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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Colour of Pomegranates aka "The Color of Pomegranates" or "Sayat Nova" [Blu-ray]

 

(Sergei Paradjanov, 1969)

 

  

Also coming to Blu-ray from Criterion (‘The Parajanov Cut’ only) on April 17th, 2018:

  

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Armenfilm

Video: Second Sight Films

 

Disc:

Region: 'B' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Armenian version (‘The Parajanov Cut’) Runtime: 1:19:44.708

‘The Yutkevich Cut’ Runtime: 1:12:47.291

Blu-ray 1 Size: 45,091,978,854 bytes

Parajanov Feature Size: 22,909,941,120 bytes

Yutkevich Feature Size: 22,021,233,408 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.82 Mbps / 35.02 Mbps

Chapters: 16 + 17

Case: Standard (thick) Blu-ray case

Release date: February 12th, 2018

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio Armenian | Azerbaijani | Georgian 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit

Commentary is annotated (subtitles in English - no voice)

 

‘The Yutkevich Cut’:

LPCM Audio Armenian | Azerbaijani | Georgian 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Commentary:

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, none

 

Extras:

Disc 1
Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation restoration of the the Armenian version (‘The Parajanov Cut’)
The Russian version (‘The Yutkevich Cut’) prepared using The Film Foundation’s restored material
Optional annotated commentary on the ‘Armenian Cut’ by James Steffen, author of ‘The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov’ and advisor on the new restoration (as subtitles)
Optional audio commentary on the ‘Yutkevich Cut’ by Levon Abrahamyan
 

Disc 2

New 2K restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s short film ‘Kiev Frescoes’ with optional annotated commentary by Daniel Bird (14:32)
‘Poetry, Pomegranates and Parajanov: A new appreciation’ by Daniel Bird (9:14)
‘Pomegranates Rediscovered’: Cecilia Cenciarelli of Bologna Cineteca on the multi-national effort to save ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’ (8:38)
‘Free Parajanov!’ Tony Rayns on the campaign to free Parajanov (11:40)
The World is a Window: The Making of the Colour of Pomegranates’ (1:15:59)
Memories About Sayat Nova: Levon Grigoryan's 2006 documentary featuring extracts from the rushes (31:38)
Parajanov: A Requiem (59:07)
112 page limited edition book featuring Martin Scorsese introduction, archive material, new writings, costume designs and storyboards

 

Bitrate:

 

1) Second Sight (‘The Yutkevich Cut’)  - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Second Sight (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

Description: Sergei Parajanov’s celebrated masterpiece paints an astonishing portrait of the 18th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, the ‘King of Songs’. Parajanov’s aim was not a conventional biography but a cinematic expression of his work, resulting in an extraordinary visual poem. Key moments in his subject’s life are illustrated through a series of exquisitely orchestrated tableaux filled with rich colour and stunning iconography, each scene a celluloid painting alive with stylised movement.

 

1) Second Sight (‘The Yutkevich Cut’)  - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Second Sight (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

The Film:

His baroque masterpiece was banned in the Soviet Union for its religious sentiment and nonconformity to "Socialist realism"; its director, a tirelessly outspoken campaigner for human rights, was convicted on a number of trumped-up charges and sentenced to five years of hard labor in the gulag. A wave of protest from the international film community led to his release in 1978. Aesthetically the most extreme film ever made in the U.S.S.R., Pomegranates, his hallucinatory epic account of the life of the 18th Century Armenian national poet, Sayat Nova, conveys the glory of what a cinema of high art can be like.

Excerpt from Amazon located HERE

Originally refused an export license, Paradjanov's extraordinary film traces the life of 18th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova ('The King of Songs'), but with a series of painterly images strung together to form tableaux corresponding to moments of his life rather than any conventional biographic techniques. Pomegranates bleed their juice into the shape of a map of the old region of Armenia, the poet changes sex at least once in the course of his career, angels descend: the result is a stream of religious, poetic and local iconography which has an arcane and astonishing beauty. Much of its meaning must remain essentially specific to the culture from which the film springs, and no one could pretend that it's all readily accessible, but audiences accustomed to the work of Tarkovsky should have little problem.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

 

