Night and Fog appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dssle-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture seemed surprisingly strong given the age and genre of the production.
Sharpness looked quite good. The source material occasionally turned a bit soft or indistinct, but not frequently. Instead, the image usually seemed well defined and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects appeared absent, and I witnessed no signs of edge enhancement.
As one might expect, a mix of source defects cropped up throughout the film. Mostly I saw running vertical lines, but debris, marks and specks also manifested themselves. Those appeared during the historical shots; the then-contemporary images of the camps looked very clean. Even the pre-existing footage was less flawed than I anticipated. Sure, quite a few concerns were there, but they didn’t come across as heavy or prevalent. The most distracting issue affected shots of a train as it rolled out; those bits looked jumpy and fluttery. Otherwise, the movie was unexpectedly free from problems.
While most of Fog used pre-existing black and white footage, then-new color shots of the camps appeared sporadically through the piece. The hues looked somewhat subdued, but they seemed smooth and fairly accurate nonetheless. Black levels varied dependent on the source, but they were fine across the board, and low-light sequences also displayed no significant issues. It feels kind of odd to nitpick the visuals of a movie such as this, but it appeared that a lot of effort went into the transfer for Fog.
The film’s monaural soundtrack also seemed reasonably positive for its era. Speech could appear somewhat edgy and coarse at times, but the lines mostly displayed acceptable accuracy and natural qualities. No effects appeared during the production. The score was surprisingly rich and full given its age. The music never really leapt to life, but it sounded fairly vivid and tight. A little noise and popping occurred, but the track mostly seemed clean and free from source defects. Overall the audio was fine.
Only a smattering of extras appear on Night and Fog. In addition to the film’s standard French soundtrack, you can watch it with an isolated score, which offers a nice alternative for movie music fans. The Crew Profiles give us fairly brief and perfunctory looks at director Alain Resnais, producer Anatole Dauman, writer Jean Cayrol, cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, assistant cinematographer Sacha Vierny, composer Hanns Eisler, historical consultants Olga Wormser and Henri Michel, and assistant director Chris Marker.
Lasting five minutes and 15 seconds, we get a 1994 interview with director Alain Resnais. Recorded for a radio show called “Le Etoiles du cinema”, this clip tells us a little about how Resnais came onto the project, but it mostly focuses on a controversy that almost resulted in major cuts to the film. It’s too brief to give us much information, but it adds a bit of useful material.
Finally, the set comes with an eight-page booklet. Film critic Phillip Lopate offers an appraisal of the movie, while historian Peter Cowie gives us some short notes about “origins and controversy”. Lastly, Russell Lock writes “about the composer”. While this booklet lacks the detail and depth of the better Criterion offerings, it nonetheless contributes a reasonable amount of worthwhile information.
A powerful account of the Nazi concentration camps, Night and Fog tells its tale well and creates a strong look at the horrors that occurred in these places. However, its strength also becomes something of a weakness, as the graphic visuals make the movie very difficult to watch at times. The DVD presents picture and sound that seem quite good given the age and nature of the project, and the smattering of extras bring a little to the package. With a price of less than $15, Night and Fog makes an invaluable addition to the collections of history buffs or those in education, but don’t expect to want to check it out for non-instructional reasons, as it remains one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I’ve encountered.