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
A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) | Douglas Sirk ditches the melodrama to make an anti-war epic
During the last days of World War Two, a young German soldier (John Gavin) stationed on the Eastern Front becomes bitterly disillusioned with the war and the Nazi ’cause’ when he returns to his village, finding his love destroyed and his parents missing.
Douglas Sirk, best known for his lush 1950s Hollywood melodramas, directs a moving love story within the context of a fiercely anti-war film, based on a novel by All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque.
A far cry from the soapy high camp of All That Heaven Allows or Written on the Wind, Sirk’s CinemaScope epic, A Time to Love and A Time to Die (which was originally released on 9 July 1958) is an explosive and unforgettable experience and is rightly regarded as his masterpiece, counting New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard among its fans.
In 2009 Eureka Entertainment released the 1958 war-time drama on DVD, followed by the Blu-ray in 2013 – as part of its The Masters of Cinema Series – in its original 2:35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, with English SDH subtitles, optional isolated music and effects track.
The extras include, Of Tears and Speed: According to Jean-Luc Godard, a 12-minute, visually annotated recitation of Godard’s seminal essay on Sirk’s film; a 19-minute video interview with screenwriter Wesley Strick; Imitation of Life [Mirage of Life]: A Portrait of Douglas Sirk, a 49-minute documentary from 1984; trailer and collector’s booklet.
Death in the Garden (1956) | Luis Buñuel’s rebellious rumble in the jungle is a surrealist tour de force
From Eureka Entertainment comes Death in the Garden, Luis Buñuel’s surreal adventure film, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series, in a Dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition.
After his colourful 1954 rumble in the jungle with Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (which scored star Dan O’Herlihy a Best Actor Oscar nod), Luis Buñuel adapted José-André Lacour’s novel La mort en ce jardin for the second in his revolutionary triptych exploring the morality and tactics of armed revolution against a right-wing dictatorship. The first was 1956’s Cela s’appelle l’aurore and the last being 1959’s La Fièvre Monte à El Pao.
The action takes place in an unspecified South American outpost where martial law is declared following a miners revolt. Fearing for their lives, rugged adventurer Shark (Georges Marchal), French prostitute Djin (Simone Signoret), dedicated priest Father Lizardi (Michel Piccoli), veteran diamond miner Castin (Charles Vanel), and his deaf-mute daughter Maria (Michèle Girardon), flee into the jungle – but they are unprepared for the dangers that lay ahead…
Death in the Garden is a game of two halves: the first (running around an hour) is pure adventure as the fugitives escape the bloodshed, while the second half sees Buñuel let loose his surreal imaginings and political constructs.
Gorgeously shot in Eastmancolor and making painterly use of the exotic Catemaco and Cosamaloapan locations in Veracruz, Mexico, the film really comes into its own in the jungle with each character undergoing an existential crisis, while Buñuel’s master stroke is the discovery of the wreckage of a passenger plane – the contents of which become symbolic of the bourgeois trappings that our exiles have left behind.
Michel Piccoli (in one of his earliest feature film roles) gets my vote as the film’s stand-out character. His Catholic priest is devout, but also very human; while Georges Marchal makes for a pretty fit action hero, and Simone Signoret is one helluva rough diamond.
This little-seen Buñuel is certainly ripe for rediscovery and a surrealist tour de force.
Available to order from: Amazon http://amzn.to/2oBDNt0
DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL FEATURES:
· 1080p presentation (Blu-ray)
· Uncompressed PCM soundtrack (Blu-ray)
· Optional English subtitles
· Interview with Tony Rayns
· Interview with actor Michel Piccoli
· Interview with film scholar Victor Fuentes
· Masters of Cinema exclusive trailer
· PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, and archival imagery
Varieté (1925) | Roll up for a gripping story of jealousy and hell with Emil Jannings and – The Tiger Lillies?
A key work of German silent cinema and an international smash on its release in 1925 and 1926, director EA Dupont’s Varieté is a visually arresting melodrama in which jealousy drives a man to murder.
