Category Archives: World Cinema
In 1972, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was given the rare opportunity to film in China. It was an era of change for the isolated country, which was in the grip of Mao Zedong‘s Cultural Revolution, and Antonioni aimed to capture that. But his documentary, Chung Kuo, China, ended up being condemned by the Chinese authorities, and was banned in China, along with all of Antonioni’s films, until 2004.
Long regarded as something of a ‘holy grail’ of world cinema, Antonioni’s film is one of the few first-hand accounts of life behind the bamboo curtain in the 1970s. Apart from a screening at the BFI back in 2005, it’s rarely been seen in the UK, until Mr Bongo Films released it onto DVD in 2012. Now its being included in the BFI Southbank’s major retrospective of the celebrated film-maker’s work (Sunday 3 & 9 February 2019).
Using his trademark style (ie: lots of long takes), Antonioni and his small crew travelled the vast country, visiting Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Henan along the way, to film everyday life as it happened. The result is a three and a half-hour long visual meditation on Chinese culture in which images of progress and development interact with those of peaceful Hutongs (many of which do not exist today) where children play and old men practice their T’ai Chi.
With sparing use of voice-over (Antonioni’s own) and no scored soundtrack, Antonioni allows his camera to do all the work. This is most apparent in the Beijing section. Now, anyone who has visited the city will be familiar with the over-crowded streets and excessive air pollution caused by industry and car fumes. Back in 1972, however, Beijing was a different place altogether. While the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square still loomed, the streets surrounding them were much quieter with just the sound of bike bells ringing in the distance.
With so much change that has gone on since Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Antonioni’s documentary must be one of the most important visual documents of a defining period in modern China. It might take a few sittings to get through, but it will certainly leave you thinking, ‘What those people have seen’.
La signora senza camelie (1953) and Le amiche (1955) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s early dramas shine a light on Fifties Italian womenhood
Michelangelo Antonioni, who is getting a major retrospective at the BFI Southbank in January and February 2019, belonged to that elite group of Italian film-makers who made a huge impact on world cinema following the Second World War.
Best known for maverick fare like L’avventura, Blow Up and Zabriskie Point in the liberated 1960s and 1970s, Antonioni actually honed his unique vision in a series of wry character studies of Italian mores in the conservative 1950s.
Back in 2011, Eureka! Entertainment released newly-restored versions of two significant features from the celebrated film-maker as part of their Masters of Cinema series in which the director moved away from neo-realism – the dominate style of 1940s Italian cinema – to try his hand at new techniques of story-telling.
1953’s La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camelias) – one of the most insightful films about cinema ever made – tells the story of a former shop assistant called Clara Manni (Lucia Bosé) who finds herself thrust into movie stardom.
Clara has incredible beauty, but little talent or assertiveness to survive in the male-dominated film-making world that Antonioni portrays as fickle, frivolous and lacking in soul. But despite the disappointments and humiliations Clara encounters in both her career as an actress and in her loveless marriage to the wealthy, jealous Gianni, she is a woman whose inner resilience shines through.
La signora senza camelie – a play on Alexander Dumas’s famous romantic work, The Lady of the Camellias – is a carefully-crafted character study about a woman out of sorts with her environment (a theme that would recur in Antonioni’s subsequent works). It’s also an opportunity for the director to poke a stick at the film-making process – in particular, Rome’s Cinecittà – making this a great companion piece to Minnelli’s Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (made the previous year) and Godard’s introspective art piece Le Mépris (made a decade later).
1955’s Le amiche (The Girlfriends) looks like a rehearsal for Antonioni’s masterworks. Adapted from Cesare Pavese‘s novella, Le amiche charts the story of Clelia (Eleonora Rossi-Drago), a successful dressmaker who returns to her native city of Torino (Turin) where she becomes involved with a group of wealthy women. But she soon finds herself torn between the conservative world of her working-class origins and the glamorous environment in which she now resides. It is only when one of her new friends commits suicide that she realises she belongs in neither.
In this character-driven snapshot of the lives of five women, Antonioni experimented with a radical new style which would become his trademark: instead of the normal narrative structure, he presented a series of seemingly disconnected events – often using long, carefully framed, takes. This gives him the chance to explore each character and their own personal journey. It’s a tad stagy and experimental (his ideas would finally pay off in 1960’s L’avventura), but remains absorbing.
Both La signora senza camelie and le amiche address the role of women in modern Italian society. Over half a century later, they still have something to say and are now a window on an Italian landscape (both human and otherwise) that has changed so dramatically over time. For cineastes familiar with Antonioni’s better-known works, this pairing is the epitome of the director’s 1950’s period.
