Category Archives: BFI Player
Painstakingly restored by the BFI National Archive and Photoplay’s Kevin Brownlow as part of a 50-year project, Abel Gance’s 1927 five-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Napoleon, is now screening again accompanied by the longest score ever written for a silent film from composer Carl Davis before heading to Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player on 21 November.
Originally conceived by Gance as the first of six films about the French military leader, this five-and-a-half-hour epic features full scale historical recreations of episodes from Bonaparte’s personal and political life, that see him overcome fierce rivals and political machinations to seal his imperial destiny. The film is also famed for its groundbreaking technical innovations – including its triptych finale.
The BFI Blu-ray will include the following special features…
• New 2K restoration
• The Charm of Dynamite (1968, 51 mins): BBC documentary on Gance’s silent films, narrated by Lindsay Anderson.
• Composing Napoleon: An Interview with Carl Davis (2016, 45 mins)
• Feature-length commentary by Paul Cuff
• Digital restoration featurette (2016, 5 mins)
• Alternative single-screen ending
• Individual triptych panel presentations
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
This essential collection brings together three of acclaimed director Otto Preminger’s greatest films for the first time on Blu-ray, delivering a unique combination of intrigue, moral ambiguity and stylish black and white photography, which truly defines this much loved film noir genre.
In Fallen Angel (1945), Dana Andrews stars as a down-on-his-luck press agent turned amateur sleuth, investigating the murder of the sultry waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell).
Whirlpool (1950) is a fascinating blend of noir and woman’s picture starring the beautiful Gene Tierney as a troubled socialite who falls prey to the machinations of a sinister hypnotist (José Ferrer).
Whilst in the down beat Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Dana Andrews again stars, as a tough cop whose brutal methods leave a trail of murder, deceit and cover-ups.
Special features include audio commentaries by film scholar and critic Adrian Martin and The Guardian Lecture: Otto Preminger interviewed by Joan Bakewell (1972, 80 mins, audio with stills), plus an illustrated booklet.
Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection released on Monday 28 September from BFI
French director George Franju’s 1959 Les yeux sans visage (aka Eyes Without a Face) reigns supreme as a masterpiece of cinéma fantastique, and is now available in a new high definition release in the UK for the first time from BFI.
Obsessed Parisian plastic surgeon Professor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his devoted assistant Louise (Alida Valli) abduct young woman to graft their skin onto the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). But with each surgery, the isolated Christiane begins losing her sanity and her will to live…
Les yeux sans visage caused outrage on its release in 1959 where its gruesome scalpel scenes exert a shocking fascination, while it’s poetic visual style (where noir meets Cocteau), shadowy monochrome cinematography (by Eugen Schüfftan) and disconcerting circus-style music (by Maurice Jarre) imbue the film with a heady atmosphere of menace, anxiety and unflinching horror.
Much has been written about Franju’s artistically-made shocker, and its influence has informed generations of genre filmmakers, including Jesús Franco, John Carpenter and Pedro Almodóvar. Every re-visit is not only a reminder of Franju’s artistic precision, but also offers up new insights and readings into this most-perfectly executed horror film. And nothing can match the hauntingly beautiful final scene in which Scob’s Christiane walks through a moonlit wood surrounding by fluttering doves.
The BFI Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) release features the film re-mastered in High Definition and presented in its original aspect ratio (1:66:1), made available by Gaumont. The release also includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
• Monsieur et Madame Curie (Georges Franju, 1953, 14min): a study of the life and work of the Curies, told through the words of Marie Curie.
• La Première nuit (Georges Franju, 1958, 20min): a young boy spends a night in the Métro.
• Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju (2009, 50min): an overview of Georges Franju’s career.
• For Her Eyes Only (2014, 17min): An interview with Edith Scob.
• Booklet featuring essays and full film credits.
Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Cinema re-release – Vittorio De Sica’s celebrated postwar drama back in UK cinemas
Italian Actor/director Vittorio De Sica is best known for his celebrated 1948 film Bicycle Thieves, which tells the story of a simple man called Antonio who scours the streets of Rome looking for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to secure work.
