Category Archives: Must See
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
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).
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.
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
Man With a Movie Camera and Other Works by Dziga Vertov (1929) | Five Soviet cinema masterpieces in HD
Voted the greatest documentary of all time in the 2014 Sight & Sound poll, Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s radical, ground-breaking 1929 city-symphony, Man With a Movie Camera (Chelovek’s kino-apparatom), used every trick in the cinematic textbook and invented new ones to record Moscow’s masses at work and at play from dawn to dusk, while celebrating the cameraman as hero.
Hugely influential, Vertov’s dazzling film certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most contemporary of silent movies – and continues to inspire awe with each revisit thanks to its virtuoso camera trickery. This is cinema absolute and essential viewing.
In July 2015, the BFI released a Special Edition Blu-ray of the documentary featuring a score by Michael Nyman (read all about it here). Eureka’s Masters of Cinema new Dual Format release features the 2014 HD restoration from EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam and Lobster Films, with brand new score by the Alloy Orchestra, alongside newly restored prints of four of Vertov’s silent classics (below). The special features include audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, a video interview with film scholar Ian Christie on Vertov’s career, a visual essay by filmmaker David Cairns, and a collector’s booklet.
Other Works by Dziga Vertov
• Kino-Eye (1924, 78min): this seminal propaganda documentary is the most successful application of Vertoz’s principals and editing techniques, and paved the way for the deconstructionist movement. It is featured here with a newly recorded score by Robert Israel.
• Kino-Pravda No.21 (1925, 36min): one of 23 newsreels made over three years, this film charts the success of Soviet progress under Lenin. It was also the name of the movement (Film Truth) spearheaded by Vertov who envisaged a cinema composed entirely of such newsreels that followed the principles developed in Kino-Eye.
• Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (1931, 67min): this avant-garde aural experiment dedicated to the First Five Year Plan was the first sound film shot in the Ukraine and featured a complex, pioneering soundtrack (Charlie Chaplin was a fan) that was made up of machinery and factory noises.
• Three Songs of Lenin (1934, 61min): this poetic propaganda film is based on three songs of the Soviet East. The first shows secular Communism’s victory over Islam and the empowerment of women, the second shows a country in mourning over Lenin’s death, and the third showcases Soviet military might and industrial expansion.
In 2012, Eureka! released onto DVD new high-definition transfers of two of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s allegorial 1960s films, Hawks and Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini) and Pigsty (Porcile), as part of their Masters of Cinema collection. These masterpieces of Italian cinema have now been given a Blu-ray makeover for a limited edition double-bill release (just 1500 units), due out from Monday 22 February 2016.
In the 1966 satire, Hawks and Sparrows, veteran comic Toto and Pasolini’s muse Ninetto Davoli (in his first screen role) appear as characters in two different time frames. One finds them playing father and son who encounter a collection of characters, and a talking crow, while walking the outskirts of Rome. The second segment, set in the 13th-century, finds them as monks tasked by St Francis of Assisi to teach hawks and sparrows to love each other.
This road movie (by foot) is very much ‘of its era’, but shows Pasolini’s keen eye for the changing Italian landscape – from the Etruscan necropolis in Viterbo, Lazio to the shanty towns of Rome – which uses to question Italy’s identity in the 1960s, a period when Church and communism clashed.
1969’s Pigsty challenges what makes a political film and, along with the director’s controversial Salo (1975), contains a visual language that is pure Pasolini. As in Hawks and Sparrows, two stories play out – one set in a distant past, the other in modern Germany, but both are linked to an overall theme: that all societies end up consuming their children.
The first wordless historical story, set in a desolate landscape (beautifully shot around Mount Etna), follows an aimless wanderer whose cannibalistic tendencies earn him a group of followers but also the wrath of polite society. The second story concerns the son of a wealthy industrialist who revolts against his father’s ruthless capitalism and his girlfriend’s student politics in a most extreme way – he sleeps with pigs. Together, these two tales become a cinematic political poem about anarchy and rebellion.
