Category Archives: World Cinema

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Two visually-arresting Nikolai Gogol Euro horrors on Blu-ray

The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).

Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.

Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).

Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].

The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.

Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.

Cinema Paradiso | Giuseppe Tornatore’s lyrical and evocative love letter to the magic of cinema

Set at a time when going to the movies was a near-religious communal activity, director Giuseppe Tornatore’s lyrical and evocative celebration of the magic of cinema won awards across the globe, including the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, five BAFTAs and the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Now, Cinema Paradiso has been giving a luminous 4K restoration.

Philippe Noiret is in winning form (and scored a BAFTA as a result) as the wise Alfredo, a middle-aged projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso movie theatre in a small Sicilian village; while Salvatore Cascio is a revelation as the young film buff Salvatore (AKA Toto), who befriends Alfredo and learns his trade.

Told in flashback, through the eyes of the adult Salvatore (Jacques Perrin) following Alfredo’s death, Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical drama is a bittersweet reflection on youth, love, and regret; and shows just how much a powerful force the flickering screen can be in shaping our lives. As Noiret’s Salvatore’s muses: ‘Life isn’t like the movies – life is harder’, but sometimes we all need to get lost in its glow.

This 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray from Arrow Academy features both the theatrical and expanded Director’s Cut, with the following extras (ported over from their 2014 Blu-ray release).

4K UHD SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the restored Cannes Festival theatrical version (124-min)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the restored Director’s Cut (174-min)
• Uncompressed original stereo 2.0 Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
• Optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Tornatore and Italian cinema expert Millicent Marcus
A Dream of Sicily: A 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore featuring the music of Ennio Morricone
A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise: A 27-minute documentary on the genesis of Cinema Paradiso, featuring interviews with Noiret, Cascio and Tornatore
The Kissing Sequence: Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes in Alfredo’s private reel with full clips identifying each scene
• Original Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer and 25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer
• Collector’s booklet

Also available is the BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version and Director’s Cut, and the DVD SPECIAL EDITION containing the theatrical version in original stereo and 5.1 surround audio. Both editions feature the same extras as included in the 4K UHD contents.

L’Assassino (1961) | Elio Petri’s Kafkaesque thriller is a neglected cinematic gem

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.

Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

THE UK 2014 BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.

Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles | This award-winning stranger-than-fiction animated tale is a must-see

This multi-award-winning animation from Spanish director Salvador Simó re-tells a transitional moment in cinema history – how Spanish director Luis Buñuel made his second film, 1933’s controversial travelogue Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread.

Based on the graphic novel Buñuel en el laberinto de las tortugas by Fermin Solis, it begins in 1932, when the scandal of L’Age d’Or, the surrealist satire Buñuel made with Salvador Dalí, led to him being frozen out by his peers. But he gets a lucky break when his friend, sculptor Ramón Acín, wins a Spanish Christmas lottery and gives him the prize money for his next film.

After reading an ethnographic study of the Las Hurdes region of Spain and intense poverty of its occupants (who were so backwards and isolated that bread was unknown), Buñuel hatched the idea of making a pseudo-documentary that would satirise recent documentaries about western travellers in the Sahara. It ended up being just as scandalous as L’Age d’Or and banned by Spain’s conservative forces. Critics, meanwhile, praised Buñuel’s film as being ‘revolutionary’ and a ‘frightening call to arms’.

Director Simó cleverly blends the animated scenes of Buñuel and his team’s filmmaking experience with the powerful and sometimes shocking footage from the original documentary, which Buñuel admitted to ‘heightening’ for dramatic effect. The end result is a compelling insight into the young Buñuel who was still finding his voice as a film-maker. It also pays tribute to Buñuel’s friendship with Acín who tags along to keep his spending in check and ends up becoming his moral compass. Sadly, while Buñuel went on to great heights, Acín’s life was cut short when he murdered by fascists in the first year of the Spanish Civil War.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is available now in the UK via BFI Player

The Specialists | Jeremy Isaac hails the return of the French Elvis in a sparkling Blu-ray 4k restoration of the 1960s Baguetti Western

Sacré bleux! There are 100s of Italian Westerns, loads of Spanish ones and even a few Brazilian entries (Glauber Rocha’s Antonio Das Mortes, for instance). But a French spaghetti Western? The Specialists is one of only a handful of ‘Camembert’ or ‘Baguetti’ oaters which, in itself, makes the film worthy of interest. It was helmed by Italian director Sergio Corbucci, known for violent spaghetti Westerns such as Django (1966) starring Franco Nero and The Great Silence (1968) with Jean-Louis Trintignant, as well as action comedies featuring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who were also paired in Enzo Barboni’s Trinity entries. The screenplay was penned by Corbucci with writer Sabatino Ciuffini, from a story the two conceived with the help, it is rumoured, of Hollywood spag icon Lee Van Cleef. The movie was also released under the eyebrow-raising title Drop Them or I’ll Shoot, and is only now enjoying its home entertainment debut, half a century after its original premiere.

