World of Wong Kar Wai

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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senseabove
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#676 Post by senseabove » Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:39 pm

As is too often the case there's been some further back and forth between me writing this up and posting it, but...

I don't think considering the ethics of archival practice is more silly or ahistorical than being unhappy that studios junked negatives for films that were assumed disposable. At the time, their disposability was assumed. That doesn't mean I have to condone—or shouldn't mourn—the practice now.

FWIW, listening to The Dead Pixel podcast, it's pretty clear that Kline is faithfully auteurist, not archivist in his evaluations of what is "correct": the director, or in their absence, those closest to the director, and their current will or their memory of their past will are assumed to take precedent. But the fact is, this is a defacto archival, not just the "director's cut." That's where the questionable archival ethics comes in, imo. Criterion functions closer to a university press than a popular press, and the concerns for the two are different.

One aspect of that, and another tack on the "communal work" issue that distinguishes film from the famous literary examples, is that a restoration/variorum edition of film is not something a sole scholar can undertake and, assuming rights and funding are available, publish. Compare this amateur archivist who compiled the complete short works of Fitzgerald. The collection isn't for published sale, but the compiler was able to access the material with no degradation in quality between the original publications, any variations, and the version(s) included, even including those stories suppressed from republication by family members but which were still available in the Library of Congress.

Nothing comparable is feasible, or even imaginable, really, for film: the public can't waltz into a library and find the original version of Fallen Angels in a quality on par with the newly released, revised version. Furthermore, every restoration of a film these days is increasingly likely to be the last, whether due to the effort required, the available film elements, or market forces, so the impetus to archive them according to contemporary standards is even stronger. WKW was unwilling to source the missing or damaged portions of Happy Together this time and instead recut it; is it more likely now that those portions will be entirely unavailable, even from inferior sources, should it get another restoration without WKW's involvement in another decade?

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knives
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#677 Post by knives » Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:44 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:22 pm
knives wrote:In famous cases yes, but in most cases no. For every multiple editions available book you find there’s at least six you don’t.
Speaking of which, I’d be curious to know if the ten-book edition of Paradise Lost has ever been published commercially in the last century or more outside of facsimiles of the first few editions meant for scholarly use. This seems like the signal instance of a work whose later authorial revisions are treated as the sole official text 100% across the board.
I’ve been reading a lot of medieval scientific texts lately and the most interesting example of this I’ve encountered is how five of the books from Gersonides’ War of the Lord has been dropped in nearly printed every edition leaving over just the first 150 or so chapters of the fifth book.

The humour comes from my picking up the JPS complete edition only for those chapters to not be included. Sometimes alterations really do make a whole new work.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#678 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:46 pm

“sensesbove” wrote: I don't think considering the ethics of archival practice is more silly or ahistorical
I don’t think considering the ethics of archival practises is silly or ahistorical, either.

You’re now the second person who’s mistaken me for talking about availability. My posts are addressing artistic practise and the nature of revisions.

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soundchaser
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#679 Post by soundchaser » Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:53 pm

I think the argument some would make (and I'm sympathetic to it) is that WKW is not the sole person who created the film - he may have had a final say in a lot of places, but the distorted cinematography of this new Fallen Angels, for example, would probably not have passed by Christopher Doyle without a fight. That's what I was trying to discuss with regard to material conditions (and I made a mistake in focusing on release rather than creation). As I said, publishers put a small wrinkle into this argument.

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senseabove
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#680 Post by senseabove » Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:54 pm

Sorry, I didn't mistake you—I was trying to separate the artistic ethics from the archival ethics[,with an eye on the particularities of film], albeit perhaps a little clumsily and by emphasizing that we're discussing WKW's artistic decisions within a de facto archival context.

