Category Archives: Drama

The Ape Woman | Marco Ferreri’s anarchic 1964 satire gets a 4K-restored release from CultFilms

Italian film-maker Marco Ferreri (11 May 1928 – 9 May 1997) made over 100 very personal films over his long, and often controversial career, but is probably best-known for his 1973 satire La Grande Bouffe and 1981’s Tales of Ordinary Madness based on the work of US outsider poet Charles Bukowski (two of my cult film faves). Now one of Ferreri’s earliest films, 1964’s The Ape Woman (AKA La Donna Scimmia), is in my sights after getting a 4K restoration release on Blu-ray.

The Ape Woman is inspired by the true story of 19th-century carnival performer Julia Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico with hypertrichosis, a condition that meant hair covered her entire body. Like Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), she was exploited as a freak by her manager. She died, aged just 25, from postpartum complications following the birth of her son (who only survived three days). But her story didn’t end there, for her corpse and the body of her baby were taxidermically preserved and ended up being displayed in museums, circuses and amusement parks around the world for over a century.

Ferreri’s film is set in contemporary (1960’s) Naples and sees Annie Girardot playing Maria, a shy convent novitiate whose condition attracts the attention of Ugo Tognazzi’s wannabe entrepreneur, Antonio. Persuaded with the promise of marriage and money to be made, Maria leaves the convent and moves into a ramshackle backstreet warehouse where she begins to ‘perform’ as a captive wild African ape that Antonio found in the jungle.

At first, Maria feels ashamed but soon becomes more self-assured, while the selfish Antonio begins to feel real love for his wife – especially so when a professor tries to buy her virginity and a famous impresario turns their act into an exotic striptease. But tragedy strikes when Maria falls pregnant, then dies.

Ferreri originally closed his drama with Antonio recovering the bodies of his wife and child from a museum and then putting them on display in a makeshift tent. Deemed too dark and challenging at the time, producer Carlo Ponti had another ending filmed, in which Maria’s hair falls out after giving birth, and she goes on to become a normal wife and mother, while Antonio gets a regular job. It was this ending that scored the film a Palme d’Or nomination. CultFilm’s Blu-ray includes both (which were restored in 4K for the 2017 Venice Film Festival). I must say I do prefer Ferreri’s stark take as it really underscores his anarchic vision.

I thought this might be a tough watch, but Girardot’s performance is captivating as is her character’s journey and development. Tognazzi also brings much depth to the misogynistic Antonio, who starts off cruel and calculating and ends up being just very sad. There’s also a couple of stand-out scenes, particularly so when Maria is forced to sing while being paraded through the streets on her wedding day and the couple’s cringe-worthy Parisian striptease.

If you are not familiar with Ferreri’s work, then the documentary that’s included here is very illuminating. As is the story that the film is based on, which has had me check out whatever happened to Julia Pastrana. Seems she got a much-belated burial in 2012 near her Mexican hometown, Sinaloa de Leyva, after spending decades in storage in Oslo University in Norway.

Available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from CultFilms

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 4K restoration
• 2.0 dual-mono LPCM Original Italian audio
• Two separate endings: Marco Ferreri’s director’s version and producer Carlo Ponti’s version
• Documentary on Marco Ferreri featuring Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Lambert and Ornella Muti
• New, improved English subtitles

Order direct from CultFilms: https://cultfilms.co.uk/product/the-ape-woman

I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray

Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.

Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood. 

I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.

Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.

Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.

Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.

A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
  • A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
  • An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
  • Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
  • I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
  • Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
  • Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
  • Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
  • Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
  • Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.

Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set

67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).

With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…

Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.

This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included. 

Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.

King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.

Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.

I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.

In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated PteranodonRodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.

Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.

Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.

Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.

This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.

All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.

Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.

Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.

This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.

Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.

Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.

I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.

