Dec 20 2014

‘Third Man on the Mountain’ on TCM

In 1865, British mountaineer Edward Whymper led the first climbing party to successfully scale the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps and one of the last of the Alpine peaks to be conquered. Author and veteran mountaineer James Ramsey Ullman fictionalized the event in his novel Banner in the Sky, changing the name of the peak to the Citadel and making the hero a young man whose father, a famous mountain guide, died saving his client on an expedition up the mountain. That book became the basis for the 1959 Disney adventure Third Man on the Mountain, directed by Ken Annakin and starring Disney’s new discovery, James MacArthur.

The son of actress Helen Hayes, MacArthur was spotted by Disney in his debut feature, The Young Stranger (1957) and made his Disney debut a year later in The Light in the Forest (1958). Third Man on the Mountain was his second Disney feature and his first leading role for the family studio. To prepare for the role, MacArthur joined his co-stars for a two-week crash course in mountaineering in the Swiss Alps. Many of them became so proficient that they performed some of their own stunts. “They had some really fine Swiss mountain climbers doing some scaling of the mountains that was beyond my skills,” explained MacArthur in an interview years later. “But Ken [Annakin, the director] had me out hanging over 3,000 foot drops.”

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Sunday, December 21

Dec 19 2014

Chet Baker, Choppy Waters: ‘Let’s Get Lost’

1987, Santa Monica. Chet Baker is weathered and worn. Filmed in black and white in the back of a convertible at night, framed by a pair of lovely young models, with street lights and headlights catching his features in a slash or a flash, his once smooth cheeks are leathery with age beyond his years and his face is sinking in to his skull as if his youth was eaten away from within.

Chet Baker

1953, Los Angeles. The contact sheets of William Claxton’s photos from a recording session picks Chet Baker out of the ensemble. Holding his trumpet with an easy nonchalance, hanging with a laid-back presence of knowing he belongs, with eyes as soulful as James Dean and hair like Elvis Presley and cheekbones that look carved by Michelangelo, Baker is the young Adonis of cool jazz.

“He was bad, he was trouble and he was beautiful,” remarks a former lover, one of many tossed overboard to the choppy waters of his life. In the lens of Bruce Weber’s documentary, however, he’s still beautiful, a survivor wearing the scars of a turbulent life to a fashion shoot, the stark black and white picking out every scuff and wrinkle like it was earned. What we first see as a “seamy looking drugstore cowboy-cum-derelict,” in the words of Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman, takes on a ravaged grace through the course of Let’s Get Lost. In part that’s due to the hushed spell of his singing voice on ballads from the American songbook but mostly it’s because of Weber’s gaze.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Dec 16 2014

Videophiled: Barbara Steele and ‘The Long Hair of Death’

LongHairofDeath

Raro VIdeo

The Long Hair of Death (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) – Raro Video, the American arm of an Italian home video company, is one of only a couple of disc labels with a tightly-defined mission, in this case a focus on classics of Italian cinema that ranges from auteur masterworks to genre landmarks and cult items. The Long Hair of Death (1964) is one of the latter, a moody Gothic horror from genre stalwart Antonio Margheriti (whose name was immortalized by Quentin Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds) starring Barbara Steele, the British actress who became the most striking and mesmerizing star of Italian horror cinema in the sixties.

The preferred genre of the prolific Margheriti (whose films were often signed with the anglicized pseudonym Anthony Dawson, as it is here) was science fiction but, being an Italian director in the genre pool of the sixties (and later the seventies and eighties), he did it all: peplum, fantasy, crime, action, westerns, and of course horror of all kinds. His Gothic horrors of the sixties are among his best and this, his second collaboration with Steele (after Castle of Blood, 1964), is a minor beauty of the genre, a medieval revenge film with an innocent burned for witchcraft, a corrupt aristocracy, a curse, a ghost, and a sweet, sweet revenge. Steele is the eldest daughter of the woman framed for murder and burned alive and as she sacrifices her maidenhood to Count Humboldt to stop the trial by fire, his cruel son Kurt (George Ardisson, looking like Italy’s answer to Doug McClure with bad attitude) ignites the “test” blaze, which is quite literally a maze of bundled straw surrounding the accused It’s a great scene, with the woman scrambling up on a cross in the center of the inferno as pyres rage around her to spit a curse upon the family, and Steele soon follows, murdered to cover up the sins of the Humboldt family. Only when her innocent young stepsister Lisabeth is grown into a young beauty (Halina Zalewska) and forced into marriage to the scheming Kurt does Steele return, this time as the embodiment of her mother. She takes the name Mary and poses as a seductive traveler who immediately becomes of object of Kurt’s obsession. She turns seductress and appears to encourage Kurt to murder his wife but her true motivations are more insidious.

