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Dial M for Murder - 3dfilmarchive One of the greatest 3-D motion pictures of all time has just been released on Blu-ray. Before our review, here's the background story on this classic Golden Age 3-D ...
Dial M for Murder - 3dfilmarchive An InDepth Look at DIAL M FOR MURDERby Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz One of the greatest 3D motion pictures of all time has just been released on Bluray FirstOUT 3 Before our review heres the background story on this classic Golden Age 3D production Click on the images to expand Arch Oboler’s independently produced BWANA DEVIL had its world premiere in Hollywood on November 26 1952 and set the boxoffice on fire Following the phenomenal success of the first 3D feature film in color every studio in Hollywood made plans to jump on the 3D bandwagon Warner Bros was first out of the gate to license the Natural Vision camera system used on BWANA DEVIL and announced production of their first 3D film on December 27 1952 When production rolled on THE WAX WORKS on January 12 1953 just about every studio had a 3D project in development The popular myth is that DIAL M was not originally announced for 3D and the process was forced on a reluctant director at the eleventh hour That is not true The first announcement hit the trades on April 5 1953 four months before the first day of filming With the headline Hitchcock to film WBs M in 3D Jack Warner expressed his confidence in the future of 3D movies The opening of HOUSE OF WAX on April 10 at New York’s Paramount Theater was a sensation Warner Bros truly captured lightning in a bottle The film was an unprecedented success and to this day remains one of the finest photographed 3D films of all time In city after city WAX racked up huge grosses throughout the country and its success was equaled in foreign markets as well Jack Warner was elated and optimistically announced on May 28 that twentytwo additional 3D features would go into production Warners shut down the studio during April May and June to concentrate on developing their new camera system and to convert all departments to widescreen production Rather than continue licensing the Natural Vision camera rig that had been used on both HOUSE OF WAX and CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER Warner’s optical department under the leadership of Al Tondreau designed the new AllMedia camera Similar to Technicolors Dynoptic 3D camera system which utilized a pair of threestrip cameras the Warner Bros rig placed standard 35mm cameras at a 90 degree angle to each other with a halfsilvered “beam splitter” mirror between them This method didn’t restrict the use of short lenses down to perhaps 25mm and was capable of interaxials from 0” to over 6” The main drawbacks were the critical alignment of the mirror and its heavy light loss up to 50 As a result onset lighting would need to be increased two and a half times to compensate However the AllMedia camera offered greater flexibility to other 3D camera systems and allowed the director and cinematographer tremendous flexibility in how they wanted to present their stereoscopic vision The new camera would be used for the first time on HONDO Filming began on location in Camargo Mexico on June 11 The picturesque landscape would provide the perfect visual setting but the director and cinematographers had trouble adjusting to the new camera On June 18 Jack Warner viewed three reels of dailies and was concerned about the lack of closeups especially in the scene where John Wayne first meets Geraldine Page He sent a telegram to the Duke and said Director is not moving you and Geraldine close enough to camera Everything seems to be too far away Must have usual overshoulder close shots individuals and tight twos in threedimensional pictures so we can see people’s expressions and everything else On June 20 John Wayne replied Farrow has done everything but play music to get camera in for close shots Seems our lenses are matted for 1 75 or 1 85 screen plus fact that cameraman is over cautious for fear front office will scream eyestrain Will show cameraman your wire Think it will do the trick He is really working hard but has limited us in making shots because of his fear and reluctance to do a shot that might throw background lines too wide an angle Technical issues and bad weather caused frequent malfunctions with the camera prompting John Wayne in several heated memos to demand that Jack Warner send him a camera that worked Warners finished building a second improved rig and shipped it to the location HONDO finally wrapped production in late July and Director of Photography Robert Burks returned to Burbank and immediately began working on DIAL M His seven weeks of experience certainly worked to his advantage and he must have felt some relief to be back in the controlled atmosphere of a sound stage Hitchcock and Burks shot makeup and wardrobe tests on July 30 and August 3 During preproduction Hitchcock expressed his thoughts on working in 3D and widescreen to Prevue magazine The popular myth is that Hitchcock prepared for the film and expected it would never play in 3D The Boxoffice Barometer to the left is dated August 1 As you can see THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER FORT TI IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE THE MAZE SANGAREE and SECOND CHANCE were doing exceptionally well throughout the country In fact Warners own FEATHER RIVER was in its third successful week at the Paramount theaters in Hollywood and Los Angeles While working on preproduction and gearing up for the start of principal photography on August 5 theres no reason to believe that Hitchcock would