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Four Flies on Shaky Ground (long post)

DVD

So, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, huh? I was going to post about the new DVD from Mya some time ago, but to be honest, every time I was about to actually write something, it seemed as if some new scrap of information emerged. The latest, of course, is that an upcoming Italian DVD release from 01 Distribution has been halted, because the Argentos have cried foul and are taking legal action against the perpetrators. Going by a Google translation of a statement issued by close Argento associate Luigi Cozzi, an “unidentified foreign company” sold the film’s rights to RAI, but Dario and Claudio Argento claimed that these rights were not theirs to sell. Obviously, this is going to take some time to sort out, and in the meantime the question has arisen as to exactly how legitimate the Mya release is. The Argentos claim to own the film’s rights in every territory except the US, where they are held by Paramount, but there can be little doubt that the Mya DVD was put together without any input from Paramount, which in turn raises the possibility that Mya’s release is on ground every bit as shaky as the postponed Italian release. For the time being, I’m going to assume that the Mya is legit, but my advice would be to pick up a copy of it immediately if you want it. You never know - tomorrow we could wake up to find that all remaining copies have been yanked from the shelves.

So, let’s get all this legal farragho out of the way and discuss what really matters: the disc itself. So, the “lost” Argento film that fans have been clamouring for, for the better part of four decades. Presumably, then, Mya pulled out all the stops to make the definitive release of this elusive gem? Well… no, not really. In actual fact, Mya have screwed up this release pretty royally, on two counts:

1. The English audio track is a disaster.

2. Approximately 40 seconds’ worth of material is missing. No, really.

Let’s take each of these offences in turn, beginning with the audio. Shortly before I received my copy, I began to read reports of people complaining about the pitch, claiming that it was two low and that the whole thing felt as if it was running too slowly. Admittedly, my first reaction was to poo-poo this and assume that these people were simply used to watching bootlegs taken from PAL sources, which would run 4% faster than an NTSC source and therefore feature a higher pitch. But no, it quickly emerged that this problem was far more severe than a simple PAL vs. NTSC issue. When I got my copy, I popped the disc in and quickly realised just how severe the problem was. While the music over the opening and closing credits sounds absolutely fine, everything else sounds significantly lower. All the female characters sound like gruffly-spoken men, while all the male characters sound like Don LaFontaine. The music, too, is royally screwed, and is absolutely horrible to listen to if you have any idea of what it is meant to sound like. If you own the soundtrack to the film, you can easily make a comparison. Pop in the Cinevox CD and skip forward to Track 2, “Come un madrigale”. Now pop in the Mya DVD and jump forward to Chapter 2. See what I mean? Actually, you can do this even if you don’t have the CD by simply flipping back and forth between the bungled English and unaffected Italian tracks on the DVD.

For the sake of comparison, I’ve uploaded a brief piece of dialogue from the film:

Sample 1 is taken from one of the earlier bootleg releases and slowed down by 4% to compensate for PAL speedup. Sample 2 is the Mya DVD. Even without listening to Sample 1, I would imagine that most people would be able to tell that something is seriously wrong with Sample 2. Perhaps most problematically, however, it’s not possible for non-Italian speakers to simply watch the film in Italian, because for whatever reason (legalities or sheer laziness?) Mya didn’t include subtitles.

Moving on, we also have to contend with the fact that, contrary to the claim on the front cover that this release is “full and uncut”, over 40 seconds’ worth of material is in fact missing from the new DVD. I’m going to quote Cracksy over at Dark Discussion, who provided a comprehensive rundown of the mission footage, comparing the Mya DVD with the unauthorised 2007 German release from Retrofilm. CAUTION - SPOILERS FOLLOW:

Scene #1 [murder/party]: - Mya version

At the end of the murder in the park, the maid’s hand is clawing down the wall. Before it stops, it cuts to the party scene and a brief 17-frame shot, then Dalia and Nina.

Dalia: If I’m a nuisance, I’ll go.

Scene #1 [murder/party]: - Retro version

The maid’s hand comes to a complete stop on wall, then it cuts to the party scene. Dalia and Nina walking left to right toward Roberto.