It’s a little slow as these things go, with the story just creeping along as Margheriti’s camera drinks in the atmosphere of the gorgeous castle locations and the secret passageways and ominous crypts and dungeon sets. It’s an atmosphere of plague and pestilence, though the ravages are only glimpses outside the castle walls (the peasants are, of course, locked out), but the worst seems to be over (coincidentally as Mary appears) and the local priest prepares to preside over a celebratory ceremony that looks positively pagan. The tension between peasant superstition, religious power, and the purely self-serving rule of the corrupt aristocracy makes an interesting backdrop that, while never really explored, figures in the finale as revenge is served.

The rest is about the beauty of figures that float through the atmosphere of Margheriti’s sets and locations and the mesmerizing presence of Steele, whose scary beauty is delicate and vulnerable yet feral and fierce. She is equally compelling as the innocent maiden of the opening scenes, the seductress in the castle, and the avenging dark angel of her wronged mother. But even if the film meanders more than it unnerves, more interested in creating elegant images and moments than tension or mood, the finale is perfectly orchestrated and it delivers a deliciously cruel poetic justice with echoes to Bava’s Black Sunday, the film that made Steele an icon of Italian horror.

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Barbara Steele in ‘The Long Hair of Death’

This appears to be an excellent transfer from less-than-stellar source materials. At its best the image is sharp and clean, with excellent detail and a rich gray scale in the black and white image, but the sharpness can vary from shot to shot. That may be inherent in the original photography or a matter of restoring the complete film from different sources (there are no notes on the provenance of the elements or the transfer apart from “New HD Transfer Digitally Restored). It has English language credits and both Italian and English language soundtracks, but it also has brief scenes of nudity that were surely not in the American release. There is a light, almost ghostly spiderwebbing of what looks like emulsion cracks through a few sequences over what is otherwise a strong image but no other glaring damage. It’s likely the best materials available for the film and the digital transfer is very good, delivering a strong, steady image. Note that the English soundtrack features an (unidentified) American actress dubbing Steele’s lines and a poor visual match to the lips, so I favor the Italian soundtrack with subtitles.

Also features an introduction by Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria and Delirium Magazine and director of Blood for Irina (he makes the claim for this as Steele’s finest Italian Gothic moment), and video interviews with Edoardo Margheriti (the director’s son) and screenwriter Antonio Tentorio, all shot on standard definition video, probably a decade ago or so, and the accompanying booklet features a short essay on the film and the Italian Gothic horror genre by Alexander.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital at Cinephiled

Barbara Steele in ‘The Long Hair of Death’

Dec 15 2014

Presenting Thanhouser, the Greatest American Independent Studio of the 1910s

The title to Ned Thanhouser‘s documentary, The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of American Cinema, isn’t mere hyperbole.

Veteran stage actor and theater manager Edwin Thanhouser (the director’s grandfather) made his move from live theater to making movies for the growing market of cinema in 1909. By 1918, as the industry grew beyond Thanhouser’s ability to keep pace, he closed it down. In those nine years of the studio’s existence, a period in which it produced over 1,000 shorts, features and serials, the industry changed dramatically. The stranglehold of Patents Trust over the fledgling industry was broken, short films gave way to features, the center of filmmaking relocated from New York to California, Hollywood was born, the grammar of narrative filmmaking evolved from tableaux scenes and simple continuity editing to complex patterns of shots to tell complicated stories, and the reign of the studio brand gave way to the birth of movie stars.

‘The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of American Cinema’

According to the film, which is guided by historical research of Q. David Bowers, Thanhouser accounted for twenty-five percent of the independent films made in the United States at the peak of its success. The Thanhouser brand was a recognized mark of quality to audiences and distributors alike and two Thanhouser shorts, The Cry of the Children (1912), which addressed child labor in American factories, and The Evidence of the Film (1913), one of a number of Thanhouser films that incorporates the filmmaking process itself in the storytelling, were selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Yet only a few years later, the once-vibrant Thanhouser was in danger of becoming old-fashioned and behind the times. The story of Thanhouser is in the story of the rapid transformation of American movies in the most creatively and commercially dramatic era of American cinema.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Dec 14 2014

