The Film Preservation Society Has Too Many Kisses For Us All

There's a new blu-ray label on the scene, called the Film Preservation Society.


They're focusing on all 460+ Biograph films directed by D.W. Griffith between 1908 and 1913.

"Oh.  Well uh, good luck to them."

Their first release is the long lost cinematic debut of Harpo Marx!

"Hey now, why didn'tcha say so?"
Yes, from my inner monologue to yours: what we have here is Too Many Kisses, the 1925 silent film where audience's caught their first glimpse of a Marx Brother on the silver screen.  Yes, this is the one we saw a clip of ("this recently unearthed footage, long thought lost by even the most ardent Marx Brothers fans") in The Unknown Marx Brothers.  The FPS has restored the entire film from a print scanned at The Library of Congress.  But fans should know, the aforementioned clip comes dangerously close to showing Harpo's entire on-screen performance.  He's in other scenes, but mostly as an extra, with only about a minute or so to flex his comic talents, and his character feels like a last minute inclusion.  This is really a romantic comedy starring Richard Dix (Cimarron).  If it weren't for the fact that Marx historians have been writing about Too Many Kisses for decades, I'd've said this film would be better marketed towards Thin Man fans, as William Powell has a much larger, showier role as the film's antagonist.
Dix is a millionaire playboy who's sent to Basque by his father to set up a business venture, and more importantly, stay out of trouble with the ladies.  Of course, that falls apart almost immediately, as Dix falls for a local young woman who's already somewhat betrothed to local captain of the guard, Powell.  So expect lots of silly humor about the eccentric locals, sweet vows of love, bitter duels, wacky miscommunication and of course swooning women.  Even for its time, I'd say it was easy, predictable fare.  But it's charming if never hilarious, briskly paced (although, as ever with silent films, subtitles instead of intertitles would've helped immeasurably) and still plays better than something like Holidate.  Harpo's son, Bill Marx, was enlisted by the FPS to compose and perform the score, and I was wary of nepotism torpedoing this film's potential... especially when I heard this was his first silent soundtrack. So I was actually pleasantly surprised how nice it turned out and how well it interplays with the action on screen.
2020 Film Preservation Society BD.
Presented here in 1.38:1, TMK was shot in 35mm, but only a 16mm reduction print survived to be scanned in 2k in 2020.  But for a film believed lost for decades, I think viewers will be pleased and impressed with how clear and strong the image is.  Grain is a little soft for 16, but generally well preserved and authentically filmic.  Clearly a lot of care has gone into removing print damage, steadying the frame and generally turning this into an image modern audiences can sit through comfortably.  Scene-appropriate color tinting was back to the picture.  But, still, one thing annoyed me, and I took some shots from the restoration featurette to get a better handle on it.
from the restoration featurette
The scan was given to the FPS by the Library of Congress, who then could only work their "digital magic to make this thing look like it was almost 35mm" (their phrase) on what was provided.  So if we notice a little imperfection, we can give them the benefit of the doubt that it could've originated on the LoC's end.  We can certainly appreciate the little white flecks of damage that have been cleaned away here.  But there seems to be some slightly awkward edge enhancement going on, even on the left (which, admittedly, we don't know to be a raw shot from the LoC... it could already be partially restored by the FPS at this point).  But it's exasperated in the final frames on the right.  The shadow of Harpo's arm in the second shot looks like it was underscored with a thick black crayon, which your eye is drawn to even more thanks to some light haloing.  Or the left side of Frances Howard's face in that night scene.  And in those shots it's not so troubling, but it flares up all throughout the film, and can be distracting when some insignificant detail on a background character's clothing is suddenly the blackest black on screen.