The Lady Without Camelias screens Saturday 12 January at the BFI Southbank, while Le amiche has four separate screenings, with the first on Wednesday 9 January. To book and for more information, check out the full season HERE
Throughout January and February 2019, the BFI Southbank in London will honour Italian filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, who profoundly influenced cinematic style, mood and outlook, with screenings of some his most iconic works – from his striking 1960’s works like La notte (read my Blu-ray review here) and L’avventura to his extraordinary expressionistic international endeavours like Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, which gets a cinema re-release from today (Friday 8 January 2019).
Plus, there will be a series of illuminating talks surveying his artistic vision, a study day devoted to the use of landscape and architecture in his canon, and a six-session evening course on all things Antonioni.
The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) | Flavio Mogherini’s Down Under-set Italian giallo is a mixed bag of treats
From Arrow Video comes a new 2k restoration on Blu-ray of director Flavio Mogherini’s Italian-made 1970s thriller The Pyjama Girl Case, starring veteran Hollywood star Ray Milland.
When the burnt body of a young woman is found on a Sydney beach, former Canadian Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) comes out of retirement to help local homicide detectives crack the case. Treading where the ‘real’ detectives can’t, he doggedly pieces together the tragic story of Dutch immigrant Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the unhappy chain of events which led to her grisly demise…
In between dodging fearsome felines in The Uncanny (filmed in Canada) and facing a Cruise into Terror (off the California coast), Ray Milland headed Down Under to appear in this offbeat Italian-made thriller that comes from the tail under of the giallo boom period. Inspired by a real-life case which baffled the Australian police back-up in the 1930s, The Pyjama Girl Case is a mixed bag of treats.
There’s a memorably melancholic score by veteran composer Riz Ortolani, but the disco tracks featuring the fabulous Amanda Lear feel quite incongrous to the sun-drenched setting: a lunchtime riverboat cruise filled with families and pensioners. It’s great seeing Milland get all sweary, but he seems out of place (like he should be in another movie). And indeed that’s what happens after he makes his ‘dramatic’ exit (no I won’t reveal that), when events involving Dalilia’s Glenda take a turn for the sordid, forcing us ‘the viewer’ to become voyeurs on her sex life (a hotel scene involving sweaty fat men is quite the stomach churner).
Interestingly Mogherini ditches the postcard approach to show a different side of Sydney, with lots of shots of 1970s shopping arcades (Gene Wilder’s Silver Streak was showing at Plaza Cinemas at the time), and people playing bowls and hockey (which certainly reminded me of my Australian heritage, as did those shopping centres). But the one image that will remain with me forever is of the burnt corpse placed in a case and put on display. It’s quite disturbing, but so are the people getting their jollies out of viewing it.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray release features a brand-new 2k restoration of the film from the original camera negative, newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack and optional English subtitles, plus the following special features…
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo and on how this film may have inspired Dario Argento’s Sleepless
• New video interview with actor Howard Ross
• New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
• Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani (I loved this)
• Image gallery
• Italian theatrical trailer
• Original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Hailed as one of the greatest tributes a husband has ever paid to his wife, Federico Fellini’s real life partner Giulietta Masina, plays her namesake and delivers a superb performance in Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli Spiriti) – winner of the 1966 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and Fellini’s fantastical first feature-length colour film.
Giulietta is a bored, timid and unfulfilled wife. Suspecting her husband’s infidelity, she enters a surreal journey of self-discovery filled with wild dreams and enchanting fantasies, much of which involve her sexually liberated neighbour Suzy (Sandra Milo). With a whimsical score from Nino Rota, Fellini moves on from neo-realism and defines Felliniesque in this breathtakingly beautiful carnival ride.
This ravishing HD restoration is released in a dual edition from CultFilms, and includes two exclusives: an audio commentary by Kat Ellinger (Diabolique magazine) and Dazzling Spirit, a video essay from author, critic and Oxford Professor Guido Bonsaver.
If you haven’t seen or heard of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 thriller The Passenger – then you are in for a treat thanks to the new Indicator Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films.
Alienation of man in the modern world and lost identities were key themes in the film canon of Michelangelo Antonioni, who was a master manipulator of the conventional narrative. Just witness his 1960s quartet, La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’avventura and il deserto rosso, and his hip cult hit Blow-Up.
