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The Foreign Region DVD Report: History and Prospects

It's finally gotten to the point where the alternative means of viewing and the write-around just won't make it anymore. I've got to admit, finally, that my home viewing situation, which finds me bereft of a viable device on which to view, finally caught up with me over Labor Day weekend. Soon it will have been more than six weeks since my 50-inch plasma display went kerblooey, leaving me with very little wiggle room in terms of viable, or even if-you-hum-a-few-bars-I-can-fake-it, watching/assessing options. As readers of my own blog have been told, I have been making do with the reduction of a home theater system, one which doesn't accept HDMI inputs, which means, among other things, that my multi-region Blu-ray player can only be watched via component video jacks, which pump into my NTSC 13-inch set a PAL signal...which, well, if you know anything about broadcast standards and so on you know the only thing stupider than trying to assess a DVD on a 13-inch set is trying to watch an unconverted PAL signal on an NTSC monitor of any size. I suffer. You know I do.

But, as that disembodied radio voice says in Leo McCarey's Duck Soup, help is on the way! I've been told that the part which is needed to fix my 50-inch plasma display—a part that is commonly known to fail on this particular model (and why does nobody tell you these things at any point before you purchase such items, anyway) and is nevertheless always on backorder in the United States, and has to be shipped from Japan, on a very slow vessel, and then scrutinized at customs until, say, Lourdes Ciccone gets her B.A., or something—will have arrived at a warehouse on this very day, meaning my display may well be fixed by Friday, which will give me the weekend to look at and assess...well, perhaps one of the titles in the photo above, which have been mocking me from my coffee table for months, it seems. Yes, I know I wrote up Graf Spee last week, but as you may recall, I based most of my impressions on an older standard def edition and...well, you don't necessarily want to know how the sausage is made in this case, do you?

As I forge ahead, if I am able to forge ahead, with the Foreign DVD Report—and believe me, I will be half-paralyzed with fear that my display will konk out on me unexpectedly for as long as I continue to own the damn thing and have no viable means of replacing it—I will be kind of mindful, if not wary, of certain perceived changes in the overseas disc landscape. The incredibly protean work of the BFI folks aside, the summer seems to have been a trifle slow. Summer's always slow, but this summer seemed slower than usual. Yes, Eureka!/Masters of Cinema came out with one of the most staggering releases of this or any year, a gorgeous Blu-ray of Imamura's too-rarely seen masterstroke Profound Desires of the Gods, and as the summer was dawning, Second Run released an also-staggering film-historical game-changer, as it were, Nemec's amazingly compressed and disturbing Diamonds of the Night. But my own sense of the foreign-region field as being chockablock with new and potentially exotic discoveries that had almost zero shot of getting any kind of United States domestic exposure—as it was in 2007, when I started the Foreign Region DVD Report for my blog at Premiere magazine, and unearthed such then utterly-obscure treasures as Siodmak's delirious Christmas Holiday—has definitely taken a bit of a dive in recent months. I put it down to two factors: the rise of the DVD-on-demand sub-label, Warner Archive, which is making a huge dent in the reservoir of RKO and Warner vintage stuff that had been the playground of European labels such as France's Editions Montparnasse. Of the many foreign-region titles the Archive has made more or less obsolete, the most prominent have been some of the Fullers I've discussed here and elsewhere: Merrill's Marauders and Verboten, f'rinstance. Also cutting in has been the cable channel TCM, which has been very aggressive about airing vintage material of obscure provenance, and in editions often better than those that foreign region DVDs of such titles has presented.

Of course the noteworthy exceptions prove notable. The Italian-issue Region-free Blu-ray of Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, also pictured above, is reputed to be substantively better than the MGM domestic high-def disc, which is almost universally decreed to be a cropped botch. This is important, and for me worth waiting for conditions to improve before even attempting to deliver a verdict. I too once believed that high-def encodes shared across boundaries would create its own quality-control paradigm, but we're now learning that different approached are applied even to identical restorations, as in the hands-off Blu-ray of Lang's M from Eureka!/Masters of Cinema versus the tweaked-in-house rendering in the domestic version from Criterion. So while the actual scope of releases is narrowing, the topics for debate remain, and seem to expand. I'm dying to get back in the game for real, already.

I’ve got a big ole soft spot for THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I’ve only ever seen rough copies of the thing so I’ll be happy to hear all about it WHEN you get that infernal machine up and running again.
The Edge of the World marks the precise point where Powell became a poet. You can see him learning his craft in the earlier quota quickies, but there’s no artistic ambition on display until suddenly… there it is.

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