version of French Connection or any other 35mm movie is ever offered on holographic disc I think I'm going to save my money.
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#10 K Borowski

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 09:25 PM

Fair enough however while we are at it I do not think that 35mm film will make a good 4K transfer. To maintain quality control 70mm film is needed. So if a 4k version of French Connection or any other 35mm movie is ever offered on holographic disc I think I'm going to save my money.


With the exception of "Pulp Fiction" I'd tend to agree. Then again, haven't you heard? Financially, we are in 1997 again. It may take 5-6 years just to see Blu-Ray to catch on. I certainly dont know anyone who has it yet. Hell, I don't have it, though I've got HD TV and can record HD (horribly compressed) on the DVR.

It seems that you are trying to pick a film vs. digital fight, so I'm just going to agree. We need 70mm .. .
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#11 K Borowski

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 09:36 PM

[As an edit to my earlier post, I meant to say that *72*-01 is probably pretty close today to what you were getting with 35mm in the early to mid-70s.]
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#12 Thomas James

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 11:47 PM

At the present technology 35mm film seems to have a higher dynamic range than 4k digital meaning highlights are resistant to blowing out and film renders more shadow detail. However I have a hard time believing that 35mm film resolves to 4k resolution even if that is the best quality transfer. I could make a good argument that 65mm film makes the best quality transfer for my 720p high definition digital footage but that would not mean that 720p rivals 65mm film photograph.


When high dynamic range digital cameras start arriving on the scene 35mm film is going to have a run for the money.
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#13 K Borowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:14 AM

When high dynamic range digital cameras start arriving on the scene 35mm film is going to have a run for the money.


I agree.
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#14 georg lamshöft

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 12:30 PM

"However I have a hard time believing that 35mm film resolves to 4k resolution even if that is the best quality transfer."

80lp/mm (which is basically 2k with Super16 and 4k with Super35) is a reasonable resolution of modern stock (<<500ASA) with the best lenses and usable contrast (in extremely high contrast film can deliver even more resolution). But more important is the fact that lower resolutions lead to grain alaising and lower contrast at lower frequencies.

But "French Connection" used soft lenses, grainy stock and I have no idea where the transfer comes from (ON? IP?) so it might be really hard getting real 2k horizontal resolution out of it...

Anyway, 65mm rules! Sorry, couldn't resist...
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