Videophiled: ‘Out of the Past’ on Blu-ray

OutPastBluray

Warner Archive Collection

Out of the Past (Warner Archive, Blu-ray) – In a genre full of desperate characters scrambling and plotting to grab their slice of the American dream, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947) is a hard-boiled tale of betrayal with an unusually haunting quality. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is the classic doomed not-so-innocent of the American cinema, a former private detective whose life is forever changed when he falls in love with the wrong woman: Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), the runaway mistress of a gangster (Kirk Douglas, all shark-like smiles). He’s been hired to get both her and the small fortune she stole back. She has other ideas and immediately seduces him, sending him on a long road to a fatal dead end.

Jacques Tourneur’s masterpiece has been called the greatest film noir of all time and I wouldn’t argue the claim. It’s certainly one of the quintessential expressions of the genre, a hard-boiled story of betrayal and revenge with its compromised PI, vindictive gangster, coldly conniving femme fatale, and flashback structure narrated by the wounded hero. It opens in an idealized rural Eden, flashes back to the corrupt city and an exotic escape south of the border, and crawls into a snake-in-Eden thriller of deception, regret, and scarred-over emotional wounds, and it’s beautifully photographed by Nicholas Musuraca, RKO’s resident expert in shadowy atmosphere and clear-eyed perceptions.

The photography alone is reason enough to get the Blu-ray; in a genre of hard shadows and stark graphic imagery, this film contrasts the dark scenes of murder and treachery with the rural escape and the wooded retreats, an ideal that is slowly corrupted when the city crooks arrive. But this is one of the noir essentials and features perhaps Mitchum’s greatest role. He delivers more than merely a performance: his sleepy-eyed sneer and laconic delivery create the quintessential bad boy with a good soul and resigned acceptance of his fate. And Greer is blithely seductive as the alluring but hollow object of his obsession. “Don’t you see you’ve only me to make deals with now?”

It’s a beautifully-mastered disc from an excellent source print, with no visible scratches or damage. The image is crisp and sharp and the contrasts are excellent, pulling out the details in the light and in the shadows. It features the commentary track by film noir expert James Ursini recorded for the 2004 DVD release.

More Blu-rays from the Warner Archive at Cinephiled

Dec 12 2014

Videophiled TV Sets: The Complete ‘Secret Agent’

SecretAgentCompleteSecret Agent (aka Danger Man): The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD) – Before Patrick McGoohan was The Prisoner, he was John Drake, the maverick agent of Britain’s top secret M9 security force, in the series Danger Man. The show began in 1960, before the first Bond feature was released, in a 30-minute format, with the cool, clever undercover operative Drake sneaking into Eastern bloc regimes and Latin American dictatorships to flush out traitors and assassins, recover stolen secrets, and dabble in a little espionage himself.

That incarnation lasted a single season and was cancelled after the American networks failed to renew it, but a few years later it was reworked as an hour-long show in the wake of the renewed interest in spy shows and Cold War conflicts and it was picked in the U.S. under the title Secret Agent and a new theme, “Secret Agent Man,” sung by Johnny Rivers. (This set features the original British version of the series, with the Danger Man title and a harpsichord theme song.) Where he was once the loyal agent who follows faithfully orders, even when he seems to be on the side of status quo in some very repressive countries, the realpolitik shenanigans are played out with less assuredness and a creeping sense of futility, as if anticipating the disillusionment of McGoohan’s later series The Prisoner, in the second edition. Episodes played with the ambivalence of cold war politics (“Whatever Happened To George Foster,” “That’s Two of Us Sorry”), and two of them even anticipate The Prisoner: in “Colony Three,” a spy school in a manufactured village that could be the inspiration for The Prisoner’s village, and “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” features a mind game worthy of the new Number 2. Both of the latter episodes were directed by Don Chaffey, who helmed his share of The Prisoner.

Still, it was, like the U.S. series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a cleverly-constructed show built of elaborate espionage shell games and diplomatic chicanery, with McGoohan as the ingenious con man behind the bluffs and feints. The series ends with the only two episodes made in color: “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima,” both set in Japan and later combined and turned into the TV movie Koroshi. This set features the original episodic versions.

The series has been on DVD before but the original release is long out of print and had been going for high prices. This set features the original British broadcast versions of all 86 episodes with the same transfers as the A&E release but compacts it in a smaller box set of three cases, organized by season (as broadcast in the U.S.), and is quite reasonably priced. It features commentary on three episodes and bonus interview with Catherin McGoohan. All that’s missing is the alternate American version of the credits with the rocking theme song.

