Film A quick aside. Working through 1001 film list, partly through library dvds, partly through streaming apps, I've been struck by just how awful some of the transfers have been, even major studio releases. For all Scorsese et al's efforts in restoring the likes of The Red Shoes, there are dozens of titles around which exist in barely watchable versions either because the dvd company has simply utilised some old transfer prepared for television or even a VHS release because it's not been thought to be cost effective to produce a better version for something likely only to attract a small audience at a budget price.
But it's also true that blu-ray and boutique releases and indeed the ravishing work done on titles like The Red Shoes, the premium material, has rather spoilt our tastes. For the decade before dvd, most of us were quite comfortable watching films in panned and scanned VHS releases and simply happy to have the miracle of a film in the home which we could watch whenever, no matter that it had been butchered and was very far from what the director originally intended or indeed had their vision compromised because of the needs to shoot the thing in order to ease its transition into the home market by protecting the frame.
Even dvd wasn't initially the panacea. Although some titles were undoubtedly well turned out, the original release of All The President's Men was at such a low bit-rate, the quality was barely better than a VHS recording from the original line of Freeview boxes and The Red Shoes utilised the very yellowed print that you see in the restoration documentary to demonstrate the amount of work which was done in order to make the colours pop. Again, because that was all that was available, we still marvelled. Now, as we can stream these films in HD quality, we shake our heads at that legacy, boggling at how we could possibly accept such poor quality.
But sometimes it's still possible to simply be grateful to see a film, however the quality. A few weeks ago I discovered Peter Hall's filmed version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and found a streamable copy on Amazon Prime. The transfer is awful, the sound pitched far too high and muffled, the dialogue sometimes muffled. The print used is completely unrestored with frame dropouts where it's been repaired, noticeable shudders between reels and dust and hairs and well, you get the idea. It's probably in a worse state than the Blade Runner print I talked about the other months.
Except, I was very pleased to have seen it. The film has been highly out of circulation in the UK - I don't think it's even received a VHS release. There is a region one disc from MGM's archive collection, but that's a bit expensive for me at the moment (apparently that transfer is much better). When a film is this rare, you make do, you enjoy what's been put in front of you. It was a reminder of those times past but also of how we have to look after and promote this legacy. How is it that a film starring Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg, in Shakespeare, at the height of their powers could be treated this poorly?