have expected DIAL M to go out as a flat movie Faced with a new camera that still had technical bugs Hitchcock and Burks worked very hard to achieve the nearly flawless stereoscopic photography in the finished film Grace Kelly later recalled that shooting in 3D was like going into the boxing ring with your hands tied behind your back I never saw him lose patience he never became angry when the technicians said Oh no with the camera we cant do this and we cant do that Hitchcock was not known for backing away from new technology on the contrary he had a history of using special effects exploring rearscreen projection matte and other techniques that enabled him to present his material in unusual ways In DIAL M he handled 3D in his own masterful style Every shot was carefully composed so that with proper camera movement and very precise convergence virtually errorfree 3D was achieved Hitchcock’s daring use of unusual techniques makes this a landmark 3D film DIAL M contains several outstanding examples of 3D virtuosity First are the tight “macro” closeups on wristwatches and second the ultraclose shot of a telephone dial as Ray Milland’s right index finger pokes into the number 6 hole the “M ” Both shots were faked With the camera system it was impossible to achieve the type of tight closeup Hitchcock felt he needed to enhance his story He had for virtually the same technical reasons used a similar device in SPELLBOUND 1945 for a scene in which Ingrid Bergman was held at gunpoint Hitchcock’s solution to having both the gun in the foreground and Ms Bergman in the background in focus was to have a giant hand hold the gun The same giant prop technique was applied to DIAL M making it possible to manage ultracloseups without inflicting eyestrain and demonstrating Hitchcock’s undisputed genius for outwitting the limitations of the mechanical devices he worked with Hitchcock’s most obvious and effective 3D moment comes during the murder itself As the murderous intruder attempts to strangle Grace Kelly she is forced back across her desk and her frantic hand thrusts out at the audience as she tries to reach the scissors to defend herself Hitchcock triumphs again Principal photography wrapped on September 25 Two weeks later Hitchcock was interviewed by Barbara Berch Jamison for the New York Times He reflected on the problems of 3D and widescreen composition It was those early rushes They looked so oddskimpy unfinished And Hitchcock who received his first screen credit thirty years ago as an art director started to sketch one of the first scenes on an old envelope See herethese spaces on the sidesdo you notice how empty they arehow bare Wellit took me days to discover just what was wrong Look at thisthis is the flat picturethe way I used to prepare a scene If I had three people in a scene one up front one slightly back and one seated in a chair in the back of the frame In the finished shot theyd all be up front anyway You got no illusion of depth Now of course with this 3D thing you have to watch out for that or you get what I got at firstlots of waste space on the sides on the top all around After Hitchcocks first shock of discovery the early rushes were destroyed and he started all over again Tremendous new problems with this medium And most of them in the hands of the director Dont let any of these actors tell you its difficultdifferent It isntnot for them In fact 3D even makes them look thinner The studio has provided him with a brand new and improved kind of threedimensional camera for which he has great respect but no sense of aesthetic appreciation Its a big gross hulking monster Its heavy and immobile and frightening Whyfor one of my best sceneswhere one of the leading players falls on a pair of scissors and kills himselfI couldnt even get thisthisthing under the scissors to create the illusion of the audience falling on those scissors itself But we licked it We built a big hole right under the stage and submerged the cameraso even though there will be no rocks thrown out of the screen I dont think anybody will go home disappointed Interesting to note that the POV shot described by Hitchcock was not used in the finished film In the meantime interest in 3D movies was beginning to diminish at the boxoffice The full details can be found in What Killed 3D Retakes were done on November 12 and the film was put into postproduction just as 3D enjoyed a brief resurgence in popularity Movies like HONDO KISS ME KATE MISS SADIE THOMPSON and CEASE FIRE did excellent business throughout the winter months of 195354 However by the spring 3D movies were on their last legs The studios had stopped shooting in the process in late October and the few films still on the shelf were released flat or had very limited 3D bookings The first test preview was held on February 4 in Huntington Park CA On March 10 Army Archerd reported in Daily Variety that “Dial M will go out in 3D ” Warner Bros ad campaign was designed in a way to make the 3D tagline easily removed Posters were made for the flat version and a specially prepared snipe would be affixed for any 3D booking Warners initiated a very aggressive marketing campaign and placed two page ads in the trades on April 10 April 17 April 24 May 1 May 8 and May 15 All ads state Perfect 3 Dimension in the Hitchcock Manner Its worth noting that no other Warner Bros film at that time had received such extensive prerelease advertising On Monday April 26 DIAL M was previewed in 3D and widescreen 1 851 in 29 key exchange cities Charlotte Pittsburgh and Seattle ran it flat as part of Warner Bros new product seminar According to a May 1 article in Boxoffice the film was seen on that day by an estimated 7500 exhibitors Theaters around the