With this sublimely bittersweet tale of romantic longing, director David Lean left behind the British soundstage to capture in radiant Technicolor the sun-splashed glory of Venice at the height of summer. In a tour de force of fearless vulnerability, Katharine Hepburn embodies the conflicting emotions that stir the heart of a lonely, middle-aged American tourist who is forced to confront her deep-seated insecurities when she is drawn into a seemingly impossible affair with a charming Italian shopkeeper (Rossano Brazzi) amid the ancient city’s canals and piazzas. Lean’s personal favorite among his own films, Summertime is an exquisitely tender evocation of the magic and melancholy of a fleeting, not-quite-fairy-tale romance.
The Criterion Collection finally gets around to upgrading their 1998 DVD edition for David Lean’s Summertime to Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. Criterion has performed an all-new 4K restoration sourced from the original 35mm negative. The notes indicate that some duplicate shots were inserted into the negative so the 35mm yellow, magenta, and cyan separation masters were used for those portions.
After being stuck with Criterion’s horribly dated DVD presentation for a couple of decades it was a revelation seeing the film now through this new presentation. The image is far crisper, cleaner, and clearer compared to the old standard-definition presentation and features a more film-like texture thanks to the improved grain rendering and beautifully saturated colours. Finer details really feel to pop from the screen, long shots of the crowds in the plaza delivering enough information to allow you to even make out the stone in the walkways. Aside from the prime source materials these improvements can also be attributed to the base scan and final digital presentation, the encode doing an impeccable job in rendering the grain and making for another solid one from Criterion as of late. The restoration work has also cleaned the image up to an incredible degree with very little damage of note remaining. What is still there is limited to a spec on the edge of the frame, a minor scratch here and there, mild fluctuations in the colours, and what appear to be hairs in the gate, all of which ends up being easy to overlook.
Colours lean warmer with whites maybe leaning more of a very light cream, but it perfectly captures the setting and I didn’t feel it looked all that different from Criterion’s DVD. It also doesn’t impact other areas, blues still looking blue and blacks remaining inky. The film is a bit darker compared to the old presentation though I felt this was ultimately better. Shadow detail can be limited in some of the film’s many darker evening shots along the water, but you can still see the action so to speak. A 4K UHD presentation with higher dynamic range could have more than likely helped in pulling out those extra details.
In all I though this looked absolutely fantastic. It’s a remarkable looking restoration aided by a solid digital presentation. I guess the long wait ended up being more than worth it.
The film’s monaural soundtrack is presented in lossless PCM 1.0. I ended up being impressed; despite its age the audio still sounds incredibly sharp, and it shows decent range. Dialogue sounds clear with nice fidelity and the film’s score shows impressive range, keeping clean during the higher moments.
Disappointingly Criterion hasn’t put together what one would call a stacked special edition but compared to their previous near-barebones DVD this thing appears loaded. Starting things off is a television interview with director David Lean, recorded in 1963 for the CBC. During the 22-minute discussion Lean first talks about how he was not allowed to see films as a child, only having them described to him by others. He wouldn’t see his first film until the age of 14, the film in question sounding to have been The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks. He then talks about his early work in film, from being a camera operator (where he proudly shows off how he can still crank at 16 frames-per-second) to working in “the cutting room” and how he was fired by Alexander Korda from one project. Eventually the discussion turns to what it’s like directing an epic biographical picture like Lawrence of Arabia and how film is a “director’s medium” in Lean’s opinion. I don’t recall anything around Summertime but it’s a great conversation and one of the few interviews I’ve seen with the man.
Melanie Williams next records a new 22-minute interview and she starts off by addressing criticisms thrown at Lean through the years, all of which boil down to some accusing him of being a “cold craftsman.” She disagrees with this assessment and feels big emotions are clearly present in his films, even his epics. She then turns the focus towards Summertime, its central characters, and the film’s depiction of loneliness as examples of Lean showing emotions in his films, and even goes a little over the origins of the production. I was expecting a commentary for this release to be honest, but Williams provides a decent academic contribution to the release.
Criterion then digs up a 13-minute excerpt from a 1988 audio interview with cinematographer Jack Hildyard. I could not locate my disc for the release to verify but based on my notes around it I’m 100% positive it’s from the same audio interview Indicator includes on their edition of The Beast Must Die. This excerpt features Hildyard discussing his early career and his sharing what he has learned around lighting for black-and-white films and colour films. The last minute or so then features him talking about Lean and mentioning Summertime.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer, the exact same standard-definition one found on the original DVD. For the included insert Criterion drops David Denby’s rather short essay from the previous release and replaces it with a lengthier and more insightful one by critic Stephanie Zacharek, covering the film’s dealing with loneliness through Hepburn’s character and others in the film.
Again, not the loaded special edition I would have expected but at least what’s here is all worth going through.
One of Lean’s more overlooked films finally receives a new shot of life thanks to Criterion’s beautiful new presentation.