Blu-ray: ‘Sudden Fear’

Cohen Film Collection

Joan Crawford took charge of her career as she aged out of the ingénue roles that propelled her to stardom, developing stories and pursuing properties that offered strong characters for a mature woman. She gave herself a second act when she fought hard for Mildred Pierce (1945) at Warner Bros. and seven years later, as Warner was content to sideline her as long-suffering women in second-rate projects, she took charge again by leaving the studio to pursue more interesting parts in more promising projects.

Sudden Fear (1952) (Cohen, Blu-ray), her first film after being released from Warner Bros., features Crawford as middle-aged San Francisco heiress and successful Broadway playwright Myra Hudson, who is wooed by the handsome (and younger) Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), an intense New York actor she rejected as leading man in her new play. They marry after a whirlwind romance on a cross-country train ride and a San Francisco courtship but despite his protestations that he’s not a man to live off of his wife’s money, that’s exactly what he intends. When he discovers that he’s all but left out of her new will, he schemes with his mistress (Gloria Grahame) to murder Myra before the changes are finalized.

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Blu-ray: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘A Married Woman’

marriedwomanBDA Married Woman (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), subtitled “Fragments of a film shot in 1964,” is Jean-Luc Godard’s modern portrait of love and sex in the media-saturated sixties with Macha Méril in a role that was clearly meant for Godard’s wife and longtime muse Anna Karina (they were separated at the time) and it channels Godard’s feelings at the time. Like Karina, Méril’s Charlotte is beautiful young woman who is married to an older man and having an affair with an actor. The film opens on a montage where Charlotte is reduced to parts—legs, arms, back, lips, midrift, isolated glimpses of the naked female suggesting those erogenous zones that could not be photographed in a mainstream feature film—caressed by her unidentified lover. It’s shot in creamy cool black-and-white by longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard and the strikingly handsome formality is both erotic and removed, suggesting a physical intimacy and an emotional disconnection even in even the most intimate scenes of lovemaking and pillow talk.

Charlotte has no close friends (at least that we see), lives in a sleek modern apartment devoid of lived-in warmth, and shrinks from the touch of her pilot husband Pierre (Philippe Leroy). He’s an intellectual with a condescending attitude and she’s more comfortable living in the moment than grappling with history and memory, which becomes all too apparent in their uncomfortable post-dinner dialogue. In between the lovemaking and the conversations, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant. She doesn’t know which man is the father

It is one of Godard’s most visually handsome films, even while it becomes a study in alienation and disconnection. Advertising images, logos, newspaper headlines, and scraps of text fill the film. Lingerie ads are found in every magazine she peruses and loom over her from massive billboards and the sides of buildings as she walks the streets, reducing women to their sexuality. She’s practically a commodity herself (the ideal of woman as seen in the ads) desired by her husband in a marriage disintegrating out of a lack of communication and her lover in an affair from which she is increasingly detached. She’s so alienated from her life that she does not seem to realize how unhappy she is.

A Married Woman has since been overshadowed by Godard’s more overtly political and confrontational films, such as Vivre sa vie and Weekend, and playful genre exercises like A bande a parte and Pierrot le fou, yet at the time it was a cause célèbre in France when the censorship board banned the film until Godard made minor changes and it became one of the most financially successful films of his career. Charlotte is a product of her environment, giving in to her consumerist impulses driven by the cacophony of advertising around her, but his feeling for Charlotte is genuine—few of his movies evince such emotional sympathy—and his criticism of consumer culture is part of her story.

Comes to Blu-ray and DVD in a new restoration from the original negative. It’s sharp and clean and beautiful black-and-white. The new release features a 30-minute interview with star Macha Méril and interviews with contemporary fashion designer and film producer Agnes B. and Godard scholar Antoine de Baecque, all recorded in 2010 for the British Masters of Cinema release, plus original rerelease trailers of the film. The film and the bonus interviews are in French with English subtitles and there is a bonus 8-page booklet with stills from the film.

A Married Woman [DVD]
A Married Woman [Blu-ray]

Also new and notable:ManhunterMann

Manhunter (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray), Michael Mann’s film of Thomas Harris’ novel, is doomed to live in the shadow of the Oscar winningSilence of the Lambs, its sequel in essence if not detail. An undeserved fate for such a sharp, coolly attenuated thriller. William Petersen is haunted but precise as the intent, troubled serial killer profiler whose methods literally lead to madness and is, frankly, a more insidiously scary Hannibal Lektor (as his name is spelled in his original cinematic incarnation) than Anthony Hopkin’s more theatrical take. Mann’s direction is a triumph of austerity and cinematic precision, and he shatters the carefully controlled mood in a blistering climax choreographed and cut to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The “Director’s Cut” features an additions 5 minutes of detail. It was remade under the novel’s title, Red Dragon, with Hopkins as Lector, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this. The two-disc set features the original theatrical cut in HD and the Director’s Cut with alternate footage in standard definition and a commentary track by Michael Mann from a previous release. It features a 40-minute interview with Brian Cox, newly-recorded interviews with actors William Petersen, Joan Allen, and Tom Noonan, director of photography Dante Spinotti, and composer Michel Rubin and soundtrack contributors Barry Andrews, Gary Putnam, Rick Shaffer, and Gene Stashuk, and archival interviews with actors William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Tom Noonan and director of photography Dante Spinotti.

BusterKeatonCompleteBDBuster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917-1923 (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD) features the short films Keaton made with Fatty Arbuckle, the first director to direct Keaton, and all 19 short comedies made by Keaton between 1920 and 1923. Keaton always cited Arbuckle as his early mentor and you can find the seeds of Keaton’s style in Arbuckle’s assured, meticulously constructed final collaborations. The 19 shorts that Keaton made between 1920 and 1923 are, along with Charlie Chaplin’s Mutual comedies, the peak of creativity, ingenuity and comic grace in American silent comedy shorts. Though he did not take director credit for these films (or, for that matter, many of his feature), he was the creative artist behind every aspect of the production, including the direction. I haven’t seen this set but it features restorations by Lobster Films in Paris, an alternate version of “The Blacksmith” with new material, and alternate endings to two Arbuckle shorts.

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Videophiled: Celebrating Orson Welles in ‘Magician’

Magician
Cohen

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Chuck Workman and released to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Orson Welles, is not in the running for the definitive portrait of the artist. At a brisk, dense 90 minutes, however, it is an excellent introduction the life and work of the Welles with a focus on the creative.

Workman brings elegance and visual musicality to his work (such as the remembrance montages of the Academy Awards ceremonies) and a density to his documentaries, and this is no different. His nearly breathless editing pace sweeps us through a wealth of film clips (many of them rare) and new and archival interviews with the likes of biographer Simon Callow, critics James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum, collaborators Norman Lloyd, Charlton Heston, John Houseman, and Jeanne Moreau, and daughters Christopher Welles and Beatrice Welles-Smith. And along with clips of his feature films, we get audio of his radio work, newsreel footage of the “Voodoo” Macbeth stage production, clips from the TV version of King Lear directed by Peter Brook, and scenes from unfinished films Don Quixote, The Deep, and The Merchant of Venice. Die-hard Welles aficionados will likely have seen some (if not all) of these, but to everyone else this is a glimpse into hidden treasures.

Magician-2
Orson Welles

Most importantly, Workman understands that Welles is not a “failed” director—too many ill-informed commentators (and some who should know better) still echo the cliché that Welles never returned to the artistic heights of his debut feature Citizen Kane—but a restless artist who never stopped exploring and engaging with cinema even when the industry turned its back in him. Workman clearly respects Welles and loves his work. At a mere 90 minutes, he can’t delve deeply into the contradictions and complications, but we do get snapshots and quick impressions, with plenty of clips of Welles himself talking about his work and career that give us insight to his personality as a person and an artist. He was a storyteller in all aspects of his life. And we get a glimpse of a career that is full of wonders, too many of them unavailable outside of special screenings and festivals—how frustrating is it to have Simon Callow proclaim Chimes at Midnight Welles’s masterpiece, only to be told it is unavailable because of tangled rights issues?—but all of them so intriguing that it may inspire new fans to seek out these rarities (hint: YouTube and import DVDs).

Features a video interview with director Chuck Workman conducted by film scholar and critic Annette Insdorff and a booklet with stills but no film notes.

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Videophiled: Liliana Cavani’s ‘The Skin’

Skin
Cohen

The Skin (aka La Pelle, Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Liliana Cavani in 1981 from the novel by Curzio Malaparte, is ostensibly a war drama, set during the American liberation of Sicily from the Fascists, but it’s really about the politics and economics of occupation. As the Allied forces (led by Burt Lancaster’s General Mark Clark) roll in, the Americans are as busy with public relations opportunities (Clark wants his Fifth Battalion to get the glory for the liberation) as with local issues, for which they defer to Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni), an aristocrat and former Fascist who switched allegiances and fought the Fascists in Spain.

There’s not a lot of grace in Cavani’s direction—she seems occupied simply corralling such an enormous international production—but then it’s not a graceful subject. This isn’t about war, it’s about civilians caught between invading powers and soldiers in their downtime, and Cavani enjoys the chaos of this world in upheaval without letting us lose our way through. She takes us to the streets and apartment houses where the flesh trade cashes in on the new occupying army and to the heart of the Sicilian mafia, which negotiate a ransom for German POWs they’ve kidnapped (they want to get paid by the kilogram and have been stuffing them with pasta to fatten them up). True to form, the gangsters treat American military like just another syndicate.

Mastroianni, a master at playing jaded characters, brings compassion and understanding to Malaparte. He’s a realist who knows how to grease the wheels with the moneyed families (Claudia Cardinale as a vacant princess), the local leaders, and the mob, but he also knows what war does to civilians just trying survive a world where they are constantly occupied, starved, and bombed out of their livelihood, making money and scrounging food any way they can. He’s no longer shocked at what people do to survive and (in contrast to the American officer, many of them lost in their own double standards) doesn’t judge them, but he is tipped over into anger by cruelty and hypocrisy.

Alexandra King and Marcello Mastroianni

Ken Marshall is bland as the American officer who stands in for American morality, a seemingly compassionate guy who is shocked – Shocked! – at what he considers immoral behavior from a girl he loves only as long as she’s an innocent virgin in need of rescue, and Alexandra King cuts a striking figure as a Senator’s wife on her own PR mission, a sleek, headstrong redhead in the sea of Mediterranean faces and dark locks. These are not A-list American performers and it shows. Their characters are more bullet points than personalities and far less interesting than the Italians hustling through almost every scene, everyone looking for an angle before the army moves on. You can feel her admiration for the ingenuity and energy of these survivors, like the garment workers who create an industry making fair-haired merkins for Sicilian hookers to pass as blondes for the American soldiers.

In Italian with English subtitles, with commentary by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein and four featurettes with interviews with director Liliana Cavani and production designer Dante Ferretti), plus a booklet with cast and credits.

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Videophiled Classic: Otar Iosseliani’s ‘Favorites of the Moon’

FavoritesMoon

Favorites of the Moon: 30th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, is a deadpan satire of modern life and social hypocrisy with characters, rich and poor alike, from a lively Paris suburb whose lives criss-cross and tangle with one another.

There’s a pompous police chief who spies on citizens and plays at high society sophistication, a jealous weapons expert who fixes handcuffs for Paris policemen and sells bombs to terrorists when he’s not stalking his girlfriend, a robber teaching his young son the business, a schoolteacher with a streak of anarchy, prostitutes, hobos, and others winding through the stories. Along with the location, the characters are connected by a painting and a set of fine porcelain dishes that were created in the 18th century and are sold, stolen, and otherwise passed around through the comic episodes.

There is no central story. It’s really more of a busy set of actions that wind back around and mirror each other in comic portraits of hypocrisy, and it is practically wordless for most of the running time, with few dialogue scenes and the action playing out as a cheeky silent comedy. It’s directed by Russian ex-patriate filmmaker Otar Iosseliani, who clearly prefers the streetwise criminals to the corrupt rich and middle-class folks, for they at least have no illusions about what they do. Co-writer Gerard Brach was a regular collaborator with Roman Polanski, Jean-Jacques Annaud, and Claude Berri, but this is more reminiscent of the later films of Luis Bunuel: densely-woven, satirical, whimsical, deadpan, and utterly savage in the way it undercuts the pretensions of its characters. The cast is a mix of professionals and non-actors, including the debut of future French screen star Mathieu Amalric.

In French with English subtitles, with commentary by film critic Philip Lopate, who seems to be winging it through the track. Clearly he’s a sharp critic who knows his subject, and he has some interesting insights, but it could have used a little more organization. Also comes with an accompanying booklet with and essay by Giovanni Vimercati.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ at 15

WindCaryUs
We didn’t know it at the time but The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) was the end of a distinctive mode of cinematic engagement for Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami. He had won the Palm d’or at Cannes in 1997 for A Taste of Cherry and had become the figurehead for Iranian cinema for his unusual mix of fiction and documentary and gently self-reflexive filmmaking. After The Wind Will Carry Us, however, he entered into a period of documentary and experimentation that lasted a decade until Certified Copy.

The Wind Will Carry Us: 15th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) revives this landmark film with a newly remastered edition and a Blu-ray debut. Like his previous films, he mixes professionals with amateurs and draws character from his location, here a remote village in the mountains where a TV crew arrives to film a funeral ceremony of a dying woman. A three day trip stretches into two weeks as the old woman begins to recover and the filmmaker (Behzad Dourani, the only professional actor in the cast) gets anxious as he’s eaten away by twin impulses: his wish for the old woman’s recovery and the mercenary hope for her speedy death so he can complete his project.

Kairostami’s rigorous style has always been sensitive to the rhythms of people and the details of day to day existence, and like his best films The Wind Will Carry Us unfolds with a remarkable fidelity to (or a convincing facsimile of) real time. What may be surprising to fans of his films is the dry humor that permeates the picture. To Western eyes the pace may seem glacial, yet it’s the very embrace of the time it takes to walk through the village or scramble up a hillside “short cut” that allows Kiarostami to explore the spaces between the words and the landscape that envelopes his characters’ lives. The culmination of such astounding visions is a celebration of the human spirit is nothing short of sublime. (If that final sentence looks familiar, it might be because it’s quoted on the back of the disc case from my original 2000 review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; I was inspired to revive it from this review.)

Features newly-recorded commentary by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and Iranian scholar Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, a 90-minute Q&A with director Abbas Kiarostami hosted and moderated by New York Film Festival director Richard Peña at the University of Indiana and a booklet with an essay be Peter Tonguette.

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