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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Pied Piper (Blu-ray)
The Pied Piper (Blu-ray)
Kino // G // April 25, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 16, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Sometimes how one experiences a movie is just as important as the quality of the movie itself. Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey aren't terribly grand experiences on cellphones and tablets, and it's hard to immerse oneself in practically any film in a theater when the person next to you insists on texting throughout the picture.

In the case of Kino's Blu-ray of director Jacques Demy's The Pied Piper (1972), the experience is pretty much ruined by a transfer (presumably provided to them by Paramount) that should never have been released. Actually, it's not so much the transfer itself, which is unimpressive but adequate, but rather the picture and sound elements that were sourced. On one hand it's clear Demy was after a certain look, paying particular care with regard to the use of color in the costume designs.

It's all for naught because Paramount either didn't want to spend the money and/or effort tracking down the original camera negative (assuming it still exists) or at least better film and sound elements. The picture quality of Kino's new Blu-ray is so poor (How poor is it?) I've seen Super-8 prints projected on same-sized screens (mine is 90v) that looked better than this. Most Paramount standard-def DVDs look better than this. The image is soft, blotchy, unsteady, and grainy all at once, while the audio is thin and tinny, requiring much volume adjustment throughout. If it's not the worst looking Blu-ray transfer from a major studio it certainly ranks down there in the Bottom Five.

Having seen nearly all of Demy's other features, I was quite looking forward to this, which I had put off because of earlier inadequate home video versions. (The French DVD, as I recall, is a bit better.) Little did I realize that this would be just as bad, if not worse.

Jacques Demy's previous film, Donkey Skin (Peau d'Âne, 1970), was a huge success in France and perhaps prompted the entirely British Pied Piper, filmed on location in Germany but with an all-British cast. Donkey Skin was a sophisticated, bright, fairy tale musical for children, while The Pied Piper seems to have been Demy's fairly tale told in precisely a contrastive manner. It's dark and despairing, not for children, and despite the presence of singer-songwriter Donovan, not a musical, either though he does perform three songs. The film less resembles Donkey Skin than Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), set in the same period and also concerning the Black Death, or Werner Herzog's later Nosferatu the Vampire (1979), which similarly features a town besieged by rats and a plague-like epidemic.

Demy faithfully follows the legend of the Pied Piper (which dates back to the Middle Ages), but that takes up no more than 15 of the picture's 90-minute running time, and Donovan isn't in it all that much.

Instead, The Pied Piper primarily is concerned with contrasting the rational, science-based efforts of 14th century Jewish alchemist Melius (Michael Hordern, giving the film's best performance), and the greed and gluttony of the Hamelin's ruling class: the Baron (Donald Pleasance), who's trying to find Catholic Church funding for the completion of a cathedral so that he can avoid Hell; and Franz (John Hurt), who has arranged a loveless marriage with Lisa (Cathryn Harrison, Rex's granddaughter, making her film debut), daughter of the Burgermeister (Roy Kinnear), solely for her dowry. They turn a blind eye to Melius's efforts to contain the spread of the Black Death, hiding behind the willfully ignorant Catholic Church, led by the Bishop (Peter Vaughn), who insist the plague is a punishment from God, not a disease whose effects might be minimized.

Filmed in Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria, like Herzog's Nosferatu Demy's film opts for a similarly authentically filthy, grim look, though the movies are set seven centuries apart. The look and some of the black humor also reminds one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), oddly enough. Demy uses color in the striking costume design to contrast the church (all in blood-red) and science in muted blues and earthen tones, but all this is pretty much lost in the Blu-ray.

Hordern's character is especially well played and original in its creation. Melius has science on his side, and while passionate in pleading with the Burgermeister and others to limit the plague's spread is also resigned to their ignorance and how their religious intolerance and prejudices will likely mean everyone's destruction. "Having failed to find a cure I'll be forgotten," he sighs at one point, "but perhaps they'll remember you for your mistakes."

Video & Audio

See above. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen (listed as 1.66:1 on the packaging), The Pied Piper looks awful, owing to the extremely poor film and sound elements sourced. It should never have been released in this form. The mono audio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is wildly uneven and tinny. Region "A" encoded and no Extras.

Parting Thoughts

Given the current war on science, facts, and empirical data, often in collusion with religious extremists, The Pied Piper has an unexpected timeliness. Too bad the Blu-ray is like something that might have aired on UHF stations in 1980. Skip It.





Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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