Dalia: Hi Roberto
Roberto: Hi Dalia. How come—
Nina: My little cousin’s taking a vacation. She’s going to be staying with us for a while. Dalia: Look. If I’m a nuisance.

This missing footage runs for :10 seconds but is crucial as it sets up Dalia’s character in the film!

Scene #2 [professor/mailman/dalia]: - Mya version

There’s some audio missing from the Professor in this scene. “___________ in there half an hour” and “Genesis 12 ______”

The mailman rides up on his bike and says to Roberto, “what you standing there for, huh?” and it cuts to Roberto sitting in a chair with Dalia kneeling beside him.

Dalia: Why didn’t you go with Nina?

Scene #2 [professor/mailman/dalia]: - Retro version

The Professor audio is also missing here but so is the picture. When those lines come up, it just cuts past it. There is also a little more missing from print damage.

When the mailman rides up he says, “what you standing there for, huh? Oh, no. I quit!” Then he turns and leaves. It cuts to Roberto sitting in a chair alone. After a beat, Dalia comes in from the left and kneels beside him.

This missing footage runs for :10 seconds not counting the missing audio.

Scene #3 [Arossio death/Andrea]: - Mya version

Arrosio gets shot up and is dying but realizes he finally solved a case. “I was right. I did it this time.” Abrupt cut to scene with Andrea and Roberto. After a beat, Andrea says, “Hmm. Nina telephoned me.”

Scene #3 [Arossio death/Andrea]: - Retro version

“I was right. I did it this time.” His head falls to the side with eyes wide open. A beat then cut to Roberto and Andrea.

Andrea: There I eventually established that in 4000 years of civilization there have been only 230 years of peace. Incredible, isn’t it?
Roberto: Look, Andrea. I’m just not in the mood. What’d you want to see me about?
Andrea: Hmm. Nina telephoned me.

This missing footage runs for :19 seconds.

Total missing footage is :39 seconds [:40-41 when corrected for PAL speedup].

In addition, Dark Discussion member Profondo Rossi identified another cut:

An additional dodgy reel change tears of an approx 13 seconds at 00:21:36:10 in the switching between the scene of Tobias and Nina embracing (Nina wants to go away!) after the first buglary to Tobias standing alone by the river intending to see Godfrey. The cut is complete on the German Retro disc.

Profondo Rossi also identified a fairly noticeably colour timing gaffe on the new DVD:

The scene with the maid Amelia waiting in the park for dealings with the murderer displays the difficulty in working solely from an original negative without the benefit of a positive master where all the correct color (RGB numbers 20 to 50) and contrast values have been excuted in close collaboration between the timer and the DOP (Here: Franco Di Giacomo). Starting from the shoot of Amelia looking up at the sun setting (00:30:50), each proceeding shot is supposed to become increasingly darker and darker so that by the time the park closes and Amelia looks up at the sky again (00:32:34), day has suddenly turned from into night. This is in keeping with Argento’s main preoccupation in 4 FLIES: Time, both past, present and future. How it can be impossibly streched, like with the end car crash or shortened quickly, like Amelia’s faltering grip on the perception of time. The park scene is very reminiscent of the restaurant dinner conversation between James Franciscus and Catherine Spaak in CAT O’NINE TAILS and this is Argento’s attempt at expanding his little experiment even further.) But unfortunatey the MYA transfer keeps the daylight up on Amelia sitting on her park bench and walking around until all of a sudden, unexplicably, day turns into dark blue night. The subtle intended transition fares slightly better on the German Retro disc and having seen a decent theatrical print of 4 FLIES I can most assuredly say that this is a thrilling cinematic conceit when viewed on a proper timed print (and on a big screen, natch!).

When taken to task over what I’m sure most will agree are fairly significant issues, Mya were less than forthcoming. This is not entirely surprising, given that they don’t even have a web site (!!) and are therefore next to impossible to reach for comment. When they finally did respond, it was on a fan blog, and their reaction to these complaints was to adopt the popular strategy known as “bury one’s head in the sand”. To briefly summarise, they stated that (a) the audio is meant to sound the way it does on the DVD, despite this clearly not being true, (b) the missing material was due to damage at the beginning and end of reels in the negative, and (c) the colour timing in the park scene is correct, honest.

