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Tuesday Morning Foreign (But Not Foreign Region) DVD Report: "An American in Paris" (MInnelli, 1951; Japanese Blu-ray)

Glenn Kenny
First things first: forgive these less-than-ideal screen captures. They were taken with a camera off of a monitor, and your reporter is still learning how to do such things properly. He will probably have to ask you to take his upcoming extravagant claims concerning the image quality of this product on faith.
So, then: A lot of people claim that Vincente Minnelli's 1951 An American In Paris, leaves them cold. I don't get such people. Which isn't to say there's nothing to dislike about it. First off, there's Alan Jay Lerner's wafer-thin script, which oozes with precisely the kind of casual misogyny one might expect from the born-into-wealth co-writer of "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man," who would marry a total of eight times over the course of his life. (Whenever I'm reminded to, I thank God that the Lerner and Loewe musical based on Nabokov's Lolita—yes, it was a real project—never happened.) "You're either a woman of mystery or a still water that doesn't run very deep," Gene Kelly's character snarls at gamine Leslie Caron—and this by way of leading into "Our Love Is Here To Stay!"
That aside, though, what this film has got is Kelly's charm and athleticism (I understand he's an acquired taste, so I'll confess here that he was the first movie star I ever actually wanted to be—and that hasn't really worked out), Oscar Levant at his most amiably cynical (and playing the piano like a motherfucker, if you'll excuse the term), Caron at her most gaminesque—and, oh yeah, Gershwin songs, nothing but Gershwin songs. And suites. And a concerto. All great stuff. And finally, there's the most eye-popping, swoon-inducing Technicolor of any film since Powell and Presburger's The Red Shoes, which of course is the obvious antecedent for this, one of the most ambitious and experimental Hollywood musicals ever.
It's a movie that, if transferred and restored properly, practically begs for a high-definition home video version. And there is one. In Japan.
Now, Warner Home Video in the U.S., which has stewardship over the MGM catalog and hence most of Vincente Minnelli's cinematic output, released a newly remastered American on the domestic label back in early September. It's in standard definition but it's important to remember that it's been Warner policy for many years to do all their remastering in high-def, which is then down-converted to standard. Certain DVD players can then up-convert the material, but only to 1080i (interlaced), not 1080p (progressive). In any case, for something like this film, you want to go the full high def.
Watching it—twice over the past few days—one's jaw is likely to drop at just about every shot. The color is not overly bright, but vivid indeed, and it holds—the final closeup of the red rose at the end of the film's ballet sequence is rock-solid. And this transfer looks like a movie, not a digital transformation.  It's certainly one of the finest high-def discs I've seen.
And yet Warner in the U.S., doesn't seem to have any immediate plans to release this on Blu-ray in the U.S. I have every reason to believe that the master used for this Japanese Blu-ray edition is identical to the one down-converted for the standard definition version. For one thing, its sleeve aside, there's no indication of this being a product conceived and developed for the Japanese market—all the DVD menus, for instance, are in English.
It's too bad. As it happens, I know that one of the top executives at Warner Home Video is a huge lover of Minnelli...and yet market conditions must be such that prospects for an American Blu-ray of this material look dubious. All hail the Japanese, then, for their superior and eclectic taste in High-Def materials, and keep an eye on the Yen exchange rate before going to Yes-Asia or Amazon Japan to procure this treasure.
UPDATE: This reporter did insufficient research on the Alan Jay Lerner musical version of Lolita. It did materialize, with music by John Barry rather than Lerner's customary partner Loewe; it was titled Lolita My Love and its closed out-of-town on its way to Broadway. Now I'm curious.
Another correspondent has informed us of a French Blu-ray of American. It's entirely possible that the disc has been manufactured in Region B, which would make it unplayable on a North American Blu-ray player (the OPPO region-free Blu-ray player being still...forthcoming). Our recommendation would be to play it safe with the Japanese edition.


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