Category Archives: Classic World Cinema
Vampyr | The uncanny 1932 German horror returns to the big screen with an all-new 2k restoration for its 90th anniversary
“★★★★★ A vampire film like no other… a waking nightmare of eerie, ethereal horror” – Total Film
“As close as you get to a poem on film” – Guillermo del Toro
Courtesy of Eureka Entertainment comes the release of the 2K restoration of director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s enduring 1932 Germany horror Vampyr, in cinemas (UK & Ireland from 20 May) and on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series (also 20 May).
The first foray into sound filmmaking by one of cinema’s pivotal artists, Vampyr remains a cornerstone work of the horror genre. The dreamlike tale of an occult-obsessed student’s visit to the small French village of Courtempierre, as he is drawn into the unsettling mystery around a stricken family’s struggle with malevolent forces, remains an unparalleled evocation of the uncanny.
Adapting Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 story, In a Glass Darkly, Dreyer’s ceaseless innovation delivers a tour-de-force of supernatural phantasmagoria and creeping unease, via audacious camera work and sound design, as well as a mesmerising performance from the film’s producer, aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West), in the central role of occult student, Julian West.
Presented from an all-new 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (completed in 2020), and taking more than a decade to complete, this is regarded as the most definitive incarnation of Vampyr possible.
LIMITED-EDITION BLU-RAY (3000 COPIES) FEATURES
• Hardbound Slipcase
• All-new 2K digital restoration of the German version, with an uncompressed mono soundtrack
• Optional unrestored audio track
• Audio commentaries from critic and programmer Tony Rayns and Vampyr fan Guillermo del Toro
• Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences
• Interview with Kim Newman on Vampyr‘s place within vampire cinema
• Two interviews with music historian David Huckvale
• Carl Th. Dreyer (1966) – a documentary by Jörgen Roos
• Two deleted scenes, removed by the German censor in 1932
• The Baron: short MoC documentary about Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg
• Optional English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet featuring rare production ephemera, a 1964 interview with Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, and essays by Tom Milne, Jean and Dale Drum, and film restorer Martin Koerber
VAMPYR Limited Edition Blu-ray available to order from the Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/vampyr-limited-edition-box-set-3000-copies/
VAMPYR 90th Anniversary Screenings www.vampyr90.co.uk
The Singing Ringing Tree (1957) | The surreal East German Brothers Grimm fantasy that traumatised a generation
If you happen to have grown up in the UK in the 1960s, then you will most likely recall The Singing Ringing Tree – an East German import whose transmission in three parts on the BBC in November and December 1964 caused an entire generation of children to have nightmares.
The surreal fairy tale adventure, which was originally released in 1957 in East Germany, is a variation of the Hurleburlebutz story by The Brothers Grimm. It centres on a self-centred princess (Christel Bodenstein) and the wealthy prince (Eckart Dux) who desires to win her love by bringing to her the mythical titular tree as a gift.
He finds it in a magical garden ruled over by a malevolent dwarf (Richard Krüger, AKA Hermann Emmrich), but when the princess again rejects him on his return, he loses a bet with the dwarf and is turned into a bear.
The princess, however, still wants her tree so she forces her father, the King, to fetch it. But he too loses a bet with the dwarf who places an ugly spell on the princess. The bear then tells her that the only way to break the spell is if she mends her ways. Will she?
Having grown up in Australia (in the 1970s), I missed out on this classic children’s fantasy – but British friends of mine have very vivid memories – especially the dwarf and the weird giant fish that the Princess befriends. Seeing it now for the first time, I can see why it must have been disturbing for young minds of the era. But it’s also a cinematic gem. I call it East Germany’s answer to the Wizard of Oz. The production design and sets are truly magical. No wonder it was such a hit in his home country, and still fascinates today. Its themes, of course, remain universal – even for the woke generation.
Presented in high definition for the first time, this Network release includes the fullscreen English narrated soundtrack (which was the one shown on the BBC back in the day), as well as the widescreen theatrical version with the original German audio. You can also choose the alternative music-only soundtrack as well as alternative French and Spanish soundtracks. The other special features include a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein, an image gallery and a booklet containing an essay by cultural historian Tim Worthington.
Order from Network: https://bit.ly/3yRgVJy
Set at a time when going to the movies was a near-religious communal activity, director Giuseppe Tornatore’s lyrical and evocative celebration of the magic of cinema won awards across the globe, including the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, five BAFTAs and the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Now, Cinema Paradiso has been giving a luminous 4K restoration.
