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My Fair Lady: Special Edition

My Fair Lady (1964) is a great movie musical almost in spite of itself, or rather, in spite of director George Cukor, who shows no facility with the genre. What should have been helmed by Minnelli (over at MGM) or Stanley Donen instead is overseen by a director credited with being a great woman's director, i.e., a man of no particular visual flair or cinematic identity. Cukor doing a My Fair Lady is like Robert Wise doing The Sound of Music, a creature of the studio system with a leaden hand mounting what is basically a TV-ish film that succeeds solely by the force of the actors and the songs they sing. My Fair Lady now enjoys a 40th anniversary, two-disc release that may strike consumers as definitive, but those with a long memory of the short history of DVDs, and of Laserdiscs before them, will know better. In fact, DVD collectors who are waiting for Warner Home Video to release still-unobtainable treasures from its archive will wonder if there is any reason than the commercial imperative of a 40th anniversary to inspire this second Region One iteration of the DVD. That's because the transfer appears to be the same as the one released on DVD in 1998, which was itself the DVD version of the 1994 Laserdisc, with the same extras. The Laserdisc came with a CD of the soundtrack, a portfolio of Cecil Beaton's costume designs, plus the 1994 restoration documentary "More Loverly Than Ever," two recordings of Audrey Hepburn singing, both of which appear here. The previous Warner DVD had an audio commentary track, "The Fairest Fair Lady," which is a contemporaneous promotional short, four theatrical trailers, and the two Hepburn singing takes. So what's new in this set? The most ephemeral of additional material: raw newsreel footage of the so-called 1963 Production Kickoff Dinner, newsreel footage of the premiere, a brief audio of Cukor directing Baroness Bina Rothschild (who played the Queen of Transylvania), sketches, production stills, audio promotional material of Rex Harrison talking about the film's production, Rex Harrison's pre-recorded Golden Globe acceptance speech, Jack Warner's Oscar acceptance speech, a list of the film's awards and two brief snippets — of Martin Scorsese plugging film preservation, and Andrew Lloyd Webber sharing his memoirs of the musicals creators. Is it worth springing for this new celebratory two disc set when the transfer itself remains the same? It depends on whether you are a Shaw-My Fair Lady-Hepburn-Harrison fanatic. If you absolutely cannot live without hearing Harrison's pre-fab Golden Globe award, then, yes, this set must find its way into your library. If the addition of Jack Warner's brief thanks rounds out your collection of Warniana, than yes, this is something you need. Otherwise, if you already have the DVD, this set is only for people who just got into DVD collecting recently. It's a set packed with material that by rights should have been on the 1998 set. Warner Home Video might have waited until now in order to offer just one DVD version of the movie, but as numerous DVD vendors have shown, one makes money in this business by releasing the same discs over and over again, rather than bearing the expense of reviving a whole catalog of older films. Dual-DVD digipak with slipcase.
—D.K. Holm

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