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May 8, 2013:

THE GREAT ESCAPE

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, there are movies and then there are MOVIES. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, there are movies and then there are MOVIES. Last night, I watched a MOVIE, not a movie. A wildly entertaining, taut, funny, wonderfully written, beautifully directed and perfectly acted MOVIE. The MOVIE was entitled The Great Escape. It was directed by John Sturges, written by W.R. Burnett and James Clavell, and it features a virtually perfect cast – Steve McQueen (in one of his most iconic performances), Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, and the rest. It is a nearly three-hour film that seems shorter than a lot of ninety-minute films I see. The pacing is perfect and it never ever feels long. It has everything – wonderful laughs, suspense, pathos – and a musical score by Elmer Bernstein that is to die for. Even though I saw it when it was released several times, and have seen it more than a few times since, including every iteration on home video, every time I watch it it’s like I’ve never seen it before. And so it was last night. I just sat on my couch like so much fish and delighted in the MOVIE all over again.

Now, about a week ago the first review of the new Blu and Ray hit. And it was not good – it was BAD. However, I, of course, put no stock in it whatsoever. I was the only one. There were the usual dreaded bad-looking screen caps for people to use to pass judgment, because heaven forbid they should actually watch the disc before passing judgment, these lovely armchair know-it-alls. In that review, an interview with a film restoration person was quoted, which seemed to back up all the reviewers assertions. Then the person who was the subject of the interview posted that the interview was years old and had nothing to do with the Blu-ray, which he hadn’t seen. He was furious about it because his words were taken out of context and bent to the purposes of the reviewer. But still all the people on the board cried “travesty” and “disgraceful” about the transfer they hadn’t seen. Over and over and over and over. Many cancelled their orders. All based on one person’s review, a person who has absolutely not one iota of knowledge about how The Great Escape should look. Then a few people got the disc early and began sheepishly posting that they actually thought the transfer looked better than the review said, but hedging their bets just in case other reviews said it was bad – in other words, even though people enjoyed what they saw, they were afraid to just come out and say it was a nice transfer. They hedged saying “it could be better, I’m sure” without, of course, knowing whether it could be better or not. The original cries of DNR, which were many, suddenly died away because, you know, the grain in the transfer is there for all to see, and became about other “problems” they saw like “cross-hatching,” whatever THAT is – not on the transfer but the screen caps. Uh huh. So, how is the transfer, you’re probably wondering about now? Well, let’s start with the obvious: Is it a four-star travesty and disaster. Absolutely not, not in any way, shape, or form. Certain movies I know like the back of my hand in terms of what they should look like, but The Great Escape isn’t one of them, although I have a fairly good memory about it.

With that in mind, knowing the film stocks of that era, understanding just how many long, long opticals are in the film (not one of these complaining people seem to understand what an optical is or what it even means), understanding that several long outdoor sequences were shot with a heavy diffusion filter – well, I have to say I was very pleased with the presentation. Is it perfect? I don’t know. Many of the complainers were actually saying it wasn’t much better than the DVD. Well, they’re either talking out of their collective rectal cavities or they’re blind, because the Blu-ray is so far above the DVD in every way it’s not even funny. The Blu-ray has detail, excellent contrast, and perfect color. The Blu-ray also has shots that don’t look so hot and that are softer than other shots and every single one of those are opticals – some multi-pass opticals. There are a huge number of dissolves in the film – each, of course, is an optical, which means you are generations away in quality. Some of those opticals go on for a VERY long time – one lasts for an entire five-minute scene, plus the long shot that precedes the dissolve into the five-minute scene (the scene plays in one shot and is followed by another dissolve) – once you cut out of the optical – voila, everything looks great. One of the most vociferous of the whiners even said, “Yeah, one shot looks great, then the next shot looks terrible.” Duh. One shot is not an optical and the next is. Learn about film, or it’s better to keep your mouth shut and not make with the pronouncements. It’s fine to ask questions, but not state an ill-informed opinion based on nothing.

So, if I were to nitpick anything I’d say the lettering in the main titles looks a tiny bit soft – not the images in back of the titles – those are dupes of dupes – just the lettering, but for all I know that may be what they always looked like. A couple of people who saw the film projected in the last couple of years have come out and said the Blu-ray looks just like what they saw. So, once again we have injustice done to a studio by the usual suspects. I do understand it’s a problematic film for people who don’t understand film and opticals and dupe footage and diffusion filters. Since they don’t know anything about that on top of not having any idea about the film’s original look since most of these people doing the complaining have never actually seen it in a movie theater, their comments are just silly and pointless – and yet, people cancel. Then many of them brag about having bought it anyway because they waited until it was under ten dollars then used this coupon and that code and got it for two dollars. They BRAG about it over and over – it’s a game for them. And these same people then wonder why studios are licensing out their titles to other companies. I would, too, because who needs to do loss leaders AND have ill-informed posts about their work on transfers? The bottom line – if you love the film I think you’ll be more than pleased with the transfer.

Long before viewing, I’d gotten up at eight-thirty but went right back to sleep and got up again before eleven. That is because I hadn’t gotten to sleep until three – I just decided to finish reading Flip by Martyn Bedford, the first book of fiction I’ve read since before I began Benjamin Kritzer. I’m not going to make a habit out of it, though, but I like Mr. Bedford and I liked the idea of his Young Adult novel. It’s a very nice book – good plot, good characters, colorful writing. For me, a bit too long for its own good – it begins to be repetitious a little at the halfway point. I loved Mr. Bedford’s first novel, Acts of Revision, and we began a correspondence, and when I finished the first Kritzer book I sent it to him. He professed to really like it, and when I finished Kritzerland, I asked him to blurb the first book so I could use it on the back of the Kritzerland jacket – he did and gave me a wonderful blurb. I know I sent him Kritzerland and may have even sent Kritzer Time, can’t remember about that. So, it was interesting to me that there were certain fleeting moments in this book of his that had, to me, a similar feel to the Kritzer books. And the ending, which is very emotionally satisfying and good, in its final paragraph really does play just like the final paragraphs of Kritzerland – not exact, but very similar in intention and feel. In any case, I liked it quite a bit and recommend it. I also really recommend Acts of Revision, an amazing first novel.

After I got up, I did a three-mile jog, did some work on the computer, had several telephonic calls, answered a LOT of e-mails, and then had some Pasta Papa at Hugo’s – it was deelish. Then I picked up some packages, after which I came home. I then did more work on the computer, had more telephonic calls, and then watched the MOVIE. After the movie, I had to listen to some film tracks of an upcoming release – we’re mixing it from the original sixteen-track tapes, but the paperwork is horrible and it’s all very confusing because a lot of what they recorded didn’t make the film. But today we got the mono mixes, which are all properly slated and will make things much easier to identify.

Well, why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because I must get a good night’s beauty sleep.

Today, I shall do a jog, I shall write the liner notes I should have written yesterday, I shall eat, I shall hopefully pick up some packages, and I shall try to actually relax a little, for I have not had a day off in a month. And the contractor will be here at four to walk the house, and then hopefully work can begin.

Tomorrow, I will hopefully be able to start perusing our mirror site and seeing the latest versions of our software and how that will all work. And then the web guy can start his designing. Friday I have a lunch, and then there are some meetings, too – I’m hoping I can keep the weekend free.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, do a jog, write, eat, hopefully pick up some packages, walk the house with the contractor, and relax. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s Ask BK Day, the day in which you get to ask me or any dear reader any old question you like and we get to give any old answer we like. So, let’s have loads of lovely questions and loads of lovely answers and loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, where I shall have The Great Escape.

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