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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

 

directed by Robert Altman
USA 1971

 

This unorthodox dream western by Robert Altman may be the most radically beautiful film to come out of the New American Cinema. It stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as two newcomers to the raw Pacific Northwest mining town of Presbyterian Church, who join forces to provide the miners with a superior kind of whorehouse experience. The appearance of representatives of a powerful mining company with interests of its own, however, threatens to be the undoing of their plans. With its fascinating flawed characters, evocative cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, innovative overlapping dialogue, and haunting use of Leonard Cohen songs, McCabe & Mrs. Miller brilliantly deglamorized and revitalized the most American of genres.

***

In the opening shots of Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," the camera follows John McCabe (Warren Beatty) making his way on horseback through the green-brown hills of the Pacific Northwest. As the camera pans slowly to the right, it picks up the credits, hanging in the rain-soaked air. They don't fade in, as most credits do. Like everything else in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," they seem to have existed before we took our seats in the theater, before Altman started filming.

"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a western that, as shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, looks like old photographs lit from within, as though the subjects had created a sort of afterlife by finding a way to project their essence onto the film. The movie haunts you like a ballad whose tune you remember but whose words hang just beyond reach. And like listening to a ballad, we know the outcome of the events we're watching was foretold long ago, but we're helpless to do anything but surrender to the tale.

Charles Taylor's review at Salon HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: June 24th, 1971

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Comparison:

Warner - Region 2 - PAL vs. Criterion Region 'A' - Blu-ray

1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - LEFT

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Covers

   

Available in a Region 1 NTSC edition below:

   

  

Distribution

Warner

Region 2 - PAL

Criterion Collection - Spine #827 - Region 'A' Blu-ray
Runtime 1:56:00 (4% PAL speedup) 2:01:11.639
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.14 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

2.40:1 aspect ratio

Disc Size: 48,358,257,926 bytes

Feature Size: 29,872,152,576 bytes

Average Bitrate: 28.77 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video 1080P

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Bitrate Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0), DUB: German, Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0)

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles German, English, Finnish, French, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Turkish, Czech, Hungarian, Slovakian. none English (SDH), and none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Warner

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary by Robert Altman and producer David Foster
• Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer

DVD Release Date: February 20th, 2004
Keep Case

Chapters 33

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
2.40:1

Disc Size: 48,358,257,926 bytes

Feature Size: 29,872,152,576 bytes

Average Bitrate: 28.77 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video 1080P

Edition Details:

• Audio commentary from 2002 featuring director Robert Altman and producer David Foster
• New making-of documentary, featuring members of the cast and crew (54:38)
• New conversation about the film and Altman’s career between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell (36:27)
• Featurette from the film’s 1970 production (9:32)
• Art Directors Guild Film Society Q&A from 1999 with production designer Leon Ericksen (37:36)
• Excerpts from archival interviews with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (11:30)
• Gallery of stills from the set by photographer Steve Schapiro
• Excerpts from two 1971 episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Altman (11:49) and film critic Pauline Kael (10:34)
• Trailer (1:58)
• PLUS: An essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich

Blu-ray Release Date: October 11th, 2016
Transparent
Blu-ray case

Chapter: 19

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray September 16': This was delayed as I know Criterion were taking great pains to produce the most authentic video presentation and their transfer is cited as a "New 4K digital restoration". This 'Revisionist Western' is often described as an 'impressionistic' and Vilmos Zsigmond, at a Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox, described it, in 2014, by stating “If they had movies in those days they would look faded away, scratchy, grainy and very soft and no contrast" and the production utilized a flashing technique to underexpose the film. “Flashing” is a technique to faintly expose a negative prior to shooting. Naturally this can make it difficult to establish a firm exposure, and is often considered a high-risk technique. So we have a brief understanding of how McCabe & Mrs. Miller was intended to visually appear. The Criterion can look occasionally greenish and sometimes very brown, flat, dull, thick and, probably, wholly authentic to the filmmakers wishes. The 4K restored transfer is housed on a dual-layered disc with a high bitrate for the 2-hour film.

As Peter tells us in email "Gary - thanks much for your review and screen caps for MCCABE & MRS MILLER. I've been very anxious to see what decisions Criterion would make in terms of the "look" of the transfer, as it has been botched (one way or another) in every single try for home video so far.