Now, the experimental nature of Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty might be cause for some head scratching, but they are both thought-provoking and breathtakingly visual, while the essays, interviews and notes in the booklet are an invaluable guide into the director’s mindset. This is Pasolini at his height.
THE MASTERS OF CINEMA BLU-RAY RELEASE
• Limited edition of 1500 units.
• High-definition transfers of both films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Theatrical trailers for both films.
• Collector’s booklet, featuring essays on both films; a 1969 interview with Pasolini about Hawks and Sparrows; an English translation a 1974 interview with Pasolini discussing the actor Totó; a 1969 note on Pigsty by Pasolini circulated at the Venice première; an extract from a 1969 interview with the director Pasolini; and archival imagery.
Fusing George Orwell’s 1984, a plot from 1950s pulp fiction, references from 1930s serials, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse, and Jean Cocteau’s Orphee, the 1965 monochrome future noir Alphaville is one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most idiosyncratic and inventive films, yet also one of his more accessiable ones.
Having appeared as novelist Peter Cheyney’s private eye Lemmy Caution in a series of French films in the 1950s and 1960s, US actor Eddie Constantine reprises his screen persona in this futuristic homage, which has been released as part of StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection.
When fellow secret agent Henri Dixon (Akim Tamiroff) disappears, Lemmy Caution sets out to the über-modernist city of Alphaville. His mission: to locate his old pal; destroy the sentient Alpha 60 computer, which is holding the city under totalitarian control; and apprehend its creator, Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon). With the assistance of von Braun’s programmer daughter Natacha (Anna Karina), can Lemmy rage against the machine or will he be assimilated like the rest of Alphaville’s denizens?
Winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965, Alphaville has become one of those modern film classics that’s on every world cinema fans hit list. While not a sci-fi in the strictest sense, it’s truly inspired, helped greatly by the dazzling stylistic images of 1960s Paris that evokes the future (mainly brutalist architecture of glass and steel decked out in modernist decor) and pays homage to film noir (with its starkly-lit shots of seedy hotels and Paris’ périphérique); while Godard’s underlying themes of conformity versus individualism continue to resonant. And bringing it all together is the thunderously dramatic score and the performances of the two leads. A deadpan Constantine makes for an ideal dour, grizzled detective that’s seen better days (and the fact he’s not a good actor just emphasises Godard’s playful approach), while Karina oozes a coldly ethereal charm as the programmer on the path to enlightenment.
Alphaville (Cert PG, 95min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside Breathless, Le Mépris, Pierrot Le Fou, and Une Femme est Une Femme.
The special features on this release include a candid interview with Anna Karina; an introduction by Colin McCabe; poster gallery and a trailer.
Jean-Luc Godard is also being honoured in a retrospective at the BFI Southbank in London until March 2016. Click here for details.
Le Mépris (1963) | Is Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave sensation an arthouse triumph or just an aching bore?
One of the New Wave’s masterpieces and a landmark in world cinema, the lauded French drama is back in cinemas in the UK, and is the centrepiece of a major retrospective of the director’s 60-year career at the BFI Southbank in London. It is also one of the key highlights in StudioCanal’s five-disc Blu-ray collection being released on 1 February.
But does it hold up 52 years on?
More Bold! More Brazen! And Much, Much More Bardot!
French screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is offered a commission to rewrite a stylised adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey being directed by the legendary Fritz Lang (playing himself). But he’s soon at war with his beautiful wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), who mistakenly believes he is using her to get friendly with the film’s brash American Jeremy Prokosh (Jack Palance)…
Based on the novel A Ghost at Noon by Italian writer Alberto Moravia (The Conformist), Le Mépris was a huge success in France – and much of that was due to Bardot’s nude scenes which were added in at the behest of the film’s producers, Joseph Levine and Carlo Ponti. Godard had originally wanted Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra, but Ponti wanted his wife Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. In end, however, Godard got the right mix right with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot and French actor Michel Piccoli.
