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Criterion on their Solaris DVD

Nostalghia.com wishes to thank Criterion (in particular, Issa and Stephanie) for taking the time to reply to our nerdish questions. This interview is © Nostalghia.com; it may not be reproduced without the express permission of Trond T. and Jan B.; it may be quoted in part, provided credit is given to Nostalghia.com.

November 13, 2002

The much-anticipated Criterion Edition of Solaris (DVD, R1) is scheduled for release in just a couple of weeks, and excitement is mounting. Issa Clubb and Stephanie Friedman, both intimately involved in its production, respond to our mainly technical questions in the following Q & A.

Nostalghia.com: Did you fly to Russia to make the transfer?

Criterion: No, we shipped the film from Moscow.

What were the source elements used? Who owns them and where were they found?

We used Mosfilm's low-contrast 35-mm element.

Who was your contact, that opened up the vaults to you? Has Criterion been known to the Russians previously?

The previous 2 questions have a joint answer: Our agents in that relationship have been Joan Borsten and Oleg Vidov of Films by Jove.

How did you find out about the outtakes? I.e., did the Russians know already ("Yes, yes, we have 9 outtakes. Here. Take them!") or did someone start looking at their request and only then came up with 9 bits? Or were the 9 outtakes taken straight from the longer First Cut of the movie which still exists?

Originally we found that Naum Kleiman, who is usually considered the premier Eisenstein scholar, had the outtakes in his archives. Then he did some digging at Gosfilmofond and found that they had a better quality print of the entire original version. Ultimately we decided that the differences were not great enough to merit including the entire original version on a third disc, which would have added ten or twenty dollars to the cost of the set. Especially considering that it's not a "director's cut" but rather the opposite.

Is the master Criterion is using at all based on the old D1 master used by Image Entertainment for their old laserdisk?

We do have a copy of that master and referred to it, but we didn't base our transfer on it.

Were there even more materials available in an unedited and/or unsynchronised-sound condition?

Not that I know of.

How did you decide on timing/colour balance? Did you view a print of some established authority? How does one select such an authoritative print for viewing? Did you work with any of the crew (Yusov?) during the transfer to check the look? Is this something you would do in general anyway? Who was overseeing the transfer, and where was it done?

Again, a joint answer: In the case of Solaris we weren't really satisfied with any of the source materials we had at our disposal, and so we did a lot of research, speaking with Russian cinematographers and film scholars, notably with Yusov to a certain extent. One thing that came to light in these discussions is that Soviet black and white film stock of the era tended to degrade, attaining tints that were not originally there. So some of the black and white footage, which home video viewers might be used to seeing with a slight color tonality, has been rendered in pure black and white. The print from the original version bears this out as well. I think this is the primary thing that people will notice as being different from previous transfers, other than overall sharpness. (Footnote: Color timing, specifically, is something that happens in the stage of printing the color film positives from the camera negative and so doesn't really apply here. Color balance is the appropriate term here.)

How did you arrange for the interviews included as extras? Did you fly into Russia to conduct these?

Actually, no, a wonderful Russian DP, Anatoly Ivanov, who was already friends with Yusov and Artemyev, conducted them for us in Moscow based on questions we provided. The Bondarchuk interview, in particular, has a very nice look to it.

Who is the copyright holder for Solaris, and how/when did Janus Films/Criterion obtain the DVD rights?

The copyright holder is Mosfilm. Generally we don't discuss the actual nuts and bolts of negotiations.

On other titles: Regarding Andrei Rublov, because of its importance (in lieu of RusCiCo's shorter version, which is now the version seen in the whole world outside the USA), are you doing a new anamorphic transfer of it? We note that you are re-doing your older versions of Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.

While I don't deny that this could be a worthwhile thing to do, it's not something that's planned for the near future.

What is the status of Ivan's Childhood? Is this project still on?

