Matewan appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a largely appealing presentation, though also one likely to cause controversy.
The issue relates to the film’s color timing, as Matewan came with an intensely green/teal impression. Some amber popped up as well, but the movie demonstrated a borderline oppressive sense of green/teal much of the time.
The Criterion Blu-ray represented my first screening of the movie, so I can’t compare to prior experiences. The package’s notes state that “an archival 35mm print manufactured by the UCLA Television and Film Archive under the supervision of cinematographer Haskell Wexler was used as a color reference”, and director John Sayles supervised this 4K scan.
Does this prove that the colors of the Blu-ray are “right”? Maybe, maybe not. Wexler passed away a few years ago, so he couldn’t work on the transfer.
I’ll leave it to others to decide if the hues are correct, wrong or somewhere in between. Given the color choices, they looked fine as depicted.
Overall sharpness satisfied. Occasionally I saw minor instances of softness – usually during interiors – but the movie depicted a nice sense of accuracy and delineation.
I saw no signs of moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge haloes failed to appear. With a nice – but not oppressive – layer of grain, I didn’t sense any digital noise reduction here, and print flaws remained absent.
Blacks offered nice depth and darkness, while low-light shots presented fairly positive smoothness. This became a high-quality transfer, with only the questions about color accuracy as a potential concern.
I found the PCM monaural soundtrack of Matewan to also seem more than adequate given the film’s vintage and ambitions. Dialogue remained intelligible and distinct throughout the movie, with no edginess on display.
Effects came across with adequate clarity. Music sounded reasonably full, though I couldn’t claim the score showed terrific range. The audio didn’t dazzle, but it worked fine.
As we shift to extras, we start with an audio commentary from writer/director John Sayles and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Recorded in 2013, both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/characters and historical elements, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, lighting and photography, and related issues.
Don’t expect much from Wexler, as he fails to say much. Alas, we get no discussion of the film’s colors, so the commentary fails to address that potential controversy.
Sayles dominates the chat and offers a fairly good view of the film. He touches on the appropriate subjects and makes this a reasonably informative chat.
Under The Making of Matewan, we find two featurettes: “Union Dues” (26:17) and “Sacred Words” (31:28). Across these, we hear from Sayles, producer Maggie Renzi, production designer Nora Chavooshian, and actors James Earl Jones, Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, David Straithairn and Will Oldham.
The programs cover the project’s roots and development, research/history, story and characters, the crew, production design and cinematography, locations and reflections on West Virginia, cast and performances, Sayles’ work as director, and various memories of the shoot.
Across nearly an hour, we get good reflections related to the film. I can’t call “Making” a great overview, but it works well and gives useful observations.
Footnote: only Chavooshian discusses the film’s colors here, which she refers to as primarily “grays, dark blues and browns”. She doesn’t mention the greens that we see on this Blu-ray.
With The Music of Matewan, we get an 18-minute, 46-second interview with composer Mason Daring. He examines how he came to Matewan as well as his work on the film. Daring brings us a nice sense of the subject matter.
Production Design spans 14 minutes, 43 seconds and brings a chat with Chavooshian. She discusses her work on the film and challenges related to its limited budget. Abetted by glimpses of photos and art from the production, this becomes a good chat.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc finishes with Them That Work, a 27-minute, 57-second program. In this, we get remarks from Sayles, Cooper, Renzi, Straithairn, Wexler, Oldham, producer Peggy Rajski, Storming Heaven author Denise Giardina, film extras Daniel Boyd, AJ Milam, Gene and Colin Worthington, and Bill Richardson, University of Iowa professor David Ryfe, theatrical storyteller Karen Vuranch, When Miners March book editor Wess Harris, Matewan Mayor Sheila Kessler, National Park Service’s Leah Perkowski, West Virginia resident Tom Dragan, 2n unit cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, filmmakers Morgan Spurlock, Van Flesher and Dave Brock, former WV residents Ellen and John Bullock, former WV Film Office director Pamela Haynes, and actor Scott Martin.
“Work” covers some of the history related to the film as well as its path to the screen, shooting in West Virginia and the production’s impact on the community. Some of “Work” repeats from other extras, but its focus on the WV locations and locals gives it added insight.
As usual, a booklet completes the package. This foldout affair mixes credits, art and an essay from critic AS Hamrah. It concludes matters well.
A grim character tale, Matewan offers a good snapshot of its era and circumstances. Packed with solid performances and an involving narrative, the movie works well. The Blu-ray offers positive audio and a nice array of supplements along with visuals that look good but may cause controversy. Despite the latter topic, this becomes a nice release.