More TV box sets at Cinephiled

Patrick McGoohan is John Drake

Dec 09 2014

Videophiled: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ versus ‘Time Bandits’

GuardiansGalaxy

Disney

Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) is based on one of the more obscure Marvel Comics to get the big screen treatment, but everything about the film suggests a filmmaker trying to recapture the sense of energy and color and sheer fun of Star Wars and the pop space opera. That’s a pretty good marriage and director James Gunn, whose talent for balancing genre tropes with tongue-in-cheek humor and colorful characters came through nicely in Slither, makes it a winning union.

It’s not that the story is particularly fresh—there’s a super-evil megalomaniac (Lee Pace) bent on exterminating an entire race of beings and he needs a fabled super-weapon to execute his plan, which intergalactic soldier of fortune Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who calls himself Star Lord, happens to have—and frankly the whole everything-hinges-on-a-series-of-showdowns third act is getting a little tired by now. That’s par for the course for both comic book action spectacles and space opera adventures and this doesn’t shake it off.

But Gunn does make the journey a lot of fun, with an oddball cast of renegades who, tossed together in a deep space prison, team up to escape and wind up staying together because it suits their purposes, but really because it sucks to be alone. These guys are all outlaws, but they are not villains, and in the right place at the right time, that makes them heroes. The script is tossed through with entertaining banter, the action sequences are spirited and filled with inventive imagery, and the spirit of the whole enterprise is bright and energized, right down to the bouncy jukebox of seventies tunes that Peter carries around as his personal soundtrack.

Chris Pratt is shaggily charming as the rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdog causes, Zoe Saldana is Gamora, the butt-kicking, green-skinned assassin who wants revenge against her adoptive father, wrestling star Dave Bautista is the muscular and very literal-minded Drax the Destroyer (again, on a mission of vengeance), Bradley Cooper voices the gun-toting, wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel is the heart of the team as Groot, a walking tree of few words.

Here’s a deleted scene from the Blu-ray:

The DVD includes a short promo for the upcoming The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The wealth of extras is saved for the two-disc Blu-ray (which features both standard and 3D versions of the film). Director James Gunn really engages with the film for the commentary track. He’s not new to the format—he did commentary for Slither, Super, even his screenwriting debut film Tromeo & Juliet—but you gotta figure he’s been waiting his career for something like this and he’s clearly engaged to share it all. He’s also in the playful 21-minute “Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn,” which crams a lot of territory into a very short piece. There’s also a short overview on the visual effects, a brief collection of deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Gunn), and an obligatory gag reel.

Also on cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon Instant, and other digital rental services.

TimeBanditsBD

Criterion

Time Bandits (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) is a fractured fairy tale from the cracked imagination of Terry Gilliam, who wrote the warped adventure with fellow Monty Python alum Michael Palin. It’s a strange and weird and wonderful mix of boy’s own adventure, Python-esque humor, and grim irony, all wrapped in tall tales, ancient myths, and historical figures. British schoolboy Kevin (Craig Warnock) is pulled through a series of holes in time and space by a raucous band of renegade dwarfs (among them David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, and Jack Purvis) attempting to plunder their way through history. They’re no criminal masterminds, mind you, and the incredulous Kevin becomes a voice of reason and even something of an anchor when the gang gets tangled up in silly spats and Three Stooges-like shenanigans. And he gets the ride of his life as he meets Napoleon (Ian Holm, who is delighted by “little things hitting each other”), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and Agamemnon (Sean Connery) along the way.

This was Gilliam’s sophomore picture and he makes a significant leap from his debut solo effort Jabberwocky as both a storyteller and a cinematic artist. He lets us see it all through Kevin’s eyes, from a roaring horse that breaks out of his bedroom closet like a dragon from a storybook to the comforting entrance of Sean Connery as the heroic Agamemnon adopting Kevin like he’s an orphaned prince. But the whimsy and idealized heroics are leavened with satirical jabs—Robin Hood’s men are not so merry and their benevolence comes at an unexpected price—and the whole adventure turns out to be monitored by the scheming personification of Evil (David Warner). The colorful set pieces, imaginative design, and physical humor seems aimed at kids, while the dark satire presages Brazil, making it as much an adult film as a children’s fantasy. It’s hard to tell if the grim coda is Gilliam’s idea of a tragedy or a happy ending, but it does tap into a primal urge of adolescent rebellion: a child’s revenge fantasy made real. It’s also hilarious and imaginative and completely unruly, emphasis on that last note. Chaos reigns, evil exists, and the best we can do is keep our eyes open and hold our own.