BONUS FEATURES
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
• Trailers

*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia

Walkabout | Nicolas Roeg’s enigmatic coming-of-age story shimmers in 4K on Blu-ray

Following the suicide of their father (John Meillon), 16-year-old Mary (Jenny Agutter) and her seven-year-old brother Peter (Luc Roeg) are left stranded in the vast Australian outback. But their salvation comes when they cross paths with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his rite of passage ‘walkabout’. He teaches them how to survive in the wilderness, but a clash of cultures leads to tragic consequences…

1971’s Walkabout is one of the best films ever made about Australia – but was actually directed by a non-Australian. Nicolas Roeg brings his trademark enigmatic approach in both his visuals and his story-telling, which was mostly improvised from Edward Bonds’ 14-page adaptation of James Vance Marshall’s 1959 novel. Taking centre stage is the great Australian landscape, which Roeg lenses to hauntingly magnificent effect in order to build his themes about our destructive Western society and the loss of innocence.

The young cast is ideally suited to their roles: especially Luc Roeg (the director’s son) who doesn’t so much act the part of the grounded, yet curious Peter, but totally is the part (I actually wanted to trade places with him as he learns so much); as is Yolngu traditional dancer Gulpilil (making his acting debut, age 16) who brings much of his own heritage to his role, most significantly a courtship dance that would normally never be witnessed outside his community. Agutter, meanwhile, is the perfect embodiment of the young girl on the cusp of adulthood. But special mention must go to the legendary John Meillon, whose brief role calls to mind another film about Australia made by a non-Australian that was also released in 1971 – Wake in Fright.

Like all of Roeg’s films, Walkabout met with mixed reviews on its release in 1971, but has gone on to become a seminal classic loved by audiences and critics alike – and is one the 50 films you should see by the age of 14 (according to the British Film Institute). And the best way to revisit this masterpiece is with Second Sight Films stunning Limited Edition Blu-ray (out on 31 August), which features a brand new 4K scan and restoration and a host of extras, including Marshall’s novel, a first draft script book and a collector’s book with new essays by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Simon Abrams and Daniel Bird.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• A new audio commentary with Luc Roeg and David Thomson
• Producing Walkabout: A new interview with Producer Si Litvinoff
• Luc’s Walkabout: A new interview with Luc Roeg
• Jenny in the Outback: a new interview with Jenny Agutter
• Remembering Roeg: a new interview with Danny Boyle
• 2011 BFI Q&A with Nicolas Roeg, Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg
• Archive introduction by Nicolas Roeg
• English SDH subtitles for the hearing impaired

Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic is a ravishingly kitsch 1950s adventure

Best known for his 1920s and 1930s masterpieces Der mude Tod, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, Women in the Moon and M, and his forays into Hollywood film noir in the 1950s, Fritz Lang was all set to call it a day in 1959 when he was offered the opportunity to remake a film that he and his former wife Thea von Harbou had worked on back in the 1920s. Ahead of the Eureka Entertainment! release of Fritz Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his penultimate picture.

Indian Epic comprises two films – Der Tiger von Eschnapur (The Tiger of Eschnapur) and Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) – that tell the tale of a tyrant who turns his fairy tale palace into a prison for the woman who refuses his affections.

In the first film, Chandra (Walter Reyer), the Maharaja of Eschnapur, falls for Seetha (Debra Paget) a young temple dancer who only has eyes for a visiting German architect, Harald (Paul Hubschmid). The couple attempt to flee, but are captured: for Seetha, the palace becomes a gilded cage, while Harald is imprisoned in a secret dungeon.

In the second film, Harald’s sister Irene (Sabine Bethmann) and her husband Walter (Claus Holm) arrive at the palace in search of Harald. Walter is then coerced into building a grand tomb – not for the maharaja, but for Seetha, who has been sentenced to die after she is married to Chandra. With no time to loose Irene and Seetha plot to free Harald, but first they must find their way through the palace’s maze of tunnels, caves, secret temples and leper-filled dungeons, whilst trying to evade Chandra and his palace courtiers.

Wanting to prove to the Hollywood fraternity that a large-scale movie, shot in Europe on the cheap, could return a healthy profit, Lang put his retirement on hold to film his grand exotic adventure. The result is a lush, over-the-top fantasy that recalls old-fashioned Saturday morning serials and Arabian nights adventures.

