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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.55:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French Dolby Digital 3.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary featuring Max Ophuls scholar Susan White
  • "Max Ophuls ou le plaisir de tourner," a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps, featuring interviews with many of Ophuls's collaborators
  • Max by Marcel, a new documentary by Marcel Ophuls about his father and the making of Lola Montès
  • Silent footage of actress Martine Carol demonstrating the various glamorous hairstyles in Lola Montès
  • Theatrical rerelease trailer from Rialto Pictures

Lola Montes


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Max Ophuls
Starring: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Will Quadflieg, Oskar Werner, Ivan Desny, Henry Guisol
1955 | 115 Minutes | Licensor: Les Films du Jeudi

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #503
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 16, 2010
Review Date: February 7, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Lola Montès is a visually ravishing, narratively daring dramatization of the life of the notorious courtesan and showgirl, played by Martine Carol. With his customary cinematographic flourish and, for the first time, vibrant color, Max Ophuls charts Montès's scandalous past through the bombastic ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) of the American circus where she ends up performing. Ophuls's final film, Lola Montès is at once a magnificent romantic melodrama, a meditation on the lurid fascination with celebrity, and a meticulous, one-of-a-kind movie spectacle.

Forum members rate this film 7.5/10

 

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PICTURE

Max Ophuls’ Lola Montès was a critical and financial disaster upon its initial release back in 1955. The film was quickly cut down by the film’s producers in the hopes recouping their investment, the film’s running time shrinking from 114-minutes to 91-minutes. In 1966 producer Pierre Braunberger bought the rights to the film and after finding all of the elements he could he reconstructed the film to 110-minutes, presenting it as the director’s cut, though it still wasn’t Ophuls’ intended vision, despite Braunberger’s best efforts.

In 2008 a new restoration was done, correcting the soundtrack, colours, restoring further sequences, and editing the film closer to Ophuls’ intentions based on his notes. For their release on DVD (and Blu-ray) Criterion presents this version of the film, running 114-minutes, in Ophuls’ preferred aspect ratio of 2.55:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Considering the film’s history the image quality is rather good, though still has its issues. Since I assume the film was put together from various sources the quality does vary. Colours (Ophuls’ first colour film, though sadly his last film before his death) overall are quite strong, looking vibrant and nicely saturated, though skin tones can come off pale and there are some colour separation issues. Blacks also look a little washed and never come off truly black.

Sharpness and detail aren’t altogether that strong and it can look a little soft and blurry at times, but this more than likely has to do with the source materials sine the Blu-ray edition has the same problem. The digital transfer itself is fine, holding up rather well to the Blu-ray edition. There’s some noise in the blacks and the reds, but I didn’t notice any other problems.

There’s some damage present in the film’s print but it’s minimal and never draws attention to itself. But surprisingly the print looks quite good and I assume a lot of work went into the digital restoration.

In all it looks pretty good, any issues present having to do more with the source materials rather than the actual digital transfer.

7/10

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

Ophuls had colour thrown at him by his producers and he did amazingly well with it, creating a visually striking film. He also had stereo thrown at him, which he apparently despised. The booklet mentions the sound restoration was taken from a 4-track magnetic track, which allowed for front left, right, and center as well as rear surround. The notes mention, though, that the rear channel was usually of poor quality and filmmakers rarely use it, which is the case here. So from that we get a Dolby Digital 3.0 stereo sound track limited to the front speakers.