Philippe Noiret is in winning form (and scored a BAFTA as a result) as the wise Alfredo, a middle-aged projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso movie theatre in a small Sicilian village; while Salvatore Cascio is a revelation as the young film buff Salvatore (AKA Toto), who befriends Alfredo and learns his trade.
Told in flashback, through the eyes of the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) following Alfredo’s death, Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical drama is a bittersweet reflection on youth, love, and regret; and shows just how much a powerful force the flickering screen can be in shaping our lives. As Noiret’s Salvatore’s muses: ‘Life isn’t like the movies – life is harder’, but sometimes we all need to get lost in its glow.
This 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray from Arrow Academy features both the theatrical and expanded Director’s Cut, with the following extras (ported over from their 2014 Blu-ray release).
4K UHD SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the restored Cannes Festival theatrical version (124-min)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the restored Director’s Cut (174-min)
• Uncompressed original stereo 2.0 Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Tornatore and Italian cinema expert Millicent Marcus
• A Dream of Sicily: A 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore featuring the music of Ennio Morricone
• A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise: A 27-minute documentary on the genesis of Cinema Paradiso, featuring interviews with Noiret, Cascio and Tornatore
• The Kissing Sequence: Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes in Alfredo’s private reel with full clips identifying each scene
• Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer and 25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer
• Collector’s booklet
Also available is the BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version and Director’s Cut, and the DVD SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version in original stereo and 5.1 surround audio. Both editions feature the same extras as included in the 4K UHD contents.
Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…
Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.
Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.
THE UK 2014 BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.
Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.
‘My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man’s material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration’ (Masaki Kobayashi)
From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1965 supernatural compendium Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, presented from a 2K digital restoration.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.
In the etheral, doom-laden The Black Hair (a popular theme in Japanese ghost stories), a faithless samurai abandons his loving wife to seek advancement and, many years later, is reunited with her — but there’s a terrible twist in the tale. Originally released as a stand-alone film, The Woman of the Snow, features another classic tragic popular culture figure: the ice witch. Here a woodcutter’s broken promise to a vampire causes him terrible heartache.
Hoichi the Earless concerns an apprentice monk who is forced by spirits to recite the tale of a tragic sea battle between the between the Taira and Minamoto clans. And in the eerie and reflective, In a Cup of Tea, a writer relates the story of a Lord’s attendant who is visited by an apparition – but no one believes him.
Kwaidan, which literally means Weird Tales, is a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore. Photographed entirely on hand-painted sets (built inside an old aircraft hangar), Kobayashi’s highly-stylised film draws on classic Japanese illustrations for its visual ideas, while the atmospheric lighting and camerawork recall the hallucinatory worlds of Mario Bava and Powell and Pressburger.
This was one of the most expensive film’s to be made in Japan at the time and ended up bankrupting the studio. But regardless of the expense, Kobayashi has crafted a work of true beauty – a sumptuous symphony that you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in. It’s long and leisurely, but can easily be watched in four parts.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Criterion’s 2K digital restoration of the original 183-minute director’s cut
• Original monaural Japanese soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Kim Newman on Kwaidan – the film critic and writer explores how the film become something of a template for subsequent Japanese ghost story films
• Shadowings [35 mins] – David Cairns and Fiona Watson look at the film’s background, and provide a critical reading of each of the stories focusing on their themes and Kobayashi’s handling of them
• Original Japanese teasers and trailer
• Collector’s book featuring reprints of Lafcadio Hearn’s original ghost stories; a survey of the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi by Linda Hoaglund; and a wide ranging interview with the film maker – the last he’d ever give.
Poet, playwright, artist and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau was one of the most significant artists of the 20th-century and 1950’s Orphée, based on the classic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, is regarded as his masterpiece. Following the film’s theatrical release last October by the BFI in the UK, it is now available on both Blu-ray and on iTunes.
Orpheus (Jean Marais), a famous left-bank poet in post-war Paris who is married to Eurydice (Marie Déa), sees fellow-poet Jacques Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) knocked down and killed by a motorcyclist. Orpheus then meets Cegeste’s mysterious patron, The Princess (Marîa Casares) and, through her, discovers The Zone, a realm of death that Orpheus will come to know all too well…
Cocteau’s hypnotic fantasy was awarded the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, and its ingenious special effects and images (like the dissolving mirror through which characters pass into the next world) will stay with you long after the film itself is over.
