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VIDEO : Expand Your Laser Horizons

July 28, 1991|JOE SALTZMAN

In the very short history of the laser video disc, there are some heroes. Pioneer and MCA pushed the format commercially when almost everyone else in the video business deserted it. Criterion-Voyager single-handedly showed the potential of the laser video disc, creating the Rolls-Royces of the industry. Image Entertainment helped mass market the discs by adding thousands of titles to the laser video disc library. Warners, MGM/UA and Republic have made extensive use of their libraries to create a growing laser video disc library.

Now Lumivision, a small company in Colorado, joins the list with an unusual library of superbly made discs. Lumivision was created in 1988 by entrepreneur Jamie White. The company's products are first-rate: the sources of its eclectic catalogue are excellent and D2 Composite Digital Tape is used to assure the best transfer possible.

Subjects range from foreign films (Elvira Madigan, Marat Sade) to stress management (Relax With Dennis Weaver) to sky diving (Flight of the Dream Team) to dinosaurs and flying machines (The Smithsonian Laserdisc Collection including films on insects and minerals, the National Zoo and The First Ladies -Symbols for a Nation) and visual music (Crystal Vista, and Natural Light: Windance).

But the real gems of the collection are the five films featuring Ingrid Bergman when she was a young actress in Sweden. The original Swedish films, 1935 to 1940, have been meticulously transferred to laser disc with readable English subtitles. It is safe to say few Americans, if any, have seen these films. Even those familiar with scratchy art-house prints will marvel at the clarity and precision of these images, as well as the radiance of the young Bergman.

In order to give viewers the best quality at the lowest price, Lumivision follows some labels' examples of releasing one side in Extended Play (CLV) and the second side in Standard Play (CAV) This enables the company to squeeze more on one disc.

The indispensable Bergman film is Intermezzo, Gustaf Molander's original 1936 film that American producer David O. Selznick saw and decided to remake with Bergman in 1939.

That turned the actress into an international star. Selznick, worried that some would compare the film with Bergman's first English-speaking debut, made sure no one in America ever saw the Swedish film again, so the original hasn't been seen in this country in 50 years. Molander's romantic drama is far more interesting and moving than the U.S. film, which uses the same name and the same blatantly romantic, if unforgettable musical theme written by Heinz Provost. It was Molander who conceived the story and wrote the script with Gusta Stevens.

In both films, Bergman plays a young pianist who has a passionate affair with a famous older violinist. The Swedish version is harder-edged, and if Gosta Ekman as the violinist doesn't have the good looks Leslie Howard had, he seems more fitted to the role.

The American version, directed by Gregory Ratoff, who must have been under orders to follow Molander's version, is 18 minutes less and benefits from the shorter length. It is available on CBS/Fox or MCA laser video discs.

The other Bergman films available on Lumivision are Dollar, Only One Night, Swedenhielms and June Night.

Also on the catalogue:

The Dream Is Alive: A Window Seat on the Space Shuttle is the official laser disc of the giant-screen IMAX motion picture. It's a fine facsimile of the IMAX adventure; one astronaut says it is "the closest thing to being there."

Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation is very funny. Forget the mainstream cartoons. Nothing Walt Disney ever did rivals "Bambi Meets Godzilla" or "The Thing That Lurked in the Tub."

A Taxing Woman is one of Japan's funniest, wittiest imports. In 1988, it was the winner of the equivalent of nine Japanese Academy Awards.

Best Boy won the 1980 Oscar for best documentary. It tells the story of filmmaker Ira Wohl's retarded cousin, Philly, and is a moving piece of work.

A Walk In the Sun is Lewis Milestone's 1946 World War II movie that tell s the story in gripping detail of a U.S. Army infantry platoon attacking a German hideout in Italy. Robert Rossen's screenplay emphasizes the human aspect of war.

Lumivision is also creating a superb library of silent films, digitally transferred and mastered from the best 35mm prints available at the George Eastman House at the correct frame rate of 16 frames per second. The first two releases are "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Birth of a Nation." More about them in the next Video feature.

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