Import Week, Day 6: Carnal Knowledge Restored in 4k

We conclude Import Week with a recent goodie.  The long-awaited restoration of Mike Nichols' 1971 classic Carnal Knowledge.  I remember a couple years ago when Studio Canal announced they were restoring the film in 4k, and everyone said "stay away from the old discs, now!"  But the actual 4k transfer on disc seemed to sneak out pretty quietly.  And of course, it didn't make it to America.
When I've been away from Carnal Knowledge for a while, I start to lose my affection for it.  "Do I really need to sit and revisit two guys being sexist for two hours with the lesson that sexism is bad?"  But as soon as I start to rewatch it, I'm instantly sucked in.  The writing is too real, the performances are too strong.  Yes, not just Jack NicholsonArt Garfunkel, Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret are all operating on the same level (keep your eyes open for the onscreen debut of Carol Kane, too).  It's elegantly photographed and scored, but most importantly, the script feels like a stage play... in the best way.  And in fact, it sort of is.  It's based on an unproduced or published play written by Jules Feiffer, who actually won the Pulitzer Prize as an editorial cartoonist.  And I think it's that mix of satirical edge and observation insight that elevates this beyond some banal battle of the sexes think piece.
MGM released Carnal Knowledge on a barebones flipper DVD (fullscreen and widescreen) in 1999, and that's the entire story in the United States.  So I've had my eye on previous BDs from Japan (expensive) and Spain (forced subtitles) over the years, but that all finally went out the window when Studio Canal restored the film in 4k, and that new transfer was released in France and Germany.  I've gone with the German one, co-released by Art Haus and Studio Canal.
1) 1999 MGM fullscreen DVD top; 2) 1999 MGM widescreen DVD;
3) 2022 Art Haus/ Studio Canal BD.

Wow!  MGM's DVD is a perfect example for novice viewers of why it's important in the correct aspect ratio rather than avoiding "the black bars."  Their 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation just lops off both sides of the picture, almost removing more of the image than it leaves in.  Though they do at least Pan & Scan to keep the most important element in the frame.  MGM's widescreen 2.35:1 is actually drawn out slightly further, showing a sliver more than Art Haus's 2.35:1, but obviously in terms of picture quality, it's a whole different world.  For starters, apparently Anne Margaret's bathrobe isn't blue!  The DVD looks like it's taken from a print, with its excessive contrast, while Studio Canal is giving us a fresh 4k scan of the original camera negative and looks it.  Colors are more subtle and natural, detail is clearer, and information that was once lost to the shadows is now restored.  Film grain, that just came off as vague splotches on the DVD, is now rendered clearly and authentically.  It's generally brighter, but without blowing out the highlights.  In short, it's night and day.

Both discs offer the original mono track, in DTS-HD on the blu.  MGM also had English and French subs, while AH/SC has additional French and German dubs, also in mono DTS-HD, and German and French subs.
MGM's DVD is completely barebones, without even the trailer.  The new BD doesn't have it either, but they did come up with something: an untranslated audio-only interview with a French critic.  I'm vaguely curious as to what he said and I certainly would've given it a listen if it were English friendly, but I'm not too broken-hearted about it.  It's not like they managed to interview someone from the cast or crew.  So unless you're fluent in French or German, this release is as barebones as every one in the past.  But man, it looks great.  And it's a real must-have film, even if you might have to push yourself to go back every so often to remind yourself.

1 comment:

  1. My all-time favorite. I had the privilege to meet Mr. Feiffer at his book signing event some 30 years after I saw the film in college. He said he loved the cast. I can’t wait to see the U.S. release.