The film boasts neither top Hollywood stars such as Eastwood, Fonda, Bronson, Coburn, Steiger or Robards, nor classic European faces like Nero, Cardinale, Volonte, Koch, Trintignant, Kinski or, indeed Hill or Spencer. What it does have is Johnny Hallyday – the French Elvis, a Gallic music legend for nearly 60 years who sold more than 110 million records worldwide, earning 40 gold records, 22 platinum and three diamond, and who appeared in scores of films, including the award-winning supernatural 2002 hit L’homme du Train and the 2010 Macau-set Triad shoot-em-up Vengeance. He’s the perfect tough-guy selection for this underrated but rambunctious Franco-Italian-West German cowboy thriller.

The unsung but stalwart supporting cast includes Italian actor and producer Gastone Moschin, who found fame in the Amici Miei film trilogy (1975–1985), French actress Françoise Fabian, best-known for Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) and Éric Rohmer’s 1969 French New-Wave drama My Night at Maude’s, Parisian ingénue Sylvie Fennec, who would later grace Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977) and German thesp Mario Adorf of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum fame, who had recently turned down the role of General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), and would also decline a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II (1972).

The story is simple and deliciously predictable: chainmail-wearing shootist Hud Dixon (Johnny) arrives in the remote frontier town of Blackstone where his brother was falsely accused of robbing a bank and then lynched. Hud is out for revenge, and through a series of cataclysmic pistol exchanges, head-banging bar-room brawls and a furious shootout with juveniles, during which the townsfolk are forced to lie face-down on the main drag while naked, he gradually uncovers the truth behind his brother’s murder and the stolen cash. Along the way he clashes with humanitarian Sheriff Gedeon (Moschin), seductive but formidable lady banker Virginia Pollicut (Fabien), the beautiful but innocent Sheba (Fennec) and one-armed Mexican bandit and former childhood friend El Diablo (Adorf). ‘If Hud comes here, he’ll have to kill every one of us,’ observes Gedeon at one point, and he’s not far wrong.

The dramatic locations represent a radical departure from the genre’s habitual backdrop of windswept Spanish/Italian desert townscapes. To be sure, the dust flies as fast and as high as the bullets in the explosive main-street gun battles, as snipers fall from church towers and El Diablo’s gang is ignominiously levelled. But the suggested Nevada setting of snow-covered mountain fastnesses and pine-clad escarpments (filmed in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo in Veneto, the location for The Great Silence) evokes a sombre, wintry feeling reminiscent of Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962) or Eastwood’s Pale Rider (1985) – including a gloriously filthy mud bath. This newly restored version showcases the luminescent, crystal-clear camerawork of cinematographer Dario Di Palma (he famously lensed Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction Of Mimi in 1972), whose sweeping vistas across the stark but majestic landscape take the breath away.

The music score is impressive, too. OK, it’s not Ennio Morricone, or Franco Micalizzi (Barboni’s Trinity films) or Bruno Nicolai or Marcello Giombini (Gianfranco Parolini’s Sabata trilogy) –  it’s Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, famous for many Hollywood scores including Orson Welles’s Othello (1951), Henry Hathaway’s Legend of the Lost (1957) and Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller (1974), as well as a clutch of 1960s sword-and-sandle epics – think Mediterranean party music. Here he juxtaposes the tried-and-tested elements of alternately grating and twanging electric guitar chords, haunting whistle and flute, menacing tom-toms and piano runs, delicate orchestrated passages, obligatory, doom-laden chimes and the light, harpsichord-like touch and offbeat vocals of the mellow but unmistakenably Euro theme tune.

This intriguing offering may not be on the same level as Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy or Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – and it didn’t come out in the UK until 1973 – but it certainly gives Django, Silence, Trinity and Sabata a run for their money. It also contains satisfyingly obvious nods to most of the genre’s eccentric iconography, in which devotees will luxuriate, and boasts unusual locations and strong turns from an out-of-the-ordinary European cast, topped by a towering performance from charismatic rock god Hallyday. Incroyable!

The Specialists is now available for the first time on home video in the UK as part of the Eureka Classics range from Eureka Entertainment with the following special features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration
• Restored Italian and French audio options with English subtitles
• Rarely heard partial English dub track
• Original English script
• Audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (OMG! This is fantastic. Apart from the film, this is the reason why you should add this release to your collection as you get loads of insides about the film, but Cox is also very entertaining)
• Cultural historian Austin Fisher on The Specialists (this is an insightful overlook from the Bournemouth University associate professor of popular culture about the film’s themes, legacy and parallels)
• French and Italian trailers
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Western authority Howard Hughes on both the film, and the ‘French-western’ sub-genre

[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, he can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/

Hagazussa | This arthouse folk horror tale will totally creep you out!

