Category Archives: Drama
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.
Mildred Pierce (1945) | The mother of all melodramas starring Joan Crawford joins The Criterion Collection
When it comes to high camp melodrama, director Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce must be the mother of them all! Giving her best-ever performance, Joan Crawford plays the eponymous single mum who walks out on her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett aka cinema’s original Tarzan) so she can build a new life for her two daughters and ends up creating a restaurant chain empire that gives her fame and fortune but leaves her personal life in tatters – and murder…
Nominated for six Academy Awards and scoring Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar, 1945’s Mildred Pierce transformed James M Cain’s 1941 psychological novel into a film noir murder mystery fused with a 1940s women’s picture. Maternal sacrifice never looked so melodramatic as played by Crawford, who is genuinely convincing as the unflappable Mildred who will do anything to achieve the American dream for the sake of her children – especially Veda, who causes her no end of grief.
Ann Blyth scored an Oscar nomination playing the deliciously mean-spirited spoiled brat, and became one of cinema’s all-time great villains as a result. And playing Mildred’s second husband Monte, Zachary Scott is the epitome of the worthless playboy who reminded me of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura. Then there’s Eve Arden in the supporting role as Mildred’s loveable sidekick Ida, who provides the film with some truly quotable lines like: ‘Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young’.
But this film belongs to Crawford, who looks fantastic bathed in Ernest Haller’s expressionistic camerawork (he’d done wonders with Crawford’s nemesis Bette Davis in Jezebel and would lens them both in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). And if you watch the feature-length documentary that accompanies the Criterion release, you’ll see that’s there’s quite a lot of Joan in her character – though probably not the mothering side.
Famously, Crawford didn’t attend the Oscars when she won the Best Actress award – instead, feigning sickness, the press were summoned to her home to see her accept the statuette. That’s our Joanie!
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• New 4K digital restoration
• New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (watch a clip above)
• Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show, featuring Joan Crawford
• Q&A with Ann Blyth from 2002
• Segment from a 1969 episode of The Today Show, featuring novelist James M Cain
• An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith
• Also included is Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star: a fascinating Turner Classic documentary from 2002, narrated by Angelica Huston, that’s longer than the movie, but just as gripping and melodramatic. It traces Crawford’s entire life and career, beginning as a dancer from a impoverished background who learned her craft from an unlikely source (the legendary Lon Chaney) to the creation of the Crawford image as the reigning Queen of the Movies in the 1930s, before a drop in popularity forced her to reinvent herself. Her marriages, affairs and catfights with the likes of Bette Davis and Mercedes McCambridge are legend, as is her association with Pepsi-Cola and her struggles in later life taking on roles in B-movie shockers like Berserk and Trog that were well beneath her. Of course, since the publication of her adopted daughter Christina’s 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, Crawford’s reputation has been forever tarnished. But this documentary sets out to reminds us that, despite all of her failings, Crawford was one of a kind – and someone who was the creation of her own indomitable will. Catch a clip here…
Varieté (1925) | Roll up for a gripping story of jealousy and hell with Emil Jannings and – The Tiger Lillies?
A key work of German silent cinema and an international smash on its release in 1925 and 1926, director EA Dupont’s Varieté is a visually arresting melodrama in which jealousy drives a man to murder.
When carnival concessionaire Boss Huller (Emil Jannings) meets young émigré Berta-Marie (Lya De Putti), it kindles his desire to relaunch his career as a trapeze artist. Deserting his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant son, he sets out with Berta-Marie to Berlin where the two are soon hired by famed aerialist Artinelli (Warwick Ward) to headline the city’s premier circus attraction at the famed Wintergarten theatre. But while Boss rejoices in his new-found fame, Artinelli begins an illicit affair with Berta-Marie, which – when uncovered – drives Boss to plot his revenge…
This German silent masterpiece, which is told in flashback as an imprisoned Boss tells his tale to win his freedom, was instrumental in bringing its director Ewald André Dupont to the attentions of Carl Laemmle at Universal, who brought him to Hollywood.
But while Dupont never quite achieved the level of success in the US as he did in his native Germany (he was reduced to B-movie’s and genre fare like 1953’s The Neanderthal Man), his cameraman was the legendary Karl Freund, one of the pioneers of German Expressionism, who lensed The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927), and whose lustrous monochrome cinematography flair turned Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) into genre classics alongside his directorial efforts, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).
Varieté’s success is quite simply down to Freund’s visuals, and the brooding central performances from Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti. The camerawork is hugely inventive here. It ranges from the use of a handheld camera to mimic the movements of acrobats – which culminates in a spectacular scene involving a blindfolded triple somersault; imaginative shots like a close-up of an ear dissolving into high heels walking along a corridor to capture the characters’ pent-up passions; and the use of cinema verite – horse shit on marble steps, the sad faces on fairground pageant girls in states of undress, drunk revellers dancing on tables, heavily made-up circus patrons – to give the melodrama its subtle social commentary.
Freund’s close-ups also capture the artistry of Jannings – a master of controlled emotion, who can turn his Boss from alpha male to wounded lover in a single glance; as well as the cold beauty of De Putti, who looks every inch the femme fatale, and the wonderfully villainous turn from Warwick Ward, who looks a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt.
As part of Eureka!’s The Master of Cinema Series, Varieté is presented here in a new restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation of the original German 1:34:28 version, with PCM audio on the Blu-ray and optional English subtitles.
The special features include a choice of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies, plus the complete American version of the film that was released on 27 June 1926 which tightens up the story by juggling scenes and cutting some out altogether, including one that was disapproved by the US censor (de Putti disrobing). A booklet featuring new writing and archival images is also included.
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be composing one of the three scores on this release, I thought this tale of jealousy and hell and ultimate redemption was the perfect match for the avant-garde British musical trio’s dark cabaret sound. And it most certainly is, working best when the group whip up a frenzy of accordion, band saw and Theremin, while lead singer Martyn Jacques uses a host of different vocal tones to utter the word ‘Variety’, as the film’s moves inexorably towards its heated climax. Now that I’ve hear their score, I can’t wait to revisit this little gem again to hear the other two scores.
Sid & Nancy is one of the most important films ever made about the UK punk era, featuring career-defining performances from Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, and made director Alex Cox the one to watch following his 1984 cult Repo Man. To celebrate the punk classic’s 30th anniversary – as part of the Punk at 40 celebrations – comes a restored DVD/Blu-ray release from Studiocanal in the UK.
This isn’t a tale of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, but a harrowing drama about ‘drugs, depression and death’ – one that deals with the tragic life of the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious. And it all rests on Gary Oldman’s ferocious performance as the drug-addled Vicious (aka John Beverly), as well as Chloe Webb’s grating turn as his groupie American girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Cox’s gruelling depiction of Sid’s slow downward spiral into heroin addiction, self parody and miserable death is anything but entertaining, but as a sensitive and powerful character study, it makes for compulsive viewing.
The special edition Blu-ray/DVD features the restored film approved by cinematographer Roger Deakins (Hail Caesar, The Shawshank Redemption), and a host of special features, including interviews with Deakins, director Alex Cox and Big Audio Dynamite’s Don Letts.
To celebrate its release, there’s a special screening on 29 August in support of War Child at Screen on the Green – the same venue where the Sex Pistols played in 1977 – which will also include a DJ set from Don Letts . For more information, visit: http://www.everymancinema.com/films/film-info?film=14451