"My Fair Lady" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 2 Old 07-21-08, 06:54 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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"My Fair Lady" Standard DVD review

Another disc I purchased a while ago and finally got around to watching is the
restored standard DVD release of "My Fair Lady". I screened it on the Toshiba
XA2 player which upscaled it and the Optoma HD70 DLP.

I saw this movie many times over the years including the original 1964 release when
I was eight years old and the 1971 re-issue when I was fourteen. In both cases
they were 35mm dye transfer Technicolor anamorphic prints in mono. Even though
it was a musical, they never made 35mm magnetic stereo prints for general release.
I finally saw it in 70mm in 1978 in a very entertaining festival in NYC called "Broadway
on Broadway". They exhibited near mint 70mm Roadshow copies at the Cinerama
theater on 47th street. Among the other shows I screened there in the
format were "Paint Your Wagon" and "Camelot". It was certainly the sharpest
and most spectacular of the copies I watched and the six channel stereo sound
had very directional dialogue and singing. Many years later I also saw the
restored 70mm print which also looked quite good but not as rich as the original
print in Cinerama.

"My Fair Lady" distribution history was typical of the era. Like most Roadshow
(reserved seat tickets) productions of the time, they filmed it in 65mm. All
70mm prints were struck directly off the camera negative...world wide...which
is why the negative got so damaged over the years. The 35mm prints were
optically reduction printed to matrices and the dye transfer copies struck from
them ('Glorious Technicolor'). Unfotunately, it's success was also it's downfall.
By the time Bob Harris started his restoration the elements were a wreck. Split
frames, dust, dirt, scratches and other damage throughout the 65mm negative.
The intermediate elements (35mm IP, IN) were faded. To make matters worse,
when Warner released the film in Spain they sent over the camera negative and
when it was shipped back, the title sequence was missing. Harris had to recreate
it from scratch. This movie was restored using the photochemical techniques
available at the time which meant going through the movie on a shot by shot and
frame by frame basis and trying to fix the damage but using black and white
separations, internegatives and whatever else they could find to make it intact.
In general, he did an incredible job considering the condition of the elements.
A new 65mm IP/IN and 35mm anamorphic reducion IN were created for the future.
However, because of the limitations of the tools back then, there are still some
damaged frames in the restoration, occasional dust and a blurry spot on some
shots. Depending how large your screen is, you may or may not notice them.
I hope when the film is released on high definition they do a final digital clean
up to remove these occasional artifacts.

Overall, the anamorphically enhanced image has good color and is sharp even
though it's derived from 35mm rather than 65mm elements. As a result, the
aspect ratio is wrong. The 70mm prints had more image on top and bottom.
I guess I'm pickier than most people since I saw it twice in 70mm which raises
the bar as to what I expect in the video transfer. Let's hope they use the
65mm IP for blu ray along the lines of how they mastered "Grand Prix" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" which looked super in HD.

Regarding the film itself, it's a very entertaining 'show'. It's not a particularly
cinematic adaptation if you compare it with Robert Wise's "West Side Story"
or the more recent "Chicago". Director, George Cukor, was very skilled in getting
superb performances out of prima donna movie stars. That was his forte, especially
the female leads. What he wasn't that skilled in was compositions or editing.
Like "Kismet", "My Fair Lady" plays like a photographed version of the stage show.
The sets look like sets (especially the exteriors) and there are few close ups.
The skies look like backdrops and he even uses a devise of people freezing in
the frame which was overtly theatrical. In most cases the performers do their songs in medium or wide shot within the wide frame which resembled the procenium arch. It's like having first row orchestra seats on Broadway. If you have a sharp eye you'll notice that the continuity and editing are sloppy at times. There are a number of shots of Rex Harrison peforming his 'talk songs' where he sits down on a chair or sofa in wide shot and when they cut to a medium shot his arms or hand are in the wrong position. You can also see the shadow of someone at the end
when Higgins sits in his chair even though Eliza hasn't entered yet. Personally, I prefer the more cinematic approach of Robert Wise but there's no denying success and this picture won many Oscars. I don't want to suggest that I don't like this picture, I do, it's just that I wish it was more of a 'movie' in certain respects.

The Broadway show and movie adaption were not directly based on Shaw's original play "Pygmalian" but rather on the author's screenplay for the Leslie Howard version in the thirties. He considerably softened the Higgins character and gave the story a happy ending. In the play Eliza doesn't return to him and it's a bit more cynical and downbeat.

The 5.1 sound re-mix is good in that the orchestrations are spread across the sound
field front and back. However, the actual vocals come out of the center channel only as opposed to being directional as they were in the 70mm prints. They do this so one mix can be adapted on a worldwide basis. All foreign distributors have to do is replace the center channel. In the past they would have to re-mix the entire film since the vocals and dialogue were contained in the other channels. I understand why they do this as a business decision but I do miss the direction dialogue and singing.

Here's some trivia. For the obviously stage bound Ascot racing scene, to get the horses to trot by, they opened the two studio doors for them to run through. Audrey Hepburn recorded her songs and lip synched to her vocals on set but they decided her voice wasn't strong enough and had veteran Marni Nixon re-dub all of her vocals with the exception of "Just You Wait Henry Higgins". Julie Andrews
created the character on Broadway but she was an unknown and Warner
wanted a star. Ironically, Disney had the wisdom to hire Andrews for "Mary
Poppins" that year and she received the Oscar over Hepburn. Harrison insisted
on performing his 'talk songs' live on set rather than lip synching to a pre-recording. He wasn't the only non-singer to utilized this technique. Both
Yul Brynner ("King and I") and Robert Preston ("The Music Man") adopted it
as well. The concept was to only sing the few notes within their limited
vocal range and recite the rest of the lyrics with a musical background.
It was an innovative approach when introduced in the fifties and early
sixties. Jeremy Brett later became Sherlock Holmes in the British television series. He hadn't aged well and was almost unreconizable from his youthful appearance as Freddie here. Also, his acting in that series was way over the top and hammy, although admittedly entertaining on that level if you care to check them out on video. The other actor to play Holmes on British television was Ian Richardson whom I saw play Higgins in a revival of the show in the seventies. Of course
Higgins was Harrison's defining role and what he'll be remembered for.

So I recommend this movie if you have a large screen or DLP. I'm not sure it will work as well letterboxed on regular monitors since the actors will look rather small on screen because of the way it was shot.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 07-21-08 at 07:20 AM.
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post #2 of 2 Old 07-21-08, 10:24 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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Re: "My Fair Lady" Standard DVD review

I think I'll propose a 'movement' if you want for consumers, film and video buffs
to request that distributors include the original mix on every movie as one of the
options in the menu if it exists. That goes for stereo movies (4 track and 6) along
with mono pictures. I understand that from a marketing perspective, the 5.1 format
is the easiest to distribute and in some cases is more appealing but there are nuances
and artistic decisions that were made in the original mixes that are being altered in the
re-mixed tracks. That includes directional dialogue and singing as well as a different
use of the rear channels. For example, I like that "The Sand Pebbles" disc offers
both 5.1 re-mix (with more surrounded and sub-woofer effects for explosions) along
with the original 4 channel mix (more directional in some respects). "Vertigo" contains
the original mono mix along with the new 5.1 mix.

I hope they include the original stereo mix of "My Fair Lady" in future releases (it still exits)
along with the 5.1 version. I would especially like to hear the original four track stereo mix of
"Grease" on blu ray since I don't like the echo chamber 5.1 remix at all.
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