Jeffrey Wells to Mark Olsen, Manohla Dargis, Marina Bailey: “You guys should understand that last night’s presentation of Holy Motors at Raleigh Chaplin was unsatisfactory in terms of light levels. It often appeared muddy and inky in the darker scenes (which constitute a good half if not two-thirds of the film), and this was definitely not the case when I saw it on the Salle Debussy screen in Cannes. I would say without exaggeration that Leos Carax‘s vision was suppressed, diminished and underserved by a good 25% to 33%.
“SMPTE standards call for 14 foot lamberts or thereabouts. I don’t carry a professional light meter around but it looked like we were getting 10 foot lamberts, or possibly even 8. Which is par for the course for many commercial theatres, of course, but screening rooms are supposed to deliver higher industry standards.
“I was sitting there trying to feel the same voltage and engagement that I felt in Cannes and it just wouldn’t happen. Part of this was because the surprise element was gone, of course, but also because of the murk. The death-bed scene was particularly appalling. The black dog lying on the bed was a blobby indistinct ink spot. Why use a dog in a scene if you can’t see aspects of his physicality — eyes, paws, fur texture?
“One problem is that Raleigh’s Chaplin room has a silver screen for 3D presentations, and I know that silver screens have been associated with diminished foot-lambert levels in reports I’ve read about unsatisfactory 2D projection. I’ve had occasional issues with Raleigh before, so this was part of a pattern.”
Update: Thanks to Toronto Star critic Peter Howell for reminding me that the Cannes press screening of Holy Motors played at the Salle Debussy and not the Grand Lumiere. Yes, it also played at the latter but for the black-tie crowd a few hours later.