I don't know.  I don't want to make too big a deal of it.  It's not a huge problem, and considering the scarcity of proper film elements, some tweaking could be said to be a necessary evil.  But I guess I was expecting this to be one of those "show the industry how it's done" moments, but instead it feels like just another new outfit of enthusiasts finding their way through it and taking a few too many liberties along the way.  I mean, the audio is lossy, too.  Come on.
But this'll cheer you back up.  FPS have provided some fun extras, the most noteworthy of which is The House That Shadows Built, a 1931 Paramount promotional film celebrating their 20th anniversary.  It's full of trailers and snippets of their then upcoming movies.  But what stands out is their supposed clip of The Marx Brothers' next feature, Monkey Business, is actually a five-minute scene from their stage play I'll Say She Is.  This footage has been seen before, in whole or in part in various Marx Brothers documentaries and features, but FPS has restored it so it looks better than ever, and now in its full 47-minute context.  If you'd prefer, they've also included the option to just watch their segment by itself.  Then there's the aforementioned restoration featurette, which covers not just Too Many Kisses, but all the Griffith shorts they've been working on.  It's only five minutes, but gives some great insight into their work.  And if they've got your interest, they even included one of those restored shorts (1910's A Child's Impulse).  Finally, they include an excellent, 16-page full color booklet with multiple writers contributing lots of great information about all three films on this disc and their restorations.
I hope I wasn't too harsh on these guys.  All told, this disc is a little treasure and I hope this is just the first in a long history of releases from the Film Preservation Society.  But before the next one, maybe they could solicit a few tips from Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome or even Paramount's home video department, since their logo's on this disc, too.  They wouldn't let something go out with lossy audio, no subs and, well... maybe they would let a little digital tinkering through their door.  But you see my point.

Wives and Daughters, Unpressed

Okay, one last Spanish blu before we move on to other, pressing stuff.  You know, for now.  I'm not declaring a moratorium or anything.  But before we sail away, I wanted to look at one more of the newer Mapetac editions of a classic BBC miniseries.  So we go from Husbands and Wives to Wives and Daughters, another one of my personal favorites that was in desperate need of some help on home video.  And once again, Spain's the only country that answered the call.
Yes, this is another Andrew Davies adaptation.  Call me a fan boy if you must, but how can you watch something like (the original) House of Cards and not be?  And while he's had his misses alongside his hits, I think this is up there among his best work.  This time he's doing Elizabeth Gaskell's last, unfinished novel, Wives and Daughters, an Every-Day Story.  But this is no Sanditon, where Davies' imagination was left to run wild with nothing but the author's starting opening chapters to indicate the characters and direction of the story.  It's mostly all there.  Although, with that said, it's worth nothing that despite the fact that Gaskell's book was published completed by journalist Frederick Greenwood in the 1800s, Davies doesn't seem as beholden to Greenwood as he is to Gaskell.
Now, I hate to appeal to authority, but this series is swimming in BAFTAs.  The whole cast is strong, but surprisingly it's the men, particularly Traffik's Bill Paterson, and The Singing Detective himself, Michael Gambon, who steal the show.  But all the characters are layered and intriguing, on both the writing and performance level.  The production values are high, with various lush locations and authentic period imagery that the BBC, by this stage, had become quite expert in reproducing.  From countrysides to manors to old London and even Africa, this series doesn't attempt to compress the novel standard handful of drawing rooms.  But it also doesn't shy away from the minutia, including the literal insects Gaskell wrote of in her novel.
One surprise I have to address is that I popped the blu-ray in and it's six episodes.  Everywhere else I'm familiar with - from how it originally aired on Masterpiece Theater, to the DVD, to the way it's currently indexed on Amazon Prime - it was four episodes.  I got a little optimistic at first: was this another case where the US version was cut down and I'd found an original, full-length UK version, like Northanger Abbey, and I was going to be discovering a fuller, richer version than I'd known before?  But nah, it turns out it's more of an I, Claudius situation, where the episode breaks were just altered to make the series fit a more conventional TV broadcast schedule (turning the original, 70-odd minute episodes into 50-some ones, i.e. an hour with time for commercials).  Well, I tallied the total run times and they both clock in at just over 300 minutes.  This Spanish version does run a couple minutes longer, but that makes sense as it has two extra sets of opening and closing credits.  So neither version appears to have any extra or absent footage.
Wives and Daughters debuted on DVD in 2001 from BBC Warner, later repackaged in 2015.  There are other DVDs around the world, but if you're in the market for a blu-ray, Spain is your only option.  And like Middlemarch, this is another case of it coming first from Llamentol in 2013, and then being reissued by Mapetac in 2016.  Given Llamentol's infamous reputation, I took a shot on the Mapetac.

