Above, a shot taken with a camera off of my Hitachi plasma display, of a particularly arresting image from the Blu-ray iteration of The Criterion Collection's new edition of John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach. I still lack the capability to do direct rips off of Blu-rays, and as much as my ability to do screen shots off of my display has improved (I even got a tripod and everything), it's still not up to what I want, particularly when treating a film such as this. For the rest of this post, I'll be putting up illustrations from the Criterion standard definition version of their new restoration, and a capture from the prior Warner Home Video disc for comparison. In any event, below is the image seen above, as ripped directly on my computer from the Criterion standard-def DVD.
I put up some screen caps from this edition before, so I think you understand my overall feeling about this new version of the picture, which is that it's marvelous, that it shows me things about this film that I've never seen, or never so palpably felt, before. In particular I've been struck by how much of its visual style is based and expands upon that of F.W. Murnau, and D.W. Griffith before him. How the picture really was the right one for Welles to study before making Citizen Kane, not just because of the ceilings, for heaven's sake, but because the picture itself is a perfect wedding of film classicism and modernism. You know, stuff like that.
The reflection of Lucy in the glass, against the black of Hatfield's cape, is more solid, definite. The effect in the moving image is thoroughly amplified. The aggregate impact of this enhanced detail is, to my mind, enormous.
The "About The Transfer" note accompanying the Criterion edition stresses that the original negative of the film has long been lost, and that in creating this version, "[i]nevitably, certain defects remain." "In cases where the damage was not fixable without leaving traces of our restoration work, we elected to leave the original damage." I'm not going to address Jeffrey Wells' thoroughly adolescent protests about how black-and-white films ought to be made to look "crisp and silvery-satiny," with a "little silver-nitrate sexuality" that will give their dead directors "angel erections" in Heaven. I will advise him that there's a simple answer concerning his befuddlement that a Blu-ray of Murnau's City Girl, "shot eight of nine yeara before Stagecoach, which almost certainly means with more primitive camera and lighting technology," could look "better" than a Blu-ray of Ford's film: it's the surviving materials, stupid. (I'm not even gonna go there as far as that "more primitive camera and lighting technology" crack is concerned.)
One "wow!" moment watching the film (again!) last night came near the end. Everybody assumes that alcoholic Doc Boone's redemption comes when he's able to get sober enough to deliver Lucy's baby, and that's a sweet, moving moment, but the film actually saves Doc's final redemption for later. In a film that's very sparing in its closeups, this shot of the great Thomas Mitchell as Doc, telling bad guy Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) to leave his shotgun in the bar before he goes out to face John Wayne's Ringo, really hits home:
Great, great stuff. Now a greater home experience.