The most pertinent feature of the recent Eureka!/Masters of Cinema edition of Bruno Dumont's 1997 feature debut La vie de Jesus is a spanking new anamorphic and progressive scan encode. In case you're wondering, no, the Fox/Lorber region 1 DVD released in '99 was not properly converted from PAL to NTSC, which in the moving image means problems such as ghosting and combing. It also was non-anamorphic, which meant that it presented a 4:3 image letterboxe...which on a 16:9 set would have to be viewed in the zoom mode to simulate widescreen.
None of these problems haunt the new edition, which, as seen above, presents a handsome overall picture indeed. The Fox/Lorber version was one of those discs that actually has the temerity to list "scene access" as an extra; while the Eureka!/Masters of Cinema disc has no on-disc supplements, the package contains a very beautiful 40-page booklet containing notes from director Dumont and two interviews with the filmmaker.
Why, one might ask, did it take two tries to get a DVD first-rate version of Dumont's film to English-speaking cinephiles? The plain fact of the matter is that too many self-described boutique DVD labels operate on the deranged priciple that the cinephile market will be satisfied just by the fact that a certain title has made it to disc. The people who run these outfits travel the international film festival circuit, striking deals hither and yon, acquiring properties that have a certain putative cachet...which they then pretty much slap onto a piece of plastic that gets put into a clamshell case and dumped into the market for your/our delectation.
I remember a few years ago having a lunch conversation with one such businessman; in the game for a long time, nice guy, knowledgeable, actually loves film, in his way, believe it or not. Describing his latest venture to me, he limned his ambitions thusly: "I want to be Criterion with attitude." Problem being, in order to be Criterion with attitude, you have to first be Criterion, then take on the attitude. There's the rub.
What sets Criterion apart...and what sets the British-based Eureka! apart, what sets the also British-based Second Run apart, what sets the no-longer fledgling Benten Films apart, is a principle that more detached or cold-blooded entrepreneurs can't quite grasp: the people at these labels create products that they themselves would want to actually buy. Many of them got into the business precisely because they were tired of shoddy versions of works of art they revered being the only game in the market. And so they put time and effort and money and creativity into what they put out. (And, incidentally, I'm aware that you can't please everybody. I was having a conversation the other night with some very sharp-eyed buffs complaining about what they saw as Criterion's over-brightening of Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon.) You're paying for it, but in a sense the makers sharing it with you. The Eureka!/Masters of Cinema disc of La vie de Jesus goes for an admitedly daunting 16 pounds on Amazon U.K., while the unacceptable Fox/Lorber disc goes for about 12 bucks on U.S. Amazon. Why pay more? Because for about three times the price, you won't be buying garbage.