Last night I was finally able to see the new subtitled Russian Cinema Council DVD of Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969) and can now do a comparison of all the existing DVD editions. Ruscico’s subtitled edition of the Yutkevich cut reinstates missing footage and thus corrects the disastrous audio sync problem which ruined their earlier unsubtitled edition, part of a “Best of Armenfilm” box set for the Russian market. However, we are still left with no wholly satisfactory version of the film on DVD anywhere. At the bottom of this post I will include some frame grabs for illustration. Click on each image to view a full-sized, properly scaled version.
In order to compare the various DVD editions, it is necessary to take into account the film’s complicated history. As fans of the film know, The Color of Pomegrantes was released in two versions. The Armenian release version, which runs about 77 minutes, is sometimes mistakenly called the “director’s cut” though it is more accurately characterized as Parajanov’s own compromise with the censors. Among other things, Parajanov was forced to remove all the direct references to the poet Sayat-Nova in the main title and intertitles on the grounds that he took too many poetic liberties with the historical figure. So while the working title was Sayat-Nova, by the time the film reached the screen in Armenia it bore the title Nran guyne, translated into English as “The Color of Pomegranates.” (You can find my essay about the film’s production and censorship in a special issue on Parajanov that I edited for the Armenian Review.)
Alexei Romanov, the Chair of Goskino USSR (Moscow), personally disliked the film and refused to allow its distribution outside of Armenia. However, Sergei Yutkevich, an established older generation Soviet director, had served as one of the script readers in Moscow and admired Parajanov’s work. After the film’s release in Armenia, Yutkevich recut the film slightly to convince Romanov to allow distribution in the rest of the USSR. His changes entailed cutting a few minutes of footage (his version runs about 73 minutes), re-arranging a couple scenes and adding explanatory Russian intertitles to make the film more accessible. As far as I know Yutkevich used the camera negative to create this new version, whereas the Armenian release version survives only in a duplicate negative. Thus, theoretically the Yutkevich version should have a superior image quality; the various 35mm prints I’ve seen appear to confirm this.
The four DVD versions are as follows:
Kino’s U. S. 2001 edition of the Armenian release version, the so-called “director’s cut.” This NTSC DVD is based on an old telecine that dates at least back to the early 1990s, when Connoisseur Video released it on VHS. The image is very faded and lacking in detail, and it is (excessively) windowboxed to present the maximum picture area of the original film frame. It features very large, hard-coded yellow subtitles. It also suffers from persistent audio warble in the second half of the film, which may be a flaw in the film element used for the telecine.
The Films sans Frontières French 2006 edition of the Armenian release version. This PAL DVD is based on a newer and presumably better telecine than the Kino edition, but it suffers from the most cropping of all the existing editions and is plagued with excessive contrast boosting and digital sharpening. The resulting image is harsh and lacking in fine detail. In places the midtones and highlights also have too much cyan, at least to my eyes–the whites in the frame grabs below are a good indicator of this problem. I suspect that this may have been an attempt to compensate for color fading. The French disc is an object lesson in dangers of overusing digital filters to hide problems in the original source materials. Like the Kino edition, it suffers from audio warble in the second half of the film. On the positive side, the optional English subtitles are very good and translate passages which are not translated on any other edition.
The out-of-print 2004 Columbia DVD of the Yutkevich version (Japan, NTSC). To my eyes, this is still the best-looking of all the versions on DVD. The print used suffers from color fading and thus has a slight magenta cast. However, it doesn’t look as bad in playback as the screen captures below might suggest. It also preserves much of the film’s fine detail and photographic grain, which is important for a film that is as much about surface texture as it is about color. On the negative side, the reel which contains the scenes of the poet at the court of Erekle/Irakli II and his recognition of his doomed passion for the Princess Ana is darker and has a yellowish hue compared to the rest of the film. The disc contains only Japanese subtitles.
The aforementioned 2010 Russian Cinema Council DVD of the Yutkevich version, available in both NTSC and PAL. (My frame grabs are from the PAL version.) On the whole it looks better than the French and U. S. DVDs of the Armenian release version. However, compared the Japanese DVD all the grain has been filtered away, resulting in a softer, waxy-looking image. Like the French disc, this transfer has an overly cyan hue though not as pronounced. Strictly in terms of image quality, I would rank it below the older Japanese DVD, which has since been replaced in Japan by the same Russian Cinema Council edition.
To sum up, collectors will still want to acquire either the Kino or the Films sans Frontières disc since both contain the longer and somewhat less compromised Armenian release version, though both are seriously flawed image-wise. The Russian Cinema Council DVD of the Yutkevich cut looks better, but it’s not on the level of their other Parajanov releases, which have been repackaged by various distributors worldwide, including Kino in the U.S. If you don’t care about subtitles, it’s worth tracking down the older Japanese DVD for its picture quality. When, oh when will we see a truly decent version of this film on DVD?