Kitsch in design, yet totally serious in tone, Indian Epic is a huge departure from the man who wowed us with his mad, futuristic visions in Metropolis and thrilled us with perfectly executed thrillers like Hangmen Also Die! (1943), The Woman in the Window (1944) and The Big Heat (1953). Lang’s double-bill certainly doesn’t attempt to reflect a realistic India, but the films do offer a ravishingly beautiful homage to the exotic East, as seen through Western eyes of the day.

Standing in for Chandra’s palace are the real-life island palaces and gardens of Udaipur in Rajasthan, and it is these shots which give the film its depth. Call it a guilty pleasure, but watching Paget dance in a revealing diamond encrusted G-string (check it out below) while taking in these vibrantly colourful locations is all I needed to be sucked, body and soul, into Lang’s twisted tale about mad love.

Indian Epic is available on DVD, from Eureka Entertainment in the UK with restored transfers of the films; a choice of German and English soundtracks; a making of documentary; vintage 8mm location footage; trailers; and an informative booklet about Lang and his vision.

The Pillow Book | Peter Greenaway’s 1996 erotic drama on Blu-ray

Peter Greenaway’s intricately ornate love story The Pillow Book (1996) follows Nagiko, a Japanese girl (Vivian Wu) whose calligrapher father (Ken Ogata) paints her face on every birthday. As a woman, her continued obsession with body painting leads to a bizarre relationship with Jerome (Ewan McGregor), an English translator living in Hong Kong.

Imitating Sei Shonagon, an aristocratic female courtier living in 10th-century Japan who wrote a journal of exquisitely poetic lists, Nagiko writes 13 erotic poems on the subject of The Lover on the bodies of 13 naked men, including Jerome. But the poise and beauty of Sei Shonagon’s text soon gives way to violence and revenge…

As with most of the British director’s films, 1991’s The Pillow Book is visually sumptuous and intellectually challenging. If you are a fan of his very personal cinema, then you’ll find the film’s languid eroticism utterly beguiling, if you’re not, then it will seem arty, impenetrable and a turn off. But regardless of which side you find yourself on, The Pillow Book is most definitely a revealing showcase for McGregor.

The Indicator limited edition blu-ray release includes the following special features…

• High Definition remaster
• Original stereo audio
• Selected scenes commentary with Peter Greenaway (2015, 38 mins)
The Book of the Editor (2020, 27 mins): editor Chris Wyatt recalls his work with Greenaway
Rosa (1992, 16 mins): performance film by Anne Teresa De Keersmaker’s Rosas dance company, directed by Peter Greenaway and shot by Sacha Vierny, newly restored from the original negative by Belgium’s Cinematek
• Image gallery
• Original theatrical trailer
• Original theatrical calligraphic subtitle presentation
• New and improved English subtitles
• Booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Peter Greenaway on The Pillow Book, excerpts from Greenaway’s 26 Facts About Flesh and Ink and the original press book, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on Rosa, Bruno Mestdagh on restoring Rosa, and film credits

Anti-Worlds proudly presents its inaugural taboo-busting Blu-ray releases

For cinema fans who like their films daring, innovative and controversial, then take a look at new production company Anti-Worlds, who are releasing their first slate of Blu-rays, featuring high-quality feature-film presentations from some new, ground-breaking film-makers, and each one complemented by an array of extensive bonus content.

CHAINED FOR LIFE
Aaron Schimberg’s impressive second feature is his response, as a filmmaker with facial deformity, to cinematic portrayals of disfigured people, from Freaks to The Elephant Man. Simultaneously empathetic and sardonic, Chained for Life’s multi-layered meta-narrative casts Jess Weixler (Teeth) as Mabel, a well-intentioned Hollywood star. She takes the role of a blind woman in a hospital-based horror movie about abnormalities, directed by an egomaniacal German filmmaker. As shooting progresses, Mabel gradually falls for her friendly British co-star Rosenthal, played by Under the Skin actor Adam Pearson.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
DISC ONE: CHAINED FOR LIFE
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
• Audio commentary with writer-director Aaron Schimberg
A Different Kind of Intimacy (2020, 18 mins): actor Jess Weixler reflects on the themes and production of Chained for Life
Good Things Happen to Good People (2020, 10 mins): actor and activist Adam Pearson discusses the role of Rosenthal
We Are Family (2020, 17 mins): actor Sari Lennick recalls her experiences of making the film
• Eight deleted/extended scenes (12 mins)
• Super 8 on-set footage (2018, 2 mins, mute), silent material shot by film archivist John Kalcsmann
Late Spring/Regrets for Our Youth (2009, 5mins): short diary by Aaron Schimberg
• UK and US theatrical trailers
• Teaser trailer
• Image gallery
• English subtitles

