Must-Have Mahler

It's been a while since we've tackled a Ken Russell film here at DVDExotica, and I've been sitting on a doozy.  Mahler is from 1974, and yes it's another one of his surprisingly vast number of films about famous composers.  And hey, I love all of Russell's eras, but the 70's is really the peak, where he's got the budgets and the creative freedom to fully live up to his imagination.  Mahler is definitely taking full advantage.  And while there's only been one old, cruddy DVD released in the United States, there have been far superior, underappreciated editions overseas... just the sort of thing this site was born to tell you all about.
Mahler is one of the later composer biopics, so it's not quite as out there as Lisztomania or Dance Of the Seven Veils, but it's sure not one of his staid BBC documentaries.  I mean, you do see that sexy SS officer nailed to a burning cross on the DVD cover up there, don't you?  This film comes out swinging, with a small cottage by the sea bursting into flames.  It's the beginning of one of Russell's brief, impressionistic interpretations of Gustav Mahler's life and music.  Then it settles into more of a traditional biopic, framed by a deathly ill Robert Powell (Harlequin, Tommy) on a train to Vienna, where he encounters people from his life who trigger a series of flashbacks.  Cinematically, the device might read as a bit trite, but it really doesn't matter here, with Russell and Powell using it collaborate on a fascinating characterization, uniquely exploring the man's life and work even when it isn't producing more of Russell's signature prototypical music videos set to Mahler's greatest compositions.
Mahler originally came out as a barren, full-screen DVD from Image back in 1998.  Fremantle released a similar UK edition in 2005; but eventually word got around that the smart move was to import a later reissue from Odeon Entertainment, which had the anamorphic widescreen version.  But that's old news now.  We're in the HD era, and Paramount themselves have come out with a proper blu-ray edition, but only in Japan.  It's been available since 2012, actually the same year the Odeon came out, and there's been no sign of a Western release, so we have to import.  Luckily, it's completely English friendly.
2012 Odeon DVD top; 2012 Paramount BD bottom.
Coming out, as they did, in the same year, one might expect the Odeon and Paramount discs to have the same master, one just given a higher resolution disc.  But no, these aren't even in the same aspect ratio.  The DVD is 1.77:1 and as I said, anamorphic.  It's also non-interlaced and a rather satisfying DVD for its time.  But it's still a very scrunchy image, which is to say ruffled all over by messy compression artifacts and aching for a clearer HD image.  And we get it.  Now framed at 1.66:1, revealing substantially more picture around all four images, Paramount's version is infinitely cleaner, with finer lines and far more lifelike detail and colors.  Admittedly, grain is a little light and inconsistent - this is a 2012 BD, after all, not a modern 4k job - but wow, it's a whole different world compared to the DVD.  Print damage (like the black spot over the boy's cap in the first set of shots) has been cleaned up on the blu, too.  Clearly a full-on remaster was done, which Odeon was not let in on.
Both discs offer the original stereo track, but it's in lossless LPCM on the blu.  Neither offer any subtitles, unfortunately, though the blu does throw in an equally lossless Japanese dub for its native buyers.  There are no special features on these or any releases of Mahler except the fullscreen trailer, which is included on both the discs we're looking at today.  Everyone really ought to be region free, but this is region A anyway, and it belongs in more people's collections.

No comments:

Post a Comment