Making great use of the location settings (firstly Rome, then the island of Capri), Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard perfectly capture (in Scope) the primary colours of the Pop Art movement that was big in the day. With its radical improvised set-ups and repetitive use of Georges Delerue’s mournful soundtrack, this sumptuously dressed marriage-in-crisis melodrama certainly gave audiences something they had never seen before. But this monumental arthouse experiment is also an aching bore for those to don’t ‘get’ the caustic in-jokes and movie-making references.
A famous quote by film pioneer Louis Lumiere opens Godard’s artfest: ‘Cinema is an invention without future…’ And this is what drives most of th dialogue, which comes off like an internal rant by the director, who uses the film to expound his New Wave theories. While cinephiles may cream their pants over Le Mépris being a sleekly seductive film about film-making, newbies will be left wondering what the hell is going on as Piccoli and Bardot bicker for what seems like an eternity (actually 30-minutes) in a sparse modernist apartment in Rome.
The French film fans I watched the StudioCanal release with (which had issues with the subtitles at one point), laughingly described the film as ‘L’Avventura in colour’. Which it sort of is. But it also shares its arthouse DNA with Antonioni’s despairing romance, L’Eclisse, which came the year before. Only instead of static shots of the characters moving ever so slowly in a monochrome suburban Rome, we have Godard’s slow tracking shots as his characters spew dialogue like ‘When I hear the word culture I reach for my chequebook’. So, by the time the film finally moved to the blue-green waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea for the Capri scenes, my viewing companions were queuing up to drown themselves.
Thankfully the stunning scenery and architecture (notably the modernist Villa Malaparte on Punta Massullo), Palance’s red-hot Alpha Romeo 2600 and Bardot’s bare flesh do help to distract from the ‘non-existent’ story and wholly unlikeable characters: especially Bardot’s cold and contrary Camille, who not only tests the patience of Piccoli’s frustrated writer, but also ours…
Le Mépris (Cert: 15, 99min) features alongside Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville and Une Femme est Une Femme in StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection (available from 1 February) and is accompanied by the following extras:
• Introduction with Colin McCabe
• Once Upon A Time There Was… Contempt: An indepth 53-minute featurette in which Godard separates fact from myth over the making of the film.
• Contempt… Tenderly: A 32-minute ‘making-of’ that’s overshadowed by the previous one.
• The Dinosaur and the Baby: This terrific 61-minute TV special featuring Godard and Lang in conversation is a real treat.
• Conversation with Fritz Lang: The cinematic legend is interviewed in a series of on-set recordings (15min).
Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight (1966) | Orson Welles’ personal best gets a 50th anniversary restoration release
‘If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of movie, it would be Falstaff’ Orson Welles
As part of the centenary celebrations of Orson Welles’ birth, 1966’s Falstaff Chimes at Midnight, one of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare film adaptations and Welles’ favourite of his features, has been restored and released on DVD and Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.
‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’
On the brink of Civil War, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) attempts to consolidate his reign while fretting with unease over his son’s seeming neglect of his royal duties. Hal (Keith Baxter), the young Prince, openly consorts with Sir John Falstaff (Orson Welles) and his company. Hal’s friendship with the knight substitutes for his estrangement from his father. Both Falstaff and the King are old and tired; both rely on Hal for comfort in their final years, while the young Prince, the future Henry V, nurtures his own ambitions…
‘A magnificent film, clearly among Welles’ greatest work’ Roger Ebert
A reworking of his 1939 and 1960 play Five Kings, this is, in Welles’ own words, ‘a sombre comedy’ and a ‘lament for Merrie England’. It may have come late in his career, but it remains his masterpiece, containing the true and profound essence of both Shakespeare the dramatist and Welles the actor. His Falstaff was the role he was born to play, the embodiment of the richly human, honest and heroic qualities of medieval England whose openness and loyalty eventually become the very cause of his own destruction.
The talented supporting cast includes John Gielgud, Keith Baxter, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford and Ralph Richardson as the narrator. The film’s harrowing war scenes have proven especially influential, cited in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0SqRu3-S4Y%5D