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» Film-Tech Forum   » Community   » The Afterlife   » Ken Burns 'The Civil War'

   
Author Topic: Ken Burns 'The Civil War'
Stephen Furley
Film God

Posts: 3039
From: Coulsdon, Croydon, England
Registered: May 2002


 - posted 06-12-2016 03:52 AM      Profile for Stephen Furley   Email Stephen Furley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I have just bought the region 2 UK release of the restored 25th anniversary edition. I have previously had it on VHS tapes which I gave away long ago, and the original DVD release. There also seems to have been an intermediate DVD release in 2012, which I don't have and haven't seen.

The amazon site has the following rather strange text:

"The technical improvements to the film, including a new resolution that restores parts of images that were cropped away for the original TV broadcast, may be most interesting to hard-core film fans. But even casual viewers will be able to see that the remastered version of The Civil War& is a strikingly different film from the movie that preceded it.

--Washington Post"

What does this mean? The series was shot on 16 mm film, which was scanned at 4k, but the DVD is in 480x720 NTSC format, so the resolution is the same as the previous version, and what has image which may have been 'cropped away' got to do with resolution anyway? Compared with the original version there does seem to be slightly more of the film area included in the video, but the original was 3x4 full frame 16mm, so it's near enough the same aspect ratio as 3x4 video. However, this is not the way they have transferred it; it's been done pillerboxed within 16x9 anamorphic video. Why? Some new material, such as the restoration documentary, some interviews and credits for sponsors at the start of each episode is in 16:9, but why present the film itself in this way, thus reducing the horizontal resolution?

I can be sure that the original was conventional 16 mm and not widescreen Super 16 which was cropped for television because the stock is 2R perf.

The transfer itself looks much better than the original DVD release, but why limit the picture area to about 538x480? Come to that, why not do a HD release on Blu-Ray? In this case it would obviously have to be pillerboxed within 16:9, as was done with the Blu-Ray of 'The Manchurian Candidate', and no doubt other Academy ratio films, but this would have given a higher resolution than even a full frame DVD. The pillerboxed DVD seems to be the least desirable option.

The picture still looks good though. In the late '60s and early '70s the BBC made three 'epic' documentary series, Kenneth Clark's 'Civilisation', Alistair Cooke's 'America' and Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man'. The first of these was shot on 35 mm, and the others on 16mm. 'Civilisation' has been released on Blu-Ray, the others on DVD, and the image quality on 'The Civil War' looks better than that on 'Civilisation'. 'The Civil War' was made about twenty years after 'Civilisation', and of course film stocks would have improved during that time, but I think it's a better transfer as well, even with the limitations of the transfer format.

I have several of Ken Burns' films, but had never seen him until now. He looks much younger than I had expected, and very young in photographs taken during the production of 'The Civil War'

While each of the BBC series contains 13 episodes and 'The Civil War' has only 9 they are longer, and the total running time is almost the same, as are some other television documentary series that I have seen. Coincidence, or is there some reason why this length is chosen for television?

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Martin McCaffery
Film God

Posts: 2192
From: Montgomery, AL
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-12-2016 09:04 AM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm going to guess on the time thing. Civilization, being made by the BBC in 1966 was made prior the the creation of PBS. We had public television, but not a national network. So Civilization was made to whatever time standard BBC used.(metric? [Wink] )

Films made to the PBS standard have a very strict time frame imposed on them. And most "educational" films follow that time frame. Each episode has to be made to be shown in a classroom during a single session (the big money is in selling these series to schools).

Just a guess.

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Harold Hallikainen
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 625
From: Denver, CO, USA
Registered: Aug 2009


 - posted 06-12-2016 11:19 AM      Profile for Harold Hallikainen   Author's Homepage   Email Harold Hallikainen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Before PBS, there was NET, which I watched as a kid. Sesame Street and Washington Week started on NET.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Educational_Television

Harold

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Leo Enticknap
Film God

Posts: 6596
From: Loma Linda, CA
Registered: Jul 2000


 - posted 06-12-2016 01:52 PM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Martin McCaffery
So Civilization was made to whatever time standard BBC used.(metric? [Wink] )
Metrication really began in the UK when it joined what was then the Common Market (renamed the European Union in 1992) in 1973. That was also the reason why, two years earlier, Decimal Day took place, replacing the arcane "pounds, shillings and pence" currency with one pound = 99 pence. I'm so glad that happened two years before I was born!

As a schoolkid growing up in South London I remember struggling with this. In school were were being taught math(s) using exclusively metric units, per government policy, but at home (and most teachers out of school, too) still measured weights in pounds, short distances in inches, temperatures in Fahrenheit, etc. etc. In some respects the conversion was never completed: road signs in the UK still show distances in miles, and fuel efficiency is still discussed in miles per (Imperial) gallon, even though petrol/gasoline has been sold in liters since before I learned to drive (in 1994).

As for the BBC, as Stephen notes, their high end drama and documentary series were originated on 35mm until, if memory serves me correctly, the mid-late '60s, when they moved to 16. Edward Pawley's book BBC Engineering discusses the change (I had to give my copy away, along with around three quarters of my books, when I emigrated, or else I'd look this up here and now).

The British broadcast standard was Alan Blumlein's 405-line system from 1936 to 1967 exclusively (following dual trials of that and the Baird system in the mid-1930s), then 405-line and PAL in dual use from then until the gradual phase out of 405-line from the late '70s, until the last transmitter was shut down in 1985. We had a 405-line set when I was a child, which had to be returned to the rental place (in those days, most households rented their TVs - owning them was relatively unusual) and exchanged for a PAL one when the 405-line broadcasting ended. I was probably around 5 or 6 at the time, and remember being excited at getting color TV.

