In 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) ascends the throne of Bavaria. Following a scandal involving Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his mistress Cosima von Bulow (Silvana Mangano), Ludwig is forced to expel them from Munich. Under pressure to marry, the latently homosexual king, who is having an intense relationship with Hungarian actor Josef Kainz (Folker Bohnet, agrees to an arranged wedding with his cousin Sophie (Sonia Petrovna). But the strain of this relationship, the war with Prussia, and fears of a conspiracy brewing his court play havoc on his mental state…
With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to King Ludwig II of Bavaria with this lavish 1972 historical drama that traces his bizarre 22-year reign, ending with his mysterious death in June 1886.
Sporting a sickly countenance and redden eyelids, Helmut Berger’s Ludwig cuts a miserable figure, who sinks further into despair and madness as he moves from one overly ornate palace and castle to another, which soon become gilded prisons, made all the more claustrophobic by the incessant rain and snow showers.
Featuring Armando Nannuzzi’s sumptuous cinematography and Piero Tosi’s Oscar-nominated costume design, Visconti mounts his epic of 19th century decadence on such an opulent scale – and in the very locations that the real king lived (*) – that it needs to be seen in its entirety to admire its dazzling operatic stature. And this new Arrow Academy release presents the film in its completed form in accordance with the director’s wishes, and – for the first time on home video – includes the English-language soundtrack.
Berger dominates every scene, but he does get some excellent support from the ever-reliable Trevor Howard, who is the spitting image of Wagner, and The House That Screamed’s John Moulder-Brown, as his mentally-unstable brother, Prince Otto, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the classic Sissi trilogy. The music includes Richard Wagner’s last original composition for piano, as well as works by Offenbach and Shuman. A melancholy masterpiece deserving of a revisit.
ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• 4K restoration from the original film negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut (1hr:15min) or as five individual parts (with the full pisodes 1-3 are on disc 2)
• Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
• Original English soundtrack available with optional English subtitles (This version also includes the Italian soundtrack where no English track was recorded… which makes for any interesting experience. But if you are familiar with Italian, then it works quite smoothly)
• Interview with actor Helmut Berger (OMG! Be afraid! Be very afraid! Helmut is very candid and very eccentric)
• Interview with producer Dieter Geissler (who also did Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Without Warning and The Neverending Story)
• Luchino Visconti: an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
• Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico: an interview with the screenwriter
• Silvana Mangano – The Scent Of A Primrose: a portrait of the actress (30min)
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie (first pressing only)
DID YOU KNOW?
(*) The film was shot on location in Munich and Bavaria, including Roseninsel, Berg Castle, Lake Starnberg, Castle Herrenchiemsee, Castle Hohenschwangau, Linderhof Palace, Cuvilliés Theatre, Nymphenburg Palace, Ettal, Kaiservilla and Neuschwanstein Castle.
The Blue Dahlia (1945) | Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay is a hard-boiled film noir classic must-see
The classic 1940s noir thriller, The Blue Dahlia, stars Alan Ladd as discharged naval flier Johnny Morrison who returns home to Los Angeles to discover his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. When she is found murdered, Johnny becomes the prime suspect and promptly goes on the run.
The always gorgeous Veronica Lake then turns up as Joyce, the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) – who was Helen’s lover – and with the help of Johnny’s army pals, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), tries to clear his name…
Crime writer Raymond Chandler scored an Oscar nomination for his lean and mean original screenplay. It was the only one he ever wrote specifically for a movie and one in which he completed while ‘drunk’ when production was speeded up on the film because Paramount studio bosses feared Ladd would be re-inducted into the real-life US army.
The film, which was directed by George Marshall (of Destry Rides Again fame), also marked the third pairing of Ladd and Veronica Lake following 1942’s This Gun for Hire (which made Ladd a star) and The Glass Key (also available from Arrow Academy). It was released to great acclaim and has since become a must-see film noir classic.
William Bendix is a standout as Ladd’s shell-shocked war buddy who keeps complaining of ‘monkey-music’ in his head and the complicated story – all set in Hollywood’s decadent night club strip – keeps twisting brilliantly until the final cop-out ending (that was also done to placate the US war office).