After a dalliance with the American counterculture movement in 1970s Zabriskie Point, the Italian auteur returned to his favourite themes for The Passenger, his third film with producer Carlo Ponti. Unfortunately, it died a death at the box office and quickly went out of circulation for many decades, until a re-release back in 2005, which has resulted in a growing new appreciation for this hidden gem.
This is the first time that the film has been released on Blu-ray in the UK, and the re-master is a knockout! Now, I absolutely adore Antonioni’s eye for the visual. Every shot is framed with a painterly approach, and he really knows how to use landscape and architecture as character.
The Passenger is no exception. Just take a look at the above screen grab. This was taken from a scene shot in a specially-built hotel in the Almeria town of Vera (standing in for Osuna in the film). The way the light falls on the straight lines of the interior just makes me swoon. The art decoration is by Piero Poletto (who also worked on L’Eclisse and L’avventura), while the camerawork is courtesy of Lucian Tovoli, who’d famously go onto lens Dario Argento’s Suspiria two years later.
Tovoli makes great use of some stunning Spanish locations and especially some iconic modernist buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Parc Guell in Barcelona, and Patrick Hodgkinson’s modernist Brunswick Centre in London’s Bloomsbury (which had opened just a couple of years before the film was made).
But the stand-out scene is a seven-minute long tacking shot right at the end of the movie – and it is worth the wait as it was a major technical achievement at the time, that required the camera to move through a door barred with grates, then do a 180 degree turn and return back to the hotel interior. Of course, it could all be done with CGI today, but here Antonioni is at his most inventive and meticulous.
Typical of the director, the story is real head-spinner. Jack Nicholson plays world-weary journalist David Locke, who is making a documentary in Chad when he impulsively takes on the identity of a man called Robertson, whom he finds dead in his hotel room. He sees it as a chance to escape his old life and his wayward wife Rachel (The Final Programme‘s Jenny Runacre).
But he gets more than he bargained for when it turns out Robertson was a shady arms dealer and rashly takes a bundle of cash from gun-runners who want their merchandise. And Locke’s problems don’t stop there, as Rachel wants answers about his death and a cat and mouse situation ensues as Locke tries to flee the country aided by a young architecture student (Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris fame)…
This Blu-ray release of Antonioni’s arty road movie-cum-thriller is probably my favourite find of 2018 so far. It is also Jack Nicholson’s favourite film – so much so, he owns a personal print of the film.
Powerhouse Films’ Indicator UK Blu-ray release features a high definition remaster with the original mono audio and new and improved English subtitles, and the following special features…
• Alternative presentation: Italian Professione
• Audio commentary with actor Jack Nicholson (2006)
• Audio commentary with screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine (2006)
• Audio commentary with film historian Adrian Martin (2018)
• Jenny Runacre on The Passenger (2018, 15 mins)
• Steven Berkoff on The Passenger (2018, 11 mins)
• Profession Reporter (1975, 5 mins): archival interview with Michelangelo Antonioni at Cannes Film Festival
• Antonioni on Cinema (1975, 5 mins): the acclaimed filmmaker on his philosophy of cinema
• The Final Sequence (1985, 13 mins): Antonioni analyses the climactic sequence
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Amy Simmons
Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 | Six of the best from the iconoclastic British artist collected and restored on Blu-ray
24 years have gone by since his death aged just 52, but the legacy of British filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) lives on, and his highly personal work has lost none of its relevance or impact. The BFI have now released the first of two deluxe limited edition box sets that bring together six of his feature films on Blu-ray for the first time.
In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), Jarman’s debut abstract short film is comprised of a series of Super 8 films and is provided with a soundtrack from music group Throbbing Gristle. Personally, it was thanks to this film that I started experimenting with my own short films, and turned me into a big fan of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil.
Sebastiane (1976), Jarman’s debut feature film, spoken entirely in Latin and featuring an ambient score from Brian Eno, is an homoerotic account of the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio), a Roman soldier who is exiled to a remote outpost where his commanding officer (Barney James) becomes obsessed by him.
Jubilee (1978) | Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is transported through time from 1578 to 1978 by her astrologer John Dee (Richard O’Brien), where she sees what has become of her once glorious kingdom where law and order has broken down. Adam Ant, Toyah Wilcox and Jordan co-star.
The Tempest (1979) | Jarman creates his own interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play. Abandoned on a remote island by his brother Antonio (Richard Warwick), Prospero (Heathcote Williams), the former Duke of Milan, engineers a shipwreck to bring Ferdinand (David Meyer) the Prince of Naples, and his daughter Miranda (Toyah Wilcox) together in a bid to restore peace between Milan and Naples.