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

The Colour of Pomegranates gets a restoration (see below) and Blu-ray transfer from Second Sight Films.  Both versions are on a dual-layered disc and both have max'ed out bitrates. There is a second Blu-ray with supplements. Colors (red and golds are notably brilliant) are far more vibrant than SD could relate and the Kino DVD transfer was far from ideal - it was heavily pictureboxed and filled with artifacts. The 1080P supports superior contrast exhibiting rich black levels and some minor depth in the 1.37:1 frame.  It's very clean showcasing some strong differences from the two cuts in terms of the visuals. The longer, ‘The Parajanov Cut’, is far more blue-green - even teal, in spots, than the ‘The Yutkevich Cut’. Framing seems the same but both show more information than the older DVD. We will obviously compare to the Criterion in the coming months.

 

NOTE: The upcoming Criterion Blu-ray package only has the Armenian version ‘The Parajanov Cut’.

 

NOTE: Text screens prior to the presentation start with the following:

 

"Two versions of this film have been restored. The Armenian version ("Parajanov's cut") was restored using the original camera negative, provided by Gosfilmofond in Russia as well as a 35mm dupe negative held by the National Cinema Centre of Armenia. The Russian version ("Sergei Yutkevic's cut") has been preserved for posterity using the original camera negative.

The editing and title cards of "Parajanov's cut" have been reconstructed thanks to a careful analysis of all existing sources, including an Armenian reference print that matches the dupe negative.

The original camera negative has been scanned in 4k by Gosfilmofond in Russia and restored by L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. The sound restoration was made from the original magnetic track, preserved by Gosfilmofond, in addition to the Armenian reference print. A vintage print of the film, produced on Orwo stock and preserved by the Harvard Film Archive, was used to guide the grading phase.

At the time of the film's release, the Russian censors decided that the film did not reflect Sayat Nova's life and renamed the film "NRAN GUYNE" which translates to "THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES." Despite this intervention, the film remains internationally recognized by Parajanov's original title, SAYAT NOVA.

The restored Armenian version premiered in Armenia in October 1969. It was a product of a protracted censorship battle and multiple compromises, but it represents the version signed off for release by Parajanov and the Armenian filmmaking administration. It was not widely available outside of Armenia until the 1990s, when it began screening at festivals and retrospectives. Before that, most people knew the film through the version reedited by Sergei Yutkevich. Yutkevich began his career in the silent era and became known for his 1956 adaptation of Othello, as well as a series of films about Lenin. He directed some strikingly experimental films in the 1960s and 1970s, so it is not difficult to see why he admired Parajanov's film and wanted to get it released for Soviet audiences.

 

Initially Parajanov was upset that Yutkevich had changed the film, but later in life he acknowledged that Yutkevich had helped to get the film released. Still, this Armenian version better reflects Parajanov's mode of poetic thought. Because Armenian Communist Party officials objected to the liberties that Parajanov took with the historical figure of Sayat-Nova, the famed Armenian ashugh (poet-troubadour). The authorities in Moscow also complained that the film had
failed in its educational mission."

 

NOTE: James Steffen tells us in our FaceBook Group, "Thank you, Gary, for this review. I posted a (briefer) comment about this in the Criterion Forum. The question of the "correct" color for this film is very complicated, and I personally doubt anyone would be able to come up with a definitive answer. Both the director and cinematographer are long dead. Having seen both versions (the Armenian and the Yutkevich version) multiple times on 35mm, the color on every print I've seen has been uneven to varying degrees.

This is partly due to the problematic negative stock that Parajanov and his cinematographer had to deal with, and the print stocks were probably another wild card in the mix. Besides which, as Michael Brooke pointed out above, Soviet film stocks had their own distinctive look (or looks) to begin with, which you have to take into account.

Also, the film was released at least three separate times in the Soviet era, all of which potentially had different color timings: the original Armenian release, the Yutkevich release done without Parajanov's input in 1970, and the 1981 re-release of the Yutkevich version. For the latter, I know that they consulted Parajanov on the color timing. In any case, the prints of the Armenian version I've seen have always looked different from those of the Yutkevich version. I've given up trying to figure out what "look" is more authentic.