Criterion released an edition on DVD back in the early days of the format and Image released a disappointing Blu-ray a few years ago. This edition comes from a new 2K digital transfer from the original camera negative supervised by Gilliam and it is a great improvement over all previous American disc releases. It includes the new featurette “Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits” with production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson discussing the design and creation of the world and illustrated with production sketches and artwork and stills from the finished film.

Carried over from previous Criterion releases is commentary by director Terry Gilliam, co-screenwriter and actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock, recorded in 1997 and featured on the original laserdisc release. There are also some archival interviews: Terry Gilliam in discussion with film scholar Peter von Bagh as the 1998 Midnight Sun Film Festival and actress Shelley Duvall with Ton Snyder on Tomorrow from 1981. And in place of the booklet is a fold-out insert with an essay by film critic David Sterritt on one side and reproduction of the time-hole map from the film on the other.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD at Cinephiled

Dec 08 2014

Ten Silent Movies to Make You a Silent Movie Fan

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”
—Norma Desmond, Sunset Blvd.

You say that you’re really into old movies and you can’t get enough of the classics but you just haven’t found a way to love silent cinema? You say that all your friends are doing the silents and you feel left out? You say that you too want to be part of the early cinema crowd but just haven’t found your way to loving the movies before sound?

‘The New Gentlemen’

Even among many classic cinema buff, silent movies can appear alien and unfriendly, a duty more than a treat. And it shouldn’t be that way at all. In their day, silent films were a universal entertainment, a truly popular art that transcended language and culture.

There are those who think of silent films as primitive and naïve. Some were, to be sure, but movies grew up quickly in those early years. Those primitive experiments and one-shot gags matured into feature films in under two decades, and the knockabout slapstick comedies of the Keystone Kops gave way to the comic grace of Charlie Chaplin and the invention of Buster Keaton just a few years.

And then there’s those scratchy, poorly-preserved prints that were often presented at wrong projection speeds that made everything look sped up and absurd. It’s hard to appreciate let alone recognize the scope and technical wonder of the silent extravaganzas under such conditions.

Thanks to the efforts of film preservationists, a new spirit of cooperation between international film archives, and new digital tools, those days are fast disappearing. Silent cinema is getting a makeover and audiences are finally getting a chance to see the glamor and splendor that original audiences saw when they went out to the flickers.

There is a universe of films, genres, moods, sensibilities and styles to be discovered in the thirty-plus years of cinema before the introduction of sound changed the way films were made and experienced. This isn’t necessarily a list of the greatest or the most important silent films (though there are some of both sprinkled through), but rather a selection of the most entertaining and engaging films of the era. Consider it a place to start your appreciation of the glory and grandeur that was the cinema before sound.

From the recently restored version of ‘A Trip to the Moon’

A Trip to the Moon (1902, Georges Méliès)
You want to get an idea of how lavish and creative the so-called primitives could be? Magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès was a pioneering special effects artist and a fantasist with an unbound imagination, but more than anything else he was a showman and A Trip to the Moon is his most ambitious spectacle. Thanks to the painstaking restoration of the sole surviving hand-painted print of the film by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, we can now see what enthralled audiences at the turn of the 20th century: a picture-book fantasy brought to life as a work of pure, playful imagination with crazy special effects and delirious color. Accompany this with a screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and you might just come away with a new appreciation for the early years of filmmaking. And if this inspires more interest in the pre-feature era of filmmaking, try the fantasies of Ferdinand Zecca and the work of Alice Guy-Blaché, the most versatile filmmaker of her era.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Dec 07 2014

Videophiled Landmarks: ‘The Conformist’ restored and reinvigorated

Conformist

Raro Video

The Conformist (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) opens in the deep blue of dawn, an intense, vibrant azure with a hint of ultramarine that blankets the city like an ocean. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a petty bourgeois Italian who just wants to disappear into the fabric of his society, specifically Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s, has volunteered to be an informant for the Secret Police. He doesn’t believe in the Fascism, he just wants to belong, and under the glow of this overwhelming blue he heads off oversee the political assassination he has been called to facilitate. This is the temperature of his dispassionate nature, the calm of conformity that he desires, but even under this comforting ocean of reassurance, he remains anxious and out of place, a pretender to this society who wears his convictions like a suit. It’s all about appearance.

