Friday 17 July, 2009 11:12
I’ve been pretty outspoken on the whole issue of the 2007 high definition remaster of Suspiria, which has since been released in various iterations on DVD and Blu-ray. Basically, its colour and contrast values look completely different to those of any previous release, and in many instances are so distorted and blown out that what was once one of the most visually stunning films ever created becomes an eyesore.
Back in May, I attended a screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre of an old UK X-cert print (cut to ribbons by the British Board of Film Censors but otherwise in fairly good condition). There, I noted that the print’s colour values corresponded remarkably closely to those on the North American Anchor Bay DVD, arguably the most widely available home viewing option for the film. Some confusion existed as to whether this was an Eastman print or a full-blown IB Technicolor affair, the latter being the version that is said to most closely represent Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s intentions as regards the film’s look.
As per a post at AV Maniacs, New York-based Anthology Film Archives will be screening in September what appears to be the same print that I saw, describing it as a “rare Technicolor print”. For the time being, I’m going to take this as tentative confirmation that what I saw in Glasgow is, broadly speaking, how the film was meant to look… at least, taking into consideration variables such as the setup at the GFT and the usual wear and tear of time (although I believe one of the greatest assets of IB Technicolor prints is their long shelf life). Needless to say, I await eyewitness reports of the AFA screening with great interest.
In the meantime, Vincent Pereira recently informed me of a discussion at the Cinemageddon forum (user account required to view) regarding this year’s Italian BD release, minted from the 2007 remaster:
It’s a HD Master processed by Technicolor and yes, supervised by DP Luciano Tovoli, but on reliable and important forums of Italian Cinema is said that Tovoli himself is not quite satisfied and doesn’t appreciate the color of this HD Master…
Well, this is indeed interesting. Vincent has an interesting theory as to what precisely went wrong, which I’m going to reprint here because I feel the issue warrants further investigation:
Weird that he supervised it but “didn’t like the color”. I don’t know what Italian Cinema forums this poster was referring to (and since I don’t speak Italian I wouldn’t be able to read them anyway), but my guess- and this goes back to something I’ve theorized since you first posted images from the DVD versions of this master- is that something went wrong during a conversion. If SUSPIRIA was an actual 2K scan with full film 4:4:4 color space (essentially, a Digital Intermediate), something could have gone wrong in the conversion to “standard” High-Definition 1080P 4:2:0 color space. We’ve seen similar issues on some Blu-rays of DI-sourced films already in terms of color values going out of whack. I can’t imagine Tovoli sitting in that transfer suite, supervising something he didn’t like all along. What I can imagine is Tovoli supervising something that looked right uncompressed with the full 4:4:4 color space, and then something went terribly wrong when it was downconverted to 4:2:0.
This certainly sounds plausible to me, although obviously we’re only receiving this information second- or even third-hand, so it’s certainly possible that Tovoli’s feelings have been misreported. That said, the possibility that the film’s director of photography is displeased with the look of the HD master actually alleviates my concerns to a degree, because (a) it’s a relief to know that a multi-award-winning cinematographer didn’t approve this mess and (b) it gives me more hope that, at some point in the future, the film will be revisited and the problems rectified.
I can’t claim to have any knowledge of 4:4:4 to 4:2:0 conversion and precisely how much potential exists for the values to go awry during the process, but it’s the best explanation I’ve heard yet as to how the master could have turned out so wrong. I does, however, make me wonder just how bad the quality control must have been if whoever was responsible for the conversion didn’t notice the discrepancies. Then again, this restoration seems to have had slack QC at many stages in the production chain, given the proliferation of noticeable DVNR glitches that I pointed out back in March.
That said, one issue that I doubt could be explained by an error in the conversion of the colour space is a discrepancy that occurs during the final shots, where Suzy (Jessica Harper) exits the burning academy in the rain. On the Anchor Bay and older Eagle Pictures DVDs, not to mention the UK X-cert IB Technicolor print, the palette is fairly naturalistic. On the HD remaster, the whole thing is tinted a very pronounced red (see the shots attached to this post). Assuming Tovoli did sit in on the restoration process, he presumably must have signed off on this little piece of revisionism.