Apu DVDs

There’s always a bit of tension as movie studios release film classics on DVD. The technology should offer an ideal introduction to the films if a 35mm print isn’t handy–I mean, the resolution and freeze frame capabilities and multiple, removable subtitles, CD-quality sound, and special features are always trumpeted any time Digital Versatile Discs are ever mentioned, right?

Unfortunately, studios often don’t treat the classics with the care they deserve and cinephiles are inevitably caught in a Catch-22: do we recommend these discs because the films are landmark works of art and we hope to support their availability, or do we tell people to wait for a decent representation of the film by a company that cares?

The reduced screengrab above is from Columbia Home Video’s upcoming new release of Satyajit Ray‘s Pather Panchali (1955), a universally championed film about the plight of a poor Indian family and its quest for happiness. According to the informative DVDBeaver.com Reviews page, this DVD looks simply awful, with an unrestored print, fuzzy video transfer, nonremoveable English subtitles, silly menus, and no extra features whatsoever. And with a $30 list price, that’s simply insulting.

Granted, the last two criticisms are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but I had the priviledge of seeing a newly restored print of this film at the L.A. County Museum of Art just a couple of years ago and the clarity and detail were a wonder to behold. Columbia has simply decided not to expend any effort in tracking down this print (or those of its two sequels) and preserving it on DVD for a new generation of videophiles, opting instead to toss off what may even be a transfer from a video master (which would account for the decrepit resolution) rather than an original film print.

Bear in mind that studios acquire rights for distribution in each region, so no one else (like, for instance, the Criterion Collection), will be able to release the film in the Region 1 market for some time to come regardless of how much of a technical improvement their DVD might conceivably be.

This is very disappointing news. To buy or not to buy? For North Americans who want to see this remarkable film, I’d recommend renting the Columbia VHS edition of this film, or better yet, buying an all-region DVD player and purchasing the Region-2 Artificial Eye Apu Trilogy box set from the UK, which also includes some interesting bonus features. (You can read a review, here.)

And if anyone has contact info for Sony/Columbia/Tristar Home Video, let me know what it is, because their Help page only tells me how to be a contestant on Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.