Yes, we still have the rights to Ivan's Childhood and expect to release it at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later. We announced it as "Coming Soon" at one point, but unfortunately we confirmed problems with our master. We'll have to retransfer, which as I'm sure you can imagine can be a lengthy process.

Can we expect any other Tarkovsky titles from Criterion, such as Stalker? If you came up with the first version of Stalker (the version that got ruined in the lab) - or at least large portions of it (these elements actually still exist) - and the outtakes - you would probably have a small bestseller on your hands...

Unfortunately Ivan's Childhood is the only other Tarkovsky we currently have the rights to, besides Rublov of course. I would love to be able to put out a special edition of Stalker. I just saw it again on the big screen at the Walter Reade retrospective and it really is a masterpiece. But currently there's no way for us to do that.

December 11, 2002

We have received letters from several readers who have noticed a difference between the way RusCiCo renders the monochrome sequences of Solaris and the way they are rendered by Criterion. In the Criterion Edition, monochrome sequences appear in vibrant black & white [ screenshot ], while RusCiCo, on the other hand, shows them with a beautiful blue tint [ screenshot ]. Some ask if Criterion's transfer is not a disservice to some specific aesthetic choice of Tarkovsky's, knowing his deliberate use of color reduction schemes in Nostalghia and The Sacrifice. We asked Criterion to comment on the issue. Their response is as follows:
From: Criterionco/Issa Clubb
To  : Nostalghia.com
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 17:34:45 -0500
Subject: Solaris Tinting Issue

In the film-to-tape transfer of Solaris, we were faced with a dilemma 
regarding the black-and-white sequences. Contrary to what viewers have 
seen on previous video versions, the black-and-white sequences in the 
actual film elements do not have a pronounced blue cast. Creating a 
monochromatic blue tint in those scenes would have required a 
significant alteration of the filmed image. Before taking such a 
drastic step, we always seek guidance from those in a position to know 
more than we do. We consulted numerous Russian film scholars and 
cinematographers, but in this case, the final authority was the film's 
director of photography, Vadim Yusov. He told us that the scenes were 
shot in black and white and that no additional blue tints had been 
added to the scenes in question.

There were a few notable exceptions to this, where the film element did 
in fact have a darker, more pronounced blue cast. These all involved 
the representation of video screens in a larger space, and we did our 
best to accurately represent what was on the element in those cases.

We can only speculate as to how or why the blue tints have appeared in 
previous versions. A number of the experts we contacted suggested that 
the blue cast in positive prints may have resulted from printing 
black-and-white footage on color film stock. Another contributing 
factor could be that the black-and-white material had faded toward 
blue, something we learned Soviet film stock of the era has tended to 
do. There has been one recent transfer made from the same elements that 
Criterion used, but clearly the technicians decided to exaggerate the 
blue cast. After consulting with Mr. Yusov and numerous Russian film 
scholars and other cinematographers, we are persuaded that that was the 
wrong choice.

During the recent San Francisco press screening of the Kino new print [attended by Trond], this topic was an object of scrutiny. Close (but subjective) viewing suggested the following concerning the monochrome sequences: (a) The RusCiCo DVD transfer appears overly(?) blue; no sequence in the recent Kino 35-mm theatrical release has such a pronounced blue tint. Either RusCiCo took artistic liberties, or they have, in ignorance, not paid sufficient attention to gamma issues during the various stages of transfer from source to MPEG2. (b) Some monochrome sequences consist of multiple monochrome scenes edited together. Successive scenes within a single sequence tend to have very different, inconsistent tints (or "temperatures"), varying from almost pure grayscale, to a slight bluish-gray tint, to a greenish tint, to a more washed out grayish yellow. If this plethora of tint schemes was intentional, it is indeed curious that Tarkovsky has never made any mention of it. (c) Whenever black & white projection monitors are imaged using color stock (i.e., within a color scene), objects shown within the monitor frame do have a somewhat bluish character, presumably due to the way color stock responds to this particular kind of scene.  end block

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