country booked the film in 3D for its Memorial Day opening Trade reviews hit the following day and the first one to appear dramatically illustrated the projection issues that had effectively destroyed the publics interest in 3D Variety’s review by Brog stated “Picture was filmed in 3D and WarnerColor The tints are good adding to production values but the depth treatment is a distraction that contributes nothing to the meller mood ” Later in the review he admitted that the preview was faulty “Burk’s color lensing is good especially when seen flat as was the latter part of the picture at the preview when the 3D went bad ” How could a reviewer properly asses the quality of the 3D cinematography if the presentation was poor This happened quite often during that time and was the primary reason for 3Ds quick demise Hollywood Reporter April 27 “one of the few films in which 3D is a decided asset even though not a single audienceparticipation gimmick is used The extradimension coupled with the way Hitchcock uses the camera gives the impression that one is sitting in a theatre watching a stage play ” Motion Picture Herald May 1 “excellently executed 3D When Miss Kelly is brought from the death house to her home as part of a device to trap Milland and prove a point to the inspector there is achieved a masterly touch of careful direction enhanced immeasurably by the use of color and 3D Miss Kelly has carefully been cleared of apparent lipstick and rouge and the result is a deadly pallor which strikes upon the visual and mental appreciation of the audience like a hammer blow It is the utilization of available technique at its best ” Boxoffice May 1 “The 3D photography indulging in nary a gimmick enriches the impressive production accoutrements ” Exhibitor May 5 “Top grade Alfred Hitchcock this is a film that should register in the better grosses While the 3D may be an advantage to the selling there are no gimmicks in the film ” Time May 24 “The 3D is used not so much for its shock value as to bring alive for moviegoers much of the theatre’s intimacy and depth of movement ” The World Premiere took place in Grace Kellys hometown of Philadelphia on Tuesday May 18 at the 2200 seat Randolph Theater They had installed a new 72 x 30 foot Panoramascope screen in June of 1953 In addition to the giant silver screen it was one of the few theaters in the Northeast with four projectors in the booth so they were able to run a 3D film without the usual intermission After one preview performance on Tuesday and four showings on the 19th the manager frantically contacted the studio and said that people were staying away in droves He asked for permission to drop the 3D and show it flat On Sunday May 23 a Philadelphia Inquirer headline proclaimed Plays the Thing as Philadelphia Fans Spurn 3D for 2D Version of DIAL M Mildred Martin wrote The first audiences proved to be a jury that could not only make up its mind but could make it up in a hurry In exhibitors own terms DIAL M literally died And after just four performances on Wednesday some longdistance telephoning to report complaints the increasing skimpiness of customersa good many of them making no bones of their dissatisfactionpermission was given to throw away the glasses and hastily switch to the 2D version Whereupon business at the Randolph took a turn for the better According to Variety the first week was boffo with a gross of 28000 00 The ticket prices ranged from 74 to 1 30 FirstOUT 3 The film eventually played the Randolph for five weeks with an impressive total gross of 67500 On May 26 a Variety headline announced 3D Looks Dead in United States Theaters which had promoted it as a 3D release quickly modified their advertising to state See it without glasses As an example the ad on the left is for the May 27 opening in Washington DC On June 3 Walter Winchell wrote in his popular syndicated column Trade papers report that the 3D version of DMFM was dropped since the tridimensional gimmick is now considered a boxoffice liability Warner Bros quietly dropped all references and the next industry trade ad on June 5 does not mention 3D However the film was still available to any exhibitor who wished to show the depth version One theater that played it from June 68 is the 650 seat State Theatre in Kingsport TN The newspaper ad includes the Perfect 3 Dimension tag and mentions Viewers 10c Extra The 3D version effectively disappeared after those few 1954 playdates Jack Warner 3Ds staunchest advocate finally gave up at that point Warner Bros last stereoscopic feature THE BOUNTY HUNTER was released flat only in September 1954 In January 1979 Tom Cooper was managing the popular Tiffany and Vagabond Theaters in Los Angeles and approached Warner Classics about striking a new dualstrip 3D print On August 27 the Village Voice reported plans for a single week premier engagement at the Thalia Theater on 95th Street in New York However the booking was canceled due to problems at the film laboratory with the original negatives A subsequent article in Variety discussed the poor condition of the 3D elements Its interesting to note that the negatives were only twentysix years old and already had issues with fading Keep that in mind as we discuss the recent restoration The new dualstrip 3D print premiered at the Tiffany in West Hollywood on November 1 1979 Variety reported it would next open at the Davis Theatre in Chicago for Christmas and then into other theaters equipped for dualstrip 3D in San Francisco Seattle and Coconut Grove Florida It finally premiered in New York City at the 8th Street Playhouse on March 28 1980 Encouraged by the successful repertory bookings around the country Warner Bros converted the dual35mm to a singlestrip