The Angelic Conversation (1985), a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets are read by Judi Dench over atmospheric music by Coil and tableaux images of landscapes and people.
Caravaggio (1986) | A heavily stylised biopic of the Renaissance Italian painter Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) who falls in love with his muse, street thug, Ranuccio Thomasoni (Sean Bean).
Derek Jarman’s first six feature films have all been newly scanned at 2K from original film elements and are presented in this first box set alongside some incredible extras (listed below), all drawn from Jarman’s archive of workbooks and papers held in BFI Special Collections, plus a host of interviews with key cast, crew and friends, which have been exclusively produced for this release.
You can purchase Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 direct from the BFI bookshop or from Amazon and HMV (in the UK).
• Sebastiane: A Work in Progress (1975): newly remastered from 16mm film elements held by the BFI National Archive, this sadly incomplete early black and white work-print differs significantly from the finished film. This previously unseen alternate edit – assembled in a different order, featuring a different soundtrack – was never subtitled or released
• The Making of Sebastiane (Derek Jarman & Hugh Smith, 1975): previously unseen Super 8 footage shot on location in Sardinia
• Jazz Calendar (1968): a rarely screened documentary record of the 1968 ballet by Frederick Ashton, performed by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, for which Jarman designed sets and costumes
• Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own (1974-76)
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers Sebastiane (2018)
• Message from the Temple (1981)
• TG: Psychic Rally in Heaven (1981)
• Pirate Tape (WS Burroughs Film) (1982)
• Toyah Willcox: Being Mad (2014)
• Jordan remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Lee Drysdale remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Stormy Weather: the Magic Behind The Tempest (2016): Toyah Willcox and Stuart Hopps share their memories of working on The Tempest
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers The Tempest (2018)
• Don Boyd remembers The Tempest (2018)
• A Meeting of Minds: Christopher Hobbs on collaborating with Derek Jarman (2018)
• Fragments of Memory: Christopher Hobbs on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• To the Cliffs: James Mackay on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• Derek Jarman: The Films that Never Were (2018): A look back on unrealised Derek Jarman features, including Egyptian period drama Akhenaten and science fiction horror Neutron
• Akhenaten Image Gallery & Neutron storyboards
• Audio commentary for Caravaggio by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain
• Caravaggio in Docklands (1985)
• Kind Blasphemy: Nigel Terry on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Tilda Swinton on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Italy of the Memory: Christopher Hobbs on Caravaggio (2007)
• Dexter Fletcher on Caravaggio (2014)
• Christopher Hobbs remembers Caravaggio (2018)
• Derek Jarman interviewed by Derek Malcolm (1986, audio only)
• In the Studio: Caravaggio soundtrack recording sessions (1986, audio only)
• Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio notebook (Gallery)
• Five galleries featuring storyboards, production designs and Jarman’s notes on Caravaggio
• Image galleries
• Original theatrical trailers for The Angelic Conversation and Caravaggio
• 80-page collector’s book
French director Henri-Georges Clouzot is best-known for his critically-acclaimed suspense films, Le Corbeau, Les Diaboliques (which inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho) and Wages of Fear. But by the mid-1960s, as cinema took a step to the left ‘Bank’ with the rise of the French New Wave, Clouzot and his thrillers were dismissed as old hat (which was pretty weird considering how much young bloods like Truffaut and Godard admired Hitchcock’s Psycho). But owing to his international reputation, Clouzot got a blank cheque from US studio Columbia to make any projected he wanted.
Set in a lakeside resort in Auvergne, 1964’s L’enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot (aka Inferno) was to be a sun-scorched elucidation on the dark depths of jealousy with Romy Schneider (famous for the 1950’s Sissi period dramas) playing the harassed wife of a controlling hotel manager (The Leopard‘s Serge Reggiani).
But the production – which involved three crews and 150 technicians – was cursed from the outset. Reggiani fell ill and had to be replaced, the crew suffered badly from a July heatwave, the lake they were using as a location was about to be drained for a hydroelectric project and Clouzot suffered a heart attack. After three weeks, the film was shut down…
But that’s not the end of the story as Clouzot had one more film in him – and it was a beauty. After getting the all-clear from his doctors and finishing a number of TV documentaries, Clouzot filmed La Prisonnière (1968), which incorporated stylistic elements from the aborted L’enfer.
Having just seen the new 4k restoration at a special screening in London, I can safely say this final work is Clouzot’s finest (and I shall be writing about that at length soon). But it would not have been possible without L’enfer – whose surviving footage forms the bases of this César Award-winning 2009 documentary.