When carnival concessionaire Boss Huller (Emil Jannings) meets young émigré Berta-Marie (Lya De Putti), it kindles his desire to relaunch his career as a trapeze artist. Deserting his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant son, he sets out with Berta-Marie to Berlin where the two are soon hired by famed aerialist Artinelli (Warwick Ward) to headline the city’s premier circus attraction at the famed Wintergarten theatre. But while Boss rejoices in his new-found fame, Artinelli begins an illicit affair with Berta-Marie, which – when uncovered – drives Boss to plot his revenge…
This German silent masterpiece, which is told in flashback as an imprisoned Boss tells his tale to win his freedom, was instrumental in bringing its director Ewald André Dupont to the attentions of Carl Laemmle at Universal, who brought him to Hollywood.
But while Dupont never quite achieved the level of success in the US as he did in his native Germany (he was reduced to B-movie’s and genre fare like 1953’s The Neanderthal Man), his cameraman was the legendary Karl Freund, one of the pioneers of German Expressionism, who lensed The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927), and whose lustrous monochrome cinematography flair turned Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) into genre classics alongside his directorial efforts, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).
Varieté’s success is quite simply down to Freund’s visuals, and the brooding central performances from Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti. The camerawork is hugely inventive here. It ranges from the use of a handheld camera to mimic the movements of acrobats – which culminates in a spectacular scene involving a blindfolded triple somersault; imaginative shots like a close-up of an ear dissolving into high heels walking along a corridor to capture the characters’ pent-up passions; and the use of cinema verite – horse shit on marble steps, the sad faces on fairground pageant girls in states of undress, drunk revellers dancing on tables, heavily made-up circus patrons – to give the melodrama its subtle social commentary.
Freund’s close-ups also capture the artistry of Jannings – a master of controlled emotion, who can turn his Boss from alpha male to wounded lover in a single glance; as well as the cold beauty of De Putti, who looks every inch the femme fatale, and the wonderfully villainous turn from Warwick Ward, who looks a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt.
As part of Eureka!’s The Master of Cinema Series, Varieté is presented here in a new restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation of the original German 1:34:28 version, with PCM audio on the Blu-ray and optional English subtitles.
The special features include a choice of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies, plus the complete American version of the film that was released on 27 June 1926 which tightens up the story by juggling scenes and cutting some out altogether, including one that was disapproved by the US censor (de Putti disrobing). A booklet featuring new writing and archival images is also included.
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be composing one of the three scores on this release, I thought this tale of jealousy and hell and ultimate redemption was the perfect match for the avant-garde British musical trio’s dark cabaret sound. And it most certainly is, working best when the group whip up a frenzy of accordion, band saw and Theremin, while lead singer Martyn Jacques uses a host of different vocal tones to utter the word ‘Variety’, as the film’s moves inexorably towards its heated climax. Now that I’ve hear their score, I can’t wait to revisit this little gem again to hear the other two scores.
One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form.
Incalculably influential, the film’s nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake (horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it).
Back in 2014, Eureka! released the definitive restoration on dual format as part of their Masters of Cinema Series, now the expressionist masterpiece is back in a special Steelbook Blu-ray edition, which includes the 2014 documentary, From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour exploration of German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Plus, there’s a host of brand-new bonus extras to savour.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• High-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses
• You Must Become Caligari: Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War: 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
• On the Restoration: three short video pieces on the film’s restoration
• Trailer for the release of the new restoration of the film
• Booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery
Conversation Piece (1974) | Luchino Visconti’s meditation on family, beauty and decadence is a quiet achiever
Directed with operatic flare by Luchino Visconti (following his recovery from a stroke), 1974’s Conversation Piece is dominated by a finely controlled turn by Burt Lancaster as a retired American professor who has filled his apartment in Rome with 18th-century paintings of family groups known as ‘conversation pieces’.
But when the brash Countess Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) lures the professor into accepting her family and young German lover (Helmut Berger) as tenants, he finds his ordered life and self-composure increasingly disrupted by their presence…
Set inside the confines of a grand old palazzo, Visconti’s penultimate film (which was shot in English) is a sleek, sly critique of the decadent European jet set that gets better with age.
