Kes [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: English PCM 1.0, English Dolby Digital 1.0
- Subtitles: N/A
- Region: A (Region-Locked)
- Rating: PG-13
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Blu-ray Release Date: April 19, 2011
- List Price: $39.95
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Despite distancing himself and rebelling, if you will, against the British New Wave, responsible for giving us films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, because of what he perceived as the political comprises they made in their works and their use of upper class actors putting on working class accents, it is difficult to deny the debt that director Ken Loach owes to those filmmakers. Their neorealist views of working class Britons facing real problems were shocking and controversial in the late 50s and early 60s and open the door for even more intense, realistic looks at the hard lives of “real” people to come.
Ken Loach’s 1970 film Kes is one of those films. From Barry Hines’ 1968 novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, Kes follows the fifteen-year-old Billy Casper (David Bradley). He lives in a Northern English mining town where he’s a misfit with no plans for a future and he’s facing graduation and a hard life of working in the mines or the factories. He lives in a house so small he must share a bed with his brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher). Jud’s already joined the ranks of the coalminers and his bitterness at a life of drudgery ahead and the hopefulness of youth lost is taken out on Billy. Meanwhile, their mother (Lynne Perrie) is no help to their self-esteem whatsoever, a product of society’s perils herself.
With his schoolmates teasing him, his home life no escape and his teachers feeding into the idea that he will never amount to anything, Billy’s only escape from the cycle comes when he discovers a kestrel hawk living in a hole in an old medieval monastery ruin. Billy catches the hawk, steals a book on falconry, and soaks it up. He learns how to train the kestrel, which he names Kes. It offers his only escape from the oppressive social order he is bound to – a life as a skilled laborer. He has proven to himself that, despite what his teachers have said, he can learn, and he can do something other than be a coal miner, but what does it matter?
Kes is a beautifully filmed and heartbreaking examination of the human spirit. It shows hope where hope should have been stripped away. With gorgeous imagery of Northern England and a melancholy score, its almost documentary feel is its strength, making this a timeless classic.
With the support of MGM, Kes has been completely restored for this release in a digital intermediate workflow. Surviving preprint film elements included a 35mm color reversal internegative and the original 35mm camera negative, both severely scratched and worn from more than forty years of printing, Since the CRI was complete, but the negative unedited, scanning both film elements was necessary. The negative was scanned on an ARRISCAN Film Scanner in 6K resolution to obtain the full gamut of picture information. Director Ken Loach and director of photography Chris Menges supervised the grading, which was performed on a Spirit 4K Datacine and then used as a road map when the negative was edited to conform to it. Elements missing from the negative, such as titles, optical dissolves, and fades, were taken from the CRI.
Intimate, gritty, cold, and completely filmic in quality, this lovely restoration of Kes is a marvelous testament to the talents at Criterion, their obvious love of film, and their technical skills. Kes’ production doesn’t pop out at you, but it looks like the cold, damp North of England and this AVC/MPEG-4 transfer has a beautiful, sharp, fine grain structure that is organic and natural. Colors also standout nicely, particularly reds and greens in this rather muted looking palette. Flesh tones, sometimes a little reddish, still look natural as well.
The monaural soundtracks were remastered at 24-bit from the optical track negative and original soundtrack negative. The deep Yorkshire accents were apparently too thick for American distributors, so at their request, the same actors dubbed some sections of the film slightly altering their accents, and that international soundtrack is what the film was distributed with for years. Thankfully, at the filmmakers’ request, the original production soundtrack was restored for this release and it is provided as a PCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) option alongside the international postsync version, which is offered as a low bitrate Dolby Digital 1.0 option.
The disc defaults to the original soundtrack and, in my opinion, unless you you really have a problem with the accents, it is the better sounding option of the two. It sounds more natural with a warmth to the voices that vanishes when switching to the international soundtrack, where things become a bit sharp and harsh. With that being said, the accents are still quite deep on both, so unless you are used to it, you may have trouble following along.
Its another strong showing of supplements on this release from Criterion Collection, which includes a particularly insightful “making of,” an episode of The South Bank Show, and of course, a quality booklet with a must-read essay on Ken Loach and the film.
The Supplements provided with this release are:
- Making Kes (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:44.54) – This forty-five minute video piece features interviews with director Ken Loach, producer Tony Garnett, cinematographer Chris Menges, and actor David Bradley. They were conducted exclusively for the Criterion Collection in London in the Fall of 2010.
- The South Bank Show (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 0:49.07) – This 1993 episode of the television arts program The South Bank Show profiles director Ken Loach. It features interviews with Loach, producer Tony Garnett, filmmakers Stephen Frears and Alan Parker, writer Jim Allen, and actor Ricky Tomlinson, among others.
- Cathy Come Home (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 1:17.15) – This seventy-seven-minute television drama, an early film by director Ken Loach and producer Tony Garnett, was made for the BBC’s anthology series The Wednesday Play in 1966. It shows the visual grittiness and the sociopolitcal commitment that would be the hallmarks of the work Loach and Garnett throughout their careers. Also presented here is a 2011 afterword by film writer Graham Fuller.
- Trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24)
- Booklet: Illustrated booklet features a lengthy essay on the film and Ken Loach by Graham Fuller plus film credits, information on the transfer and more.
The Definitive Word
Kes is one of the best films to hit the Criterion Collection yet and they have done a superb job with this transfer. This is top of the line entertainment with premium quality. It is a must have for cinephiles and videophiles alike. Highly recommended.
Additional Screen Captures