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(aka 'Berlin Alexanderplatz: Remastered)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Italy / West Germany 1980

 

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's controversial, fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin's great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and now available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to "become an honest soul" amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.

***

This shattering adaptation of Alfred Döblin's masterpiece - made for TV in 13 episodes with a two-hour epilogue - offers a level-headed account of protagonist Biberkopf's key weakness: his quasi-sexual infatuation with the psychotic pimp Reinhold. Aided by great design, cinematography, and, not least, performances, Fassbinder tells the story surprisingly naturalistically. Then in the epilogue, he offers a disturbing meditation on his own fantasies about Biberkopf. This phantasmagoria is Fassbinder's most daring act of self-exposure: a movie time-bomb that forces you to rethink the series as a whole. The work of a genuine master with nothing left to lose or hide.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

***

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 151/2-hour adaptation of Alfred Doblin's novel is perhaps the capstone of his career (1981), a work of unprecedented narrative density that revolves around a single character. Franz Biberkopf (Gunter Lamprecht) is a pudgy, affable ex-con, determined to achieve some kind of decency in a world--the Berlin of the Weimar Republic--that will not tolerate it. Fassbinder discards the mannerism of his late films in favor of a noble simplicity, concentrating on a single point of view as it operates across a wide range of experiences and environments. All of the usual distancing effects drop out, leaving the wrenching spectacle of one man grappling with his life in perfect candor.

Excerpt from Dave Kehr's capsule at The Chicago Reader located HERE

 

Poster

Theatrical Release: August 28th, 1980 - Venice Film Festival

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DVD Comparison:

Criterion (7-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Second Sight (6-disc) - Region 2 - PAL

(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL RIGHT)

DVD Box Cover

   

 

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine #411 - Region 1 - NTSC Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL
Runtime Approx 15.5 hours (4% PAL slowdown) Approx 15 hours
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.63 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s   
1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 4.99 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
Audio German (Dolby Digital 1.0)  German (Dolby Digital 1.0) 
Subtitles English, None English (non-removable)
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Hans-Dieter Hartl's 1980 documentary Notes on the Making of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (44:06 in German with English subs)

• Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz - Notes About The Restoration (31:56 - 16X9 in German with English subs)
• Phil Jutzi's 1931, ninety-minute film of Alfred Döblin’s novel, from a screenplay co-written by Döblin himself (1:23:48 in German with English subs)
• New video interview with Peter Jelavich, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture (23:53 in English 16X9 - no subs)
• 70-page booklet with essays and interviews

DVD Release Date: November 13th, 2007

Keep Case
Chapters: various

Release Information:
Studio: Second Sight

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz (43:56 in German with English subs)
• Berlin Alexanderplatz - a Meg Movie and Its Story (1:04:58 - 16X9 interlaced - in German with English subs)
• Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz - Notes About The Restoration (31:56 - 16X9 in German with English subs)
• The Restoration - Before and After (7:27 4X3)
• Photo Gallery

• The Original Recaps (4:18 in German with English subs)

• Cast and Crew credits of restoration (4:23)

• 2007 trailer

DVD Release Date: October 22nd, 2007
Keep Case
Chapters: various

 

 

Packages

 

Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC

 

 

Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL

 

 

 

Comments:

This colossal task of comparing the image quality (color, detail, contrast etc.) of 7 disc vs. 6, did not yield significant results. As the captures below will bear out - the restored image on both dual-layered DVD(s) editions looks almost exactly the same. This is a positive in one respect as each edition supports the other for accuracy. There appears to be no heavy digital manipulation to further enhance the appearance... in either release. Criterion may have some minor black/red boosting. I will list below the most important differences that I noted:

1) The Criterion is coded for region 1 in the NTSC standard. The Second Sight is coded for region 2 in the PAL standard. Both are progressive. Shot on 16mm - 25fps cameras - the Criterion NTSC is sped down 4% (slower), like "28 Days Later" (Thanks ManicSounds!) - see Criterion blog HERE (Thanks Jason!).

2) The Criterion transfer is pictureboxed (see our full description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). NOTE The Criterion captures below have been put in their own table to show the amount of pictureboxing (black bars circumventing the edge). Where this may benefit systems that produce overscan (ex. production cathode ray tubes) - it detracts from systems that do not requite it (ex. HTPC).

NOTE: '...And why has Criterion picture-boxed this TV film. Every professional DP has taken the overscan into account, because every TV set it was broadcasted in (at the time) had overscan.' (Thanks Per-Olaf!)

