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Faust (1926) | FW Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror now on Blu-ray

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

No man can resist evil! The bet is on!
Mephistopheles (Emil Jannings) bets an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) he can corrupt the soul of aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman); and the stakes are the Earth itself. When a plague is unleashed and Faust is unable to find a cure, he rejects both God and science and invokes the aid of Satan. Mephisto appears and makes a pact with Faust: he will restore his youth in exchange for his soul. But its a pact the revitalized Faust wishes he never made after he falls for the innocent charms of Gretchen (Camilla Horn)…

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

FW Murnau’s silent gift…
1926’s Faust: A German Folktale (Faust, eine deutsche Volkssage) was FW Murnau’s last German film before heading to the US. Featuring stylised photography, set and art direction, and ground-breaking special effects, it came at the pinnacle of the silent era and alongside 1922’s Nosferatu was Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror.

With screenwriter Hans Kyser, Murnau fused Faust’s script from German folk legend, the works of Goethe and Marlowe and the Charles Gounod opera, to render a highly individual work. And from that much-filmed legend Murnau conjured cinema’s devil incarnate in the form of Emil Jannings’ Mephisto – resplendent in black cloak and sporting a widow’s peak that has been much copied and parodied. Behold him enveloping a whole town in the blackness of his giant cloak, restoring the wizened Faust’s youth in a fiery blaze, or flying over the intricate model town to a lavish wedding feast. It’s wondrous stuff, made all the more so by Timothy Brock’s operatic orchestral score.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

Whilst the film was harshly met by critics of the day – calling it a vulgar sentimental love story (and it does lag somewhat during these scenes) – and derided Murnau’s decision in giving the tragedy a happy ending, the film’s compelling imagery is its enduring legacy. Murnau was fortunate in having two of the German film industry’s finest designers on board, Walter Röhrig, who created the iconic cubist sets for Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari, and Robert Herlth, as well as Fritz Lang’s favourite cameraman Carl Hoffmann, whose ‘dance of death’ sequence is a showcase for his artistry. Under Murnau’s fastidious eye, the team brought to the silver screen the director’s stylised vision as he wanted it, a battle of light and shadow that mirrors in celluloid the film’s metaphysical themes of good versus evil.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

THE RESTORED PRINT
Although numerous editions of the film exist, there were only two original negatives from which all other versions issued. Using the nitrate duplicate negatives printed by UFA in 1926 and an array of international sources, Murnau’s favoured domestic German version has been reconstructed by Filmoteca Espanola from which this newly restored transfer is sourced. It makes this version the closest we will ever get to see the film as the director intended. The Masters of Cinema Series presents the Friedrich-Wilhelm- Murnau-Stiftung restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK in a two-disc dual format release with the following features.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly restored 1080p transfer of the domestic German print (1.33:1 aspect ratio), featuring different takes and much better resolution than the export print
• Original German intertitles and improved optional English subtitles
• Choice of viewing the film with Timothy Brock orchestral score, specially commissioned harp score by Stan Ambrose, or (on Blu-ray only) new piano score by Javier Pérez de Azpeitia
• Audio commentary by film critics David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn
• Complete export version of the film
The Language of Shadows, 53-min German featurette on the film (Blu-ray only)
• Tony Rayns on Faust – a 20-minute video piece recorded in 2006
• Booklet with essays of the film’s history by Peter Spooner and R Dixon Smith, excerpts from Éric Rohmer’s analysis of the film, and archive prints.

