The U.S. review embargo on Tarsem Singh‘s Mirror Mirror ends tomorrow at 3 pm, but overseas critics are going mostly thumbs-up. I can at least say that the closing musical number, a Bollywood synth-pop tune that comes out of nowhere, is the most agreeable thing about it. It’s a bit loony that a film based on a classic European fairytale would reach out to Indian pop for a finale, but obviously not so loony given Singh’s heritage.
If I’m not mistaken, the credits identify the director as Tarsem, Tarsem Singh and Tarsem Singh Dhandwar.
Maybe if I try clarifying things again the idiot wind will relax into a breeze. I never said that Lawrence being “fairly tall” and “big-boned” was a problem of any kind. I said that in a romantic context she “seems too big” for her pint-sized costar Josh Hutcherson. (Which she is, comparably-speaking.) Columnist Nell Minowsuggested that instead of saying Lawrence is too big for Hutcherson, I should have said Hutcherson “is too small for her. ” So I said that also.
And that was it. I have no problem with tall. (I’ve always chuckled at the catcall line “tall…and that’s not all!”) On her own semi-statuesque terms Lawrence is totally fine.
I think the line about Lawrence being “too big” for Hutcherson came from a line in The Big Sleep when Humphrey Bogart‘s Phillip Marlowe tells Elisha Cook Jr.’s Harry Jones that his girlfriend Agnes, played by Sonia Darrin, is “too big for ya.” (To which Jones replies, “That’s a dirty crack, mister.”)
Yesterday I watched Warner Home Video’s brand-new 70th annniversary Bluray of Casablanca. It’s grainier than the 2008 Bluray, all right, and a bit darker. I quickly wrote two prominent grain-lovers, Robert Harris and Glenn Kenny, with my views, and they wrote me back and I replied and blah-dee-blah.
“It’s darker than the ’08 version and it’s covered in billions of digital micro-mosquitoes,” I wrote. “Yes. It looks more like film in a sense but then again the grain is more distinct. I’m appalled that people who know what they’re talking about (like you two guys) are saying they prefer it to the slightly DNR’ed ’08 version. It’s like a gang of grain monks went into the control room and said, ‘Okay, let’s grain this sucker up!’ Amazing. I’ve just spoken to the ghost of Michael Curtiz about this (the Movie Godz put me in touch), and he’s not a fan either.”
Kenny replied as follows: “What I see when I look at the new disc is hardly ‘billions of micro-mosquitoes’, digital or otherwise. What I see is a less bright but more detailed picture with an uptick in structured grain, which is very different from some kind of screen of undulating black pixels. This strongly suggests to me (and of course there have been other indications) that you’re watching on an improperly calibrated set. You might want to consider entertaining that possibility and doing due journalistic diligence on the issue before complaining in a post.”
My response to Kenny: “The sharpness setting on my 50” Vizio is set on 2 or 3. It’s not too high. Many, many films that I’ve watched on Bluray (including yesterday’s arrival, A Streetcar Named Desire) look magnificent. It’s only Casablanca, Twelve Angry Men, The Third Man, Stagecoach and a few others that present a grain problem.”
Harris responded as follows: “Let us have no doubt that I’m with Glenn on this — 100% Having compared the two releases, and independent of the fact that the new element, which is a pastiche of original and dupes, has been re-scanned at 4k, I’m seeing a final result that could have been based upon the first transfer.
“By that I mean that there is a slightly different overall look to gamma in the treatment of shadows and light, but with that exception, the old harvest” — i.e., the 2008 Casablanca Bluray — “appears to be precisely the same, but with grain highly reduced. This was the WB ethic at that time. And it was wrong.
Casablanca “was shot on Eastman Plus-X Cine Pan film 5231, went into use in 1941, and had slightly tighter granular characteristics than the previous stock, 1231.
“This was a classic stock, which was in use, albeit as a safety based product, until 1956, when it was replaced by 5235. A higher speed variant, Tri-X 5233 had arrived in 1954, but it was Plus-X that was the staple of the industry for 16 years — with precisely the same grain structure.
“What this means, is that every domestic production, as well as foreign works using Eastman stock, had precisely the same grain structure, with one caveat. Fully exposed, not push-processed or manipulated.
“The grain structure that we see [on the new 70th anniversary Casablanca Bluray] is a perfect representation of the original, with dupes slightly sharpened to better match original footage. That ‘look’ should have a beautiful, almost iridescent, velvety quality. If it doesn’t, something is wrong with monitor setup.
“I’m willing to go in and take a look when I’m next out, or, as I’ve mentioned to Jeff in the past, that he made need an intervention, and this may call for a visit, if he’s willing from the TV God himself, Joe Kane.”
My response to Harris and Kenny: “In other words, Mr. Harris, you are deeply impressed and very satisfied with the realism of seeing Casablanca as it actually looked on Eastman Plus-X Cine Pan film 5231. Whatever it looks like to my eye or the eye of some Walmart-frequenting Bluray customer in Bayonne or Manhattan Beach or Pensacola, it is, to you, a look of realism…and that realism, to you, is the highest standard and the ultimate consideration. And I respect that.