DISC TWO: GO DOWN DEATH (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of Aaron Schimberg’s 2013 debut feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
It would be sad to see this end up in a dump (2013, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes footage shot by producer-editor Vanessa McDonnell
• Nine deleted scenes (32 mins)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Chained for Life by David Jenkins, Jeff Billington on the 1950 exploitation film Chained for Life, Alejandro Bachmann and Michelle Koch on Go Down Death, and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

HOLIDAY
This controversial drama, passed fully uncut by the BBFC, tells the story of the trophy girlfriend of a Danish drug lord who sets a dangerous game in motion when she seeks the attention of another man whilst on vacation in the Turkish Riviera. Included in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the ‘Best 20 Films from Sundance 2018’, and in IndieWire’s list of Sundance standouts that deserve to find distribution. Director Isabella Eklöf was also selected in the ‘10 Directors to Watch’ list by IndieWire.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition presentation
• Classified fully uncut by the BBFC
• Original 5.1 surround sound
On ‘Holiday’ (2020, 20 mins): in-depth interview with writer-director Isabella Eklöf on the creation and production of her debut feature
• Q&A with Isabella Eklöf (2019, 29 mins): the filmmaker in discussion with Lizzie Francke, recorded at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
• Deleted scene (3 mins)
Willy Kyrklund (2002, 11 mins): short documentary portrait of the acclaimed author and poet, directed by Eklöf
• Theatrical trailer
• Optional English translation subtitles
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Holiday by Anna Bogutskaya, an interview with Isabella Eklöf by Addy Fong, Peter Walsh on Willy Kyrklund., and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

RELAXER
Set on the eve of Y2K, Relaxer is a mind-bending drama about a young man who is tasked by his overbearing brother to get to level 256 on the classic computer game Pac-Man, and not to leave his couch until he does. Inspired by Luis Buñuel’s absurdist classic The Exterminating Angel, the film premiered at the 2018 South by Southwest festival, and won the Best Actor award at that year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
DISC ONE: RELAXER
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
• Behind the Scenes (2018, 7 mins): on-set footage featuring Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge
• Deleted scene (5 mins)
• Rehearsal footage (2018, 10 mins)
Milk Party (2001, 9 mins): the real-life inspiration behind one of Relaxer’s most memorable scenes
• Four short films by Joel Potrykus: Ludovico Treatment (1999, 2 mins), Ludovico Testament (1999, 4 mins), Coyote (2010, 25 mins) and Test Market 447b (2019, 2 mins)
Follicle Gang (Green) (2011, 2 mins): music video for Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, directed by Potrykus
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• David Dastmalchian promos
• Optional English subtitles

DISC TWO: BUZZARD (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of writer-director Joel Potrykus’ 2014 feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
Buzzard: The Rehearsal Cut (2014, 65 mins): alternative version of the complete film comprised entirely of rehearsal footage
• ‘Buzzard’ at Locarno Film Festival (2018, 9 mins): short documentary on the filmmakers’ trip to Milan, Italy, shot and edited by director of photography Adam J Minnick
• Behind the scenes footage (2014, 8 mins): a selection of outtakes and on-set material
• Seven deleted/alternative scenes (9 mins)
• Hidden ‘Buzzard’ (2014, 1 min): a guide to the ‘Easter eggs’ within the film
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• Festival trailer
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Relaxer by Nathan Rabin, Joel Potrykus on the making of Relaxer, Caden Mark Gardener on Buzzard, Alex Ross Perry on Potrykus, and film credits
• Double-sided inlay with full Buzzard artwork
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972) | The classic children’s ghost story gets a restored release on Blu-ray

After a First World War widow (Dorothy Alison) moves her family from the slums of Camden, London into a derelict Home Counties mansion, her children Lucy (Lynne Frederick) and Jamie (Garry Miller) are visited by the ghosts of two children – Sara (The Devil Rides Out’s Rosalyn Landor) and Georgie (Marc Granger) – who relate their tragic deaths at the hands of their abusive guardians 100 years ago.