Ranking high in almost every Top 20 film poll imaginable, Bicycle Thieves is neorealism at its best, making excellent use of non-actors and real locations. But this is no improvised documentary, rather a tightly woven drama about humanity surviving the devastating after effects of war and poverty. Unforgettable.
• Bicycle Thieves screens at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season until Thursday 27 August (so catch it while you can)
• The 2014 Arrow Academy Dual Format release features a restored, high definition transfer of the film; feature length documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini; documentary portrait of De Sica; trailer; and booklet.
Miracle in Milan (1951) | Vittorio De Sica’s sublime Italian fantasy parable is a ray of sunshine in a cynical age
In between making his gritty neo-realist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, Italian director Vittorio De Sica lensed the fantasy parable Miracle in Milan, that would earn him the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1951.
Francesco Golisano (who tragically died at the age of 29 in 1958) gives a beautifully, understated performance as Toto, an orphan possessed by eternal optimism. Abandoned at birth, Toto was raised by the elderly Lolotta, who taught him to find joy and wonder in the simple things in life. Following her death, he is placed into an orphanage, but when he leaves, he ends up wandering the streets with the city’s beggars.
Finding refuge at an old rubbish tip on the outskirts of the city, Toto’s optimistic approach to life infects all those he encounters. Soon he and his fellow poor are creating their own mini-town, complete with street signs, main square and water fountains, and all is happy until Toto receives a magical dove that grants wishes. When the shantytown residents use the dove for materialistic purposes, two angels steal the dove back just when Toto needs it most – to stop the town from being razed to the ground by the new owners.
In the 1950s, Italy experienced an economic miracle with industry booming and living standards rising sharply. However, there was still acute poverty throughout the country – especially in the south. De Sica’s fantasy is a direct response to this and to the universal themes of the great rich and poor divide – something that has special resonance today – especially if you think of the worldwide Occupy movement.
But unlike de Sica’s other neo-realist films – especially Il Tetto (The Roof), this is not a harrowing tale of misery, but a lesson in the power of optimism in the face of adversity. And while the later half of the film does become somewhat farcical, it is Golisano’s gripping performance as the Christ-like Toto that carries the film.
Miracle in Milan screens Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season and is available as a Dual Format and Blu-ray release (both including Il Tetto) from Arrow Academy
Throughout July and August, BFI Southbank in London will screen a comprehensive season of Orson Welles’ work in both film and TV, including his big classics, Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), and less familiar titles like The Trial (1962), The Immortal Story (1968) and F for Fake (1975), kicking off with StudioCanal’s restored print of The Third Man (1949) this coming Friday (26 June).
It will also include his three adaptations of Shakespeare: Macbeth (1948), Othello (1952) and Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966), which is widely considered a highpoint of Welles’ remarkable career, and which also gets a 50th Anniversary Restored Edition is released on 29 June on DVD and Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.
Also screening are some rarities, including the recently discovered Too Much Johnson (1938) – which is also set for a Blu-ray/DVD release from Mr Bongo Films – and six compilation programmes, featuring shorts, trailers, TV productions, theatrical adaptations, documentaries, and unfinished projects.
Here are the six that I’m most looking forward to…
THE LADY OF SHANGHAI (4k restoration)
The 1948 hall of mirrors noir thriller is charged by the on-screen chemistry between Welles and his ex-wife Rita Hayworth. This definitive restoration from Colorworks at Sony Pictures, scanned at 4K from the original nitrate negative, recently appeared in the Official Selection Cannes Classics lineup, and will be screened during BFI’s Welles centenary celebrations on Friday 17 July and Thursday 23 July.
THE THIRD MAN (4K restoration)
This 1949 noir classic is a consummate production, from Graham Greene’s witty, disturbing screenplay to Robert Krasker’s evocatively skewed photography and Anton Karas’ unforgettable zither score. But, despite his minimal screen time, Orson Welles’ amoral Harry Lime steals the show – thanks partly to the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech penned by Welles himself. Re-released by StudioCanal in a new 4K restoration in cinemas on 26 June and on DVD and Blu-ray on 20 July.
