Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson AKA Buffalo Bill and the Indians (Blu [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (9th December 2020).
The Film

An all-star cast – including Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Geraldine Chaplin, Joel Grey, Harvey Keitel, and Shelley Duvall – assembles for Robert Altman’s follow-up to his 1975 critical success, Nashville. Swapping the country-and-western scene for Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West’ shows of the late nineteenth century, the film is another of Altman’s pitch-perfect satires, offering a sidelong glance at the myths of America.

Video

This is a richly coloured film with the antique colour timing giving the whole thing a distinct look. The underlying colour values are rich and theatrical with red being the most noticeable colour to me. Flesh tones are vivid and solid with no bleed. The antique colour timing makes everything look sepia and yellowish-brown that reminds one of old photographs. Both versions use the same encode via seamless branching.

Black levels are deep and rich and there is some signs of intended crush here and there but it feels to me like it's part of the aged design to the image. Shadow detail when present is very good and although the anamorphic lensing does create some softness than flat cinematography lacks detail is still very good along all focal planes. Faces and fabrics are typically the biggest beneficiaries in closeups. Backgrounds are also well served. Grain is fine and ever present, handled perfectly and filmically by the encode.

Contrast is very lowkey perhaps due to the eccentric grading but the whole film has a fairly flat level of contrast by design so no blowouts but also no really bright sequences at all. The image isn't flat in that respect, but very *designed* and distinct. An extremely powerful looking visual experience, beautifully rendered here. Top marks.

1080/24p / AVC MPEG-4 / 2.35:1 / 123:51, 104:33

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English HoH

An exceptionally solid early stereophonic track with dialogue taking centre stage and score and ambiance left and right of front. Separation isn't terribly strong and is much more like mono frankly. However, this is the way it was made and shy of the original sound stems being used to create a proper surround matrix it is what Altman obviously intended. When played through an amp set to ProLogic II The sounds are essentially the same through all speakers confirming my feeling that the 2.0 is more like 4.0 mono. It's been beautifully restored with great fidelity and no distortions or other age related artefacts. As good as it's possible to be, so top marks.

Subtitles for the hard if hearing are meticulous and convey all of the nuance of the dialogue.

Extras

"Jim Webb on Robert Altman" Audio presentation excerpt from 20 April 2007 (22:03)

Webb was the sound recordist on the film and gives us an account of his working methods on various films and working with differing directors; how Webb used microphones, use of multitracks, post production etc. HD black screen with lossy Dolby Digital sound.

"From the Prairie to the Palace" 1976 featurette (4:33)

Vintage promo piece is very soft and obviously presented full frame in HD and with lossless LPCM 1.0 sound. It shows plenty of fascinating behind the scenes B-roll footage with a voiceover track featuring narration and sound bites from Paul Newman et al. We also hear from Altman as he directs his cast and crew. By the nature of it's length and purpose this is glib and on message.

French Titles and Credit Sequence (6:55)

What it says on the tin complete with leader running up to the credits. Interestingly this snippet was encoded as 2.0 Surround unlike the main feature which is 2.0 Stereo. Has optional English subtitles and lossless LPCM 2.0 Surround sound.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
TV Spot (0:31)


Vintage promos in full-frame HD and LPCM 2.0 Mono (trailer) 1.0 (TV Spot).

Image Galleries:
- Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (38 images)
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Image Gallery: Posters, Photographs and Other Ephemera (48 images)


Extensive, satisfying HD galleries.

Buffalo Bill Silent Films (Play All - 52:51):
- "Annie Oakley 1895 (0:21)
- "Parade of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, No. 1" 1898 (0:51)
- "Parade of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, No. 2" 1898 (1:51)
- "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Parade" 1902 (1:11)
- "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Far East" 1910 (12:18)
- "The Life of Buffalo Bill" 1912 (26:31)
- "Ford Animated Weekly" 1916 (9:45)


Image quality varies considerably due to the surviving elements being in differing states of quality but it's all full HD. Sound is lossless LPCM 2.0 Surround and not front-centric 2.0 Stereo. The silent films have musical accompaniment performed and recorded by Bernard Wrigley on 5–20 September 2020.

36-page liner notes booklet by Richard Combs, extracts from Altman on Altman, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Peter Stanfield on the silent films of Buffalo Bill, and film credits

Another full bodied hard copy booklet that offers extensive contextual added value; essential for fans of the film.

Packaging

Standard clear BD Keepcase

Overall

An interesting, rather than great film gets the deluxe treatment from Powerhouse Films. One of those films I can admire rather than love; a cynical reading (probably realistic) of Buffalo Bill Cody. We finally get to see the director's cut at full length and with the antique colour timing; something that I've heard about for decades. Image and sound are as good as can be although the sound is presented as 2.0 stereo it's actually more like 2.0 mono even when played via ProLogic II. Extras are very full and provide plenty of contextual added value with the silent films taking pride of place side by side with yet another exceptional hard copy booklet of liner notes and other ephemera. A top notch release and highly recommended.

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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