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'Apu Trilogy' DVDs + requesting a Criterion edition

'Apu Trilogy' DVDs + requesting a Criterion edition

Postby junebug on Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:30 am

Though it does feel a bit seedy posting here on what amounts essentially to online shopping, for those of us mere mortals (particularly in the US) not so fortunate to have ready access to a cinematheque with pristine set of 35mm prints, a run-through of the current state of Ray's work available for video collectors seems in order.

Although it's a bit excessive to write here about the debacle surrounding the negatives from some of Ray's most prized work (i.e., a mysterious warehouse fire), suffice it to say that good quality prints or transfers have long been quite tough to come by. For most of us here in DVD Region 1 land (the US), our only option is to buy the 1994 restoration transfer of the 'Apu Trilogy' by Merchant-Ivory and Sony Picture Classics:

http://www.google.com/products?q=satyaj ... ch&show=dd

However, this edition has several problems. First, it looks as though the Merchant-Ivory editions of all of Ray's films are now out of print. Amazon's listings for 'Pather Panchali' are now all in the 'used & new' category, fetching upwards of $115 (!) for just the one film. Second, even when the editions weren't available for insulting prices, they weren't all that good to begin with. The 1994 transfers were muddy, laserdisc-quality things at best, and the subtitling translations from Bangla pretty weak across the board.

So what's left? The VCDs available in India are pretty awful, across the board: VHS-at-best quality, terrible sound, and that unfortunate practice common to most Indian video production houses of implanting a watermark of their company logo on each frame. But for those who want to see the films as intended, it turns out that the British have bested the Yanks on this one, in the form of the UK-based Artificial Eye's Region 2 three-disc set of the 'Apu Trilogy' films:

http://www.google.com/products?q=artifi ... ch&show=dd

Currently, the entire set will run you around $100 dollars, which is quite pricey, but is certainly the better deal at this point. What's more, the quality of the transfer (while no Criterion-level restoration) is pretty good given the source material, and the extras not bad (though a commentary track from, say, Andrew Robinson would have been nice. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the Merchant-Ivory transfer and the Artificial Eye edition:

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdcompar ... nchali.htm

Though the above link compares 'Pather Panchali' editions, DVD Beaver (though having a somewhat ridiculous name) has good comparisons of all three films in the trilogy. I own this edition, and I can say that it really isn't bad at all -- in fact, from 'Aparajito' onward, it's a real thing of beauty, allowing me to appreciate details of composition I wasn't able to make out in previous video editions. The subtitling is still not so great, but if you're not a Bengali speaker, they'll suffice.

So what's the problem (other than the price)? The problem is, unless you live in the UK, a thing called region coding. Region coding is a rather fascist practice instituted by movie studios and media content owners to be able to price markets differently in different parts of the world, negotiate releases separately for different countries, that sort of thing, and discourage people from buying cheaper editions made in other markets. It's kind of a scummy practice, but what it means is that a DVD bought in England will not work in your DVD player in the US, or vice versa (you can substitute any number of markets for the US and England in this example).

That is, unless you have what's called a region-free DVD player. What's becoming increasingly a must for globe-trotting movie lovers or in general, people who enjoy watching world cinema at home, a region-free player will let one play any DVD meant for any market, perfectly legally. I don't really understand the whole loophole allowing region-free players to be manufactured, but there it is. I own a (rather comically-named) Oppo DV-970HD, which is a fantastic DVD player that is reasonably priced but has an amazing-quality picture and 'upscales' DVDs to near-HD quality, and can run NTSC as well as PAL movies; what's not advertised is that the DVD player can also be made region-free via a simple code punched into the remote control -- voila, instant cinematheque.

However, any reasonable soul would pretty readily see that all this is really only a stop-gap, awaiting a release for the US market of real quality. The obvious company that comes to mind to do this is certainly not Sony Pictures Classics, but rather Criterion. Criterion currently lists not one film, among its remarkable catalog of films and filmmakers, from India (except two documentaries by the French filmmaker Louis Malle). This astonishing situation really does need to be addressed. Criterion currently lists on its site an email address over which one can suggest a title:


I've sent a polite email suggesting at least a Ray film or two , along with a justification, and also a suggestion of releasing an edition of one of Ritwik Ghatak's films, say 'Subarnarekha' or 'Meghe Dhaka Tara.' Hopefully, some of you on the forum here can also add your two cents and get some buzz going, or at the least, irritate a Criterion staffer forced to read the things and hit 'delete.' What really needs to be done, though, is some pressure placed upon Sony Picture Classics, which I believe currently holds DVD distribution rights for the US. Criterion has to secure an OK from the rights holders of each film it releases, and I don't know if it has one with SPE. Any ideas? Sorry for the length of this post, but a few of you might find it useful.

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Joined: Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:23 am
Location: USA

Re: 'Apu Trilogy' DVDs + requesting a Criterion edition

Postby Leonides on Tue Apr 14, 2009 5:31 pm

Within the past decade I have emailed Criterion a half a dozen times, using their 'suggestions' section, to request the inclusion of [some of] Mr. Ray's films. I usually write a short sentence telling them why I think he is a great filmmaker. Criterion sent back a reply on two occasions saying that they weren't planning on adding him to their collection in the near future. In more recent years, I got no reply at all. With all due respect to the idea that everyone has their own ideas of who a great filmmaker is, the fact that Criterion includes John Woo, Michael Bay and Roger Vadim but doesn't have Satjayit Ray boggles my mind.
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Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 5:11 pm

Re: 'Apu Trilogy' DVDs + requesting a Criterion edition

Postby tmogkawaii on Fri Feb 27, 2015 5:39 am

I was one of the winners who participated in this website.
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Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2015 5:35 am

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