TOUCH OF EVIL (1998 version)
The last feature Welles made in Hollywood, 1958’s Touch of Evil is a virtuoso foray into film noir, exhibiting his extraordinary sense of cinematic style, vivid characterisation and an almost Shakespearian flair for tragedy. The 1998 version is a re-edit of the original by Walter Murch based on a 58-page memo Welles wrote to Universal with his suggestions of alterations to the studio’s cut. This 2013 re-master is released in selected cinemas UK-wide on 10 July.
AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES (DVD release)
In 1955, Associated-Rediffusion commissioned Welles to write, direct and host this ground-breaking mini-series filmed in Europe. Part home-movie, part cinematic essay, each of the six episodes takes the viewer on a fascinating journey across Europe. In Paris, we are introduced to famous artists such as Jean Cocteau; in Madrid, we attend a bullfight; and in Vienna, in an episode which was long believed lost, we are taken to the locations of The Third Man. Released on BFI DVD and limited edition Blu-ray on 24 August.
FALSTAFF CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (50th Anniversary Restored Edition by Orson Welles)
One of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare adaptations, 1965’s Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight was Welles’ favourite of his films and gets a DVD and Blu-ray release on 29 June 2015 from Mr Bongo Films, along with the legendary director’s first feature, Too Much Johnson (1938) and his second-to-last feature, The Immortal Story, starring Jeanne Moreau.
MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014)
Released to mark Welles’ centenary, awarding-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman’s documentary is an illuminating portrait of one of cinema’s most extraordinary personalities. Expect my big review real soon. Released in selected UK cinemas on 3 July and on DVD on 24 August.
Douglas Wilmer gave a career-defining performance as the Baker Street sleuth in the classic 1964-1965 BBC TV series, Sherlock Holmes, which is now getting its first-ever UK DVD release from the BFI. The 4-disc set includes a number of special features, including two reconstructions of lost episodes, five audio commentaries, and an interview with Douglas Wilmer (who turned 95 in January).
Bearing a striking resemblance to the original Sidney Paget illustrations, Douglas Wilmer’s portrayal is possibly the closest to Conan Doyle’s original vision, and by playing him as ‘unsympathetic, vain and dangerous’, he’s widely regarded as ‘the only actor who ever got it right’ – although I do think Peter Cushing was also spot on when he took on the role for 16 stories in 1968. In 2012, Wilmer’s iconic status within the Holmes’ pantheon was cemented when he turned in a cameo appearance in the second series Sherlock story, The Reichenbach Fall, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Conan Doyle’s incumbent sleuth.
The first story in the 1960’s BBC series, The Speckled Band, was originally produced as part of the 1964 drama strand, Detective, but 12 cases followed, beginning in January 1965. Alongside Wilmer, Nigel Stock played Holmes’ loyal companion, Dr John Watson – a role he continued to play alongside Peter Cushing in 1968, while the supporting cast included Peter Madden as Inspector Lestrade and Derek Francis as Mycroft Holmes.
The roll call of guest stars included Peter Wyngarde and Jennie Linden in the dark and disturbing The Illustrious Client; Patrick Wymark and Sheila Keith in the Gothic melodrama The Copper Beeches; Trevor Martin (aka the first stage Dr Who) in the three pipe problem mystery, The Red-Headed League; Anton Rodgers in the opium-tinged The Man with the Twisted Lip; and Joss Ackland and Roger Delgado in the final story, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.
WHAT’S IN THE 4-DISC SET
• All surviving episodes from the 1965 series (in black and white, and in their original broadcast ratio, with Dolby Digital 10.0 mono audio).
• Original 1964 Detective pilot episode The Speckled Band.
• Alternative Spanish audio presentation of The Speckled Band.
• Alternative title sequence for The Illustrious Client.
• The Abbey Grange episode reconstruction, featuring a newly-filmed sequence of Douglas Wilmer reading the first half of the story, followed by all surviving original footage.
• The Bruce-Partington Plans episode reconstruction, using all surviving original footage and original shooting scripts.