“I love the ’08 Bluray version of Casablanca, which doesn’t look unnatural or video-gamed to me in the slightest. It allows me to see with great shimmering clarity those wonderful fabrics and weavings and toupee hairs and plaster walls and suit threads that were there on the set when Michael Curtiz shot this film. I understand that ’08 version has been DNR’ed. But in the realm of Blurays, I want the film to look as sharp and clean and unfiltered and un-muddied as possible.
“I understand and have no problem with integrated grain — I want films to look like film. But in the matter of the ’08 Casablanca release vs. the present one, there isn’t a moment’s hesitation in saying that the ’08 version is highly pleasurable and the new version is not. The 70th anniversary grain is not enjoyable to me. To me it’s an obstruction standing between my eyes and the glory of the film’s visuals. On top of which it’s fucking darker, which I hate.
“So I am Blanche Dubois on this issue. I want magic, not realism. I don’t want the visual verite of Eastman Plus-X Cine Pan film 5231. I just want the film to look really good. And I damn sure don’t want images that are darker than on the last Bluray release, If loving the ’08 version is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
“I looked at the new version last night and said to myself, “Thank God there was a period when the original-film-stock grain monks weren’t calling the shots like they are now. Thank God for the magic of movies and the wonderful shimmering silvertone transportation that the ’08 version delivers. Beautiful images forever! Grain monks are a small cult with a disproportionate influence upon the powers that be in the Bluray mastering business, and I’m very sorry that their influence has prevailed in this latest Casablanca Bluray.”
“If there are two things which mystify me and drive me up the wall, it’s 1.78 or 1.85 ‘prison cell’ maskings of films shot with the understanding that a 1.37 aspect ratio would be used in old-style (pre-2005) TV airings, and people who actually prefer a darker, grainier version to a tastefully DNR’d version of the same film.
“Grain was not God’s wonderful gift to filmmakers of the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — it was an unfortunate technical reality that was the law west of the Pecos. There was no other choice and it had to be lived with. Nowadays any tasteful and respectful effort to modify or reduce this intrusive element on Blurays gets my vote every time.”
Like most people, I never cared very much about fine art except for the occasional stroll through MOMA or the Whitney or the Guggenheim or LACMA, or some random visit to a gallery in West Hollywood or Tribeca. And so I never read the late Hilton Kramer‘s art criticism, which appeared in the N.Y. Times from ’65 to ’82, and also in Arts Magazine, the N.Y. Observer, New Criterion, The Nation, etc. Not my world, didn’t give a hoot…sorry.
Art critic Hilton Kramer (1928 — 2012)
I’m such a fine-art peon, in fact, that when I read yesterday about Kramer’s death my only vivid recollection was from a famous passage in Tom Wolfe‘s The Painted Word (’75). It stayed in my head because it suggested that not only Kramer but perhaps an entire community of art critics had crawled into their own posterior, and that this, perhaps, was why I never found their articles compelling.
While reading a 4.28.74 Kramer piece in the Times about a Yale University Art Gallery exhibition (it was called “Seven Realists: Pearlstein, Bailey, Mangold, Wiesenfeld, Fish, Posen, Hanson”), Wolfe wrote that he was “jerked alert” by Kramer’s pronouncement that “to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial — the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our understanding of the values they signify.”
Kramer’s statement left Wolfe elated and flabbergasted because in his head it was a key that opened a proverbial lock. “Then and there I experienced a flash known as the Aha! phenomenon,” Wolfe wrote, “and the buried life of contemporary art was revealed to me for the first time.
“All these years, along with countless kindred souls [whom Kramer has characterized as that ‘larger public that knows nothing about modernist art’]… I had assumed that, in art, if nowhere else, seeing is believing. Well — how very shortsighted!
“Now, at last, on April 28, 1974, I could see. I had gotten it backward all along. Not ‘seeing is believing,’ you ninny, but ‘believing is seeing,’ for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.”
Kramer was a conservative-minded fellow who allegedly took a dim view of various Marxist-lefty-nihilist undercurrents in modern art, and it was apparently this that led to his resignation from the Times in ’82. But don’t take it from me.
I was actually bullied by certain “friends” of mine in high school. Not constantly but now and then. I felt engaged by school studies from time to time (I liked history and English) but mostly I was bored to tears, and I hated the repressive “no” atmosphere in my home, which was partly due to my rebellious nature but was largely a product of my alcoholic dad’s personality. So I acted out in order to break out. I was impish, snarky, theatrical, intimidated, angry. I wanted attention.
And so a few obstinate assholes took it upon themselves to let me know that my attitude and manner were socially out of line. I don’t want to talk about it. It was a venal culture. I wasn’t the only one to go through the gauntlet. Every now and then a new victim would be chosen and guys would get “de-pants-ed,” to use an expression of the day. Different guys would be punished by the mob for being a little bit (or a lot) different. I myself was a mobster from time to time. You don’t want to know.
My early high-school days weren’t all hell, but it was basically a time of imprisonment. The truth is that it was partly them and partly me. I clung to adolescence for a long time. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t discover what I wanted to do and be until my early 20s, and my maverick nature presented problems in journalism until the online thing took off in the late ’90s, and then I was finally in a good place. And then HE took off ad-revenue-wise about ’06 or so, and stability came from that.