Thirty years after Clouzot’s death in 1977, his widow, Inès de Gonzalez, found herself trapped in a lift with film-maker Serge Bromberg, during which time he learned that Inès had 185 cans of film (about 15 hours) of the unfinished film.
Entrusted with the material, Bromberg and fellow film-maker Ruxandra Medrea used selected bits of the expressionistic original rushes, screen tests, and on-location footage to reconstruct Clouzot’s original vision, while also shedding light on the ill-fated endeavour through interviews, dramatisations of unfilmed scenes, and Clouzot’s own notes.
The result is quite dramatic, especially as it puts a spotlight on the notoriously meticulous director who became increasingly alienated and paranoid (especially with his cast) as his dream project became an all-consuming passion – much like the Arabian Nights animation, The Thief and the Cobbler, the 30-years-in-the making but never finished project which took over the life of Richard Williams (and became the subject of the must-see 2012 documentary The Persistence of Vision).
The Arrow Academy release includes a HD Blu-ray presentation of the documentary, with original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, optional English subtitles, and the following extra…
• Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French cinema expert and academic talks at length about the films of Clouzot and the troubled production of Inferno
• They Saw Inferno, a featurette including unseen material, providing further insight into the production of Inferno
• Introduction and interview with Serge Bromberg
• Stills gallery
• Original trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by Ginette Vincendeau
Der Todesking (1989) | Jörg Buttgereit’s ‘Let Us Die’ existential horror gets a deluxe release in HD
The second feature film from German underground director Jörg Buttgereit, Der Todesking (aka The King of Death) gets the Arrow treatment on Blu-ray and DVD.
‘In six days, God created heaven and earth. On the seventh, day he killed himself…’
And so, we The Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’ say ‘ Let Us Die’!
As a chain letter from an unseen, unknown group circulates encouraging its recipients to end their lives, a series of grim murder-suicides unfold over the course of a week while a body rots in limbo… But could this all be in the mind of a schoolgirl?
On Monday, a hard-working white collar worker climbs into a bath and takes a lethal overdose of pills.
On Tuesday, a slacker settles down to watch a Nazi death camp exploitation VHS film in which a victim is castrated with a pair of shears. But when his wife returns, he pulls out a gun and blows her head off (and then frames her bloodstains). But it all turns out to be a movie playing on TV in a room where a man’s dead body hangs.
On Wednesday, a woman pining for her former lover takes a rest on a park bench, where a man divulges his marital problems that ended in his wife’s decipitation. The woman then aims a gun at the man’s head. But before she can shoot, he takes the gun from her and blows his head off.
On Thursday, the names of several people who committed sucide appear over shots of a bridge where people have jumped to their deaths.
On Friday, a woman living alone is so jealous of the couple in the apartment opposite that she schemes to interrupt their love-making. But when she tries calling the couple, she gets no answer because they have just joined the Brotherhood of the Seventh Day’s suicide cult.
On Saturday, a projector plays several reels of 16mm film in which a woman ties a camera to her body and heads to a heavy metal gig where she films herself shooting a gun at the concert-goers before turning it on herself.
On Sunday, a man, driven to madness by some unspecified mental disturbance, repeatedly slams his head into a wall before collapsing in a pool of his own blood.
Jörg Buttgereit is most one of those Marmite directors whose transgressive films (Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2) you either ‘get’ or loathe. I’m certainly a big fan of his DIY underground style of film-making, which elevates the super 8mm home movie format (and 16mm) into arthouse territory.
Der Todesking is Buttgereit’s most accomplished work: an unapolegtic existential howl of rage laced with dark humour and the odd cinematic in-joke. Tuesday’s episode is an homage to the king of existential European art cinema, Jean-Luc Godard: beoming a joke about art, just like Weekend and Pierrot Le fou. While the other vignettes deal with some very serious issues: rejection, depression and mental illness.
But the episode that inventively fuses art with social comment is ‘Saturday’. Made up of bits of found-footage (surely ground-breaking back in the 1990s), it may have been inspired by the 1966 murder of 16 people by the Texas Tower Sniper, Charles Whitman (which informed Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets), but it also has continued relevance – especially when you consider the awful gun-led murder sprees (mainly in the US) that continue to dominate the news and make us question our humanity.