• Douglas Wilmer … on Television (2012, 22 min): From his earliest days at RADA and the Old Vic to working at the BBC and his recent cameo in Sherlock, Wilmer looks back at his career and at the character that has won him a place in British TV history, recalling the highs and lows, and also pays homage to his old mate, Nigel Stock.
• Five audio commentaries, with director Peter Sasdy on The Illustrious Client, Douglas Wilmer on The Devil’s Foot and Charles Augustus Milverton, director Peter Cregeen on The Abbey Grange, and actors Trevor Martin and David Andrews on The Red-Headed League.
• Illustrated booklet with full episode guides, articles on Conan Doyle’s sleuth and Douglas Wilmer, and restoration notes.
Available everywhere and online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop
Out of this World (1962) & Out of the Unknown (1965-1971) | The celebrated British sci-fi dramas get a BFI DVD release
As part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season comes the DVD releases this week of two classic 1960s TV titles.
First up is the Little Lost Robot, based on the 1947 Isaac Asimov short story, and starring Maxine Audley (Peeping Tom). This DVD presents the only surviving episode of the 13-part 1962 UK TV series Out of This World, introduced by Boris Karloff (who was also on host duties on Thriller in the US at the same time), and includes an audio commentary with producer Leonard White and author Mark Ward, an alternative VidFIRE presentation of the programme, and audio recordings of two lost episodes, the Philip K Dick story, Imposter, adapted by Terry Nation (who go on to create Dr Who’s Daleks the following year), and Cold Equations by Tony Godwin, which starred Jane Asher and Peter Wyngarde. There’s also a PDF of the script for the John Wyndham tale, Dumb Martian, and an illustrated booklet.
The success of Out of This World, devised by producer Sydney Newman (who also gave us Doctor Who and The Avengers) and Irene Shubik, paved the way for Out of the Unknown, a bold TV anthology series, boasting a who’s who of science fiction talent, that aired on BBC2 between 1965 and 1971, and which now gets a definitive DVD release in a seven-disc box-set featuring the surviving 20 episodes.
Adapting the wild imaginings of John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, JG Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Pohl, Nigel Kneale and their ilk for the small screen in 1960s Britain was a brave move on the part of the show’s creator Irene Shubik, who must surely be one of the unsung heroines of TV sci-fi. I had never heard of Shubik or the series until the BFI announced this DVD release, but this is one of the most intelligent, challenging and grown-up science fiction series ever made in the UK, and one with a seriously impressive following – as evident by the many fan sites running on the web and in social media.
Of the 49 episodes made during its four-season run, only 20 escape being wiped following their transmission (oh the pain!). Now digitally re-mastered, these lucky survivors look and sound the best they can be.
To be honest, I’ve been ambling my way through the box-set, watching the ones which have been flagged up by fans and critics as must-sees (the stand-out being the award-winning second series story The Machine Stops, based on the EM Forster’s 1909 dystopian novel, starring Michael Gothard); or choosing ones featuring my favourite actors (David Hemmings and Charles Tingwell in The Counterfeit Man) and helmed by notable directors like Peter Sadsy (who also made the must-see 1972 TV drama The Stone Tape), Douglas Camfield (who would direct my favourite Doctor Who serial Seeds of Doom in 1976) and a young Ridley Scott (he did the production design for the first season story Some Lapse of Time).
A big help guiding me through these strange new worlds is the illustrated booklet, which features three fascinating essays by Mark Ward on the history of the show, which started out in black and white before moving to colour in 1969 for its final two seasons, where horror and fantasy was added with mixed results until the series finally called it a day in 1971 (due to declining ratings and changing tastes).
Hardcore sci-fi fans will lap up the wealth of extras accompanying the release. Apart from the 11 audio commentaries, there are four episode reconstructions (Beach Head, The Naked Sun, The Yellow Pill and The Uninvited), one incomplete episode (Deathday by Angus Hall – whose book Devilday was made as Madhouse in 1974), seven stills galleries, a documentary featuring interviews with original cast and crew, clips from the lost episodes, and an interview with director James Cellan Jones.