 

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) | Brian De Palma’s rock horror opera gets its best ever release on Blu-ray

Phantom of the Paradise Cover

HE SOLD HIS SOUL FOR ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
After his music stolen by all-powerful mogul Swan (Paul Williams), composer Winslow Leach (William Finley) seeks revenge, but ends up behind bars. Escaping jail, Leach breaks into Swan’s Death Records where he ends up mangled in a record press. Donning a disguise to hide his disfigurement, Winslow then accepts Swan’s offer to complete his Faust cantata for Phoenix (Jessica Harper), a rising singer Leach is in love with, but only if he signs a contract in blood. When Swan goes back on his word and gets the androgynous glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham) to sing, Leach electrocutes the singer on stage, forcing Swan to replace him with Phoenix. The film climaxes with a spectacular concert in which Swan plans to marry then assassinate Phoenix live on stage. Leach, discovering that Swan has made a pact with the Devil that allows him to remain eternally young, then plans his final, self-sacrificing, revenge…

Phantom of the Paradise

THE MUSIC MADE HIM DO IT!
A year before Ken Russell’s Tommy, director Brian De Palma brought his Phantom of the Paradise to the big screen. This offbeat mating of pastiche horror and rock opera put a 1970s spin on the 1943 and 1962 film versions of Phantom of the Opera (both featuring a composer cheated by an unscrupulous impresario), with nods to the Faust legend, 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and even 1971’s The Abominable Dr Phibes.

Phantom of the Paradise

The visuals are vibrant and exciting, and De Palma’s trademark split screen device is again used to great effect, while the sly record-industry jabs are frighteningly prescient (Swan’s like a cross between Phil Spector and Simon Cowell). But it’s the film’s rocking score by Paul Williams, which was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, that dominates and stays with you long after the phinal curtain call.

Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom of the Paradise is a film that’s dated and undated over the past 40 years, but you really don’t need to know all the cinematic references to get it. And when you think that director Guillermo del Toro is its ultimate fan (he even named his daughter after Jessica Harper’s character in the movie), then you know it’s a bona fide cult that is a must see, as is this release from Arrow.

Phantom of the Paradise

Arrow Video’s extras are packed with treasures from the Swan Archives, which has been collecting, preserving and making public all things Swan for the past 30 years, and features about a third of their collection of deleted 35mm footage and outtakes (all pristinely restored). This footage is included in the Swan Song Fiasco featurette, which looks at the changes that were made to the film following legal claims brought by Led Zeppelin’s manager over the use of the name Swan Records (which was changed to Death Records in the film).

Accompanying the release is the 2006 Paradise Regained featurette, a 2004 interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton (who finally answers fans queries about what happened to the Phantom’s costume), the late William Finley’s faux advertisement for a €300 Phantom action figure, and Randy Black’s backstage photographs.

Phantom of the Paradise

But the star attraction, besides the gorgeous HD transfer, is the 72-minute interview between Paul Williams and Guillermo del Toro. Williams, who is back on top after scoring a Grammy for Daft Punk’s Random Memory Access album, talks candidly about how alcoholism turned him into a real-life Swan, while del Toro reveals how Phantom hugely influenced his life and art.

By far, this is the best Phantom release to date…

Phantom SteelBook cover

THE FULL SPECS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, available in the UK for the first time!
• Original uncompressed Stereo PCM / 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options
• Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack
• Optional English SDH subtitles.
Paradise Regained: A 50-minute documentary on the making of the film featuring director Brian De Palma, producer Ed Pressman, the late star William Finley, star and composer Paul Williams, co-stars Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham.
• Guillermo Del Toro interviews Paul Williams (72 mins, 2014).
The Swan Song Fiasco: A new featurette exploring the changes made to the film in post-production.
• 2004 interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton.
• The late William Finley on the €300 Phantom doll!
Paradise Lost and Found: Alternate takes and bloopers from the cutting room floor, courtesy of Swan Archives.
• Original Trailers
• Radio Spots
• Gallery of rare stills including behind-the-scenes images by photographer Randy Black
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by festival programmer Michael Blyth and an exploration of the film’s troubled marketing history by Ari Kahan, curator of SwanArchives.org, illustrated with original stills and promotional material.
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress [Amaray release only].
• Limited Edition SteelBook featuring original artwork.
• Collector’s booklet.

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