A radio play version of the film was broadcast on 21 April 1949 as part of the The Screen Guild Theater, starring Ladd and Lake in their original film roles.
The Blue Dahlia is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy in the UK. The extras include selected scene commentary and an introduction from author Frank Krutnik, the 1949 radio play, original trailer, gallery and promotional materials. Plus, a collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
From those fine purveyors of world cinema Arrow Academy comes the Jacques Rivette Collection, which brings together some of the director’s hardest to see works, each given a 2k restoration, newly translated and debuting on home video (Blu-ray and DVD) for the first time in UK.
Out 1 is one of the crowning achievements of Rivette’s remarkable career. Conceived as a television mini-series, this 13-hour monolith consists of eight feature-length episodes revolving around two theatre companies, blackmail and conspiracy. Multiple characters introduce multiple plotlines, weaving a rich tapestry across an epic runtime. Originally screened just the once in its full-length version in 1971, Out 1 was then re-conceived by Rivette as a four-and-a-half-hour feature and re-named Out 1: Spectre to acknowledge its shadow-like nature.
Complementing Out 1 are two ‘parallel films’, Duelle (une quarantaine) and Noroît (une vengeance). The former sees Rivette head into fantasy territory: the Queen of the Sun (Bulle Ogier) and the Queen of the Night (Juliet Berto) search for a magical diamond in present-day Paris. The latter is a loose adaptation of The Revenger’s Tragedy and a pirate tale, starring Geraldine Chaplin. Also included is Merry-Go-Round, in which Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider are summoned to Paris, kick-starting the most surreal of all Rivette’s mysteries.
Arrow Academy’s limited edition Blu-ray/DVD box-set (only 3000 copies) includes the following bonus features…
• The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited – a brand-new feature length documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and director Jacques Rivette.
• Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers – archive interview with the director, in which he discusses Duelle, Noroît and Merry-Go-Round.
• Interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both Duelle and Noroît.
• Collector’s book containing new writing on the films.
Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Cinema re-release – Vittorio De Sica’s celebrated postwar drama back in UK cinemas
Italian Actor/director Vittorio De Sica is best known for his celebrated 1948 film Bicycle Thieves, which tells the story of a simple man called Antonio who scours the streets of Rome looking for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to secure work.
Ranking high in almost every Top 20 film poll imaginable, Bicycle Thieves is neorealism at its best, making excellent use of non-actors and real locations. But this is no improvised documentary, rather a tightly woven drama about humanity surviving the devastating after effects of war and poverty. Unforgettable.
• Bicycle Thieves screens at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season until Thursday 27 August (so catch it while you can)
• The 2014 Arrow Academy Dual Format release features a restored, high definition transfer of the film; feature length documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini; documentary portrait of De Sica; trailer; and booklet.
Miracle in Milan (1951) | Vittorio De Sica’s sublime Italian fantasy parable is a ray of sunshine in a cynical age
In between making his gritty neo-realist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, Italian director Vittorio De Sica lensed the fantasy parable Miracle in Milan, that would earn him the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1951.
Francesco Golisano (who tragically died at the age of 29 in 1958) gives a beautifully, understated performance as Toto, an orphan possessed by eternal optimism. Abandoned at birth, Toto was raised by the elderly Lolotta, who taught him to find joy and wonder in the simple things in life. Following her death, he is placed into an orphanage, but when he leaves, he ends up wandering the streets with the city’s beggars.
Finding refuge at an old rubbish tip on the outskirts of the city, Toto’s optimistic approach to life infects all those he encounters. Soon he and his fellow poor are creating their own mini-town, complete with street signs, main square and water fountains, and all is happy until Toto receives a magical dove that grants wishes. When the shantytown residents use the dove for materialistic purposes, two angels steal the dove back just when Toto needs it most – to stop the town from being razed to the ground by the new owners.