From debut filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld comes Hagazussa, a bleak and disturbing folk horror tale that echoes Robert Eggers The Witch, but is still very much its own pagan beast.

If you think we’ve got problems self isolating in the midsts of the Covid-19 pandemic, imagine being a young child growing up all alone in an isolated alpine hut back in the 15th-century (where there’s no running water, electricity, or even the internet) and you just have your mother’s decorated skull for company? Well that’s what happens to a young girl called Albrun (Celina Peter) after watching her mother’s painful death – which haunts her as the years pass.

Rejected by her deeply superstitious community (they marked her mother as a witch), the now adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) struggles to make a living for herself and her young child selling milk from a small goat herd. But when she is sexually assaulted by a woman and her husband, and is seemingly visited by her mother’s restless spirit, Albrun sets out on a path of self-empowerment – and it is a very dark path indeed…

You really have to invest yourself in this visually-arresting, dialogue-light arthouse, horror where a sense of creeping dread bubbles beneath its very quiet surface, culminating in a haunting halluncinatory sequence involving magic mushrooms, blood sacrifice and rebirth through fire. Nature is very much the other big character here, with the snow-covered alps dominating, while its dense woodlands and stagnant pond represent the cycle of life and Albrun harnesses their power to complete her own cycle.

It’s all beautifully shot (which ideally counterpoints the film’s bleak tale and increasing violence), with an intense performance by Cwen, and capped by atmospheric score from the Greek dark ambient duo MMMD. An amazing achievement from first-time director, Lukas Feigelfeld, it also features a fantastic ossuary chapel (shot at St Bartholomew’s Church in Kudowa, Poland).

Hagazussa is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Arrow Films

 

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM Stereo 2.0 Audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, illustrated with original stills
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring two artworks
• Slipcover featuring original artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Audio commentary by critic and author Kat Ellinger
• Select scene audio commentary by writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld
Beton [Concrete] (2013, 55 mins) and Interferenz (2013, 48 mins), two short films by Lukas Feigelfeld
• Deleted scene with optional commentary by Feigelfeld
• MMMD Music Video
• Theatrical trailer
• Teaser
• CD containing the complete Hagazussa Soundtrack by MMMD

 

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Your heart might just miss a beat watching Fritz Lang’s thrilling cinematic swansong

From Eureka Entertainment comes The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Die 1000 Augun des Dr Mabuse), the final instalment in Fritz Lang’s trilogy and the director’s cinematic swansong on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

After enjoying success with 1959’s Indian Epic (AKA The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb), German producer Artur Brauner signed Fritz Lang to direct one more film back in his home country. The result would be a picture that brought Lang’s career full-circle and become his final celluloid testament.

Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?
The character of megalomaniac criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse (who I will always associate with Propaganda’s 1984 debut song – catch the music video below) was originally made famous by Lang in his pre-Hollywood years. First in the four+ hour long 1922 silent Dr Mabuse (based on the novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques), then in the 1933 sound crime thriller Testament of Dr Mabuse (based on Jacques’ unfinished novel, Mabuse’s Colony). Both films starred Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the titular villain and both were set in the period of the Weimar Republic.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse is set in 1960s at the start of the Cold War, and while it is not a direct sequel, it does exist in the same universe. When a TV journalist is killed in his car on his way to an important broadcast, Inspector Kras (Gert Frobe) gets a call from blind psychic informant Peter Cornelius (Lupo Prezzo), who had a vision of the crime but not the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, at the Luxor Hotel (where every room has been bugged), industrialist Henry Travers (Peter Van Eyck) comes to the aid of the mysterious Marian (Dawn Addams), when she attempts to commit suicide in a bid to escape her abusive. Meanwhile, salesman Hieronymus B Mistelzweig (Werner Peters) always seems to be lurking about. Together, these disparate characters come together to work out just who is channelling Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss).

This is a thrilling, action-packed crime thriller where Nazi survellious tech, sex crimes, paranoia, psychic powers and classic car chases collide, and its undoubtedly Lang’s final film masterpiece – and your heart might just miss a beat watching it. It also a spawned six Mabuse films in competition with the poplular German Edgar Wallace Krimi films. A must see.