Another documentary series remaster I could have lived without was the BD of The World at War, which vertically panned and scanned it from 4:3 to 16:9.

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1729
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011


 - posted 06-12-2016 02:52 PM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I am of just the right age that I was among the first kids in Canada to be taught metric in school. Nothing used metric outside of school, though, and eventually some years after that, the federal government brought in regulations that said that stuff had to be sold in metric units rather than pounds or gallons or whatever. I think those regulations must be gone now, though, since things are sold in a sort of a muddle now. The Coop grocery store flyer for this week (that I just happen to have right here) has this as the first item at the top of the page: "Coop Extra Lean Ground Beef - $3.99/lb $8.80/kg". The $8.80/kg is in print that's half of the size of the $3.99/lb, though. Gas is sold in liters, but construction lumber is sold by the foot.

When I was in school the government suddenly decreed that every school kid must learn French to "promote Canadian unity". That was interesting since I lived in a small town where literally nobody spoke French or knew any French at all. Therefore, the poor soul who was assigned to teach us French didn't know any more about it that we did. That was two years of the biggest waste of time you can imagine but everyone in the class passed with flying colours and nobody knew any more French afterward than they did before. I still don't know any more French today than I did then.

My wife's first language is French, but everyone in her family speaks English too.

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Arthur Allen
Film Handler

Posts: 98
From: Renton, WA, USA
Registered: Aug 2001


 - posted 06-12-2016 07:15 PM      Profile for Arthur Allen   Author's Homepage   Email Arthur Allen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I've noticed an increase in DVDs pillarboxing Academy-ratio programs into widescreen. The dedicated DVD player I have has inconsistent aspect ratio coverage when viewed through HDMI. For instance, in the Wizard of Oz DVD I have, I can set the wide screen DVD menu to pillarbox on my TV, distorting the image. But when the feature starts, the image becomes stretched the other way, and there's no way around it except to view it through the RGB connectors. Now I just watch DVDs through my XBOX 360, which does a better job of figuring things out. Anyway, they probably presented The Civil War they way they did to maintain compatibility with most setups out there.

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Stephen Furley
Film God

Posts: 3039
From: Coulsdon, Croydon, England
Registered: May 2002


 - posted 06-13-2016 12:54 AM      Profile for Stephen Furley   Email Stephen Furley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Leo,

You're right about most people renting television sets. We had a rented 405 line only set which I remember watching in 1960, and which probably dated from several years earlier. In about 1966 we sent it back and bought a secondhand black and white set to be able to watch BBC2 which started in 1964 on 625 lines only. The two existing channels remained on 405 lines only for some time, hence the need for the dual standard set. In 1969 we bought a single standard 625 line colour set, also secondhand; these things were expensive in those days. It was a Philips set, contained a huge number of valves (vacuum tubes), and colour purity and convergence had to be adjusted whenever it was moved from one place to another. 'Civilisation' was a long time in production and was not transmitted until 1969; it was the first programme which I saw in colour.

I think the general change from 35 mm to 16 mm at the BBC was roughly contemporary with the move to colour. Not much colour production seems to have been originated on 35 mm. Some of the ITV series 'The Avengers' was shot on 35 mm colour. This was sold to one of the US networks, so they may have wanted the best quality to open up this market. 'Civilisation' was intended to show off the new colour service at its best, and for this reason it was decided to shoot on 35 mm. However, the picture quality on the Blu-Ray is rather disappointing. By the time that 'America' and 'The Ascent of Man' were made it was decided that 16 mm was good enough. Rather similar to the way that 'Lawrence of Arabia' was shot on 65 mm, but about three years later it was decided that 35 mm was good enough for 'Doctor Zhivago'.

From Amazon 'The Civil War' is more than twice the price of the three BBC series; maybe this reflects the high quality of the digital restoration of the former.

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Allan Young
Film Handler

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From: EGHAM, Surrey UK
Registered: Jun 2011


 - posted 06-15-2016 07:27 AM      Profile for Allan Young   Email Allan Young   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Stephen Furley
Some of the ITV series 'The Avengers' was shot on 35 mm colour. This was sold to one of the US networks, so they may have wanted the best quality to open up this market.
Quite a few sixties ITV shows were shot on 35mm colour stock with the American market in mind; ITC shows such as The Prisoner, The Persuaders! and The Saint, and the Gerry Anderson puppet shows such as Stingray and Thunderbirds.

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Bill Gabel
Film God

Posts: 3873
From: Technicolor / Postworks NY, USA
Registered: Jan 2002


 - posted 07-10-2016 02:44 PM      Profile for Bill Gabel   Email Bill Gabel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The new scan of "The Civil War" used conventional 16mm and Super 16 materials for the edition. It was done here at Technicolor NY / Postworks.

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Stephen Furley
Film God

Posts: 3039
From: Coulsdon, Croydon, England
Registered: May 2002


 - posted 07-18-2016 12:15 PM      Profile for Stephen Furley   Email Stephen Furley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well,it's a good transfer. Do you know if his other major works are going to be re-mastered?

Interesting that the region 2 release is NTSC. Maybe the European market for it just isn't big enough to justify the cost of a separate PAL transfer, and the NTSC is probably better than a standards conversion. Most televisions can take NTSC these days. Might have expected it to be an all region NTSC release.

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Bill Gabel
Film God

Posts: 3873
From: Technicolor / Postworks NY, USA
Registered: Jan 2002


 - posted 07-18-2016 12:32 PM      Profile for Bill Gabel   Email Bill Gabel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
He's been here working on a few projects and the Vietnam War. I was working with him for a few days on the Jackie Robinson project.

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