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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New interview with Dreyer historian Casper Tybjerg
  • New visual essay on Dreyer's camera work and editing by film historian David Bordwell
  • New English intertitle translation

Master of the House

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Carl Th. Dreyer
1925 | 111 Minutes | Licensor: Palladium

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #706
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 22, 2014
Review Date: April 13, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

Before he got up close and personal with Joan of Arc, the Danish cinema genius Carl Theodor Dreyer fashioned this finely detailed, ahead-of-its-time examination of domestic life. In this heartfelt story of a housewife who, with the help of a wily nanny, turns the tables on her tyrannical husband, Dreyer finds lightness and humor; it's a deft comedy of revenge that was an enormous box-office success and is considered an early example of feminism on-screen. Constructed with the director's customary meticulousness and stirring sense of justice, Master of the House is a jewel of silent cinema.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Master of the House receives a dual-format Blu-ray/DVD release from Criterion. The new 1080p/60i high-definition digital transfer is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its aspect ratio of 1.33:1. A standard-definition version is presented on the included dual-layer DVD.

The digital transfer itself is exceptional, about as good as one could hope for. It looks natural, renders film grain effectively, doesn’t present any sort of artifact or issue, and generally offers a clean and stable picture. Object detail does vary, though I believe it has to do with differing sources. Most early sequences are a bit fuzzy, but the latter half of the film delivers a sharp, highly detailed image that delivers great depth and textures. Contrast is fine, with nice shifts in gray levels, and blacks are rich and inky, and allow for excellent shadow delineation. The transfer is interlaced to accommodate the frame rate but there are no noticeable issues of ghosting or jagged edges on either the DVD or Blu-ray. Overall the high-def digital transfer itself delivers the film in a natural, filmic manner.

The DVD itself also offers a fairly sharp image, though compression is a bit more of an issue. As well, contrast isn’t as sharp and tonal shifts are a bit clunkier. Black levels are fine, though, and shadow detail is still good. It doesn’t come off as sharp or clean as the Blu-ray’s transfer, but upscaled it still looks very good.

What really needs to be commended, however, is the restoration work. Surprisingly most of the film was sourced from a duplicate negative, with a few instances coming from “other source materials” as it’s indicated in the booklet. The booklet also states how much work went into the restoration, with 3200 hours going into removing dirt, scratches, and stains, and another 50 hours going into correcting frame jumps. It all shows and considering the age of the film and the likely condition of the materials, the film does come off looking rather amazing. Faint scratches are still present, and there appears to be some odd creases/marks on the side of the frame at times. Also, switches between sources are somewhat obvious as the quality slightly degrades with what appear to be seams showing up at the top or bottom of the frame.

But these are all ultimately very minor quibbles and the image is extraordinarily clean. Mixed with the stellar digital transfer Criterion’s presentation exceeds all expectations.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed 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 silent film is accompanied by a new stereo score composed by Gillian B. Anderson and performed by Sara Davis Buechner. It is presented in lossless PCM on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD. It’s a rich, clear presentation, with excellent range and depth, but the score is a simple accompaniment to the film and doesn’t strive for much, simply just trying to go along with the film but never shine over it.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Supplements are very slim, starting with a 15-minute interview with film scholar Casper Tybjerg, who talks about Master of the House and its place in Dreyer’s work. He covers the play it’s based on, “The Tyrant’s Fall,” and how Dreyer adapted it to screen. He apparently cut out a number of things from the play, but there were also scenes filmed that were ultimately cut, such as a subplot involving the cuckoo clock that appears prominently in the film, and scenes of Viktor at work (these exist only in stills, which we see here.) He also explains how the film’s popularity in France because of its realism led to Dreyer making The Passion of Joan of Arc. In all he just covers a little about the film’s presentation of “women’s work,” its production history, and its success, but Tybjerg keeps it interesting and cuts out any fluff.

We then get a visual essay by David Bordwell. This feature runs 23-minutes and offers a fascinating overview of the film’s visual style and how Dreyer tried to go against the accepted norm in presenting interiors in Danish films of the time, called the “tableau approach.” This consisted of long shots that which allowed actors to move around on screen. Dreyer instead would fill his “chamber drama” with multiple edits (apparently there are around 1100 cuts in the film,) angles, and points of view. He dissects a number of a scenes, explaining how Dreyer keeps us aware of our location within the tiny apartment, and then, with examples of later films, how he would carry his experimentation in this film over to others, even in his sound work. It’s a wonderfully done feature, giving a fairly decent crash course on Dreyer’s visual style.

And that’s it for on disc features, with the only remaining extra being Mark Le Fanu’s included essay in the booklet, which nicely expands on Bordwell’s on-disc essay.

As a note Criterion only offers one set of intertitles, which are newly created English ones, even replacing a newspaper clipping with a digitally alter English presentation (a note from Karen is still presented in Danish with English subtitles.) Tybjerg explains how the film was originally released with Danish titles, but in the States it offered English intertitles that were completely different translations of those Danish ones. Criterion’s intertitles are apparently straight English translations of the original Danish ones. Unfortunately Criterion has not included the original Danish titles, or (at least for the sake of curiosity) the altered English ones, either of which seems like a no-brainer thing to add to the release. Admittedly, if the Danish ones were even an option I probably would have stuck with the English ones anyways as I’m not a fan of subtitles over intertitles, but the having choice would have been nice.

Though what we get is good it all feels very slim, not even reaching 40-minutes.

4/10

CLOSING

A bit pricey for what we get in the way of supplements (though those who want the film on DVD only still have the option of a cheaper DVD-only version) but the transfer is exceptional. I recommend it, though probably during a half-price sale.


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