After the Vertigo-screening debacle at last April’s TCM Classic Movies Festival, Universal admitted error and invited me to come see a corrected version when ready. I finally saw it on the lot late last month. Thanks to Universal for this courtesy, but I’m sorry to say that Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1958 classic still doesn’t look right. I’ve heard there’s an issue or two with other titles in Uni’s forthcoming Hitchcock Masterpiece Bluray Collection (9.25), so this seems like the right time to air reactions.
The Vertigo I saw on 8.28 — a DCP that represents the new forthcoming Bluray — is crisp and detailed and certainly more lustrous and colorful than the version shown last April.
But the color has been over-cranked and over-saturated to the extent that it looks like a mistake. It’s incorrect and untrue by way of looking far too intense, and definitely too red, and not just in those intense red wallpaper scenes in Ernie’s.
The woman’s face in the opening credits before the camera goes in on her eye is supposed to be nearly black and white with a just a faint touch of sepia. (The above YouTube clip is a good representation of how it should look.) And they got it wrong again — the tint is definitely too orange.
Jimmy Stewart‘s brown suit is brownish violet or brownish purple (I can’t decide what to call it) throughout the first half or so. But it’s supposed to be plain brown. We all know what brown looks like. Brown is brown. It doesn’t have a violet tint.
Stewart wore pancake make up and eyeliner during filming — all actors did in the ’50s and the general big-studio era — but the over-saturated color scheme makes his face look like a mixture of Monument Valley sand and orange and creme biege makeup base.
And Stewart’s blue suit worn during the San Juan Batista inquest scene is ludicrous. It’s blinding, it’s luminescent — like something out of Tim Burton‘s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Almost all the men in the inquest scene, in fact, are wearing vivid blue suits. I’ve seen the color done correctly in the 70mm restored version, and they’re all basically wearing black, dark blue and gray suits — NOT crazy electric LSD blue.
Bottom line: it’s still effed up in the sense that the color isn’t accurate or life-like, but it looks better than the disastrous version shown last April. I guess the color will be adjustable, as always, when it comes out on Bluray. But if what I saw on the Universal lot is in fact what the forthcoming Bluray will look like, then the people who mastered the DCP have once again degraded the film. They should have used the 1996 Robert Harris-Jim Katz restored version and just digitized it and cleaned it up.
This is a plain, honest representation of James Stewart’s brown suit in Vertigo. Verily I say unto thee that this color was nowhere to be found in the Vertigo DCP I saw in late August. In this new digital version Stewart wears what must be described as a mauve-brown or violet-brown suit.
Summary: Why did Universal’s Peter Schade and Mike Daruty decide to finalize a DCP of Vertigo that cranks and intensifies the colors to such a strong degree? Why did they sign off on a credit sequence that delivers an orange-tint to the woman’s face instead of the correct black-and-white with just a touch of sepia? Why is Stewart’s brown suit brownish violet or brownish purple? Why are Stewart and those other guys wearing suits during the inquest hearing that are madly, wildly, psychedelically blue?
More to the point, what persuaded Schade and Daruty to believe they could get a better looking, more vivid representation of Vertigo by going back to the negative and ignoring the Robert Harris-Jim Katz restoration of Vertigo, which represented 18 months of painstaking work? They presumably felt they could achieve better results by bypassing the 1996 photo-chemical restoration and re-do it digitally, but it’s abundantly clear that the colors looked right in ’96 but look wrong in the current DCP version.
A 70mm print of the Harris-Katz Vertigo is showing at the American Cinematheque on Saturday, 9.29.