Comrades (2-disc) [Blu-ray]
(Bill Douglas, 1986)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC)
Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)
Disc Size: 49,564,020,865 bytes
Feature Size: 49,233,883,584 bytes
Video Bitrate: 32.07 Mbps
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: July 27th, 2009
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
English, English (SDH), French, German, Spanish, none
•Lanterna Magicka - Bill Douglas & the Secret History of Cinema (2009, 60 minutes), an insightful new documentary on Douglas' life and work.
• Visions of: Comrades (2009, 15 minutes) cast-members recall making the film.
• Bill Douglas interviews (1978, total 33 minutes)
• Home and Away (Michael Alexander, 1974, 31 minutes) charming short film co-scripted by Douglas.
• News report from the set of Comrades.
• Original Comrades trailer.
• Fully illustrated 30-page booklet including new essay, visual material, archive Q&A with Bill Douglas, biography, cast and credits etc
Description: The epic story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset labourers deported to Australia in the 1830s for forming a trade union.
“Comrades" tells the story of these men, the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Given the significance of what they stood for, it's surprising that the Martyrs' story hasn't been told more often. Indeed, outside of an annual TUC Tolpuddle festival, the labourers and their actions have remained the province of historians. If recent research is to be believed, the decision of James Brine, James Hammett, George and James Loveless, and Thomas and John Standfield to found the Friendly Society Of Agricultural Labourers wasn't the world-shaking event it's often painted as. Still, the Tolpuddle Martyrs occupy an interesting corner of British history, so it's nice to know that when someone did decide to tell their tale cinematically, the man in question was Bill Douglas.
It's odd if rather touching to know that a man can secure a place in artistic history with such a small body of work. While others might have done much more, Douglas' awesome autobiographical trilogy (My Childhood from 1972, My Ain Folk from 1973 and My Way Home from 1978) combined with Comrades has earned him a love and affection denied his more prolific contemporaries. A Scot resident in Devon, Douglas' love of the area and its history and his interest in the working men of today and yesteryear made him the perfect man to make Comrades. At first glance, the film with its running time and starry cast might seem like any other epic, but this is a picture very much in the Douglas mould. Where other directors might have used the Tolpuddle story as the backdrop for a Thomas Hardy-esque tale of thwarted passion, Douglas saw a less romantic but more compelling story about hard graft and social injustice.
The Blu-ray image of Comrades is from the original 35mm interpositive materials preserved by the BFI National Archive... and it looks magnificent. In precisely the correct 1.85 aspect ratio at 1080P, grain is apparent but never overwhelming. The visuals skirt a perfect balance between detail, vibrant color hues and inherent gritty charm. The BFI have done some digital restoration and cleaning and the result is just beautiful. The image is very clean and clear of any damage or speckles and it even exhibits some desirable depth of field. This is a stacked dual-layered Blu-ray (49.2 Gig for the 3 hour film) with a video bitrate over 32 Mbps and it looks extremely impressive with a genuine film-like appearance as, hopefully, the screen captures below will attest. This 20-year old film looks as if it was shot very recently and I found it to be one of BFI's most desirable image quality Blu-rays. Huge thumbs up!
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
No phony bumps here and the linear PCM 2.0 track at 2304 kbps does a superlative job of exporting the film's, most dialogue driven, audio. There isn't any need for demonstrative separations and the original economic 2.0 channel is more than up to the test of providing a clean, crisp track with a sparingly subtle score by David Graham + Hans Werner Henze. There are optional subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish and my Momitsu has identified this as being region FREE!
Supplements are found on a second Blu-ray disc with featurettes in HD (except one). The highlight being a 2009 documentary by Sean Martin & Louise Milne on Douglas' life and work - running approximately 1 hour - and entitled Lanterna Magicka - Bill Douglas & the Secret History of Cinema. This is pretty much golden for fans of Douglas and a fabulous inclusion - it's not to be missed. Visions of: Comrades is also brand new and has cast-members recall making the film for 15-minutes. There is a 1/2 hour Bill Douglas interview, by his friend Charles Rees from his flat, from November 1978 shot shortly after the completion of the Trilogy My Childhood from 1972, My Ain Folk from 1973 and My Way Home from 1978. Home and Away (Michael Alexander, 1974, 31 minutes) charming short film co-scripted by Douglas. It has some of the highly subjective nature of Douglas's own films in it's story of James, a young Scottish boy at boarding school who is struggling to come to terms with his parents marriage breakdown, his own insecurities and his new schoolmates. It transferred from 16mm and, obviously, not as crisp as Comrades and has a bit of a faded look at times. News report from the set of Comrades with reporter John Doyle lasts a scant 2-minutes in SD. There is an original Comrades trailer and a wonderful fully illustrated 30-page booklet including new essays, visual material, archive Q&A with Bill Douglas, biography, cast and credits and more.
July 18th, 2009
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 7500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be
it, but film will always be my first love and I list my
favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible
Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Gary W. Tooze