3) Criterion has the feature film over 6 discs with a 7th included solely for supplements, while the Second Sight has 6 discs for the feature and the supplements (final chapter, epilogue and extras all on the last disc). This will benefit the compression on the Criterion and I noticed digital artifacts being less visible on the NTSC edition - but not significantly so.

4) Framing - the Criterion shows minutely more information on all 4 edges - most notably the sides - but the amount appears negligible.

5) The Criterion has removable English subtitles where on the Second Sight I cannot find a way to eradicate them from the screen. (NOTE: I don't believe they are burned-in but they cannot be removed on any of my systems). Subtitles seem similarly well translated in both editions.

6) Package - the Criterion has some very nice artwork on a 4-teired digipak with 3 overlapping disc compartments where the Second Sight has 2 X 3-teired digipaks (single disc compartments). Both are housed in a large box - the Criterion includes an 80-page book. See images above.

7) Extras (see below) 

The image seems faithfully dark and grainy on both. I've tried to include many samples below for contrast and color - both seem similar if not exact. Both are fairly clean with no distracting damage marks. We conclude that both represent the restoration extremely well on SD DVD. Like Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut - the intensely heavy grain adds a thick prominent texture to the image.

Audio - My notes show no issues with the mono audio which sounds duplicated quality-wise - no noted pops, dropouts or hiss either. If I was forced to lean one way - I'll say Criterion may be marginally more consistent.

Supplements: This may be more of a significant division than the image for most people although two featurettes are duplicated. Both editions share Hans-Dieter Hartl's 45 minute, 4:3, 1980 Behind-the Scenes documentary entitled Notes on the Making of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" - it is in German with English subtitles. This is a valuable record of Fassbinder's working methods featuring interviews with cast and crew. Also on both is Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz - Notes About The Restoration - anamorphic - 30 minutes in German with English subtitles. In this director Juliane Lorenz talks with director of photography Xaver Schwarzenberger. Also on both is Berlin Alexanderplatz - a Mega Movie and Its Story is an hour long anamorphic (but interlaced on the Second Sight - progressive on the Criterion - on disc 6) documentary. It is in German with English subtitles and has input from many sources.

Criterion includes Phil Jutzi's 1931, ninety-minute film of Alfred Döblin’s novel, from a screenplay co-written by Döblin himself  - in German with English subtitles - it's in rough shape but watchable. There is a new video 25 minute interview with the very insightful Peter Jelavich, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture. It is anamorphic and in English. Finally the Criterion has a 70-page booklet with color photos, a listing of cast and credits, a 22-page essay by Tom Tykwer, a 12-page essay by Fassbinder entitles The Cities of Humanity and The Human Soul: Some Unorganized Thoughts on Alfred Doblin's novel Berlin Alexanderplatz., another essy (8-pages) by Thomas Steinfeld "You've No Right To exist, You Shall Not Be: On Alfred Doblin and his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Also included is Black and White in Color: A Conversation With Director of Photography Xaver Schwarzenberger - 10 pages.

The Second Sight have some unique supplements as well - the 7 minute The Restoration - Before and After 4:3 segment giving some great insight in the form of spilt screen samples as to how the re-mastered improved upon the previous un-restored version. There is also a poorly done, filler, photo gallery, The Original Recaps (4:18 of deleted scenes from the film in German with English subs), a credit listing of the restoration crew and the 2007 trailer.

Price: $81.99 US for the Second Sight after conversion - $87.49 US for the Criterion (at the time of this writing - this does not include shipping or Amazon.UK deduction for foreign order Value Added Tax - a 17% discount!).

Choice: Pick'em - dependant on issues stated above. With Criterion's 80-page liner notes booklet - supplements lean the package in their favor.

In no way could I convey the film experience in two or three sentences (not matter how many adjectives I 'stuff in'). Words like 'impacting', 'memorable' seem somehow understating my viewing(s). 'Life-altering'... or how about 'gimungous' as more appropriate terms. This will be a frontrunner in DVD of the Year 2007 balloting for both the film as well as the transfer/supplements - no matter which edition you end up buying. An essential purchase for cineophile and casual film fan alike - this is a towering monument to late 20th Century filmmaking and considered the director's Magnum Opus.   

Gary W. Tooze

 


DVD Menus Samples

 

(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL RIGHT)


 

Supplements

(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL RIGHT)

 

 


 

Starts both editions (every segment)

 

 

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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 


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(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

(Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 


DVD Box Cover

   

 

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine #411 - Region 1 - NTSC Second Sight - Region 2 - PAL




 

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