Here’s an exciting one! Straight Shooting was director John Ford’s first feature but it hasn’t been available as a high quality edition until now.
As always, thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.
Availability: Released on DVD and Bluray. (Disclosure, I earn a small commission on sales made through affiliate links.)
This disc is region 1/A, so make sure your player accepts such discs if you are located outside of North America.
This review covers this new release and NOT the content of the film. If you want to know more about the picture itself, here is my review. (Spoiler: I liked it.)
My disc capture tech is having fits right now, so no screenshots this time.
Pictures are worth a thousand words but I will attempt to replace them at a somewhat discounted rate. The restoration is absolutely beautiful. Clear and detailed. There are still some small skips where there is missing footage but this is understandable and expected in a film that is over a hundred years old.
Straight Shooting benefits enormously from an HD presentation and you can see everything from the leaves on the trees to the rivets on the jeans. If you had been holding back on seeing this picture because you (understandably) did not want to see the smeary bargain discs, this if your opportunity to catch it looking better than it has in 100 years.
I really enjoyed the country and western-infused score by Michael Gatt. It is played by a small ensemble including a guitar. While not completely traditional, it suits the picture well and enhances the scenes.
The picture includes a booklet and video essay by Tag Gallegher, a fragment of the lost 1920 Ford silent Hitchin’ Posts, an audio commentary by historian Joseph McBride.
A Question of Tinting
This film is presented in black and white. There is a school of thought with some restorations that if the original tints are unknown, black and white is the proper presentation. I do not agree with this position and have no issue with tints being added, especially if the narrative relies on day-for-night scenes that must be tinted blue. However, the “if originals are unknown, black and white only” school of thought comes from a place of respect for the film and for historical authenticity and I consider it an legitimate and intelligent position. I would never fault a restoration for being presented this way.
However, this quote from the booklet is, I feel, not exactly cricket so I wanted to quickly address it:
“The sole surviving print is in the Czech Film Archive… and tinted, ugily, judging from the color copy made by the Netherlands Filmmuseum in 1993. There’s no reason to assume its intertitles or colors correspond to the U.S. prints– if in fact any were tinted in the U.S…. But, thank God, this Blu-ray is in black and white, correctly I think.”
Okay. A few issues here.
First, color copies do not always correspond to the way a tinted film would have looked when projected.
Second, time and the environment can do strange things to tinted film.
Third, An Evening’s Entertainment by Richard Koszarski points out that 80-90% of all films from this period had tinting and/or toning. So, stating that there was no evidence that this film would have been tinted is not really accurate. There was a 10% chance it was “correctly” untinted and I don’t like those odds. (The book is excellent, by the way. Read it.)
Fourth, I did a little digging myself. Butterfly was Universal’s brand name for five-reelers shot in California and I find specific mention of a Butterfly title released less than two weeks before Straight Shooting being tinted.
The tinting was mentioned because it was particularly beautiful (“nicely tinted”) in this case. Critics would not normally mention tints unless they were unusually fine, much the same way a modern critic would see no need to mention a 2020 film being in color unless the use of color is notable. Remember, up to 90% of movies were tinted. 90%.
I have been working hard to increase appreciation for tinted silent films and encourage the use of tinting in restorations, so to see authentic tints dismissed as ugly is extremely irritating to me.
Once again, I have no issues at all with the film being presented in black and white. The restoration team did an excellent job and the decision to eschew tinting is a legitimate one that I am sure was not made lightly. My objection is to the paragraph in the booklet.
This is the one you’ve been waiting for. If you were holding back from purchasing or viewing this picture because of concerns about quality, you can rest easy. This edition looks and sounds great and showcases the picture to best advantage. Enjoy!
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But is the film worth owning? I don’t mind watching a journeyman potboiler work by a master, but every purchase carries an opportunity cost — it means another film that I can’t afford in money or space? So how does STRAIGHT SHOOTING earn its spot on my shelf whether or not it is tinted?
That’s really up to you and your budget. I like the picture, I think this release is a high quality product. It really depends on how much you like westerns, John Ford or some combination of the two.
I don’t know if this will interest you, but I’ve done an article on George Scott, who I believe was the cameraman for “Straight Shooting.” Also worked for Gaston Melies (went to Southeast Asia with him early in the 1910s). The article was published by the academic journal Ontario History this past spring. https://www.peterboroughmoviehistory.com/other-writing-2/in-search-of-an-elusive-guy-named-george-scott
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