The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray is available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
* 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
* Original German soundtrack
* Optional English audio track, approved by Fritz Lang
* Optional English subtitles
* Feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat
* 2002 interview with Wolfgang Preiss (this is a wonderfully informative piece, and quite poignant as it was filmed two weeks before Preiss’ death in November 2002)
* Alternate ending
* Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned and original poster artwork
* Collector’s booklet featuring a new essays; vintage reprints of writing by Lang; and notes by Lotte Eisner on Lang’s final, unrealised projects

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.

Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen is The Lord of the Rings of the silent era

Drawn from German myth, and the basis for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas, Fritz Lang‘s expressionistic five-hour 1924 epic Die Nibelungen is a must see. And in the lead up to Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his silent fantasy adventure.

The Story
In Part One, prince Siegfried (Germany’s answer to Arthur) acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and sets out to win the hand of the daughter of the king of Burgundy. But his marriage to Kriemhild is cut short when her brother Gunther conspires with a fierce warrior called Hagen to bring about his death. In Part Two, the grieving Kriemhild weds the mighty Attila the Hun in a bid to seek revenge against Hagen and the Burgundy knights, resulting in a terrifying apocalypse.

The Lowdown
With the horrors of World War One still very much alive, Lang filmed the epic legend of Siegfried in a bid to bring a little pride back into a country suffering from pessimistic malaise. But this would be no re-staging of Wagner’s popular 19th-century operas. Instead, the visionary director created a totally new universe. Using massive sets and breakthrough visual effects, nature and myth collided in a highly stylised world that, although kitsch but today’s standards, was a revelation in its day.

Why the Nazis loved it?
The two films, which took nine months to make, were met with huge success in both Germany and wider Europe, and became hugely influential on filmmakers of the period, like Sergei Eisenstein, who drew on the film’s scale and look for 1938’s Aleksandr Nevsky. The film’s images and the epic poem it was based on were also ripe for another kind of appropriation. The rising National Socialists (the film was greatly admired by Hitler and Goebbels) would late re-cut Lang’s film, adding in new titles, dialogue and music by Wagner (also Hitler’s favourite) to give voice to the Nazi race-elimination doctrine.

The upshot
The inspiration for nearly every screen fantasy adventure from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, Die Nibelungen is an extraordinarily ambitious visual piece of cinema history that is must-see for all cinephiles.

Die Nibelungen is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment!, featuring a HD restoration of the film by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with its original frame-rates and in its original aspect-ratio; newly translated optional English subtitles for the original German intertitles; a one-hour documentary on the film restoration, and collector’s booklet.

Kwaidan | Masaki Kobayashi’s supernatural compendium is simply stunning on Blu-ray

‘My main intention in the film was to explore the juxtaposition between man’s material nature and his spiritual nature, the realm of dream and aspiration’ (Masaki Kobayashi)

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1965 supernatural compendium Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, presented from a 2K digital restoration.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.

In the etheral, doom-laden The Black Hair (a popular theme in Japanese ghost stories), a faithless samurai abandons his loving wife to seek advancement and, many years later, is reunited with her — but there’s a terrible twist in the tale. Originally released as a stand-alone film, The Woman of the Snow, features another classic tragic popular culture figure: the ice witch. Here a woodcutter’s broken promise to a vampire causes him terrible heartache.

Hoichi the Earless concerns an apprentice monk who is forced by spirits to recite the tale of a tragic sea battle between the between the Taira and Minamoto clans. And in the eerie and reflective, In a Cup of Tea, a writer relates the story of a Lord’s attendant who is visited by an apparition – but no one believes him.

Kwaidan, which literally means Weird Tales, is a meditative tribute to Japanese folklore. Photographed entirely on hand-painted sets (built inside an old aircraft hangar), Kobayashi’s highly-stylised film draws on classic Japanese illustrations for its visual ideas, while the atmospheric lighting and camerawork recall the hallucinatory worlds of Mario Bava and Powell and Pressburger.

This was one of the most expensive film’s to be made in Japan at the time and ended up bankrupting the studio. But regardless of the expense, Kobayashi has crafted a work of true beauty – a sumptuous symphony that you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in. It’s long and leisurely, but can easily be watched in four parts.

Available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Criterion’s 2K digital restoration of the original 183-minute director’s cut
• Original monaural Japanese soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
Kim Newman on Kwaidan – the film critic and writer explores how the film become something of a template for subsequent Japanese ghost story films
Shadowings [35 mins] – David Cairns and Fiona Watson look at the film’s background, and provide a critical reading of each of the stories focusing on their themes and Kobayashi’s handling of them
• Original Japanese teasers and trailer
• Collector’s book featuring reprints of Lafcadio Hearn’s original ghost stories; a survey of the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi by Linda Hoaglund; and a wide ranging interview with the film maker – the last he’d ever give.

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