Ah, Preminger. The obstreperous Otto. Is that an apt description of the man? Probably not entirely, but some sort of alliterative description sometimes seems de rigueur when contemplating such figures. Almost a quarter-century after his death, and thirty years after he made his final film (and almost eighty years since he made his first!) he's still a hugely contentious figure among cinephiles. As a recent sort-of-contra-Otto piece by the divine Siren attests.
I come here this morning not to praise Otto nor to bury him but merely to comment on a film reproduction matter of some concern, concerning a film bearing the man's name. That film is 1957's Saint Joan, adapted from the Shaw play of the same name, and long unavailable on domestic DVD, let alone any home video format. I wrote about a rather atrocious Spanish-edition disc of the film at my old blog back in 2008, saying the transfer rendered Georges Perinal's "silkily gorgeous" cinematography with "all the detail and contrast of a 16mm print that's been gnawed on by beavers after being washed through a mud bath." Hyperbolic, I know, but why should that surprise anyone.
That being the case, I expected great, or at least good, things from the recently released Warner Archive version of the disc. And I largely got them. Got something else, too.
Here's a screen cap, featuring the beguiling Seberg and the entirely impeccable Richard Widmark (in one of his most unusual portrayals), from the Spanish version:
and here, the same shot from the new Warner Archive disc:
Inceed, the Warner version has better contrast and detail and all that good stuff...and is also wider, out to a near 1.85 aspect ratio. And that widescreen wasn't achieved by cropping an "academy ratio" image—as you'll note, there's more picture detail in the wider version, e.g., the rest of Seberg's ear. All the sources I've seen say that this film is in fact a 1.33 one—Preminger is well known for his expertise with Cinemascope and other widescreen formats, but didn't hesitate to revert to a less rectangular picture shape when he so desired—so could the Spanish 1.33 image have derived from a further reduction of a wider 1.33 picture? Curiouser and curiouser.