It’s a decent track, though unexceptional. Music sounds pretty good and has some range to it, and dialogue sounds clear and intelligible. There is some movement between the speakers and dialogue does sound to come from the appropriate speakers depending on where the character is positioned on screen. It’s a bit weak as a whole, but perfectly acceptable.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This two-disc set is pretty slim, and is only two-discs because Criterion (thankfully) decided to devote the whole first disc to the film. On the first disc the only supplement we get is an audio commentary by Max Ophuls scholar Susan White. Though it’s apparent she’s reading from notes, which can make it a touch dry at times, it’s a fairly decent track. On top of talking about the film itself, its themes, its title character (though disappointingly never stating what is fact or fiction instead suggesting we read a bio on Lola,) and defending Martine Carol’s performance, she also covers the history of the film, its initial reception, its various versions, and production problems (and if I understood her correctly she seemed to suggest this still isn’t the complete version since some elements were beyond repair.) She covers a lot of technical details, such as how certain tracking shots were done, the soundtrack, and notes on the aspect ratio. Overall it was informative and worth listening to.

Though listed on the package as being on the first disc, the rerelease trailer for the film is not found here and is instead it’s located on the second disc. There is nothing else to be found on the first disc.

The second single-layer disc presents the remaining supplements.

First up is an episode from the French program Cinéastes de notre temps. Running 53-minutes it examines Max Ophuls and his films, shot at a circus and gathering interviews with various people who have worked with him. It’s a decent piece, and as far as I can tell it’s complete (there’s no obvious edits,) though maybe focuses too much on his use of the camera. While it was amusing listening to a camera man express the frustrations he experienced setting up the cameras and moving them in unconventional ways, pretty much calling Ophuls a madman, a good half of the feature covers this and after a bit it does feel repetitive, especially about tracking shots. Past that, though, it gathers interviews with the various actors that worked with Ophuls, collecting their memories and opinions of him (culminating with a montage of sorts) and then moves on to Lola Montès with Martine Carol and Peter Ustinov recalling their experience with the man on the set, and also recalling an amusing anecdote where he was able to one scene in German and then French perfectly, but then doing the scene in English called for 24 takes. Again, parts of it felt repetitive but it’s a decent feature worth viewing, offering a wealth of information on the man and his techniques.

Next is a 2009 32-minute documentary by Marcel Ophuls (son of Max Ophuls) called Max by Marcel. Made up of a new interview with Marcel and then various archival interviews (some of which come from the Cinéastes de notre temps episode found on this disc) it covers some of the various projects that were worked on though never came to be between Madame de… and Lola Montès and then moves on to Lola Montès. Through the interviews the film’s production is thoroughly covered (revealing a few little things I wasn’t completely aware of, like the fact the producers had mafia ties, or Ophuls thought Carol was particularly awful in the lead role) all the way up to its disastrous release. Marcel then talks about his father’s intentions for the film and the (then) new restoration of the film. You can tell that for Marcel the road to the restored version Lola Montès was a long, frustrating one but, he seems happy, calling the whole journey a “wonderful victory over time and imbeciles.” Another excellent feature.

Next up is a short 1-minute clip that appeared on French television in 1958 (though there’s no explanation given as to why) showing Martine Carol hair tests. This silent montage shows some of the various hair styles that Carol wore throughout the film. Somewhat interesting, though a somewhat bizarre inclusion I felt.

The disc then closes with Rialto’s rerelease trailer for the film.

The included booklet has a nice, lengthy essay by Gary Giddens, covering the film, the actual Lola Montez, Ophuls’ representation of her, and the film’s reception. Also included is a rather lengthy note on the restoration and transfer, running a couple of pages, longer than Criterion’s usual notes on their transfers. The film actually opens with its own notes on the restoration but the booklet presents more detailed information.

This is my first time with the film, and though I’m sure if I tried I could track down the other versions of the film, it would have been interesting to have some sort of video presentation on the different versions. Also, I would have liked more on the finished restoration. Otherwise it’s a decent if not loaded edition. Some repetitive material but overall everything is worth going through.

7/10

CLOSING

Despite any reservations possibly hinted at in the review (completely unintentional I must add) I thought this was a lovely release overall. The transfer is about as good as I think it can be, limited by source elements (but still managing to look rather striking at times) and the supplements are quite good, even if more material could have been added. A nice release from Criterion.


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