In the 1950s, Italy experienced an economic miracle with industry booming and living standards rising sharply. However, there was still acute poverty throughout the country – especially in the south. De Sica’s fantasy is a direct response to this and to the universal themes of the great rich and poor divide – something that has special resonance today – especially if you think of the worldwide Occupy movement.
But unlike de Sica’s other neo-realist films – especially Il Tetto (The Roof), this is not a harrowing tale of misery, but a lesson in the power of optimism in the face of adversity. And while the later half of the film does become somewhat farcical, it is Golisano’s gripping performance as the Christ-like Toto that carries the film.
Miracle in Milan screens Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season and is available as a Dual Format and Blu-ray release (both including Il Tetto) from Arrow Academy
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) | Walerian Borowczyk’s ravishing take on the classic tale is ripe for reappraisal on Blu-ray
Walerian Borocywck’s 1981 arthouse take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic allegorical tale is a ravishingly surreal oddity laced with satirical dark humour, an important work within the director’s oeuvre, and one of the best interpretations of the iconic story. Now, from Arrow in the UK, the French-West German erotic thriller has been given an exclusive Blu-ray release.
‘Long live the novelty of my sensations!’
A gentile engagement party for Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) descends into murder and mayhem when a madman breaks into Dr Jekyll’s London townhouse and starts raping and killing his guests. But why is the good doctor never around whenever another guest comes under attack?
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is like peeping through a Victorian Mutoscope, where an Orton-esque farce or a scandalous Bunuel-esque drama unfolds like a perverse wet dream. Rape, sodomy and murder are all carried out in dark corners, behind flapping velvet curtains and closed doors, involving the pillars of Victorian society, before a bizarre metaphysical marriage of flesh, blood and sexuality brings the waking nightmare to a delirious climax…
If Borocywck wanted to place us inside Louis Stevenson’s own fever-infected unconscious when he dreamt up his original 1885 Jekyll and Hyde manuscript while recovering from a serious illness, then he certainly nailed it with this 1981 erotic thriller. And if he wanted to portray Jekyll’s transformation as a violent rebellious assault on Victorian morality, taste and decency, then he nailed that too.
With a meticulous eye for detail in the film’s sets, décor and ephemera, and gorgeous soft-focus camerawork that evokes sepia photo montages of old (like the work of Oscar Gustav Rejlander), Borocywck’s barely-seen film (it was only ever screened in soft-core sex theatres and arthouse cinemas) will make you swoon or snore – depending on what kind of cinephile you are.
While I’m a big fan of Borowczyk’s aesthetics, what really drew me here was Udo Keir (as Jekyll) and Patrick Magee – two character actors whose careers have often skirted cinema’s lunatic fringe. I love them both in whatever they do (good, bad or dreadful), and Magee (playing a pervy General) certainly doesn’t disappoint, especially as his inimitable booming voice is retained on the dubbed English track.
Euro-cinema’s go-to weirdo Keir, meanwhile, is far more restrained than usual (he’s also dubbed, which is a pity), and doesn’t get to let loose except in the film’s key transformative bath scene – in which he thrashes about like a big kid at bath time – before turning into the eyebrow-less Mr Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg).
But the film’s most memorable moment – and it’s most accomplished – is the film’s long final scene in which Hyde/Jekyll and Fanny literally feast on each other inside a hansom carriage as it races through a fog-bound London. It’s key to Borowczyk’s themes of transcendence that get lost amid the shouting and sodomy earlier on in the film, but which play out with brutal beautiful carnality.
While Borowczyk is best known for his sensational erotic offerings like The Beast and Immoral Tales, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a poetically macabre offering that’s ripe for reappraisal and this meticulously-curated Arrow release is the way to go. It also looks and sounds fantastique, and makes for a great companion piece to the Borowczyk retrospective box set that Arrow released back in 2014 (and which quickly sold out).
THE ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• New 2K restoration (in all its diffused loveliness), scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry, with restored English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0, and optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary featuring a 1981 interview with Walerian Borowczyk and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo.
• Happy Toy (1979): arty short based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope, which reveal’s Borowczyk’s naughty sensationalist side.