They also encounter the spirit of lawyer Mr Blunden (Jeffries), who feels responsible for the children’s deaths. With the aid of a time-travel potion, Lucy and Jamie return to 1818 where they attempt to stop their uncle’s alcoholic mother-in-law, Mrs Wickens (Diana Dors), from succeeding in doing away with Sara and Georgie for their inheritance.

Adapted from Antonia Barber’s 1969 novel The Ghosts by director Lionel Jeffries (who previously helmed The Railway Children), 1972’s The Amazing Mr Blunden arrives in a stunning collector’s edition from Second Sight, with a brand-new scan and restoration, and a host of special features. It also includes Barber’s original out-of-print source novel exclusively reproduced for this release.

Part-pantomime, part-Dickensian drama, where humour and sadness intertwine superbly, this is an enchanting children’s ghost story that well deserves a revisit. While all the child actors are totally on form, James Villers is delightfully nasty as the dissolute uncle and Madeline Smith is hilariously dotty as the musical hall singer he falls for. But the stand-out is Diana Dors, who totally owns her villainous role as the wicked Mrs Wickens.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• New scan and restoration
• Audio commentary with actors Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor, Stuart Lock and Marc Granger
• Interviews with Madeline Smith and Rosalyn Landor
• Mark Gatiss on The Amazing Mr Blunden
• 2014 archive BFI Q&A with Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor and Stuart Lock
• Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Rich Davies and original artwork
The Ghosts the original out-of-print source novel by Antonia Barber
• Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Rich Davies
• Soft cover book with new essays by Kevin Lyons and Kim Newman
• Reversible sleeve with new and original artwork

Secret Ceremony | Joseph Losey’s darkly decadent 1968 psychological thriller dazzles on Blu-ray

A young girl, Cenci (Mia Farrow), sees Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor), a middle-aged prostitute, visiting the grave of her child in a London cemetery. Struck by the resemblance to her own dead mother, Cenci takes Leonora to the opulent mansion where she lives alone and installs her in her mother’s old bedroom, dressing her in the dead woman’s clothes.

Leonora, in turn, humours the neurotic girl by adapting to her fantasies and rituals. But their private masquerade is interrupted by two strange aunts, Hannah (Peggy Ashcroft) and Hilda (Pamela Brown), and Cenci’s abusive stepfather Albert (Robert Mitchum)…

In between his collaborations with Harold Pinter – 1963’s The Servant, 1967’s Accident (both starring Dirk Bogarde) and 1971’s The Go-Between, UK-based American director Joseph Losey helmed a trio of cinematic curiosities – the campy 1966 cartoon strip spy thriller Modesty Blaise (again with Bogarde), the spectacular bomb that was 1968’s Boom! (based on Tennessee Williams’ play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore) and the baffling ritualistic 1968 psychological thriller, Secret Ceremony, which is now getting a world Blu-ray premiere release from Indicator.

Having already worked with her on Boom!, Losey felt Elizabeth Taylor was ideal for role of Leonora. She ended up not only being a dream to work with (unlike Mitchum, who was somewhat a handful), she also took a vulnerable young Mia Farrow under her wing. Farrow had just completed Rosemary’s Baby, which had yet to be released, and had Frank Sinatra’s minders watching her every move as they went through their messy split.

Interestingly, Farrow wasn’t Losey’s original choice for the role. He wanted Vanessa Redgrave, but she proved too expensive, and his other choice, Marianne Faithfull, was unavailable. But it was Viveca Lindfors, the wife of the film’s screenwriter George Tabori, who recommended Farrow. But Farrow is a great choice as she brings a genuine amount of fragile vulnerability to her role as the disturbed girl trapped in her own imaginings. And she and Taylor make for a winning combination.