I focus on this blue because until now, it has never enveloped me so as I watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970). I’ve seen the film on 16mm college prints, on 35mm revival prints, and on Paramount’s DVD from a decade ago, but this restoration brings out Vittorio Storaro’s colors with a richness and a depth I’ve never seen before. For the first time those hues have reached through the screen and into my experience.

Color is central to the experience of The Conformist, pushed to intensities beyond what we could call natural yet nothing so actively artificial as the great MGM Technicolor musicals or as symbolically loaded as Antonioni’s Red Desert. It’s not some much unreal as hyper-real, a subjective reality as seen through the eyes of Marcello, a man seeking comfort in conformism and compromise. Those blue filters create a deep blue ocean of a sky, a perpetual twilight that is at once calming and unsettling. If it represents Marcello’s ideal state of stasis, it threatens to drown him as much as comfort him, and its chilly atmosphere suggests his amoral compromise. He may desire Anna (Dominique Sanda), the young wife of his former professor, but it sure isn’t love, and he’s quick to shut off any human connection to her when his mission as an agent / informer for the Secret Police comes to fruition. He has no love for his own beautiful, shallow, and silly petite bourgeois wife Guilia (Stefania Sandrelli), who is “all bed and kitchen,” he tells his best friend, a blind radio personality who spouts Fascist propaganda on a daily basis. Marcello only has self-loathing. His father is in an asylum and his mother, once rich and now broke but living a decadent lifestyle in a crumbling manor, disgusts him. And then there is that childhood trauma that he thinks this act will expiate. It’s all very symbolically loaded, a flashback to a world of sepia-tinged nostalgia that is tangled up in sexual confusion, guilt, and innocence besmirched, a psychological motivation that ultimately explains nothing beyond the excuses he gives himself.

Jean-Louis Trintignant in his blue mood

It’s a superb performance by Trintignant, whose presence is the film is physically passive even as he tries to play the confident, intellectual leader of men. He is stiff and still and pulls himself inward, instinctively resistant to physical contact. (He is also dubbed into Italian, as is Dominique Sanda.) In the memorable scene at a cheery dance hall, a room of bright lights in the midst of the blue sea of Paris at evening, Anna dances with a very willing, drunk, and giggly Giulia in a Paris bar, and then swirls the line of dancers around Marcello, who is caught in the middle of the empty dance floor and suddenly surrounded, the center of attention. His arms go up defensively, to keep the world from making contact. That passivity, his complete lack of conviction, is what fools his old professor (Enzo Tarascio), an anti-Fascist now in exile in Paris that he has been assigned to gather information on, into believing he can sway the former student to his side.

The Conformist was hugely influential on American cinema of the seventies. Coppola picked up the stylized color palettes for The Godfather movies, where the sepia became an idealized past contrasted with the chilly present of Michael’s corruption, and brought Storaro over to shoot Apocalypse Now, while Paul Schrader reached out to production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti to be his “visual consultant” on American Gigolo and Cat People, films with defining, carefully painted color palettes. Bertolucci, Storaro, and Scarfiotti showed them that it was possible to marry such expressionism with the strain of seventies realism in American cinema. Not that anyone would mistake anything in The Conformist as realism. It is heightened, exaggerated, distorted, the world reimagined by the filmmakers as something familiar yet not. It is magnificent.

conformist_X02_blu-ray__

‘The Conformist’

The original American release was cut by about five minutes. It was restored to its full version in 1994 and released on a fine DVD edition by Paramount a decade ago. This disc is mastered from a new restoration commissioned by the Cineteca di Bologna in 2011 and mastered from the original negative in 2K for digital screenings and for disc. It brings out the rich hues while preserving the texture of the film. It looks like a film print from 1970, not a piece of digital photography. Raro’s release on Blu-ray and DVD features the “visual essay” In the Shade of the Conformist with Italian film critic and historian Adriano Apra and featuring clips from a 2011 video interview with Bertolucci, plus two trailers and a 28-page booklet with essays and excerpts from archival reviews, articles, and interviews. The credits on the booklet also helpfully identify the actors who dubbed Trintignant and Sanda.