After my previous four posts exploring Spanish blus, you might've thought I was slowly disproving the preponderance of BDRs instead of properly pressed discs over there.  Well, I just found a BDR.  In fact, I daresay all these Mapetacs are just reissues of the same Llamentol discs.  Remember, Mapetac's Middlemarch BD actually had a Llamentol label?  This one doesn't name Llamentol or Mapetac on its label, but dollars to doughnuts, it's the exact same one you'd get if you ordered the 2013 release.  Oh well, let's at least see if this BDR is any good.
2001 US BBC Warner DVD, 2016 ES Mapetac BDR.
Okay, looking at these screenshots, it ain't pretty.  It looks like an SD upscale.  I'd almost conclude that there's no reason to upgrade, except... the DVD is a nightmare!  It's an extra low res non-anamorphic image with serious interlacing problems.  And look at that AR: 1.53:1?  The back of the 2015 DVD box calls "14:9 letterbox," which is a new one on me.  Surely that can't be the OAR. [Or maybe it can... see the comments.]  Compare it to Mapetac's 1.78:1.  It has exactly the same vertical matting but reveals substantially more on the sides.  Side by side, the DVD really looks boxed in and truncated.  And while yes, this is a BDR, at least it's, dual-layered and 1080i, which is appropriate for a broadcast master.

I honestly don't know if this series was shot on digital... 1999's right on the borderline where it could go either way, and the camera in the behind-the-scenes doc doesn't look to have film mags.  So maybe this is about as HD as it gets?  Or maybe a new restoration would work wonders.  Straight edges often look jagged due to low resolution, blacks seem crushed and the color range feels limited, but again, those are symptoms of late 90s digital films just as much as they are of problematic BD transfers, so it's hard to say.  But for our purposes, where these are our options anyway, I'd say we don't gain any additional detail or clarity, but the blu does clear up the interlacing problem.  That plus the aspect ratio and the anamorphic issue makes this a substantial improvement, even if it does still look like crap.
Audio-wise, both discs are lossy.  Surprise, surprise.  But I was pleased to see that the Mapetac blu included optional English subtitles (as does the BBC Warner DVD), in addition to the expected, and also lossy, Spanish dub and subtitles.

But here's the only category the DVD actually wins in: special features.  The Mapetac blu has nothing, not even a commercial.  But BBC Warner has a whole third disc dedicated to nothing but extras.  Specifically, two.  There's a 20+ minute behind-the-scenes documentary, with on-set cast interviews and a look at how they created the period.  And then there's a 50 minute Omnibus documentary about Elizabeth Gaskell overall.  Both include optional English subtitles as well.  This is good stuff (I would've preferred more on the making of part), and it's a shame to lose it.
So if you're upgrading, I recommend hanging onto your DVD as well.  And sure, you might scoff at the idea of upgrading to a BDR that looks this grungy, but it really is a far superior way to watch this excellent series.  Honestly, I never thought I was about to luck into a gorgeous, high end special edition.  I was just hoping for a fix to the interlacing and non-anamorphic issues, and I got it.  The improved framing was a pleasant surprise on top of that.  As long as you go in knowing what to expect - and what not to expect - it's a worthwhile acquisition.

Husbands and Wives & Maridos Y Mujeres

Hola!  Get your nalgas aboard this galleon, my fellow Conquistadors - our Spanish adventure continues!  You don't need me to tell you that Twilight Time limited editions could be scarce and pricey even before they shut down (and then rose from the ashes?!), but what can you do but pay through the nose when they're the only options on the market?  They've put out so many great films, like those middle-era Woody Allen films all the studios otherwise neglect.  Husbands and Wives: great movie, but I'm not a millionaire.  Sooo... I can't help noticing there's a Spanish blu out there.  And it's being released by Sony themselves.  So that should be acceptably comparable, right?  Twilight Time would've just used whatever master Sony gave them, therefore this should be the same, right?  And it ought to good, because Sony seem to have higher standards than other studios, right?  Sounds like a safe bet.  Of course, we won't know for sure until some morion-adorned suckers takes the plunge and reports back, so déjanos zarpar, compatriotas!

