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Mixed feelings, but a must-have for early film and Tangerine Dream fans
on March 17, 2011
For the Tangerine Dream fans, regarding the soundtrack:
Despite what it says on the back of the case, which claims both 5.1 Dolby Surround and 2.0 Stereo soundtracks, there is only one dual-mono soundtrack. That is to say, there is, technically speaking, a stereo soundtrack, inasmuch as it has two channels, but both channels contain the exact same mono mix, except for a tiny difference in volume.
The volume peaks at around -12db throughout, squandering the limited resolution provided by the 16bit word size, meaning you get to listen to more of the hiss and hum of every amplification stage of your playback setup than should be necessary. For some reason, I have found this drastic attenuation to be common on most DVD soundtracks. Whereas one may imagine some marginal excuses for low average sound amplitude in a contemporary film, there is little justification for it in what is, essentially, a long-form music video with no dialog or sound effects.
As for musical content, after close examination of both sources, I can confirm that the DVD soundtrack consists of an edited portion of the LEFT CHANNEL ONLY of the 2002 Tangerine Dream "Inferno" CD (TDI CD032). Whether this was up-sampled to 48k from 44k, or both derive from the same 48k or better source, I do not know. No new composition or recording was done for the DVD. I am even now in the process of matching the edits so that I can create a personal copy of the DVD with the full stereo soundtrack.
If you are a Tangerine Dream fan who has either joined the ranks in the last decade, or has hung on through all the changes and usurious marketing, you probably already have the "Inferno" CD, so this DVD would not be a worthwhile purchase solely on the basis of the expectation of new music, mixing, or performance. Until near the end, the edits are all very minor, so this is not a case of Tangerine Dream putting any significant work into making the music closely accompany the events in the film, especially considering that the project of creating this score came along some years after the live concert recording which serves as the soundtrack. Both the music and the film, however, are indeed based upon the same literary source, so they are not completely alien to one-another. As to the quality of the music itself, this is entirely a subjective matter. I enjoy it on it's own terms, but cannot find any reasonable basis of comparison between this work and classic Tangerine Dream. The only person common to the full 1969-present history of Tangerine Dream is Edgar Froese, and the other continuity is the participation of Jerome Froese, who had been working with his father since around 1989.
For early film fans, regarding the motion picture:
In terms of film history, this is certainly a significant artifact, and at present, this release constitutes the only form in which any significant number of interested parties are likely to see it. The scale of the production was very ambitious for 1911, and the implementation of the special effects was very inventive and probably very difficult to achieve at the time. While much of it has a kind of casual "home-made" feel to it, even to my jaded 21st-century eyes, some moments in this film are truly involving and mildly disturbing. I can only imagine the nightmares it must have given to it's contemporary audience. Having said that, getting from one end to the other of this film does require some commitment and historical perspective. It is by no means "entertainment" by today's standards.
Do not expect the restoration to be on par with some of the better examples, such as the 2002/2010 releases of "Metropolis". It is hard to say, without knowing the condition of the source material, whether all that could and should be done to restore and preserve this film was carried out. A documentary supplement detailing the process of the restoration would have gone far to answer such concerns, but is conspicuously absent.
Briefly, regarding the source work "The Divine Comedy":
I cannot deny that the work has had persistent influence over the centuries, and has added a few concepts to the collective consciousness, such as the "circles of Hell". Having said that, I must confess that I find the work to be over-rated, and mis-cast as a significant spiritual work. On the face of it, it seems quite blatant that the primary motivations of Alighieri were childishly petty. The entire work serves as a contrivance by which he could play out imaginary vengeance on a number of his contemporaries, philosophers, religious and political figures, and other cultural icons of his day. It was essentially the ancient equivalent of today's tabloids, gossip blogs and tell-all memoirs. Sort of a TMZ for the 14th century. The main difference is that the half-truths and fictions we use to slander our public figures now are not nearly as elaborate, or lengthy, as Dante's. The only reason the parallel is not more obvious is that we are so removed from the context in which it was written.
From my personal perspective, this work was elevated most by the illustrations executed some centuries later by William Blake. It was the subsequent illustrations of Gustave Dore however, which I do not prefer, that directly inspired the visual design of this film.