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Do We Need Blu-rays?

Do We Need Blu-rays? (photo)

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Glenn Kenny poses a provocative question over at “What, finally, is the point of the Blu-ray disc? Not just for cinephiles, but for anyone with a home entertainment setup?” This none-too-rhetorical query came on the heels of Kenny’s examination of a new set of Yasujiro Ozu Blu-rays from the British Film Institute. In Kenny’s words, the films “do not shimmer” the way many new ones do on BD (and the way many BD connoisseurs expect all films to on BD), largely because Ozu’s films weren’t filmed with shimmer in mind. In that case: what is the point? If you have a Criterion Collection DVD of “Tokyo Story,” do you need to buy it on Blu-ray as well?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering myself recently, having inherited my first HDTV from a friend and bought my first Blu-ray player just a few months ago. At about ten titles, my Blu collection is admittedly small. Do they look better than my DVDs? Abso-friggin’-lutely. To me, though, the real question isn’t “Do they look better?” it’s “How much better do they look?” And in some cases, the answer is “Significantly,” (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” on Blu-ray, for example, is absolutely mesmerizing) and in other cases the uncool but honest answer is “I don’t know.” Unless I had two televisions, and side-by-side DVD and Blu-ray rigs, how could I? Sites like DVD Beaver include comparative photographs of DVDs and Blu-rays in their reviews and the results are sometimes shocking: check out how much crisper and richer the images look on the upcoming Criterion Blu of “The Thin Red Line,” for example. But if I showed you the old Malick DVD images by themselves, would you know they were inferior? Probably not. Take a look at the image accompanying this post: is it a scan of the DVD or the Blu-ray?

In this world, looks can be deceiving. I was sent a screener of Kino’s Blu-ray of the 1951 movie “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.” Watching the film for the very first time, I thought it looked gorgeous. For two hours, I was lost inside Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor visuals. I didn’t want the film to end. When it did, I went online to read what people who know more about this sort of thing than me thought of the disc, certain I’d find raves for one of the finest repertory titles of the year. Nope; turns out the disc is considered by many to be inadequate. Dave Kehr, the fine home video columnist for The New York Times, called the “Pandora” Blu-ray “slightly disappointing,” and added that “to capture… detail the new print seems to have been digitally bleached and brightened; the deep shadows and darkling skies of the old version now seem oppressively cheerful.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, a man who has forgotten more about film than I will ever know, agreed with that assessment, stating that his memory of the film from 1951 was closer to the old transfer than the restored Blu-ray. “It’s obvious that the restored version is superior in terms of definition, lighting, and color,” Rosenbaum wrote on his blog. “But rightly or wrongly, I remember the film in 1951 as being darker, at least in my mind’s eye — a film bathed in black more than auburn hues.”

Let’s ignore for the moment the ludicrousness of someone speaking authoritatively about the visual quality of a print they saw almost 60 years ago, and assume that Rosenbaum and Kehr are correct. When released to theaters as a motion picture projected from 35mm film in 1951, “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” was a significantly darker looking movie than the one I watched on Blu-ray in 2010. Does that invalidate the joy I had in discovering it? Should I discard the Blu-ray in exchange for a more primative (but supposedly more accurate) older DVD?

This to me is the point where the argument becomes vaguely insane. How do we ever know how any movie really looks? And I’m not speaking in pothead pseudophilosophical “How do I know that what I see as orange isn’t what you see as red?” nonsense. I’m talking concretely. That new “Thin Red Line” Criterion Blu-ray boasts a “new, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll.” But how I know if my television is calibrated to match the monitor Malick and Toll approved the transfer on? How can I be sure that Malick and Toll weren’t watching the film on a monitor that was slightly too dark? Or too light? Questions like this could drive a man to commit himself. Once they start, they never end.

Though I’m skeptical of Rosenbaum’s ability to remember how a movie looked when he saw it in 1951, I love that something he saw so long ago still resonates so powerfully for him. To me, that personal connection is what makes movies special. And that personal connection very rarely has anything to do with objectively “perfect” picture quality. I loved watching “Taxi Driver” on NYU’s faded, grainy 16mm print; the dirty, degraded image quality seemed to match Travis Bickle’s worldview of “the hell” of New York City better than any DVD or VHS copy I’d ever seen. But then watching a movie on film is always preferable to digital, right? Except when the film is projected in the wrong aspect ratio or the guy in front of you won’t stop texting. And so on.

I think we need Blu-rays, but I don’t know that we need to obsess over them quite so much, especially if that obsession gets in the way of our enjoyment. Because that, ultimately, should be the point.

Here’s a video comparing the old transfer of “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” and the new restoration. Is it too light? Judge for yourself:

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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