I was accused of having plebian taste buds a few days ago after expressing profound disappointment with the sandstorm-level grain on Criterion’s Third Man Blu-ray disc. A tiny bit shamed, I popped it again after arriving home last night from Los Angeles, trying this time to watch it with a Glenn Kenny attitude. Wow, love that grain. Grain is so beautiful. Oooh, yeah! It didn’t work. I still felt burned. I felt angry, in fact.
Old black-and-white films shot under less-than-optimum conditions (like The Third Man) look too filmy on Blu-ray so they need to be moderately de-grained. End of discussion. Not wiped clean like that 2002 Paramount Sunset Boulevard DVD, but definitely cleaned up a bit. Because low-rent peons like myself don’t want renderings that are overly celluloid-looking (i.e., grainy, speckly, eight-at-the-gate). We want an image that looks better than what the original filmmakers and labs were able to render. An image quality that the old-time filmmakers would have chosen for sure if it had been put before them.
This is what I can’t stand about the grain purists. They actually maintain with a straight face that Billy Wilder and Orson Welles would have said if given a choice, “Oh, no — don’t make the image look too clean and silvery! We prefer our classic films to be a little muddy, a little clouded up by that grain-storm effect. Better that way.”
Why aren’t the big home-video outfits putting out Blu-rays of the big-format films of the ’50s and ’60s? All the classic 70mm roadshows (Lawrence of Arabia, Mutiny on the Bounty, Dr. Zhivago, Oklahoma!, Around the World in Eighty Days, Ryan’s Daughter, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, the mediocre ’63 Cleopatra, West Side Story), VistaVisions (North by Northwest, Vertigo, To Catch a Thief) and whatnot. Not because they were uniformly great films, but because they’d look terrific on Blu-ray.
Note: Yes, I’m aware that Sony is working on a Lawrence Blu-ray, but it’s taking them forever. I was told last year that they may actually wait until 2012 to put it out so they can call it a 50th Anniversary edition.