Sorry, this is the kind of silliness I get up to when you leave me unsupervised with Google Translate. 😜
Husbands and Wives is one of Allen's best mixes of comedy and drama, right after Crimes and Misdemeanors.  It makes some pretty innovative use of the mockumentary form, something usually reserved for comedy and "found footage" horror flicks, and is probably best known for its unusual decision to embrace jump-cuts.  But like any great film, it really all boils down to the writing and performances.  Allen and Mia Farrow are a middle-aged couple who think they've settled into the perfect marriage until their best friends, Sidney Lumet and Judy Davis, split up, and it causes them to question their own choices.  As Lumet and Davis seem to find better situations with new, ideal partners - a perky young aerobics instructor for Lumet and Liam Neeson, who seems to have been drawn out of a dreamy Hollywood romcom, for Davis - they begin to pursue similar ambitions.  Allen fixates on a younger student, Juliette Lewis, and Farrow, well, she also sets her cap at Neeson.
It's a great, relatable (a trait that often eludes Allen) examination of the romantic expectations we place on future hopes for ourselves and relationships with others.  "Couldn't I do better?" proves to be a damning question to ask yourself.  And the mature way nothing even begins to come of Allen's thoughts about Lewis is a refreshing change, given the way those things are portrayed in most of his other films, let alone his front page real life.  It shifts about in tone, from cute zingers between Allen and Farrow to the darkly comic explosion of Lumet literally dragging his new girlfriend out of a party for talking to everyone about astrology.  But it's all grounded enough to really hit home, moreso than most of Allen's other work.
Sony/ Columbia Tri-Star originally released Husbands and Wives on DVD in 2002.  In most countries, it just had the widescreen version; but in the US, we got both the widescreen and fullscreen on the same disc, so that's fun.  Nothing more happened with the film on disc until Twilight Time brought it to blu in 2018, but that was limited to just 3000 copies.  Admittedly, between the slow death of physical media and Allen's "cancellation" in popular culture, there probably isn't a huge demand for millions of discs anymore.  But 3000 to serve the entire world from now on feels a little constrictive.  Fortunately, a few months later, Sony released a non-limited region-free edition in one other country, still the only one to date: Spain.
2002 US Sony DVD full; 2002 US Sony DVD wide; 2018 ES Sony BD.
Sony's 2002 fullscreen transfer is another typical compromise between cropping and opening the matte, measuring at 1.32:1 and losing some information along the sides, but also revealing extra vertical image.  It's boxy, and most of that vertical information is pretty empty, so it's obvious the widescreen AR is the correct one, as if there had been any doubt in the first place.  Or, at least, it's mostly correct.  The widescreen DVD transfer is slightly windowboxed to 1.80:1, which should surely be 1.85; but at least they're close.  Closer, in fact, than the blu-ray, which opens up a bit more to 1.784:1.  It actually loses teensy slivers along the edges, because it's fixing some slight pinching on the DVD, and revealing a bit more vertically by ditching the vertical matting.  My understanding, from what I've been able to find online, is that the Twilight Time retains that matting, giving the film its proper 1.85:1 ratio, but otherwise looks the same as this blu, as they were using the same master.

And it's a definite leap to HD.  But given the film's run & gun, documentary-inspired shaky cam, it's never going to hit you with eye-candy clarity.  I've tried to find some of the most stable shots for screenshots here, but it's generally a pretty rough and even grungy looking film - a rare aesthetic for Allen, who usually shoots for elegance.  But compare it to the DVD, and even in blurry motion shots, the boost is obvious.  It's a lot sharper and clearer; haloing has been cleared up.  Film grain that's been washed away from the SD picture is back, although inconsistent for Sony's usually high standards.  Twilight Time's disc was a BD50, and this is BD25 (though not a BDR!), and even though we're just talking about a relatively short feature without any major features to speak of, I wonder if TT didn't have a stronger, more consistent encode.
For audio, all three discs include the original mono track with optional English subtitles.  On both blus, the audio's boosted to lossless DTS-HD.  Otherwise, the only difference is in the foreign language options.  The DVD has a French dub, plus French, Spanish and Portuguese subs.  Twilight Time has nothing but English, but the Spanish blu also has German, Italian, Spanish and French dubs with additional Spanish subtitles.

Extras-wise, Twilight Time had the only thing to speak of: their usual isolated music track in DTS-HD.  Otherwise, all three discs just have a fullscreen trailer.  Yes, it's in English on the Spanish disc.  The Twilight Time disc also had a bonus trailer for Manhattan Murder Mystery and an 8-page booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo.
So, the findings of this expedition seems to be that this Spanish blu is a decent but not truly equal substitute for the Twilight Time blu.  It does have extra foreign language options, but at the expense of a dual-layer disc with the isolated score and booklet.  Frankly, I don't rank those extras too highly, so it really depends how worried you are about the encode and if you'll spot the difference in motion.  Of course, while there seem to still be a few copies floating around as of this writing, soon we may not have a choice.