I wanted to just offer the observations of someone who knows what the original-release IB Tech prints looked like, insofar as I am in possession of one of those prints and know it well. Granted, the IB prints themselves would vary reel-to-reel and print-to-print, especially in those days, when the process was getting sloppier and more uneven. BUT! I am pleased to report that, at least based on the stills Gary shows, this is the closest representation to the original color scheme yet. Previously, only the LaserDisc was in the ballpark, as it was (in all likelihood) transferred from an IB vault print. Every other video release has been way off base, as were the shameful-looking reissue prints.

The greenish cast is a little arguable, in that I don't think it was that pervasive in the original, but again, some prints may well have leaned green and others not. The IB process was an art form in itself, and with Zsigmond and Altman supervising at the time, one could imagine that the overall look of the prints was dialled in to their satisfaction, but they'd be at the mercy of quality control as multiple prints were struck.

One thing which looks slightly suspect is the lack of contrast in the interiors, but this may simply be the result of the colorist not being able to properly replicate the odd "flashed" look in the digital domain. Another thing which is different on my own print is that the first few reels, effectively before sunlight is shown in the film, seem somewhat desaturated compared to how they are represented here, but this is a minor quibble.

Overall, as Gary suggested, if some "consumers" complain or shake their heads and insist that Criterion did a "bad job", then they don't know their asses from holes in the ground. But in fairness, modern audiences just wouldn't know what this film was "supposed" to look like. It's a good representation, to my eye
". (Thanks Peter!)

Criterion use a linear PCM mono track and the naturalistic effect sounds are flat and authentic. It utilizes Altman's overlapping dialogue on 16 tracks notable in films like Nashville. We have the Leonard Cohen songs as a 'score' with The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy and Winter Lady. It sounds quite pleasing with some depth present - certainly clearer and more resonant than the SD - the intentional scattered dialogue adding an elusive layer to the narrative. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles on Criterion's region 'A'-locked Blu-ray disc.

Criterion augment the release with many extra features including the audio commentary from 2002 featuring director Robert Altman and producer David Foster as found on the 2004 DVD. There is a new, 55-minute, making-of documentary, featuring members of the cast and crew - produced by Criterion in 2016 and includes interviews with several of director Robert Altman's longtime collaborators: the film's casting director, Grahame Clifford; script supervisor, Joan Tewkesbury; and actors Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, and Michael Murphy. There is a new, 36-minute, conversation about the film and Altman’s career between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell. They discuss McCabe & Mrs. Miller in light of Robert Altman's career, the New Hollywood, and the western genre. Criterion include a featurette from the film’s 1970 production, shot on location in Canada, focus on details of the building on the film's town of Presbyterian Church. It runs shy of 10-minutes. In 1999, the Art Directors Guild Film Society in Los Angeles hosted a Q&A with production designer Leon Ericksen, led by his fellow production designer Jack De Govia. The film's art director, Al Locatellu, also participated in the discussion. A 37-minute excerpt is presented in this supplement. There are some excerpts from archival interviews with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond running over 10-minutes and a gallery of stills from the set by photographer Steve Schapiro. We also get excerpts from two 1971 episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Altman (11:49) and film critic Pauline Kael (10:34). There is also a trailer and the package has a liner notes booklet with an essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich.

Such an amazing film and it makes the Criterion Blu-ray, with its stacked extras including commentary, essential for cinema fans everywhere. The genuineness of the video may have fans shaking their heads but seeing this in 1080P is an experience you aren't going to find, even remotely, as compelling in SD. One of the best packages of the year, IMO. Our highest recommendation!

***

ON THE DVD: "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is one of those movies that is particularly difficult to transfer to the digital medium, but this DVD is probably still the best that Warner could do. The image features a lot of grain, but is still able to represent the dimly lit interiors nicely. Sharpness is evident as well.

There are no big complaints about the audio either. Everything always sounds clear and crisp. The audio commentary by Altman and producer David Foster has obviously been assembled from two separately recorded sources. The most interesting remarks are naturally Altman's, but Foster fills a few of the gaps as well.

"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is one of the most poetic achievements in narrative cinema. It has a dreamlike flow and mood unlike any other film I've seen and remains one of Robert Altman's very greatest works.

NOTE: The disc reviewed here is the German R2. To our knowledge the image quality is basically identical to the US and UK releases (and all have the Altman commentary).

 - Stan Czarnecki

 


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Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 


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Screen Captures

 

1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) Warner - Region 2 - PAL - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 

 

Report Card:

 

Image:

Blu-ray

Sound:

Blu-ray

Extras: Blu-ray

Box Covers

   

Available in a Region 1 NTSC edition below:

   

  

Distribution

Warner

Region 2 - PAL

Criterion Collection - Spine #827 - Region 'A' Blu-ray




 

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