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD

Conformist_shadow

Jean-Louis Trintignat in the shadow of Fascism

Dec 04 2014

Videophiled: ‘Dawn’ of ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’

100ftjourney

Touchstone

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Touchstone, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) is a film for our culture: a feel-foodie drama of racial tolerance, cross-cultural acceptance, and fusion cuisine. It’s produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (the classiest of contemporary feel-good filmmakers) and it stars Helen Mirren as the bastion of fine French cuisine and unshakable tradition in the prettiest little village in the South of France you’ll ever see in a movie.

The journey of the title is the distance between Mirren’s French restaurant, a one-star Michelin bastion of the region, and a new Indian restaurant opened by an immigrant family headed by Om Puri and represented in the kitchen by Manish Dayal, who learned the art from his late mother. There is a very underplayed romance between Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon, the young sous chef of Mirren’s establishment, but it is so understated you wonder if it’s actually catching fire at all.

There’s not a beat here that you will surprise you, nary a narrative turn you won’t see coming. While the proprietors go to war, hammering the Mayor with hassles about noise, zoning, and all sorts of nuisance complaints, Le Bon introduces Dayal to French cooking and it turns out that he’s a natural. Competition turns into cooperation and Mirren sponsors his entry into the world of competitive cuisine.

But it’s sweet and affectionate, lovely to look at, and appreciative of the evolution that all the characters make on their own journeys. And if you love food, this film celebrates cuisine as an art, a communal experience, an act of affirmation, and a way of sharing. Pair it with a nice Bordeaux… or perhaps a cup of tea.

Blu-ray and DVD, with a 12-minute making-of featurette. The Blu-ray also features a 12-minute interview with producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey discussing their first collaboration since The Color Purple, a behind-the-scenes piece with Oprah Winfrey, and a tutorial video on how to cook Coconut Chicken, plus a bonus Digital HD copy of the film.

DawnPlanetApes

Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Fox, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD) picks up a decade after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as the human population is recovering from the devastation of the virus unleashed at the end of that film and the human community has first contact with the ape civilization living in the forest outside of San Francisco. There’s a strong story involving the relationship between two families who reach across the species divide, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in a brilliant and rich motion capture performance), who is both husband and father to his family and benevolent leader of the simian tribe, and Jason Clarke as an engineer trying to repair an electrical damn to power the human reclamation of San Francisco. They are the exceptions, however. The older apes remember the abuse they suffered at the hands of humans and the humans blame the apes for the virus (never mind that it was created by humans) and have an instinctual suspicion of any animal that can speak. It has a powerful resonance as a metaphor for wars of cultural animosity, hatred and mistrust, with human and ape both equating the worst actions of the other with the entire species.

Matt Reeves, whose Let Me In was an evocative adaptation of the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In, delivers both action spectacle and character drama, and he rightfully centers the entire film on Caesar, the noble leader who understands the best and worst of humanity, and has to come to terms with the worst of his own tribe as both sides push for war rather than co-existence. The film opens on Caesar’s eyes as he leads a hunt and it ends back on those weary but set eyes, contemplating the coming war that is now inevitable.

Fox isn’t making review copies of their discs available to most reviewers anymore—they offer a streaming link to see the film and that’s about it—so I assume the transfer and sound is good but can’t comment on the supplements or on the details of the deluxe Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Caesar’s Warrior Collection (Fox, Blu-ray).

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 02 2014

Videophiled Collection: ‘Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection’

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner, Blu-ray) – There are no remastered editions or new-to-Blu-ray discs in this box set of eight Kubrick classics, from the 1962 Lolita to his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but this ten-disc set does include the previously-released supplements on each film plus it features two new-to-disc documentaries and one new-to-Blu-ray featurette, along with a lovely 78-page book of stills, storyboards, production art, script pages, and other production paraphernalia from the featured films. Which makes it, if not exactly essential (if you’ve already invested in past Kubrick box sets), at least a terrific cinephile gift set. Here’s the skinny on the films and the extras, which is currently available as an Amazon Exclusive.

Kubrickboximg

Warner Home Video

You have to admire the audacity of Kubrick to adapt Lolita (1962), Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a young teenage girl in the age of pre-ratings censorship. (The ad campaign turned that into a selling point, with the tag line: “Can you believe they made a movie of Lolita?”) Kubrick and Nabokov (who adapted is own novel) raised the age of the grade school “temptress” and left most of the seduction to suggestion, and still made a more provocative and sensitive film than the 1997 remake. James Mason is almost pathetic as the repressed author Humbert Humbert who continues to justify his infatuation with teenage Lolita, yet he’s never less than human. Sue Lyon is Lolita, Shelley Winters her blowsy mother and Peter Sellers (soon to be cast by Kubrick in multiple roles in Dr. Strangelove) is the creepy Clare Quilty.