Georges Auric’s music, Nicolas Hayer’s cinematography and Cocteau’s own simple but dynamic invention also greatly contribute to the look and feel of a most remarkable film.
Originally, Cocteau had considered asking Greta Garbo in the role of The Princess, but in the event 28-year-old Spanish actress Marîa Casares proved perfection.
For many years now I have owned and loved the Criterion Collection boxset of Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy from 2005, in which The Blood of the Poet (1930) and Testament of Orpheus (1959) book-end Cocteau’s unrivalled 1950 masterpiece. But this new BFI release is just too good to resist – the print here looks (and sounds) simply divine and have a gander at the fantastic extras (all new except La villa Santo Sospir). Add this to your World Cinema collection now!
• Presented in High Definition
• Feature-length commentary by Roland-François Lack
• Jean Cocteau by Pierre Bergé and Dominque Marny (2008, 35 mins): the former and current presidents of the Jean Cocteau Committee provide a portrait of the filmmaker
• Memories of Filming by Jean-Pierre Mocky and Eric Le Roy (2008, 16 mins)
• Jean Cocteau and His Tricks (2008, 14 mins): assistant director Claude Pinoteau reveals the film’s visual tricks
• The Queer Family Tree – Reflections on Jean Cocteau (2018, 15 mins): director John Maybury on Cocteau’s influence on his own work and on queer cinema in general
• La villa Santo Sospir (1952, 38 mins): A short 16mm colour film lensed by Cocteau
• Theatrical trailer
• 2018 Re-release trailer
• Stills gallery
• Illustrated booklet featuring essays by Ginette Vincendeau, Deborah Allison and William Fowler
Throughout January and February 2019, the BFI Southbank in London will honour Italian filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, who profoundly influenced cinematic style, mood and outlook, with screenings of some his most iconic works – from his striking 1960’s works like La notte (read my Blu-ray review here) and L’avventura to his extraordinary expressionistic international endeavours like Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, which gets a cinema re-release from today (Friday 8 January 2019).
Plus, there will be a series of illuminating talks surveying his artistic vision, a study day devoted to the use of landscape and architecture in his canon, and a six-session evening course on all things Antonioni.
Destiny (Der müde Tod) (1921) | Fritz Lang’s expressionist fable of life… and death gets a definitive restored release
Before dazzling audiences with Metropolis, M, and Spione, German director Fritz Lang dabbled with bending cinematic conventions in his 1921 German folksong in six verses, Der müde Tod (literally, The Weary Death).
A young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts the personification of Death (Bernhard Goetzke), in an effort to save the life of her fiancé (Walter Janssen). Death then weaves three romantic tragedies set in Persia, Quattrocento Venice and ancient China, and offers to unite the girl with her lover, if she can prevent the death of the lovers in at least one of the episodes…
Fusing German Romanticism, Orientalism, and Expressionism with evocative expressionist imagery and featuring special effects work never seen before, Der müde Tod has often been overlooked amongst Lang’s early work, but was the springboard for the über-stylised filmmaking that would culminate in such genre-defining masterpieces as Die Nibelungen and Metropolis.
Now in a new 2k restoration, this new presentation of the lost classic preserves the original German intertitles and simulates the historic colour tinting and toning of its initial release, and is accompanied by a newly-composed score by Cornelius Schwehr, which was originally performed by the 70-member Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra.
Eureka Entertainment is proud present Lang’s classic as part of their Masters of Cinema Series in a definitive Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition, available from 17 July 2017.
ORDER HERE: http://amzn.to/2kV2YsC
WHAT THE PRESS SAID – IN 1921
‘Based on inwardness and intellectual mastery, this work by author / director Fritz Lang veers off the beaten track of your average movie. It does not seek to stun the senses of the viewer with a huge contingent of people and material, but provides real, inspired art. Individual images surprise us with their picturesque beauty, capturing the essence of the German folk song in its simple sincerity.’ Abendblatt (October 7, 1921)
‘Fact and fiction skilfully interwoven, cheerful and serious moments, much bitter truth, sometimes literature, sometimes Karl May or Munchausen. Just like life itself. And above all love. Only death is more powerful.’ Wolfgang Fischer, Neue Zeit Charlottenburg (October 5, 1921)
‘A new, interesting style of film: the sweeping ballad. Half fairy-tale dream, half reality, carefully crafted.’ Erich Effler, Film und Presse no. 37/38 (1921)
In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet, agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…
With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.
Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.
Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.
Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.
ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
• Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
• Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
• Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)
DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson