A staple of film critics' lists of favorite movies, director Vincente Minnelli's musical The Band Wagon skewers avant-garde New York theater even more brilliantly than Singin' in the Rain lampoons early Hollywood talkies. Fred Astaire makes the enterprise delectably elegant from start to finish as Tony Hunter, a washed-up movie star who's talked into doing a musical version of Faust on Broadway. The show bombs in the hands of a pretentious, overbearing producer-director (Jack Buchanan), but Astaire reworks it into a hoofin'-filled hit.
On tape, Band Wagon is a blurry, brownish affair. But watching this stunning new laserdisc release, mastered from a restored negative, is like getting a new pair of glasses. You can spy the finest texture in a costume's fabric and the words of every last sign in a terrific soundstage mock-up of 42nd Street detail upon color drenched detail-making the film look nearly three-dimensional. The laserdisc edition even appends ''Two-Faced Woman,'' a so-so Charisse production number wisely cut from release prints. Its inclusion here makes Minnelli's consummate judgment even more impressive. A CAV edition, which lets lower-priced laser machines achieve the same freeze-frame and slow- motion effects as top-priced players, throws in the original trailer as well. Either incarnation dazzles. A