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Altair
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#681 Post by Altair » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:07 pm

senseabove wrote:
Thu Mar 04, 2021 5:39 pm
Criterion functions closer to a university press than a popular press, and the concerns for the two are different.
Not to get off-topic, but I don't think this is true: Criterion is explicitly a profit-making company (nothing wrong with that) and clearly releases some films, not because they need 'rescuing' or because they're obscure and hard to see, but because they'll be profitable or, using the Criterion brand, helps recontextualise a populist film as worthy of critical consideration. In a sense Criterion more resembles Penguin Classics (they publish Ian Fleming under the 'Modern Classics' banner for instance).

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senseabove
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#682 Post by senseabove » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:36 pm

But crucially, Criterion is investing time and resources into archival and restoration and, usually, the creation of supporting material that puts films in a historical, frequently scholarly context in a way that Penguin Modern Classics isn't. Maybe you get an intro from a popular contemporary author, but you're not getting archival featurettes, alternative and variant versions (which this set includes some of!), making-of documentaries, newly commissioned interviews with artists, historians, and scholars, etc. Criterion/Janus is a profit-making company that releases popular releases, and a part of that profit goes to fund their unprofitable restoration work in spite of its unprofitableness, which I don't think is really similar to Penguin Classics. If I had to pick one, I'd say their closest publishing corollary in practice would be Dalkey Archive or New Directions.

But again, the greater part of my point is that archival practices for film and literature are distinct, and the concerns pertinent in one field cannot be carried unmodified to the other.
Last edited by senseabove on Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#683 Post by MichaelB » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:36 pm

The BFI is closer to a university press in that it operates under an explicit cultural charter, although their video arm is still expected to show a profit.

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Altair
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#684 Post by Altair » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:42 pm

senseabove wrote:
Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:36 pm
But crucially, Criterion is investing time and resources into archival and restoration and, usually, the creation of supporting material that puts films in a historical, frequently scholarly context in a way that Penguin Modern Classics isn't. Maybe you get an intro from a popular contemporary author, but you're not getting archival featurettes, alternative and variant versions (which this set includes some of!), making-of documentaries, newly commissioned interviews with artists, historians, and scholars, etc. Criterion/Janus is a profit-making company that releases popular releases, and a part of that profit goes to fund their unprofitable restoration work in spite of its unprofitableness, which I don't think is really similar to Penguin Classics. If I had to pick one, I'd say their closest publishing corollary in practice would be Dalkey Archive or New Directions.

But again, the greater part of my point is that archival practices for film and literature are distinct, and the concerns pertinent in one field cannot be carried unmodified to the other.
But isn't in the irony of the Wong Kar Wai collection that it actually falls more into the 'populist' side of the ledger? All of these extras, plus the restorations themselves, are attempts to created added value and a way of differentiating this collection from previous releases. Certainly some of Criterion's more obscure releases have been critiqued for lacking extras. And Penguin Classic' releases of classical texts for instance, will have professorial commentary, appendices for varients, annotations etc. Maybe not to the same extent as this boxset, but I think taken as companies overall they don't seem to me that dissimilar. Although I would agree New Directions would also be another comparator.

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Mr Sausage
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World of Wong Kar Wai

#685 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:44 pm

soundchaser wrote:I think the argument some would make (and I'm sympathetic to it) is that WKW is not the sole person who created the film - he may have had a final say in a lot of places, but the distorted cinematography of this new Fallen Angels, for example, would probably not have passed by Christopher Doyle without a fight. That's what I was trying to discuss with regard to material conditions (and I made a mistake in focusing on release rather than creation). As I said, publishers put a small wrinkle into this argument.
I suppose. But this doesn’t distinguish between an artist exercising control over a creative project and an artist wresting control of it away from others.

If a director has final control over the look of the finished product, he or she is free to ignore the wishes of the cinematographer when it comes to colour grading during post production. I’m sure many have. Is this unethical? If not, why is it unethical to do the same thing, only later?

People are conflating “ought to have consulted person x because the film would look and sound better” with “ought to have consulted person x because said person has a legal or moral right to be consulted on creative matters pertaining to the final product”.

