Lip Flap Revisited

As previously recorded here, the most famous line in Powell & Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, “One is starved of Technicolor up there,” was actually an improv, according to my late friend, third assistant director Lawrie Knight — the line as written was “colour,” and actor Marius Goring, bored of retakes, decided to goof things up. Powell decided to use the quip and was pleased to hear audiences laugh, thus proving to him that “there’s no such thing as realism.”

The line has always (?) been drastically out of sync, a radical case of “lip flap,” and my assumption was that Powell ended up using the picture from a take where Goring said the line as written, along with the soundtrack from the one where he said “Technicolor.” This caused some synchronization problems since there were two extra syllables to fit in somehow, and editor Reggie Mills’ solution always looked rather unconvincing to me.

Anyhow, I bought the Blu-ray at last and Goring is now acceptably synchronized. How was this done? The fact that there’s continuous music under the dialogue should have made it impossible to shift part of the line without throwing the rest out of whack, unless the restorers had access to the original unmixed audio recordings (the restoration note tells us they had access to the original soundtrack, but says nothing about separate voice and music tracks).

Possibly the line was thrown out of whack by a bad splice somewhere in the film’s post-release history, nothing to do with Goring’s improvisation, and the restoration has simply righted this? But if the line was always glaringly off, fixing it is a rather naughty bit of restoration, even if the result is a clear improvement. (The new synch isn’t perfect by any means, but is a heck of a lot better: Goring’s lips are always moving when he talks, and never moving when he doesn’t talk. They may not be mouthing the exact words we hear, but the divergence is now brief and subtle.)

I’d love to know more about this if anyone has the answer…

4 Responses to “Lip Flap Revisited”

  1. Is it definitely the original take? If not, then they wouldn’t need to take apart the audio.

  2. My former assumption was that the movie used the sound from one take and the pic from another. Or it could’ve just been a bad dubbing job, trying to fit “Technicolor” into a take where Goring just says “colour.”

    The reason I didn’t think it would be easy to just slide a couple of words around is that the music is playing constantly under the dialogue.

  3. I mean: is there a chance that the Blu-Ray people had access to the outtake, and substituted the image of the outtake for the image the original editors went with? Seems pretty interventionist, but it might explain the fix without recourse to effects.

  4. No, it can’t be that, because the sync is still somewhat imperfect. And these are reputable people, I don’t think they’d go that far astray. I’m starting to think the serious sync problem may have crept in via a faulty print, been retained on DVD, and this fix (I hope) was made possible by a return to the original elements.

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