Category Archives: Classic World Cinema

Orphée (1950) | Jean Cocteau’s fantasy masterpiece looks divine on Blu-ray

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.

THE STORY
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!

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 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

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Michelangelo Antonioni: Confronting the Modern World with Style at BFI Southbank

Michelangelo Antonioni directs Zabriskie Point

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.

To book and for more information, check out the full season HERE

Check out my review of The Passenger Blu-ray release HERE

Michelangelo Antonioni directs The Passenger

 

 

Destiny (Der müde Tod) (1921) | Fritz Lang’s expressionist fable of life… and death gets a definitive restored release

Destiny (1921)

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).

Destiny (1921)

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…

Destiny (1921)

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.

Destiny (1921)

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)

Destiny (1921)

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Ludwig (1973) | Luchino Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece gets a stupendous 4k restoration release

Ludwig (1973)Ludwig. He loved women. He loved men.
He lived as controversially as he ruled.
But he did not care what the world thought. He was the world.

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…

Visconti's Ludwig (1973)

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.

Visconti's Ludwig (1973)

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.

Ludwig Arrow Academy box-setARROW 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.

 

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Cul-de-sac (1966) | When Roman Polanski went rogue on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – and won!

cul-de-sac

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.

Cul de sac

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…

Cul de sac

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.

Cul de sac

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.

Cul de sac

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.

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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

 

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Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) gets a Steelbook Edition release

 Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form.

Incalculably influential, the film’s nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake (horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it).

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)

Back in 2014, Eureka! released the definitive restoration on dual format as part of their Masters of Cinema Series, now the expressionist masterpiece is back in a special Steelbook Blu-ray edition, which includes the 2014 documentary, From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour exploration of German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Plus, there’s a host of brand-new bonus extras to savour.

From Caligari to Hitler

From Caligari to Hitler

WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• High-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses
You Must Become Caligari: Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War: 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
On the Restoration: three short video pieces on the film’s restoration
• Trailer for the release of the new restoration of the film
• Booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery

GET IT NOW FROM AMAZON

 

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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) | Myth and melodrama collide in the dreamy Technicolor drama

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

American director Albert Lewin (The Picture of Dorian Gray) and legendary British cinematographer Jack Cardiff made a real oddity when they lensed 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which is being screened at the BFI Southbank on 3 and 13 January 2017 as part of the Martin Scorsese curates season.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

The old legend of a loner doomed to sail the seas forever unless he’s redeemed by a woman’s love is transposed here to 1930s Spain, centering on Ava Gardner’s man-eating, destructive Pandora who becomes intrigued by the arrival of James Mason’s mysterious yachtsman, Hendrik.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Told through flashback after the bodies of Pandora and Hendrik are found washed ashore (that’s not a spoiler by the way), the melodrama soon unfolds to reveal that Hendrik is in fact the real Flying Dutchman, who has suffered centuries of anguish over killing his wife. The manipulative, yet irresistible Pandora, meanwhile, has enjoyed playing with her suitors but must now choose between the man she promised to marry or Mason’s tortured soul…

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Highly reminiscent of those gloriously lush Powell-Pressburger films of the 1940s, Lewin’s stylish romance boasts Cardiff’s stunning Technicolor camerawork.

From Gardner’s gowns to the gorgeous Spanish coastline (shot in the Costa Brava resort of Tossa de Mar), this hallucinatory fable of love and death is well deserving of its  2010 restoration by George Eastman House.

It’s also a chance for classic film fans to see the alluring Gardner strut her stuff as the dreamy vixen, while a moody Mason chews the scenery in his distinctively clipped burgundy baritone.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman screens at NFT3 on 3 January at 18:10 and 13 January at 20:40. Tickets go on sale from 13 December, click here.

The restored classic is also available in a 2010 dual format edition from Park Circus containing both DVD and Blu-ray versions, plus a range of extras – the highlight being a 1947 short on the death of famed Spanish bullfighter, Manolete (the inspiration behind Mario Cabré’s matador in the film).