It’s a lot to get through, but this trip back into Britain’s 1960s sci-fi TV past is a rewarding one indeed. It also makes you wonder why we don’t make challenging, visionary science fiction TV shows today, instead of the adolescent comic-book ‘pap’ that now dominates our small screens.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The show was originally going to be hosted by either Vincent Price or Christopher Lee. But because neither was available, the idea was dropped.
• The robot costumes created for The Prophet were latter used in the Patrick Troughton adventure The Mind Robber.
• The fourth series episodes The Last Witness and The Uninvited (now both missing) were remade for 1986’s Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense as A Distant Scream and In Possession.
WATCH THE TRAILER
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) | Val Guest’s British doomsday drama more explosive than ever in HD
Newly re-mastered by the BFI National Archive, the definitive version of the classic 1961 British science fiction thriller The Day the Earth Caught Fire is released this week in the UK by the BFI on both DVD and Blu-ray, and contains a host of worthy extras, including a commentary with director Val Guest, a newly-created documentary, a selection of bomb-related archive films and much more. See below for the full list.
ABOUT THE FILM
It’s quite scary how many of the themes explored in director Val Guest‘s riveting end of the world drama, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, are still relevant today, especially with regards to global warming, domestic unrest (as witnessed in the 2011 London riots), the fear of another Cold War with Russia, and our love/hate relationship with the media.
Set almost entirely in the frantic Fleet Street newsroom of the Daily Express during an unseasonal heatwave, this restrained British disaster movies follows a group of journos as they investigate increasingly bizarre weather conditions, only to discover that atomic testing by the US and the USSR has knocked the Earth off its axis causing it to hurtle towards the Sun. As the world waits for its likely end, the city’s teenagers enjoy jazz-fuelled riots in the streets (and in bathtubs) and when more bombs are exploded to try to reverse the damage, two newspaper headlines are prepared: World Saved and World Doomed…
There’s more talk than action in this 1961 British sci-fi, but Val Guest’s brittle script and documentary-styled direction is intelligent and sincere, providing a vivid depiction of British newspaper journalism (before it went to the dogs) as well as important social commentary (especially about those ‘in charge’), while the excellent cast breathes authentic life into their well-rounded characters. TV’s Rumpole of the Bailey Leo McKern is just super playing a gruff science editor, Edward Judd (Island of Terror) is the fed-up alcoholic reporter who discovers his inner-hero as the crisis unfolds, and Janet Munro (The Trollenburg Terror) is the no-nonsense secretary who spills the beans on the testing.
Guest, who also co-wrote and produced the film, also makes brilliant use of the London locations, including Fleet Street, the Daily Express building and nearby St Bride’s Avenue, which only serves to give his sci-fi an unnerving reality. Alongside When Worlds Collide, Crack in the World and Dr Strangelove, this is a sci-fi classic of note that’s worth revisiting time and again.
BFI SPECIAL FEATURES
• New 4K transfer
• Hot Off the Press: Revisiting the Day the Earth Caught Fire (2014, 34min) An illuminating documentary about the film and its legacy.
• Audio commentary with Val Guest and Ted Newsom. I haven’t heard this all the way through yet, as I wanted to see the Blu-ray restoration first. Which is just fantastic!
• Interview with Leo McKern (2001) The sound quality might be poor, but McKern is fab and its set in a pub near St Bride’s Lane.
• Audio Appreciation by Graeme Hobbs (2014, 9min) Budding film reviews take note, Hobbs has a way with words here.
• Original trailer, TV spots and radio spots
• Stills and Collections Gallery
• Three nuclear films from the BFI National Archive: Operation Hurricane (Ronald Stark, 1952, 33min); The H-bomb (David Villiers, 1956, 22min); The Hole in the Ground (David Cobham, 1962, 30min). The inclusion of these illustrates why the BFI Archives are so important in maintaining the legacy of British film and TV history.
• Think Bike (1978, 1min) This road safety film with actor Edward Judd is a real gem
• Illustrated booklet with credits and essays
• Blu-ray exclusive. The Guardian Lecture: Val Guest and his wife, actress Yolande Dolan interviewed by David Meeker at the National Film Theatre (1998, 63min)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire is out now from BFI on dual format Blu-ray and DVD. Click here to order.