Bringing Silents to Blu-ray: An Interview with Bret Wood

Blu-ray review site DoBlu.com has an interview with Kino’s producer Bret Wood on their upcoming release of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. In it, Wood discusses the source of the prints used to produce the disc, including an alternate version called the Killiam cut:

“We began the project with only the Killiam 35mm element, which we obtained from Worldview Entertainment, the company that owned the Paul Killiam film collection. We were satisfied with the image quality in comparison with the existing master from our own 1995 release, but were disappointed that it lacked the sharpness, clarity and stability of our recently-upgraded master of The General. Tim Lanza of the Douris Corp. (the company that owns the Keaton library, from whom we have licensed most of the other Keaton titles) volunteered to send me reels from four different elements in their collection, for the sake of comparison.”

Despite being over 80 years old, the film was given no restoration as according to Wood, it goes against Kino’s policy:

“We try to avoid artificially enhancing the look of a film and fortunately the Douris element was good enough to present as-is. If we had only used the Killiam version, we probably would have cleaned it up by applying image stabilization and retouching specific blemishes, but would have refrained from using a global digital video noise reduction process. Since the Douris version looked so good, we decided to leave the Killiam version untouched.”

The original version, known as the Douris version, has a notably washed out look. According to Wood, this is not due to the transfer being artificially enhanced, but because of the source material:

“It’s really interesting. I felt like the Killiam element looked washed-out much of the time, especially in the sunlight scenes, and attributed this to poor labwork when the print or negative was made. But when we got the Douris negative, it had the same blanched look. I’ve concluded that’s the way the film was originally shot by Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings.”

Wood as also asked about the difference between transferring a film to DVD as opposed to Blu-ray. The biggest difference? Selection:

“Releasing films on Blu-ray is a higher-stakes game than DVD, so we have to be more cautious when selecting films for release. The two variables are audience demand and the availability of a top-quality HD master. Sometimes one will slightly outweigh the other. For example, we recently issued Pandora and the Flying Dutchman on Blu-ray. This is not a title people have been requesting on Blu-ray, but because we gained access to the 35mm negative of the recent Technicolor restoration, we decided it was worth the investment.”

Steamboat Bill, Jr. will be released on Blu-ray on July 6. Check out the rest of the interview with Wood, over at DoBlu.com.

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  • Nate

    Cool, I love Steamboat Bill Jr.

  • Xu

    Thanks a lot for the link!

  • Great news! The General looks amazing on Blu Ray and it’s still easily the best adventure comedy I’ve ever seen – constantly exciting and inventive.