The Black Pirate
There are a lot of different editions of Albert Parker's The Black Pirate (1926), starring (and produced by) Douglas Fairbanks out there on DVD, but Kino claims its is restored, a direct conversion from its laserdisc edition of the movie, dating from 1996. This reviewer saw a very good theatrical presentation of the movie at New York's renowned Film Forum in 2006, just a few days before screening this disc, that didn't look quite as bright or, generally, as crisp as what we see on Kino's DVD. Indeed, once one gets past the rather minimalist main titles and cast list -- which are originals -- the movie looks at least a decade newer than any 1926 movie has a right to look in the twenty-first century -- the two-strip Technicolor shooting process has its limitations, but not many, and the materials have been carefully restored; Fairbanks was impressed with the two-color Technicolor Toll of the Sea in 1922, but had to wait until the company had developing facilities established in Hollywood before he would consider shooting a movie using the process. As scholar Rudy Behlmer explains in his exceptionally fine commentary track (accessible most easily by pushing the "audio" button on your remote), Fairbanks and Technicolor's technicians carefully worked out an antiquarian look to the movie in choosing the color tones, so that the movie, in its every shot, looked like an artifact unearthed from the late Seventeenth Century, like a contemporary pirate account on parchment, unearthed and unfolded. The fact that it has survived at all is something of a miracle, as Behlmer explains in his commentary -- the story of its rescue and restoration makes something of a thriller story in itself, almost as exciting as the movie itself. The 90-minute movie has been given a generous 18 chapters, and is augmented not only with Behlmer's commentary but also 19 minutes of surviving outtakes, plus a new recording of the 1926 score authored by Mortimer Wilson, which is astonishingly sophisticated -- apparently, Fairbanks gave the composer a free hand in terms of what he wrote, advising him to let the music evolve in its own way. The outtakes come complete with commentary, explaining their importance -- the action has also been slowed down so that it's possible to study how certain stunts and special effects (most notably the ride down the sail on a slicing sword) were done. It's a little difficult to maneuver around the menu at first, but overall this is an extremely satisfying DVD, with a lot to offer both the casual viewer and the serious silent movie enthusiast, and well worth the asking price.