All of this, it has to be said, casts Mya in and extremely bad light. At best, it makes them look incompetent. At worst, it makes them liars - not just because of their refusal to acknowledge obvious problems when taken to task over them but also because of their apparent awareness, prior to releasing the film, that their copy had missing footage, and yet going ahead and marketing it as “full and uncut”. That, to me, is disgraceful, and it appears that I am not alone, with a number of people who are normally fairly forgiving of faults with releases such as this calling for a boycott of the company. I’m not sure I’d go that far. I know I tend to be the one that gets accused of nitpicking over discs to excessive lengths, so it might come as a bit of a surprise when I say that, in spite of the problems with this one, I would still recommend this release. It’s a somewhat tepid recommendation, given that the problems are significant enough for it not to be possible to simply ignore them, but when all said and done this is by far the best available copy of the film. The transfer itself is very good indeed - not perfect (and, if you look carefully, it’s got that same slight stair-stepping effect on diagonal edges that always bugged me with NoShame Films’ US releases), but still of a high standard and a revelation compared to every previous release. What really bothers me is the sound. To my ears, it sounds absolutely awful, like an old cassette tape recorder whose batteries need replaced. It creates a strange psychological effect whereby the film “feels” slower and more lethargic despite the running time being just the same. It’s something that can be fairly easily corrected with standard audio manipulation software, but that really doesn’t excuse Mya for not catching this blunder. We the customers are having to correct their mistakes for them, and their response (or lack thereof) to the situation reflects on them very poorly indeed.

As others have said, if Mya had simply put up their hands and said “We made a mistake, mea cupla,” I think people would be inclined to look on them more favourably. As it stands, however, they have been evasive at best and downright deceptive at worst. Ultimately, though, I’m not about to write Mya off because of this one title. It’s the only disc of theirs that I own, so I can’t really judge them on that basis. (I would have picked up Door into Darkness, but I already own the German Dragon release, and by the looks of it the image quality of the Mya release is just as poor as that one was.) I’m more than willing to give them a second and even a third chance, and hope they blow me away with one of their future titles. They definitely need to get their PR wing in order, though.

 
Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009 at 3:08 PM | Comments: 2
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Technology | Web

 
Comments

1.

Didn't Anchor Bay sell both Tenebrae and Phenomena as "uncut", too?

Cutting the damaged reel changes I can understand, though to not include them as deleted scenes (even from a tape source) was certainly a misfire. I can even forgive them not realizing a day-for-night shot wasn't timed properly. But saying it's supposed to sound deep, even when the Italian track has the proper pitch? If that's true, wouldn't - by Mya's own standard - the Italian audio be "messed up" instead?

I'm a little disappointed, but who am I kidding? I'll buy this eventually, hopefully on sale. If I refused to own an Argento picture for the DVD being flawed, would I own any of them?

Posted by: Kentai, March 28, 2009 11:40 AM

2.

I don't believe for a second the elisions are down to print damage - whatever digital magic has been performed on the image, the element is pretty obviously in workable shape. There's hardly a fleck on this thing, and it doesn't look overly DNR'd to compensate for overarching wear. MYA keeps claiming limited funds, so I don't see them getting much deeper than general clean-up, outside of applying some sort of automated process. Also, if they were removing known damage, why are all the cut points so haphazard? 17 frame establishing shots are a lot more distracting than simply cutting in at the next set-up.

I think this happened somewhere in either capture or assembly of the digital files/tapes hosting the transfer master, and that *maybe* it's all MYA now has access to (I think it's just as likely, though, that they still have this material, but are unwilling/unable to face the expense of a recall/replacement program, and so are claiming the missing snippets simply aren't salvageable at the film level.

-Jeff

Posted by: Jeffrey Allen Rydell, March 28, 2009 3:36 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

http://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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