Tuesday, 1 May 2018

A remastered version of Visions of Light, the great 1992 documentary about the history of cinematography, is available on YouTube

I'd already seen this enthralling documentary, but the appearance of a remastered version is most welcome. One thing I've increasingly come to realise over the past six months or so...

...is the benefit of seeing the best possible versions of vintage films, especially artfully shot black and white films noir (or film noirs) where so much of the atmosphere depends on chiaroscuro effects, and brilliantly-lit technicolour musicals, where loving restoration makes them positively pop off the screen by adding at least 25% to their energy levels. The combination of a high-definition television and the HD version of an old movie (Amazon charges £1 more for HD films, and it's money well spent) can be revelatory - screwball comedies crackle with cackles, thrillers throb with tension, and musicals sparkle splendidly: it conveys a sense of what it must have been like for filmgoers who got to see the films soon after they'd been released, when the prints were still fairly pristine. 

A blessing on the heads of all those organisations and individuals involved in preserving and restoring old movies. Here's The Film That Warped Too Much, a fascinating five-minute video about restoring Hitchcock's 1934 thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much:
Here, Martin Scorcese explains how Laurence Olivier's 1955 colour version of Richard III was brought back to vibrant life
I'll end with the scene from In Cold Blood discussed by cinematographer Conrad Hall in Visions of Light - the one in which rain shadows become tears:
Echoing Phil Spector's old "Back to Mono" campaign, I'd like to see a "Back to Black & White" campaign.


  1. I had not seen Visions of Light before. Thanks for the recommendation. The effort that cinematographers put into perfecting the shots is well illustrated. Ars est celare artem, as FRM used to say. It does make you wonder why Hitchcock settled for the obvious model mountain and railway set in the tracking shot that opens The Lady Vanishes. Budget? While it doesn't stop you enjoying the film, it does require a heavy dollop of belief-suspension.

    1. I once offended an American friend who was showing me a 16mill print of the thoroughly enjoyable 1937 Hitchcock film "Young and Innocent", by laughing at a spectacularly unconvincing (but nevertheless exciting) train crash, evidently featuring tiny models. My friend thought the special effects were top notch "for their time" - but there was no excuse in 1964, when, in "Marnie", Hitchcock used a laugh-out-loud backdrop of a huge, amateurishly painted ship at the end of what's supposed to be a row of terraced houses in Baltimore. Just about okay on a tiny television screen - but in vibrant colour on a huge cinema screen? Given the meticulous care with which he storyboarded every shot in his films, it's a mystery why he would allow something so abysmally shoddy in the final version of one of his movies - and it didn't even need to be there!