side by side Stereovision print which was released in February 1982 Unfortunately the image quality was very poor Bad alignment a dim picture and fading yellowtinged WarnerColor presented audiences with a stereoscopic image far removed from the original vibrant dualstrip widescreen 3D version THE SHAPE OF DIAL M THIS IS CINERAMA had opened to great success and critical acclaim on September 30 1952 Over the next several months every major studio was experimenting with some form of widescreen presentation RCA demonstrated a new widescreen to exhibitors specifically designed for 3D on March 24 The New Era of Screen Dimensions had begun On February 4 20th Century Fox announced that all future studio productions would be in CinemaScope Paramount was the next to announce their 100 widescreen policy on March 24 with Paravision 1 661 as their house ratio UniversalInternational went with WideVision 1 851 on March 28 MGM with 1 751 on April 3 Columbia announced 1 851 Vitascope on April 6 and Warner Bros went 1 851 on May 7 The last holdout Republic finally went widescreen on August 15 By that time every studio had abandoned 1 371 and widescreen composition ranging from 1 661 to 2 001 had become the new industry standard However to insure a steady flow of product for all exhibitors worldwide the films were still protected for 1 371 by composing with a viewfinder similar to what is shown to the left Many of these early widescreen films have not been seen in their intended aspect ratios since the original theatrical playdates Major theaters began installing the new screens in the summer of 1953 A December 5 1953 survey of 16753 operating indoor domestic theaters showed that 80 of downtown theaters and 69 of neighborhood theaters had installed widescreens In total 58 of all U S theaters had gone widescreen by the end of 1953 The conversion was slow in the Southern and North central parts of the country and that’s why the films were still protected during photography for the standard Academy ratio Additional information on the dawn of widescreen can be found on this page Following a three month studio shutdown Warner Bros resumed production on July 14 1953 All subsequent features were composed for widescreen and DIAL M FOR MURDER was the fourth film to start production under this new policy RESTORING HITCHCOCK’S STEREOSCOPIC VISION In August 2011 Warner Bros began an extensive restoration from the original 35mm elements The 3D Film Archive supplied documentation which confirmed the 1 851 aspect ratio The following technical information will help you to fully understand the many challenges faced by the restoration team WarnerColor had been developed over a twelve year period under the supervision of Col Nathan Levinson of the Warner Bros sound department and Fred Gage head of the studios film laboratory The new process was first seen in April 1952 on THE LION AND THE HORSE In a July 1 letter Col Levinson stated the process was “merely the use of Eastman color film stock adapted to our techniques Shot on Kodak’s Eastman color tripack 5248 negative 25 ASA tungsten it presented a low cost alternative to the elaborate threestrip Technicolor system For 3D WarnerColor productions fades and dissolves would be edited directly into the leftright camera negatives from cut to cut thereby eliminating a visual jump in quality by suddenly appearing midscene In other words the intermediate footage lasts from the scene preceding to the scene immediately following the optical Some of these shots can last well over one minute in duration According to Hollywoods Conversion of all Production to Color by John Waner WarnerColor opticals were made by taking the 5248 camera negative creating separation positives on 5216 and then going back to a composite color internegative on 5245 all via modified stepregistration Eastman in their rush to release a tripack color element to the market did so without first creating good intermediate stocks including interpositive and color dupe negative as well as high quality panchromatic highcontrast clearbase black and white stocks Technicolor had solved this problem with opticals many years earlier but they were not about to share their trade secrets with other laboratories All WarnerColor films suffer from these problems most notably A STAR IS BORN and GIANT In addition to color issues occasional malfunction of either the left or right cameras during filming would necessitate duplication of the opposite element for insertion into the negative The image would be slightly offset from the opposite side creating a faux stereo window but the scene is flat nonetheless For those reasons 3D WarnerColor negatives contain a higher than average amount of dupe footage compared to other color films of that time As an example the original negatives of HONDO contain 2019 feet 22 minutes 26 seconds of intermediate stock That’s nearly 14 of the film Not only are these sections several generations removed from the camera negative they are also prone to more severe fading In conclusion restoring a 3D WarnerColor film is no easy task GEOMETRIC 3D DISTORTIONS Those who are familiar with stereoscopic photography know that any geometric stereo distortionsmisalignment should be corrected These distortions may sometimes be inherent in the original photography or could be a result of misaligned elements Depending on the severity these distortions can often cause eyestrain Vertical misalignment is the most wellknown 3D distortion Human beings view stereo using horizontal parallax given our eyes are displaced horizontally But vertical misalignment forces our eyes to adjust in a way they are not normally accustomed to doing In a worst case scenario this type of misalignment