If Wong Kar-Wai did not have ultimate control over the editing and colour grading during post-production of a film, and was not free to listen to or disregard advice as he saw fit, then there might be a point here. But if that isn’t the case, what’s changed, ethically?

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World of Wong Kar Wai

#686 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Mar 04, 2021 7:05 pm

Altair wrote:
senseabove wrote:
Thu Mar 04, 2021 6:36 pm
But crucially, Criterion is investing time and resources into archival and restoration and, usually, the creation of supporting material that puts films in a historical, frequently scholarly context in a way that Penguin Modern Classics isn't. Maybe you get an intro from a popular contemporary author, but you're not getting archival featurettes, alternative and variant versions (which this set includes some of!), making-of documentaries, newly commissioned interviews with artists, historians, and scholars, etc. Criterion/Janus is a profit-making company that releases popular releases, and a part of that profit goes to fund their unprofitable restoration work in spite of its unprofitableness, which I don't think is really similar to Penguin Classics. If I had to pick one, I'd say their closest publishing corollary in practice would be Dalkey Archive or New Directions.

But again, the greater part of my point is that archival practices for film and literature are distinct, and the concerns pertinent in one field cannot be carried unmodified to the other.
But isn't in the irony of the Wong Kar Wai collection that it actually falls more into the 'populist' side of the ledger? All of these extras, plus the restorations themselves, are attempts to created added value and a way of differentiating this collection from previous releases. Certainly some of Criterion's more obscure releases have been critiqued for lacking extras. And Penguin Classic' releases of classical texts for instance, will have professorial commentary, appendices for varients, annotations etc. Maybe not to the same extent as this boxset, but I think taken as companies overall they don't seem to me that dissimilar. Although I would agree New Directions would also be another comparator.
What’s being overlooked, too, is that texts from Penguin or Oxford World Classics are usually freshly edited texts as well, and that’s no small thing.

So what you often get is a newly edited version of the text, a textual introduction, a general introduction by a scholar running 20-30 pages, a chronology, a set of notes, and then depending on the book, textual variants, maps, family trees, introductions or notes from previous versions, sometimes poems by the author or things written by the family. You get a decent scholarly apparatus without ballooning the book.

It’s a lot of work to put those together, more than has been acknowledged above.

Criterion probably most resembles Norton Critical Editions, which provide substantial historical and critical commentary, sometimes larger than the main text itself. But even they are not archival. Norton is a regular publishing company and these books are designed for students.

What Criterion doesn’t resemble is scholarly editing projects aiming to establish authoritative textual versions meant to be the standard for scholars in the field, and which are not priced for consumers nor sold in regular bookshops.

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knives
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#687 Post by knives » Thu Mar 04, 2021 7:15 pm

A simple example of your point is that Penguin has a house rule of how to present quotation marks using this ‘ rather than this “.

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senseabove
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#688 Post by senseabove » Thu Mar 04, 2021 7:45 pm

I think that, at the very least, there's an imperative to maintain a version(s) of the work as it was most widely experienced. Period. An excellent example is Red River including both the pre-release cut that was the only version available on home video for decades and the theatrical cut that was shown to contemporary audiences at the time of release. Even if the theatrical version is the "preferred" version, it's significant and relevant to include both versions, as the "wrong" version was how it was experienced by a great many people for a very long time.

And I'm not dismissing or minimizing textual editing. I'll re-emphasize my point that film restoration is, by the collaborative nature of production and the precarity of the medium itself, a larger undertaking than a new edition of a text, and a more time-sensitive one in all but the most complicated and convoluted literary cases, and so getting it right during any given effort is more crucial. It seems significantly less likely that a future scholar will not be able to return to the archive donated to some University library and reassess its contents for a new, more robust critical edition of work that was at the time and in decades after among the most influential work in its artistic field, while it is significantly more likely that we will never see another restoration of Fallen Angels. Furthermore, the fact is that this version of the films and Criterion's release of them, in practice, is creating the version that will be used in scholarly settings. Outside of a few academic venues that might program a vintage 35mm print in lieu of a DCP, these are the versions that will be seen in both popular and scholarly settings, and yes, I think it's at best irresponsible for Criterion to pretend that's not the case.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#689 Post by FrauBlucher » Sun Mar 21, 2021 10:45 am


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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#690 Post by cowboydan » Tue Mar 23, 2021 2:04 am

Is it strange that the virtual screening is still happening on the Film at Lincoln Center site and this boxset is out tomorrow?

