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Michael Brooke
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The most obvious companion-piece to 'Lisztomania' in Russell's oeuvre is the 1970 TV movie 'Dance of the Seven Veils', which is technically banned (or rather, the Richard Strauss estate won't permit any further screenings, and their copyright lasts until 2020), but there's a timecoded copy on YouTube with rather faded colours - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7r2JHq7LMs . (The BFI has a much better copy in their archive, sourced from Russell's personal 16mm print, but they can't do anything with it commercially because of the Strauss situation.) I completely agree with Petey that Russell is criminally neglected, not least in his native country. One of the most stimulating research jobs that I've ever had was ploughing through almost the entirety of his 1959-70 BBC output, which consists of over thirty films, very few of which have had a commercial release since what was often a one-off television broadcast. (I wrote up my research at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1030140/ ) A DVD box collected most of the feature-length pieces (although unsurprisingly omitted 'Dance of the Seven Veils' and, more sadly because it's one of my absolute favourites, 1964's 'Béla Bartók') but the shorts are still largely terra incognita, although they do very occasionally pop up as DVD extras (for instance, his film 'Antonio Gaudí' turned up on Criterion's release of the eponymous Hiroshi Teshigahara film). The real miracle is that they virtually all survive, given the BBC's notoriously cavalier approach to preservation in the 1960s, but I suppose it helped that they were shot on film and dealt with "high culture" subjects. Also, Russell was something of a public BBC star ever since 'Elgar' was broadcast in 1962 - one of the very few TV directors to achieve that kind of acclaim. Indeed, you'll see at the start of 'Dance of the Seven Veils' that the BBC announcer describes it as "a new film by Ken Russell", as opposed to "the latest Omnibus arts documentary".
I normally much prefer subtitles to dubbing, but I made a major exception for an English-language version of Jan Švankmajer's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' that I caught on 35mm last year. But there were very specific reasons for this. Firstly, all spoken content in the film is delivered in voiceover, so there are no synchronisation issues. Secondly, given that Švankmajer was explicitly attempting to make a "tactile portrait" of Poe's story, I imagine he personally preferred dubbing to subtitling (Jacques Tati is also on record as a subtitle-phobe, for not dissimilar reasons), as the near-continuous English subtitles will invariably distract attention away from the visual magic elsewhere. And thirdly, English arguably is the original language to begin with, as the Czech soundtrack merely consists of a translation of Edgar Allan Poe's original story. I'm also much less bothered about subtitling if there's effectively no original language (for instance, if the film was shot in multiple languages on set and entirely post-synched), or indeed if there's a stronger case for favouring English. For instance, Fellini's 'And the Ship Sails On' is narrated onscreen by the great (and utterly inimitable) Freddie Jones, and so the Italian version (which I saw second time round) just sounds wrong to me, no matter how "authentic" it is in terms of chiming with Fellini's own native tongue. Annoyingly, every DVD version that I'm aware of (Criterion in the US, Infinity Arthouse in the UK) has opted for Italian only. But if we're talking a sync-sound film with actors speaking their native language in their own voices, it's subtitles all the way as far as I'm concerned. Oh, and English-speaking European countries like the UK and Ireland massively favour subtitling over dubbing - it's not just an American thing.
Obviously, when I wrote '16:8' I meant 16:9 - this is not the best thread to make typos like that! Apologies.
Lex, nearly 7% of the picture is more than a 'sliver', though I agree it's nothing like the 43% that routinely got chopped out of CinemaScope films, and that you'd have to be seriously anal to argue that the film has been "destroyed" or "ruined" (as some have been doing). In any case, regardless of the original intentions, I'm very happy with the new Blu-ray - I watched the first half-hour the other night, and I honestly wouldn't have known that it wasn't intended for 16:8 from the outset.
For what it's worth, when I was at the Everyman Cinema in London in the early 1990s - which for many years was the only UK venue to play 'Barry Lyndon' (the booking guy at Warners once joked that he might as well let us look after the print, as it only ever seemed to shuttle backwards and forward between us and the depot) - we always screened it at 1.66:1, under the impression that that was the correct aspect ratio. Since I don't recall any discussion of this at the time, I assume it was marked that way on the film cans. We knew for a fact that it wasn't 1.85:1, because of an anecdote we'd heard from Geoff Andrew (Time Out/BFI Southbank programmer) - when he was a projectionist at the Electric Cinema, he ran it at 1.85:1, and received an outraged complaint from Kubrick's office, who had sent a spy to the screening. I know for a fact that the practice continued into the 1990s, as I had two or three calls from Vitali (representing Kubrick's office) about other matters in connection with our screenings, based on reports received - but he never once complained about the aspect ratio. Not that it would have done him much good if he had, because as Dwigt points out above, the 1.77:1 aspect ratio was non-standard. We could handle 1.33:1, 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, but that was it - and I doubt very much that many other cinemas could say anything different. In fact, we did better than many, as we could at least show 1.33:1 properly.
Has Lex ever seen a film by Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Yasujiro Ozu or Orson Welles? I always thought they were pretty good when it came to image composition, but clearly that's just me being deluded. As indeed were they for not jumping at the chance to shoot wider than 4:3 when CinemaScope was introduced. (Not that Eisenstein had much choice, but the others did).
Glenn, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, and I'd love it if you were right about this... ...but the sad fact is that my own copy of the British Blu-ray, which I assume is identical to the US Blu-ray, is 100% definitely framed at 1.78:1/16:9. I've checked and triple-checked my display settings, and I'm afraid there's no doubt about this. 1.66:1 films play with unmistakable black bars at the sides, and this one doesn't. The one smidgen of upbeat news is that framing it at 1.78:1 is only half as destructive as framing it in 1.85:1 would have been - but there's no doubt that it should be 1.66:1. In fact, it's just about the only post-'2001' Kubrick where there's no serious debate over the aspect ratio.
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May 27, 2010