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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary: a conversation with late director Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese
  • Painting with Light, a new 27-minute documentary on Jack Cardiff and Black Narcissus by Craig McCall, created for this release
  • A collection of rare behind-the-scenes production stills, including shots not used in the final version of the film
  • Original theatrical trailer

Black Narcissus

2001 Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Sabu , David Farrar, Flora Robson, Esmond Knight, Jean Simmons, Kathleen Byron, Jenny Laird, Judith Furse, May Hallatt, Eddie Whaley, Jr., Shaun Noble, Nancy Roberts
1947 | 101 Minutes

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #93 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: January 30, 2001
Review Date: September 4, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Plagued by uncertainties and worldly desires, five Protestant missionary nuns, led by Deborah Kerr's Sister Clodagh, struggle to establish a school in the desolate Himalayas. All the elements of cinematic arts are perfectly fused in Powell and Pressburger's fascinating study of the age-old conflict between the spirit and the flesh, set against the grandeur of the snowcapped peaks of Kanchenjunga. Criterion is proud to present Black Narcissus in a new Special Edition.

Forum members rate this film 8.5/10

 

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collectionís original DVD edition for Powell and Pressburgerís Black Narcissus presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc.

Where revisiting Criterionís original DVD of The Red Shoes recently proved shocking only because the transfer found on there wasnít as bad as I remembered, revisiting Black Narcissus proved shocking as well, but this time because it was actually worse than I had remembered.

The source materials themselves are problematic, specifically with colour separation and pulsating. The colours are constantly fluctuating between hues of blue, red, and yellow, and you can almost always make out reddish or yellowish highlights around objects. The print has been restored but it still presents a number of flaws which are mostly limited to specs of debris. The Blu-ray edition still has some of these problems but itís still nowhere near as bad.

This DVD is most harmed by its rather bizarre transfer, though. The most distracting element is that it appears to jump from progressive to interlaced throughout. Criterion has done things like this before on other early DVD releases (and I canít say why) and when it happens it really hampers the image. Though the progressive parts arenít that great, presenting a fairly fuzzy picture laced with some noticeable noise, the interlaced aspects present plenty of ghosting, trailing and jagged edges, especially distracting during moments with quick movements. The transfer also appears to have instances of edge-enhancement, though this could be remnants of the problems with colour separation.

In the end itís a distracting, rather poor transfer from Criterion. Their new Blu-ray is the way to go in this regard.

5/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The DVD presents a weak but acceptable Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. Dialogue sounds good and is easy to hear, but the music can be quite harsh when it tries to reach for the highs. There is a little bit of noise in the background but itís not distracting. Weak but average.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Starting out the decent set of supplements here is audio commentary featuring Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell, which was recorded in 1988 for the original Criterion laserdisc for the film. The two have unfortunately been recorded separately (common during Criterionís laserdisc days and early DVD days) with Criterion editing it together. Powell, as expected, recalls the filming and the more technical aspects of the film, commenting on the actors and the crew, particularly actresses Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, as well as director of photography Jack Cardiff. Scorsese on the other hand offers a more analytical element to the track. The films of Powell and Pressburger have been an enormous influence over his films, and he talks about all the things he finds wonderful and striking about this film and all of their films in general. Though dead spaces become more frequent during the last 30-minutes or so of the track, itís fairly packed and quite illuminating, certainly worth listening to, or even worth revisiting if youíve already heard it before.

Next is a great piece, Painting with Light, a 27-minute documentary on Jack Cardiff and his Academy Award winning photography for the film. Featuring interviews with Cardiff, Martin Scorsese, Kathleen Byron, Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, Ian Christie, and others, the feature extensively covers Cardiff?s use of light and the Technicolor process, even giving us some great examples and demonstrations as to how Technicolor works, which includes breaking down how the camera works. Cardiff talks about some painters that have influenced his work (Rembrandt and Van Gogh just being a couple) and Byron attributes at least half of her performance to Cardiffís use of lighting. Itís a great piece and a strong edition by Criterion.

Exclusive to this release (as it was omitted for some reason from the new Blu-ray edition) is a photo archive presenting a number of production and behind-the-scenes stills. Thereís also a fair number of photos presenting deleted shots from the film. Text notes are also found throughout.

The edition then comes with an insert with a short essay on the film by Dave Kehr.

In all Criterionís new Blu-ray edition tops this one (including more interviews and even a documentary on the making of the film) but this edition is still notable for the photo gallery that doesnít appear on the new edition.

6/10

CLOSING

It should be no surprise I would steer everyone to the new DVD or Blu-ray editions from Criterion over this one. The photo gallery didnít make it for whatever reason but it still contains the commentary and documentary from this one, along with some new material, and the new transfer tops this rather ghastly one. In all itís always been a fairly bland and disappointing release.


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