You’ll be hard-pressed to have little empathy for the self-absorbed Brumonti brood or Berger’s decadent lothario, but Lancaster’s professor is real softie who will melt your heart. And the way he deals with his life being turned upside down is a wonderful lesson in humility. This is a quiet achiever from a master director in his final years.
Conversation Piece gets a dual-format release following a brand new 2k restoration from Eureka! Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. Extras include the Italian dub soundtrack, optional subtitles, an interview with screenwriter Alessandro Bencivenni, trailer and a collector’s booklet.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) | This road movie cult classic is Top Gear for petrolheads and indie film freaks
Two-Lane Blacktop (which got its US release on 7 July 1971) is one of the most celebrated road movies ever and a key film of the New American Cinema era that was made during a period when US film-makers were experimenting with a series of counterculture offerings like 1969’s Easy Rider.
Despite being a protégé of Roger Corman (the King of the B’s would also ride the coattails of Easy Rider‘s success), director Monte Hellman (above left) ended up fashioning an existential drama about lonely souls lost in transit on the long road to nowhere.
In their grey-primed 1955 Chevrolet, The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor of You’ve Got a Friend fame) and The Mechanic (played by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) keep their engine running by entering into illegal car races along Route 66.
Lying in the seatless back of the Chevy hot rod is The Girl (Laurie Bird), a hitchhiker with little to say and nowhere to go. Driving alongside, meanwhile, is Warren Oates’s GTO. Having traded the trappings of suburbia for a bright orange Pontiac, the middle-aged playboy coaxes the boys into racing to Washington.
Not much happens in Two-Lane Blacktop – but that’s the point. It’s a film that’s totally understated. All that counts is speed. It’s the lifeblood of the characters. Unable to connect with the Chevy boys – whose only conversations concern their car – The Girl ends up hitching a ride with GTO, only to find that he too masks his feelings by boasting about his car’s prowess.
And it’s this sense of distance and alienation that dominates the film as the two cars and their occupants cruise through non-descript towns, motels, truck stops and gas stations (all shot in a sad, but beautiful way) towards an inevitable, bleak conclusion.
Virtually impossible to see for years due to music copyright problems and poor distribution, Two-Lane Blacktop got dusted off and remastered in 2012 in the hope of attracting a new audience – one that shares not only a passion for cars (there’s some cool vintage numbers for the car nuts to salivate over), but also a style of independent film-making fuelled on the spirit of adventure. As the film’s taglines proclaimed, ‘Two-Lane Blacktop isn’t a Highway, It’s an Attitude’.
Eureka! Entertainment released a Regio B Blu-ray and limited edition Steelbook in 2012 as part of their The Masters of Cinema Series; while The Criterion Collection released a Region 1 Blu-ray edition in January 2013. Eureka’s special features include commentary by director Monte Hellman and associate producer Gary Kurtz; revisiting the film locations video with Hellman; Kris Kristofferson interview; screen-test footage; trailer; and booklet.
Punishment Park (1971) | Why does Peter Watkins’ subversive pseudo-documentary continue to upset America?
Set in a future where America’s war in Vietnam has led to the setting up of detention camps to hold dissidents, director Peter Watkins’ 1971 pseudo-documentary involves a British film crew, led by Watkins himself, following one group of radicals who accept three days in a ‘punishment park’ over a prison sentence. But it’s not going to be easy. The group are on foot, have no food or water, and cannot ask the assistance of the documentary crew as they cross 60-miles of desert to reach their target – an American flag. And standing in their way – squads of law enforcement officers waiting to take them down…
Punishment Park might seem like a dystopian sci-fi in the vein of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or a futuristic take on the classic adventure The Most Dangerous Game, but it’s actually a despairing indictment of repression in a country that boasts of freedom, liberty and human rights for all.
Mercilessly attacked for being an anti-American paranoid fantasy on its release in 1971, Punishment Park remained virtually unseen in that country for over three decades until it was finally released on DVD in 2005. It’s now available in the UK in a restored version in HD on Blu-ray and DVD (see below).