Recapturing The Four Seasons

Another reason why my eye's been on Spain recently: an exclusive new release of a great, long unreleased catalog title available nowhere else in the world.  In this case, I'm talking about Alan Alda's 1981 charmer The Four Seasons, which debuted on blu from Divisa in November.  Divisa isn't among one of the more infamous labels like Resen or Llamentol, so I'm thinking, please, please, please let this be a legit release and not some shady bootleg upconverting the Universal DVD.  Well, nobody else is gonna do a review, so what the Hell, I bit the bullet.
To be clear, Alda doesn't just star in this, he wrote and directed it.  He's actually made several films, and like the characters he typically plays onscreen, they're all smart and likeable, if not dynamic spotlight stealers.  The Four Seasons is easily his masterpiece, following a group of characters across each of the four seasons, each started with a themed montage and set to the obvious Vivaldi concerti.  In fact, I don't know why this sticks with me, but I remember watching an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio where host James Lipton presented this as his favorite movie of all time.  I wouldn't got that far, but I can see why this would be someone's favorite.  It's a genuinely funny comedy that harbors more dramatic substance than any of Alda's other films (Betsy's Wedding is cute, but it's not operating on this level), handling plot developments more thoughtfully and seriously than you'd expect.  It's a film where a divorce rips through every character on screen, but manages to make you empathize with both parties.  That's partly because the entire cast - including Carol Burnett, Sandy Dennis, Jack Weston and even Alda's daughters - is wonderful, ensuring every character is robustly fleshed out, but also just good writing.  There are plenty of little points where you'll think you can predict the obvious cliched shorthand the script is going to take, but instead each time it does something more interesting and realistic.
The film was a low budget, break-out success for Alda, so much so that CBS actually followed the film up with a 13-episode series, which Alda produced, starring Weston and Tony Roberts that ran in 1984.  It was a sequel, where Weston and his recast wife moved to LA and found several married friends much like the ones he left behind.  Alan's two daughters also reprised their roles, and Alda was in the pilot as his character from the film trying to convince Jack to stay.  It would make a great inclusion if The Four Seasons ever got a special edition.  I can imagine a sweet reunion featurette with Alda and Burnett laughing as they reminisce about the beautiful locations they filmed on... but in 2021, this obscure Spanish blu is the whole story, and I doubt there's much more on the horizon, so let's at least see what we've got.
2005 Universal DVD top; 2020 Divisa BD bottom.
Happily, this is not a bootleg or an upconvert of the DVD.  But it's a pretty lackluster BD upgrade, that's clearly using the same old master as the DVD.  I wouldn't be surprised if labels in other countries considered a Four Seasons blu, looked at Universal's master and declared it beneath their standards - hence no previous blu.  But in lieu of somebody actually putting in the money and work to remaster this film, I'd rather have this than no BD option.  Both discs are properly matted to 1.85:1, but the blu fixes a teensy amount of vertical stretch, thus revealing slivers more along the top and bottom.  And it's in genuine 1080p, looking at least a little sharper as it sheds clumpy SD artifacts.  But it still has its visual junk, with grain clumpy or absent depending where in the frame you look.  This is a single-layer BD, but I don't know if a larger encode would help, or if that's as good as that master gets.  There are also halos and other evidence of edge enhancement baked in, so again, this is an old master, surely only made with DVD in mind.   The upgrade is easy to miss, but at least it is in HD.
Also, the audio is lossless, giving us both the original English and a Spanish dub in DTS-HD.  The original DVD had the original English, Spanish and French mono tracks with optional English, Spanish and French dubs.  The blu just has the aforementioned tracks with optional Spanish subs.  The menu tries to stick you with the Spanish subs if you play the English audio, but they're not actually forced; you can switch them on and off at any point with your remote.

The DVD is 100% barebones, without even a trailer.  The blu doesn't have the trailer either, but someone at least cared enough to create a little stills gallery with high res art and promo photos.
Oh, and no, this isn't a BD-R; it's a properly pressed disc.  I believe this to be a 100% legit, fully licensed release, just like the recent Australian BDs of titles like Ordinary People and Top Secret!, where they're putting out what's available.  We're just hitting the bottom of the big studios' barrels.  This is definitely not a high quality release to get excited for, but at least we have something on the market now that's preferable to the old DVDs.  It makes you wonder what other little treats Spain is hiding away on disc.