Boasting exquisite production design (by Richard MacDonald), opulent cinematography (from Gerry Fisher), an elegant Victorian music box inspired score (Richard Rodney Bennett) and some wonderful gowns for Taylor (by Marc Bohan, the chief designer for Christian Dior, who based his palette on the mansion’s colourful mosaics and Taylor’s own iconic violet eyes), Losey’s psycho-thriller is a darkly decadent offering from the normally naturalistic director that’s so hypnotic that even the most baffled viewer will be left dazzled.

DID YOU KNOW?
The mansion used in the film is Debenham House in Addison Road, Holland Park. Also known as Peacock House, this extraordinary romantic stew of sensual, Victorian oriental fantasy built in the Arts and Crafts Style by architect Halsey Ricardo (in 1905) was chosen by Losey because he had walked past it every day while taking his young son Gavrik to school.

Losey also makes excellent use of some other London locations, including Kensal Green’s All Souls Cemetery (which was extensively used in 1973’s Theatre of Blood0, the streets around Chepstow Road, W2 (and St Mary Magdalene church), and the historic Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands (a favourite of the Dutch royals, and also of Taylor and Burton).

AND ALSO…
NBC TV paid US$1.5m for the TV rights, and without consulting the film makers, Universal fatally edited 18 minutes of the film for its showing on TV in September 1970. They cut some footage to substitute a discussion between Robert Douglas and Michael Strong playing a lawyer and psychiatrist who analyse the motivation of the film’s characters. In doing so, they bizarrely changed Leonora from being a prostitute to being an assistant in a wig shop. Losey was so incensed that he demanded that his name be struck from the credits of the edited TV version. These sequences are included as an extra on the Indicator release.

INDICATOR’S SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with author/critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019)
• Archival Interview with Joseph Losey (1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique
The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey
• TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): the epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings
• Original theatrical trailer
• Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Collectors booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey on Secret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits

The System (1964) | Michael Winner’s dark drama starring Oliver Reed on Blu-ray

From Indicator comes the limited edition World Blu-ray premiere of Michael Winner’s 1964 drama, The System.

The first film on which star Oliver Reed and director Michael Winner collaborated (they later made The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name and Hannibal Brooks ), this is a bitter little essay on class and youth that deserves more recognition.

Reed plays Tinker, a photographer based in the fictional Devon seaside town of Roxham who, each summer, passes on the names of holidaymakers and local lasses to his out-of-towner mates – for a fee, of course. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, but his system turns sour when he tries to woo Nicola (Jane Merrow), the daughter of a wealthy local businessman…

Making great use of the coastal locations (including Brixham Harbour, Paignton Beach and Torquay) and gloriously shot (in black and white) by Nicolas Roeg, The System features a plethora of embryonic British talent, including John Alderton, Derek Nimmo and David Hemmings – who all looking incredibly slim and youthful, while Harry Andrews turns in a powerful character study as a surly photo-shop owner. Reed is perfectly cast here as the ‘Girl-Getters’ leader, and imbues his Tinker with great depth (plus a bit of own notoriously wild personality); while Jane Merrow brings an icy coolness to her fiercely independent heroine that will make you sit up a take notice.

On a trivia note, it was this film that first popularised the word ‘grockle’ – West Country slang for a tourist; and ‘boy!’ do screenwriter Peter Draper and director Michael Winner have great fun taking the mickey out of the stereotypes of the day (who favoured baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads). Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’s Mike Pratt wrote the catchy theme tune, which is sung by the Merseybeat combo, The Searchers. Winner’s previous film before this was West 11 (read my review here).

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• High Definition remaster
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams
Getting the Girl (2019, 18 mins): interview with actor Jane Merrow
Drinking and Dancing (2019, 6 mins): interview with actor John Porter-Davison
Fun and Games (2019, 4 mins): interview with actor Jeremy Burnham
Haunted England (1961, 24 mins): Winner’s Eastmancolor travelogue about stately homes and other famous places with ghostly tales to tell, hosted by broadcaster David Jacobs
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essays on the film and Haunted England, contemporary critical responses, and film credits.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: