DVDs for 01/26/09 – Rossellini begins, Barrymore bodychecks, Pontypool talks and Michael Jackson rocks
On a week as busy as this, you can only cover so much. Here’s what I was able to see. My pick of the week, Criterion’s Blu-ray and DVD special edition of Paris, Texas, is here, but a close runner-up is another Criterion release: Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy (Criterion).
Roberto Rossellini had been a journeyman director working within Mussolini’s Italian film industry when he redefined his career and all but inaugurated the neo-realist movement with this trio of films made at the end of World War II. Though he was no partisan, he started working on Rome Open City (1945) before Rome fell to the Allies and shot his drama of partisans fighting the Germans and the Italian Fascists in the streets of the liberated city, amidst the poverty and devastation and uncertainty of the future. Rossellini famously scrounged raw film and unused short ends from American newsreel crews for footage and that’s been the explanation for years of bleary looking prints and home video copies. And yes, the conditions of the shoot have an enormous affect on the finished film; Rossellini only had to point the camera to get a portrait of the hard life on the streets. But while Criterion’s disc is hardly Hollywood Studio crisp, the newly mastered digital transfer, restored from a fine-grain 35mm print, looks better than you’ve likely ever seen it. The same can be said for all the films in the set, which are clean and clear enough to see where Rossellini and his crew made due with out-of-focus and unsteady images and shots grabbed on the fly. The fast newsreel footage is grainier than the film stock he was used to using for his studio films, but it gave Rossellini and his crew a flexibility to shoot in available light on the streets and it gave the images that jolt of documentary immediacy in key scenes.