Der Todesking is all bound together by some polar opposite imagery: a rotting corpse in limbo (like a Francis Bacon painting: all fleshy tones set against a blackened backdrop) and a little girl happily drawing a image of Death (which bizarrely has become a popular tattoo) in a playground where the gay laughter of other children can also be heard. What’s most unsettling about these striking sunlight scenes is that all that we have just witnessed might have come from the imagination of the little girl. It’s food for thought and worthy of discussion.
Arrow’s release features a brand-new director-approved HD transfer from the original 16mm negative in high definition (on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD), with the original stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray), and optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary by Jörg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen
• From Bundy to Lautréamont: Jörg Buttgereit interviewed at the 2016 Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (the same place where Der Todesking had its British premiere on 14 October 1990)
• Todesmusik: actor and composer Hermann Kopp on his numerous collaborations with Buttgereit
• Skeleton Beneath the Skin: Graham Rae on the phenomenon of Todesking tattoos (plus, tattoo gallery)
• The Making of Der Todesking: Vintage production featurette (viewable with both an English-language audio track and a German-language audio track with subtitles)
• The Letter: This is the alternate English-language chain letter insert used for the original UK VHS release
• Eating the Corpse: Footage from the January 25 1990 premiere in Berlin at the Sputnik cinema using music from the film
• Corpse Fucking Art: 1992 documentary on the making of Nekromantik, Der Todesking and Nekromantik 2 (choice of English-language and German-language with subtitles)
• Die Reise ins Licht: Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1972, 27mins) – Based on an LSD trip, this is a cardboard and paper 2001: A Space Odyssey-styled sci-fi set in a Blake’s 7 quarry. It’s actually more entertaining than John Carpenter’s student lo-fi Dark Star, and features some evocative bombed out ruins. Jelinski also provides an optional commentary – in broken English, which he apologises for.
• Geliebter Wahnsinn (aka Beloved Madness): Short film by Manfred O Jelinski (1973, 7mins) – The hypnotic soundtrack (which reminded me of the Oz-electronic outfit, Severed Heads) is a perfect fit to the fusion of double-exposure and cut-ups that make up this widely experimental oddity.
• Der Gollob: Short Super 8mm film by Jörg Buttgereit with optional audio commentary (1983, 25 mins, HD) This is Buttgereit’s take on Alien, in which some cops (played by Buttgereit and some mates) track down a pink putty-faced monster (a transmutated pizza) in the basement of a suburban Berlin house.
• Image Gallery
• Trailer Gallery
Hailed as ‘an engrossing hybrid of romantic decadence and spiritual austerity’, this 1924 German silent is considered an important early cinematic work as it contains Dreyer’s first clear use of Expressionism to reveal emotion, and this is much aided by the luminous photography of Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, and the sumptuous production design of architect Hugo Häring.
Based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël, and scripted by Thea von Harbou (best known for Metropolis and Woman in the Moon), the bittersweet love story centres on an elderly artist, Claude Zoret, who is driven to despair by his relationship with his young protégé, Michael.
Conceived as a screen version of Kammerspiel (an intimate ‘chamber’ piece for theatre), it also had a profound influence on several directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, who drew on the film’s motif’s for his script for 1925’s The Blackguard. It is also a landmark in gay cinema with regards to its frank portrayal of homosexual relations and desire – with the character of Zoret supposedly based on the real life painter Auguste Rodin.
The remarkable cast includes Benjamin Christensen (best known for being the director of the 1922 docu-drama Häxan) as ‘decadent’ artist Zoret; Walter Slezak (who would forge a career playing heavies and villains, including the Clock King in TV’s Batman) as his young protege, Michael; and Nora Gregor (from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu) as the bankrupt Countess who swindles and seduces the Master and his muse.
And, in his only ever appearance as an actor, the film’s cinematographer, Karl Freund plays a sycophantic art dealer who saves the tobacco ashes dropped by a famous painter. Best known for photographing Lang’s Metropolis, Freund later emigrated to the US, where he directed 10 films, including the Universal horror classics, The Mummy and Mad Love, before helming TV’s I Love Lucy.
Available to order from Amazon: http://amzn.to/2AEcJ3r
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration
• Score by Pierre Oser (piano, clarinet, cello) presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Full-length audio commentary by Dreyer scholar, Casper Tybjerg
• Exclusive video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns
• Illustrated audio interview with Dreyer from 1965
• A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; a reprint of Tom Milne’s The World Inside Me from 1971; Jean Renoir’s 1968 tribute, Dreyer’s Sin; a translation of the original 1924 Danish programme; a reprint of Nick Wrigley’s essay from the film’s 80th anniversary DVD release; and a selection of archival imagery