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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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It
(1927)

 

Was Clara Bow a devil-may-care party girl let loose upon a stodgy 1920s Hollywood of chastened artists and stern businesspeople? Or was she a talented actor with a empathetic heart, who ultimately wanted to escape the Hollywood machine to lead a quiet, happy and solitary life? In retrospect, Clara Bow is probably seen less today as the out-of-control party girl of the yellow press and whispered Hollywood rumors, and more as the Brooklyn-born scrapper who refused to let her confused and painful childhood ooze through the bright armor of her enthusiatic and sparkling personality. Certainly, the career and personal life of Clara Bow is a far more complex and emotional story than can be encapsulated in a paragraph.

It (1927), Bow’s most famous starring vehicle, was manufactured by producer B.P. Schulberg and novelist Elinor Glyn as a publicity and economic boon for all involved. The straight-forward story of a department store salesgirl winning the love of the rich owner’s son is amplified by the gamut of emotions Bow is given opportunity to portray. And she portrays Betty with a sincerity that few silent era actresses could equal and few audiences could resist. Clara Bow seemingly effortlessly conveys ebullience and tragedy in the space of a few minutes, and she has the audience rooting for her from the beginning. But did that many saleswomen work at a department store hosery counter in the 1920s, really? Probably not. — Carl Bennett

coverThe Milestone Collection
2004 DVD edition

It (1927), black & white, 77 minutes, not rated.

Milestone Film and Video, distributed by Image Entertainment,
ID1974MLSDVD, UPC 0-14381-19742-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.99.
Release date: 2 March 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 6 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

Despite the existence of a competing edition from Kino International, collectors will welcome this new edition of Clara Bow’s best-known comedy vehicle. Milestone Film and Video continues an ongoing series of DVD releases of video editions of silent era films produced by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow’s Photoplay Productions. This 1991 edition, prepared originally for broadcast on British television, features a wonderful music score composed by Carl Davis and features the best-looking edition of the film available on home video.

The 35mm print material utilized for this edition originates from the Paul Killiam collection — the same material used to prepare Kino’s edition. Yet a casual viewing of both discs reveals that this Milestone edition features sharper image details, smoother greyscale transitions, and greater image clarity. Also of note is the open framing of the video transfer picture. Comparing the opening shot of the Waltham store sign in both editions points up the tighter, slightly claustrophobic framing of the Kino disc. The full-frame video transfer does an excellent of representing the high quality of the Killiam materials, with their broad range of greytones. In comparison to the Kino DVD, Gill and Brownlow did a far better job of balancing exposures in their video transfer to create a smoother and consistent viewing experience. The Killiam print does have its share of flaws that include light speckling and dust, processing inconsistencies, mild scuffing and scratches, and loose splices. But the overall experience is so pleasing that viewers will find it easy to overlook the fleeting flaws.

The disc includes audio commentary by author Jeanine Basinger, which will be informative and entertaining to both silent film novices and enthusiasts alike. We welcome Basinger’s approach to her commentary (impart interesting information without taking oneself too seriously) and cannot even demerit it for her slightly stilted reading style. Basinger even managed to make us snicker, with her observations, a number of times throughout the film.

The supplementary material includes stills and promotional material gallery (17 images) and a previously unpublished article by director Clarence Badger on the making of It, in the form of a PDF or Word file, accessable only by computers with DVD drives.

Originally announced to include Helen’s Babies (1924) starring Clara Bow, the final released edition of the disc does not include the extra film.

We enthusiastically recommend this disc to Bow fans and to collectors who thought they were satisfied with their Kino editions.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverKino on Video
2001 DVD edition

It (1927), black & white, 72 minutes, not rated,
with Clara Bow: Discovering the “It” Girl (1999), color and black & white, 65 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K195, UPC 7-38329-01952-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 20 February 2001.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 6 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

This contribution to the three-part series of home video releases from Kino International, entitled They Had Faces Then, only scratches the surface of Clara Bow’s depths. This miniature Clara Bow retrospective serves many as an introduction and to others as a rediscovery of her artistry and charm. Two of the releases from Kino’s 1999 Clara Bow VHS series have been included on one DVD for this release.

This Kino edition of It is nearly identical to the Voyager Company’s (The Criterion Collection) laserdisc edition, being transferred from the same source material, a restoration release print from the Paul Killiam collection that was prepared in 1978. This DVD features the same music score that is available on the Voyager edition, a 1978 piano performance by William Perry. Although the Kino edition sounds a little ‘canned’ in direct comparison to the laserdisc, which sounds brighter and more open, the DVD’s 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack is a very good representation of the 1978 score that does a better job of suppressing the original recording’s tape hiss.

The Killiam source print largely maintains a broad greyscale tonal range and good image detail, with minor speckling, minor print damage, and an occasional frame jump. But in the Killiam print a few shots bounce to the darker side and some to the lighter side of the balanced tonal range of the main body of shots. The Kino transfer is a little darker than the Voyager laserdisc and does a better job of holding highlight detail while keeping shadow areas open and well defined. There are no visible compression artifacts in the DVD video transfer. The image framing of this Kino edition is virtually identical to that of the Voyager edition, being open and allowing intertitles to be easily read. We did note that it appears that the 1978 Killiam restoration of the film employed variable framing of several shots, perhaps compensating for image loss on the left edge of the frame. Some intertitles clearly show where the left portion of intertitles are filled-in with a greytone value that approximates the intertitle’s background tone. A portion of the original image may have been lost to an optical soundtrack in an early sound rerelease of the film or there may have been some distracting image decomposition on the left edge of the source print when the Killian edition was prepared. In comparison, this Kino edition is softer in image detail than the 2004 Milestone edition (see above).

As a bonus, the DVD includes the documentary Clara Bow: Discovering the ‘It’ Girl (1999) produced for Turner Classic Movies by Hugh Munro Neely and Elaina B. Archer, and released on VHS by Kino as part of their Bow series. Narrated by Courtney Love, the documentary is a sweeping chronological dash through the life of Clara Bow.

Audio rarities included are exerpts from the song “Magnolia,” written about Clara Bow, and a 1950s wire recording of Clara reading exerpts from Shakespeare that sounds as though it has been transferred to and transcribed from a 78 RPM record.

We look forward to a time when other Clara Bow films are available in high-quality home video editions. Meanwhile, this edition has been discontinued and is out-of-print.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
Other silent era CLARA BOW films available on home video.

Other silent film music scores by CARL DAVIS available on home video.

 
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