I've been wanting to watch the Madame Bovery-like remake Abraham's Valley by the great Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira for the past ten years but it has never been available in VHS or DVD in the U.S. Then a couple of months ago I found a third generation bootleg PAL transferred to VHS but it was of such poor quality that I decided to wait until the DVD was available from Vanguard. When I received the DVD I popped it in to check the quality and unfortunately, the transfer was so flawed that I was unable to watch more than ten minutes. As it stands I still have not seen Abraham's Valley and due to the deficient quality of this DVD I'll have to put off watching it for a while.
For some reason Vanguard, on another occasion that I am aware of (the other one was for the Indian film Vanaprastham), has improperly transferred a 1.85:1 film to 1.33:1 and the results are horrendous. It's bad enough when video companies take a film shot widescreen format (any film that is 2.35:1, 1.85:1 or 1.66:1) and transfer it to pan-n-scan (1.33:1) but what Vanguard has done is worse.
What they have done is to leave the image in anamorphic looking mode without reformatting it to a proper image shape. So as a result every image is squeezed and elongated. Thus, every actor, every tree, every car, everything looks tall, skinny and completely disproportionate. Which is not only antithetical to what the filmmaker wanted but it also makes for damn near impossible viewing.
Perhaps Vanguard doesn't have a quality control department or maybe the video print from which they transferred the movie was also screwed up. To be fair when I called Vanguard they told me that the video was indeed bad. But if this is the case then why would they even attempt to release it? Or more importantly why wouldn't they attempt to get a better video copy? I know for a fact that a good copy is available in PAL VHS from Amazon UK
It's enough that this kind of mistake happens every so often but when Vanguard then takes a bad quality DVD and markets and sells it to an unsuspecting public with no plans of fixing the problem then it really is unprofessional. This is a disservice to the filmmaker – who in this case lives in Portugal and is probably unaware – and an obvious disservice to the buyer who has to shell out $29.95 as well as a disservice to Vanguard's business practices – since they indeed do have some very good movies in their catalogue that they undoubtedly want to sell in the future.
Abraham's Valley may be a great movie but in its current state we will never know. Vanguard is a fine company and one that works to promote the lesser known and seen films. This is something we at DVDtalk.com appreciate since so many lauded films - such as Abraham's Valley - get ignored by distributors in this country. But, nonetheless, this DVD should never have been released with this flaw and I don't think it is asking too much for the DVD to be recalled and reissued at a later date properly presented and correctly formatted.