• Himorogi (2012): this wordless short by Marina and Alessio Pierro is a sight and sound response to Borowczyk’s aesthetics.
• Interviews with Udo Keir, Marina Pierro, Alessio Pierro (on Himorogi), Sarah Mallinson and Peter Foldes.
• Appreciation by Michael Brooke.
• Eyes That Listen: featurette on composer Bernard Parmegiani.
• Phantasmagoria of the Interior: video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez.
• Returning to Méliès – Borowczyk and Early Cinema: featurette by Daniel Bird.
• Theatrical trailer.
• Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design.
• Booklet, with new writing and archive materials (Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke have great fun with the production credits).
On 11 April, 1980, the Palme d’Or winning West German film The Tin Drum got its international release in the US, and would go on to win a Best Foreign Film Oscar at the 52nd Academy Awards (on 14 April). But it took over three decades for the original theatrical version and the Director’s Cut of the 1979-made film to finally become available for the home cinema market. In honour of the recent passing of Nobel laureate author, Günter Grass, 35-years (almost to the day) after the film’s release, here’s a look back at my 2012 post on the Arrow Academy HD dual format release.
Based on the 1959 first book in Günter Grass‘ acclaimed Danzig Trilogy, The Tin Drum follows the life of Oskar (David Bennent) who refuses to grow up after receiving a drum for his third birthday. With a scream that shatters glass, Oskar becomes so attached to the drum that anyone who tries to take it away from him soon feels his aural wrath. What follows is a child’s-eye perspective on the rise of Nazism in Oskar’s native Danzig, the ‘free city’ that was claimed by both Germany and Poland whose invasion in 1939 started World War II (and was also the birthplace of author Grass).
Darkly comic in spirit and awash with bizarre, grotesque imagery (some of which remains controversial), The Tin Drum, directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff, is like the perfect marriage of Pasolini politics, Buñuel satire and Fellini freak show. But it’s the standout performance of the 12-year-old Bennett that carries the film and stays with you forever.
The Arrow Academy 2012 release includes both High Definition and Standard Definition presentations of the original theatrical version, and a HD presentation of the Director’s Cut (on Blu-ray only). Both are approved by the late director, who also provides an audio commentary, and (on the Blu-ray only) an interview about the new cut. There’s also a comprehensive booklet with some scholarly writings for New German Cinema enthusiasts.
WATCH THE TRAILER
The Beast (1975) | Is Walerian Borowczyk’s horny black farce the most outrageous erotic fantasy ever committed to film?
The night before her wedding, American heiress Lucy Broadhurst (Sirpa Lane) arrives at her aristocratic fiancé’s secluded French country estate and learns about a legendary beast that stalks the nearby woods. That night she dreams of an erotic encounter with the half-man half-beast…
This bizarre, yet beautifully shot erotic fairytale is Walerian Borowczyk’s most notorious film. Expanded from the planned Immoral Tales segment, The Beast (The Bête) sees the director at his most extreme. In turns silly, nasty, comic, disturbing and (for those of in the back row) voyueristically arousing, it cemented Borowczyk’s reputation as the ‘arty pornographer’, which began after he showed his vintage erotica short A Private Collection and an early version of Immoral Tales in 1974.
With its heavy overtures of bestiality and blatant appropriation of pornographic images, its no wonder censors around the world took a hefty pair of scissors to it or banned it outright. But, ever the provocateur, Borowczyk had a wry smile at the censors and his critics, because lurking behind what must be the most outrageous erotic fantasy ever committed to film is a playful satire on sex and desire.
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Receiving its Blu-ray world premiere, this new 2k high-definition restoration by Argos Films. The Arrow Films dual format release (which includes a standard definition DVD) includes the following elements…
• New high definition digital transfers of the feature and the shorts, with uncompressed mono 2.0 PCM audio and optional English subtitles
• Introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw (2014)
• The Making of The Beast (2014), camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the film’s production
• Frenzy of Ecstasy: The Evolution of the Beast, (2014), visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk’s beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
• Venus on the Half-Shell (1975), Borowczyk’s portrait of the painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis and her erotic fusions of men, women and molluscs
• Original trailer
Immoral Tales (1974) | Is it time to re-evaluate the scandalous erotic quartet by ‘Arty pornographer’ Walerian Borowczyk?
In Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales (aka Contes immoraux), four historic episodes explore taboos surrounding cosmic fellatio, female masturbation, bloodlust and papal incest. In The Tide (La Marée), a youth (Fabrice Luchini) and his cousin (Lise Danvers) are caught on a secluded beach by the rising tide; in Thérèse Philosophe, a young woman (Charlotte Alexandra) explores erotic possibilities with antique objects. Erzsébet Báthory deals with the legendary Hungarian Countess (Paloma Picasso), who discovers she can preserve her youth by bathing in virgin blood, and Lucrezia Borgia explores the infamous Italian noblewoman’s (Florence Bellamy) incestuous desires for her brother and her father, the Pope.
This cavalcade of depravity originally comprised of five tales until director Walerian Borowyzck decided to expand one of the stories into his next feature, The Beast (La Bête). Immoral Tales was a box office smash in France, but came under fire from censors around the world. Along with the director’s vintage erotica short A Private Collection (included in two versions in this release), this anthology scandalised film festival audiences and earned Borowyzck the label of ‘arty pornographer’ for the rest of his life. It’s debatable whether the film does cross the line, but if this is porn, then its the most artstic you will ever see as its executed with such careful attention to mood, texture and detail. However, after watching the original short of La Bête (also is included here), you might just find yourself in need of a dry towel.
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
This 2k high-definition restoration by Argos Films is released on Blu-ray with English subtitles for the first time by Arrow Films (as part of their dual format release). The film is presented in two versions: the familiar four-part edition, and the original five-part conception, including the short film version of La Bête, and with the following elements.
• New high definition digital transfers of the feature and the shorts, with uncompressed mono 2.0 PCM audio and optional English subtitles
• Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird (2014)
• Immoral Tales: L’Age d’Or Cut (1974) This is the original five part version.
• Love Reveals Itself: Making Immoral Tales, featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry (2014)
• Boro Brunch, a reunion meal recorded in February 2014 reuniting members of Borowczyk’s crew
• A Private Collection (1973), presented in the commercially released version, plus the more explicit ‘Oberhausen’ cut
• Original trailer
In medieval France, Blanche (Ligia Branice) the beautiful young wife of a senile old Baron (Michel Simon) becomes an obsession for a variety of noblemen during a visit by the King of France.
TAPESTRY OF LUST
Polish-born animator Walerian Borowczyk‘s third live-action feature is an erotic, stylish period piece which won great critical acclaim when it was first released. Based on Juliusz Slowacki’s 19th-century poem Mazepa but relocated to 13th-century France, Blanche is just gorgeous to look at – as is Ligia Branice, Borowczyk’s wife, who appeared in many of his shorts and films, and who gives a heart-rendering, delicate performance as the desirable Blanche. And just like a tapestry of the period, Borowczyk weaves a complex thread of jealousy and infidelity, both real and imagined into his highly decorative visual masterpiece, which features wonderful 13th-century musical arrangements drawn from the Camina Burana songbook. In tone, look and theme, it makes a ideal companion to Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life films.
THE DUAL FORMAT UK RELEASE
Blanche is presented in a brand new 2k high-definition restoration from original 35mm elements in a dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) from Arrow Films and includes the following elements.
• Uncompressed mono 2.0 PCM audio and optional English subtitles
• Introduction by Schalcken the Painter director Leslie Megahey (2014)
• Ballad of Imprisonment: Making Blanche, a 2014 documentaryfeaturing producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant director André Heinrich, camera operator Noël Véry and assistant Patrice Leconte
• Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk (2014), archival interview in which Borowczyk discusses painting, cinema and sex
• Behind Enemy Lines: Making Gunpoint (2014), a documentary short by Peter Graham produced and edited by Borowczyk