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Catch Abel Gance’s revolutionary silent masterpiece Napoleon on the big screen and on Blu-ray

Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927)

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)
• Gallery
• Alternative single-screen ending
• Individual triptych panel presentations
• Illustrated collector’s booklet

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Hangmen Also Die! (1943) | A must-see wartime melodrama for all Fritz Lang fans

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, four German exiles in Hollywood – director Fritz Lang, playwright Bertolt Brecht (earning his only US credit here as Bert Brecht), composer Hanns Eisler and actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski – pooled their efforts into Hangmen Also Die!, an important historical film from 1943 about the Czech resistance, which gets a 2k restoration release from Arrow in the UK from 29 August.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Taking as its starting point, the assassination of the real-life Nazi ‘Reich-Protector’ of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich (Twardowski), Lang’s studio-bound suspenser sees an act of kindness by the courageous Marsha (Anna Lee) – hiding the culprit (a deadpan Brian Donlevy) from the Gestapo – result in her professor father (Walter Brennan) and 400 Czech compatriots facing execution unless Donlevy’s resistance fighter is turned over…

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Shot in atmospheric black and white by the legendary James Wong Howe, and featuring a Oscar-nominated score from Eisler, Lang’s anti-Nazi gift to wartime American cinemagoers is a masterful blend of war picture, film noir and political thriller. It may loose points for its overly melodramatic Hollywood treatment of the story (all the non-Nazi’s have American accents and Twardowski’s Heydrich comes off like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes), but its revolutionary spirit shines through.

Eagle-eyed cinephiles can watch out for Dracula‘s Dwight Frye as one of the hostages (it was his last film role before a heart attack cut short his life aged 44 in 1943), and hear the unmistakable growl of Cul-de-sac‘s Lionel Stander as the getaway driver.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

The Arrow release features a 2012 2k restored print by Pinewood from the Cohen Film Collection, and includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña, along with an interview with author Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, plus newsreel footage, restoration comparison anda trailer. The first pressing of this release comes with a collector’s booklet.

A must-have for fans of Fritz Lang fans and lovers of wartime cinema.

Novecento (1900) | Bernardo Bertolucci’s ambitious socialist epic is essential viewing – but over several sittings

1900 (Novecento)

With his trademark operatic sense of scale and painterly eye, director Bernardo Bertolucci presents his deeply personal view of the changing face of Italian politics, provincial life, industry and class across five decades – from 1901 to 1945.

Our guides on this five-hour journey are Alfredo (Robert De Niro), the son of the bourgeois landowning Berlinghieri family, whose lands the local peasants want a share of, and Olmo (Gérard Depardieu), the bastard son of one of those peasants, and it is their intense on-and-off (latently homoerotic) friendship and their relationships with the women in their lives that drives Bertulocci’s episodic narrative.

1900 (Novecento)

Epic in scope (I had to watch it over a number of sittings), melodramatic in execution, and displaying its socialist message in every carefully choreographed set piece, this sumptuously shot period drama – featuring another superb score from Ennio Morricone – is Bertolucci’s communist love poem that’s made with both cinephiles and the masses in mind (cue: full on nudity and violence).

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A starry cast are also on hand to ensure it’s international appeal, including Burt Lancaster as the family patriarch who sets the narrative in action; Alida Valli, whose emotional breakdown follows one of the film’s most shocking moments; and Donald Sutherland, who is at his villainous best as foreman Attila, who turns from laughing stock to sickening sadistic fascist over the ensuing years. As the women in the men’s lives, Laura Betti is truly scary as Regina, Attila’s equally depraved sidekick lover, while Dominque Sanda’s vacuous free-spirit Ada is the mirror image of Stefania Sandrelli’s political firebrand Anita.

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Novecento was filmed in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio and is presented here in Eureka’s Masters of Cinema dual format two-disc release, based on a 1080p high-definition transfer with the original running time of 315mins. It also comes with both the English and Italian soundtracks, which caused a fuss in my household as I preferred the English to hear DeNiro and co in their native tongue, while my Italian-speaking pals preferred the Italian as they felt it better reflected the film’s setting. If there is one complaint about the release it is with the menus as changing then from English to Italian soundtracks took a lot of fiddling.

SPECIAL FEATURES

The Story, The Cast and Creating an Epic: Two video pieces from 2006 featuring Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
Bertolucci secondo il cinema: An hour-long on-set documentary about the making of 1900.
• Collector’s booklet

 

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