Another discussion about grain came up this morning. I was complaining again about Criterion’s Bluray grainstorming of The Third Man, and HE reader “Cde” said that Criterion “doesn’t give films a ‘grainstorm’ treatment. Films give Criterion grain and Criterion accepts [it] rather than trying to scrub away the look of film from decades past with a digital smear.
And I said, “For the 81st time in the last six months, I understand that grain originates on film. What you need to understand is that grain was an unfortunate, aesthetically undesirable monkey on the backs of filmmakers in past decades. It’s not some beautiful and essential element in age-old film composition. Grain is like acne upon the face of classic cinema, and if there had been some first-rate acne medication back in the day we wouldn’t be talking about it today.
“Grain has been sentimentalized out of all proportion by the monks. And Criterion, to go by its Third Man Bluray disc, is one of the monk institutions that worships grain as something that bestows authenticity upon classic film restorations. Which it does, in a way. Except it doesn’t add anything to the artistic intentions of the filmmakers. Nothing except a kind of smothering sandstorm effect, I mean. Do you honestly think that dps of the ’30s through the ’70s said to their director-collaborators, ‘We have a chance to get some really wonderful grain elements from this scene if we light it right’?
“Criterion didn’t ‘accept’ grain in its Third Man Bluray disc — it fetishized it. You could almost imagine the Criterion technicians experiencing erotic arousal as they lovingly retained the grain from Carol Reed‘s 1949 classic.
“As I’ve said many, many times, there are several shades of digital degranulating that can be applied. Grain purists are always saying ‘do you want the real thing as it was rendered back in the ’30s, ’40s or ’50s, or some digitally arid smearing of what the original directors and dps intended?’ John Lowry of Lowry Digital has shown time and again that the grain levels can be taken down in a very delicate and considerate manner without creating a video-game effect.”