forces our eyes to move up and down instead of left and right How well a person can handle these problems depends on both the severity of the distortion and the tolerance of the given viewer Some are able to handle this eyestrain better than others In addition there are other types of 3D distortions that can effect our viewing experiences as well making some shots or sequences difficult to view Quite often the viewer will have a feeling that something isnt quite right even if they dont know what is causing the problem Sadly even todays digitally shot mainstream 3D features still suffer from occasional misalignment errors With the 1950s Golden Age titles some of these distortions were not easily correctable at the time However with current technological advances these elements can now be properly aligned to look better than they did in their original 35mm dual strip polarized showings Unlike the recent CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON 3D Bluray presentation 98 of DIAL Ms stereoscopic alignment is essentially perfect For those occasions where it is off it is so mild that it should not cause the viewer any distractions or eyestrain It is worth noting that the original elements were not error free so Warner Bros has clearly done their homework and has done it exceptionally well There is only a single shot in the entire Bluray with a moderate amount of misalignment a quick shot of phone relays triggering that is easy to overlook In a few very brief scenes there is minor to moderate haloing with certain higher contrast shots typically in the sections where dupe elements have been used and more so on the right eye side These halos are not ghosting nor 3D related and are still evident in 2D viewing They are a limitation of the WarnerColor optical intermediate process and have been a part of the film since 1954 Levels appear to be fine although I could understand if it may come across a tad darker on some active displays Original 1954 release prints were similar in timing but were projected with dual carbon arc illumination resulting in a brighter image on screen Viewing this 3D Bluray on a passive display showed no appreciable light loss When viewed on a DLP 3D front projection system the active DLPLink glasses were ever so slightly darker than the passive displays but was not a deterrent The big screen viewing was still an enjoyable experience and due to the 135 projected image size in some respects was preferable as it was a closer approximation to what was seen theatrically Many of the Optoma DLP projectors run their bulbs by default in high power mode when viewing 3D content and most DLPLink glasses do not incur a drastic light reduction compared to some active glasses so individual systems and types of glasses may vary The image presented on the Bluray is 1 781 While it is not disruptive to the flow of the feature it is worth noting at 12849 and ending at 13020 there is a brief 2D section This also appeared in original dual strip prints as well and likely has been that way from day one due to a camera malfunction As with all 3D Blurays the left and right images have 100 separation so any perceived 3D ghosting will be a result of the display device and not the source material When viewed on a passive display DIAL M had a few very brief incidents of perceived ghosting none of which were outright distracting When screened on a front projection DLP 3D setup the stereoscopic image was 100 ghost free Warner Bros appears to have retained the original 3D convergence If something is placed behind or in front of the stereoscopic window that is how it was planned by Hitchcock and Burks With any 3D title adjusting the original convergence sometimes needs to be addressed but doing so can inadvertently change a number of shot compositions for the worse If Warners has done any shifting of the stereo window it has been done thoughtfully and with respect to the source material If you see any instances of ghostingcrosstalk on your display please note this is NOT an issue with the original photography restoration or 3D Bluray authoring Vintage stereoscopic movies have a much wider and more natural parallax compared to most modern 3D films which will exhibit fewer ghosting artifacts as a result of minimized depth Many of the current active display LCD and LED 3DTVs do not meet cinema LR cancellation levels and as a result may exhibit ghosting with certain more demanding 3D scenes Passive polarized displays usually are closer or equal to having cinema grade cancellation levels while DLP active display devices typically exceed 3D cinema cancellation specs and are considered essentially ghostfree Also being true to the 1954 3D presentation the original intermission card has been retained At that time the average projection booth had either two or three projectors For dual strip 35mm 3D showings two projectors were utilized for the first half of a 3D feature The intermission would allow both projectors to be threaded again for the second half of the feature The filmmakers knew this and usually took great care to place the intermission at a crucial point in the story SUMMARY Aside from the intermediate element issues DIAL M does not appear to have had excessive DNR meaning that 35mm grain structure has been retained The color has been faithfully restored to its original palette and the widescreen 3D image is an accurate and faithful representation of what Alfred Hitchcock intended the world to see nearly sixty years ago Warner Bros has truly done an outstanding job with this restoration The 3D Film Archive highly recommends this superb Bluray release PHOTO GALLERY For additional reading on DIAL M we highly recommend this article by David Bordwell