To fully understand the film, you need to know what was happening to America at the end of the 1960s. As militant elements within the peace movement against the Vietnam War were becoming vocal, the Johnson and Nixon administrations turned to show trials and police force to silence them.
Using an actual piece of US legislation from the 1950s, which provided for the setting up of detention facilities for communist subversives, Watkins structured his pseudo-documentary around the stories of real-life protestors as told by non-actors.
The effect – combined with the brutal desert setting (Bear Mountain in California) and Watkins’ sly investigative reporter – made it all seem real (something he also succeeded in doing in his seminal 1965 BBC TV documentary, The War Game – which gets a BFI Blu-ray release in the UK on 28 March 2016). And it was too real for some, as Danish TV thought it was an actual news report. But there’s certainly no winking to the camera in Watkins’ film. Instead, he challenges the documentary film form, making us (the viewer) complicit in the terrible, brutal acts that unfold.
Post 9/11 and and Punishment Park still makes for uneasy viewing – especially when you consider the abuse, brutality, humiliation and loss of civil liberties that dominate our news bulletins every day. As such, it remains a powerful tour-de-force that needs to be experienced and debated once again.
Punishment Park is available on Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) through Eureka!’s The Masters of Cinema Series, and inclues the following features:
• Restored high-definition transfer (shot on 16mm, Punishment Park has been re-mastered from a new 35mm print struck from the restored 35mm blow-up negative held in Paris).
• 30-minute introduction by Peter Watkins, filmed from 2004.
• Audio commentary by Dr Joseph A Gomez (author of the 1979 book Peter Watkins).
• Optional English subtitles.
• Booklet with two essays and reprints by Watkins.
Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!
Imprisoned by the wicked Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful king of Bagdad, befriends a young thief called Abu (Sabu). When Ahmad falls for a beautiful princess (June Duprez) and is magically blinded by Jaffar, who wants the princess for his bride, the intrepid duo embark on a series of adventures in a bid to undo the spell and save the princess.
GIGANTIC! The Wonder Picture of All Time!
A triumph of filmmaking in its day and one of Alexander Korda‘s best-loved films, this Oscar-winning Arabian fantasy is a magical, atmospheric carpet ride that still dazzles thanks to its sensational sets and flamboyant art direction. John Justin turns on the matinee idol charm as the messiah-like Ahmad, while Sabu has boundless energy as the pocket-sized action man. But it’s Conrad Veidt’s briliiant, dastardly Jaffar who set the benchmark for the ultimate panto villain. The special effects may look dated now, but they were sensational back in 1940. Six directors ended up working on the film, including Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) and William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).
DID YOU KNOW?
Alexander Korda had to finish the movie in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe following director Tim Whelan’s location shooting at Tenby Harbour and Freshwater Beach in Pembrokeshire. This was where the iconic scene of Rex Ingram’s giant Djinn coming out of his magic bottle was filmed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released as part of Network’s The British Film collection, The Thief of Bagdad is presented in a HD transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an unrestored theatrical trailer and image galleries.
The original 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which was produced and starred Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the costliest films made in Hollywood during the silent era. This vintage classic is also available in a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment. Part of their The Masters of Cinema Series, the release (which came out in November 2014) includes a new score by Carl Davies, audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a 40-page collectors booklet.
• A German Blu-ray of the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad was released back in November 2012 by Anolis Entertainment, which included audio commentary and a documentary on Sabu. There’s also an Italian-released version from 4k Studio. Criterion’s DVD release, which came out in 2008, features a host of extras, including a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) | The iconic German Expressionist silent masterpiece casts its mesmerising spell again in HD
At a local carnival in a small German town, hypnotist Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) presents the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who can purportedly predict the future of curious fairgoers. But at night, the doctor wakes Cesare from his sleep to enact his evil bidding…
One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, German director Robert Wiene’s 1920 German expressionist silent Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form. With its nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake – horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it. But this diabolical tale nevertheless stands alone – now more mesmerising than ever in a new definitive restoration; presented in a dual-format special edition in the UK from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
• New high-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema (52min) Documentary on the film
• Re-release Trailer
• Commemorative booklet with new writing, reprints and rare archival imagery
Available from 29 September 2014