L'Immagine Ritrovata based their restoration on an early release print in Orwo color, which certainly seems logical and methodologically sound. Since I haven't seen that archival reference print, I can't compare the color timing in the restoration to it. Having seen the restored DCP multiple times, I wouldn't say that every shot in the film has a teal or green bias, though some do. Some of these variations in color have to with the fact that they were working from two different negatives of greatly varying condition. The great majority of the restoration comes from the camera negative, which had been recut to conform to the Yutkevich version. For the shots that were unique to the Armenian version or which Yutkevich had trimmed, they had to use an Armenian duplicate negative which didn't have the same quality of color. Despite all of these complexities, I can say that the restoration brings out colors and details that I haven't seen on any print previously."

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

1) Kino (The Films of Paradjanov) Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight (‘The Yutkevich Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Second Sight  (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Kino (The Films of Paradjanov) Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight (‘The Yutkevich Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Second Sight  (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Kino (The Films of Paradjanov) Region 1 - NTSC TOP

2) Second Sight (‘The Yutkevich Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Second Sight  (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

More Captures from the Second Sight (‘The Parajanov Cut’) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

The Second Sight Blu-ray versions of The Colour of Pomegranates offer linear PCM 2.0 channel mono tracks (16-bit) for both cuts. Tigran Mansuryan's beautiful score ranges from traditional music to poetic artistic songs and sounds wonderful via the uncompressed transfer - certainly far in advance of any time I have ever hear it previously. It's tight with a prominent high-end but is not tinny or unpleasantly brittle. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.

 

Extras :

Previously we have been mostly devoid of, much desired, extras in regards to Paradjanov films on digital. I was so happy to see the offerings of this Second Sight's Blu-ray release. There is an optional annotated commentary on the ‘Armenian Cut’ by James Steffen, author of ‘The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov’ and advisor on the new restoration. This subtitled commentary offers an alternative to the usual audio commentary track. Steffen wanted viewers to listen to the film as well as watch it since the soundtrack is every bit as extraordinary as the film's justifiably famous images. The first Blu-ray, with the features, also has an optional audio commentary on the ‘Yutkevich Cut’ by Levon Abrahamyan. His accent is prominent but discernable and there is some fascinating information imparted.

 

On the second Blu-ray is a new 2K restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s 1/4 film ‘Kiev Frescoes’. It was an aborted project that Paradjanov planned to follow-up his Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors from 1964. It has a valuable annotated commentary by Daniel Bird who is also the director of The World is a Window: the 75-minute documentary about the making of Sergei Paradjanov's The Colour of Pomegranates shot in Armenia, Georgia and Russia (for Second Sight Films, UK) that is also included in this second Blu-ray of extras. ‘Poetry, Pomegranates and Parajanov' is a new, 9-minute, appreciation by Bird. ‘Pomegranates Rediscovered’ has Cecilia Cenciarelli of Bologna Cineteca on the multi-national effort to save ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’. It runs 8.5 minutes. ‘Free Parajanov!’ has a dozen minutes of Tony Rayns on the campaign to free Parajanov - almost like a visual essay. Memories About Sayat Nova is Levon Grigoryan's 1/2 hour 2006 documentary featuring extracts from the feature's dailies plus Parajanov: A Requiem is Ron Holloway hour-long interview excerpts with Parajanov citing references of him as an artist, dissident, romantic and iconoclast. The package has a 112 page limited edition book featuring Martin Scorsese introduction, archive material, new writings, costume designs and storyboards.

 

Second Sight - Region 'B' - Blu-ray 1

 

 

Second Sight - Region 'B' - Blu-ray 2

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
The Colour of Pomegranates is a masterpiece and its reputation continues to flourish. It was such a pleasure to see the restored films in 1080P - with such a dramatic difference from the almost unwatchable DVDs of a decade ago.   The Second Sight Films Blu-ray package has immense value for fans of the director. This is easy to put in the 'must-own' and 'don't hesitate' category for world-cinema digital librarians. I'm thrilled to own it. 

Gary Tooze

January 22nd, 2018

  

Also coming to Blu-ray from Criterion (‘The Parajanov Cut’ only) on April 17th, 2018:

  




 

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