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Dec 01 2014

Videophiled Landmarks: ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ and ‘Verdun’ restored

CabinetCaligari

Kino Lorber

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD, streaming) is the grandfather and the godfather of German Expressionist cinema and one of the most influential films of its era. Directed by Robert Weine, it features Werner Kraus as the tyrannical Dr. Caligari, a sideshow barker in cape and top hat who commands the sleeping Cesare (Conrad Veidt), the carnival’s star attraction, to rise at night and do his bidding, a literal sleepwalker who is both monster and victim. With its painterly sets of jutting beams, leaning walls and heavy black lines painted on flats and arranged to suggest both a skewed sense of depth and a forced perspective that flaunts its artificiality, the film dropped audiences into an aggressively unreal world and celebrated its theatrical artifice as a vision of madness and horror. It set the style for a movement, influenced a generation of filmmaker from Fritz Lang and Universal horror movies, and created images so vivid they are still referenced today. This is a movie that has seen some awful home video releases over the years but even the superior presentations (the Image DVD from Film Preservation Associates and the previous Kino DVD from an earlier Murnau Foundation edition) have suffered from damaged footage, missing frames, and inferior source material.

The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation (which previously spearheaded the astounding restoration of the definitive Metropolis) undertook the comprehensive digital restoration of this landmark using for the first time ever the original camera negative as the primary source (previous releases were taken from archival prints), with additional footage from the best of the existing archival prints. It was a two year project and the efforts are visible in every frame of this reclamation; the difference between Kino’s previous DVD and this stunning new restoration is night and day. The image is not just clean and free from much of the damage seen on earlier editions, missing frames and footage has been restored and the image is now sharp and strong, with deep blacks, vivid contrasts, and unprecedented clarity, stability, and detail.

Silent with German intertitles and English subtitles, with choice of two scores. Features the German documentary “Caligari: How Horror Came to Cinema” (with English subtitles), stills, restoration demonstration, and a booklet with an essay by film historian Kristen Thompson.

This restoration is also available to stream on Netflix and Fandor in HD.

Verdun

Carlotta US / Kino Lorber

Verdun: Looking at History (Carlotta US / Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital, VOD) comes with an unfortunately passive title in its English translation. It was released in France as Verdun, visions d’histoire, which is more haunting (as if it’s resurrecting the ghosts of soldiers and civilians as visions of the past) and a more fitting title for Léon Poirier’s war 1928 epic. The sweeping portrait of the battle of Verdun, an eleven-month siege where the French held the line against an offensive of overwhelming German forces at the cost of 300,000 solders on both sides, was produced to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the end of the war to end all wars and dedicated it to “all the martyrs of the ugliest passion that is war.” It is part human drama and part history lesson, complete with detailed statistics and animated maps of troop movements to put the big picture around human experience.

Poirier grounds the film in the “everyman” experience by identifying only the real-life historical figures by name. The fictional characters are referred to solely as titles and types—the French soldier, the German officer, the German soldier, the farmer, the wife, the daughter, the young man, and so on—but dramatic they are fully-formed characters whose experiences, soldier and civilian alike, are anything but generic. And while Poirier favors the French experience and can’t avoid the patriotic celebration of the French achievement, he doesn’t vilify the German officers or judge the German soldiers, who like The French Soldier (our central point-of-view figure, played with hearty embrace of life by the great Albert Préjean) are simply doing their duty in a terrible ordeal.

Celebrated upon release for its amazing recreations of battle scenes (which Poirier intercut with real battle footage from newsreels), it was eclipsed by the coming of sound (Poirier reworked it as a sound feature a few years later) and all but disappeared in subsequent years. It was restored in 2006 by the Cinematheque de Toulouse but was only screened a few times stateside since. Kino’s release of the Carlotta U.S. DVD finally makes it available to American audiences.

Features option of French or English menus and French intertitles with English subtitles, with a fine piano score by Hakim Bentchouala Golobitch. The featurettes “Restoring Verdun” and “Visions of Verdun” are French productions that explore the restoration of the original silent of the film and a look at the history and legacy of the film. “The French take their revenge in Verdun” is an archival documentary that shows the more familiar kind of nationalistic approach to war movies and offers a contrast to Poirier’s vision.

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