I remember Nova Media said they will announce their set once the film retrospective has finished, which I thought would've happened by now.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#691 Post by yoloswegmaster » Wed Mar 24, 2021 11:33 am

The burnt negatives for 'Happy Together':

Image

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#692 Post by soundchaser » Wed Mar 24, 2021 1:54 pm

Just tip in those unrecoverable scenes from a previous transfer! The film was already released on Blu-Ray; there's really no excuse here.

(The more I've been thinking about WKW's supposed justification for changing these and presenting them as "restorations," the more upset I'm getting. The way he so cavalierly writes "I have changed the format to CinemaScope" is infuriating. Possibly a sign I need to step back.)

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#693 Post by mhofmann » Wed Mar 24, 2021 3:42 pm

Oh my. Were they archived in these paper boxes? :cry:

Either way, this is absolutely no excuse to not pull the dialog from another source. WKW is cheating here.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#694 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:05 pm


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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#695 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:17 pm

Some people, having first encountered and forever adored “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love” on DVDs that stretched the aspect ratios to 1.85:1, saw the boxier 1.66:1 frames to which these films had finally been returned as a kind of betrayal, similar to how you might resent an old Polaroid for suggesting that you’ve been gaslit by your own wistful imagination.
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#696 Post by The Elegant Dandy Fop » Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:27 pm

mhofmann wrote:
Wed Mar 24, 2021 3:42 pm
Oh my. Were they archived in these paper boxes? :cry:

Either way, this is absolutely no excuse to not pull the dialog from another source. WKW is cheating here.
Keeping film reels in cases that are then stored in a cardboard box is incredibly common.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#697 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:44 pm

The Elegant Dandy Fop wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:27 pm
mhofmann wrote:
Wed Mar 24, 2021 3:42 pm
Oh my. Were they archived in these paper boxes? :cry:

Either way, this is absolutely no excuse to not pull the dialog from another source. WKW is cheating here.
Keeping film reels in cases that are then stored in a cardboard box is incredibly common.
True. Others who are more knowledgeable can chime in, but IIRC, archival film materials nowadays are usually stored in inert plastic containers with air pores/slits, all to avoid any further chemical reactions like vinegar syndrome where applicable. That's really all that's done with them, and maybe they're put in a cardboard box (even a banker's box) for ease in handling. Also, any fire-proofing would have to be addressed in the storage facility itself rather than the individual containers.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#698 Post by soundchaser » Thu Mar 25, 2021 3:07 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:05 pm
Wong responds to you ingrates
I don’t know what “the changes to the 4K restorations are almost exclusively aesthetic in nature” means in this context. Film is always aesthetic in nature by existing as a visual/auditory medium?

In any case, this is a lot of tedious Philosophy 101 nonsense that makes me sort of glad I’ve never jived with the man’s work!

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#699 Post by tenia » Thu Mar 25, 2021 3:08 pm

Still, these monologues certainly could have been extracted from an intermediate copy or even an exploitation one. I have no idea why they stuck with "the OCN is gone, so it's easier to just cut them". I can't even imagine how many movies would have never been restored if this rationale was applied to all restorations.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#700 Post by The Narrator Returns » Thu Mar 25, 2021 4:06 pm

For the other side of this story, film writer/programmer Steve MacFarlane posted and deleted a tweet yesterday very strongly suggesting that he'd be getting an interview with Christopher Doyle about his falling-out with WKW and how WKW had possibly "sabotaged" the new restorations.

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