The Last Hurrah: Seminal Physical Media Box Sets – Indicator’s MARLENE DIETRICH 6 film Boxset!

Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935 (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray] [2019]

 

 

I’ve had this boxset for a year or so, but am just now finishing all the films and all the special features. I really had no interest in Marlene Dietrich or Joseph Von Sternberg, or this boxset.

Just as an art object, I thought it was one of the most beautiful looking boxsets I had seen, but I had a hard time spending money on 6 romance films, that I likely wasn’t going to like, based just on the boxart.

So I did not buy it when it first came out, or for the first few sales over the following year. What got me to finally decide to purchase was I picked up a movie from Joseph Von Sternberg, not starring Dietrich, called THE LAST COMMAND.

And I was BLOWN AWAY.
This was from frame one, a master Director, his composition of shots, use of camera movements, beauty of the frame. I felt watching that film, the way I felt discovering Welles’ CITIZEN KANE or David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS or The Hugh’s Brothers MENACE 2 SOCIETY, it made me LOVE cinema.
Each time. Each film.
They made me a lover of cinema, and a devotee of that director.
So following up on THE LAST COMMAND, Indicator’s MARLENE DIETRICH & JOSEPH VON STERNBERG Boxset became a must buy.
Now having lived with this Boxset for over a year, seen the films and the special features, and I can confidently say it is one of my favorite purchases of the last couple of years. And the films, are not what I thought. They are about romance yes, but they are about more… they are about drama, and war and intrigue and loss and hope and sacrifice.
Small Melodramas, of the pangs of love, told against the backdrop of events great and small. But more the film is a showcase of a passionate union between a star a director and a costume designer, and together they created glamour, in the original definition of the word, a sorcery– a construct of beauty, for an age that needed it.
Together they moved the needle, they defined iconic.
This Boxset from Indicator, likewise moves the needle now, and is iconic and a must own.
Click the images for more info, or to pick up a boxset of your own. Criterion has a region A boxset of its own, the content with the exception of some of the special features is largely the same. The difference is the quality of the box part of the boxset.

 

The Criterion release sports boring, uninspired stock photo with not especially interesting typography for the box art, and a really cheap, thin cardboard box, Whereas Indicator commissions lavish, stunning painted artwork for their boxset, and the quality of the box is a durable, thick solid, not easily dented or warped box.
One is a work of art made to endure and be worthy container for the films within, one is not.
But if you just want to watch the films, and are not concerned with quality of the box part or the boxet, or want the features that are not on the Indicator set, than by all means pick up the Criterion set as well.
However if you can only get one, Indicator is the one to get.

For another, and more comprehensive view on the boxset check out SOLITARY RONIN”S simply essential coverage at the link below. If you are not subscribed to SOLITARY RONIN you are missing out on what I genuinely consider, one of the most informed and most informing channels on film you can find not just on Youtube, but anywhere. He and a handful of other channels are a film-school in a box. So definitely do yourselves a favor, subscribe to him and check him out. 

Hope you found this post of interest, and if you did please like, subscribe and email/comment.
Till next time… be well.

 

“But I think it’s safe to say the six films they (Director Joseph Von Sternberg, Star Malene Dietrich and Paramount’s Lead Costume Designer Travis Banton) made together during this five year period produced some of the most remarkable images, most stunning costumes and iconic moments of cinema history.”–Nathalie Morris in the Sarah Appleton helmed and Samm Dunn and John Morrissey produced 2019 Indicator Special Feature, STYLING THE STARS (can be found on the Indicator DEVIL IS A WOMAN Blu-ray, part of the Marlene Boxset)

Movie of the Day : SOMETHING WILD (1961) Criterion Blu-ray — not on Streaming!

Click The Image Above to Purchase your copy today. Any purchases through the above link earn this Blog much appreciated pennies.

 

Something Wild (1961 — not the two decade later Melanie Griffith comedy vehicle)- Is a Criterion film I have heard virtually no one mention or talk about, Which is odd given it stars Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker (one of my favorite actors) , and sporting some of the legendary Saul Bass’ best and most effective title credits.

Indeed the title sequence alone sells me on the film, and I’m worried once its over the film will not live up to the succinct but powerful storytelling in that credit sequence, as it tells wordlessly the fast paced, regimented, almost automaton like, lacking real connection, breakneck race on a rat wheel… that industrialized life has been broken down to.

It infers, the title sequence, of the individual being lost in the unending grinding of the wheels of industry and progress and the masses.

So I’m worried the film will falter from the title sequence.

Thankfully it doesn’t.

The opening sequence is as effective, and giving the time period, as groundbreaking and striking and shocking a bit of film-making as you can think of.

So to wrap up the non-spoiler section, I highly recommend seeing this film. Carroll Baker gives a raw, game changing performance, in a convoluted, messy, masterfully directed tale.

Special Features are limited but are excellent.

A rich, vibrant, informative, moving 2016 interview with Director Jack Garfein conducted by film critic Kimberly Morgan.

“I programmed it in 2010 on Turner Classic Movies, and never have I received so much email from viewers. And then we showed it in Telluride, and I spoke to you at Telluride and the  audiences there were really taken aback, really, in fact, shocked by the film in many ways.” Kim Morgan

‘So was I, you remember?” Jack Garfein

“Yes, I do remember.” Kim Morgan

“I was sitting next to you, and almost had a breakdown. Because, I suddenly… I looked at that film… I made that film, but any kind of real creation is a subconscious process. The artist himself doesn’t quite understand. I didn’t realize that this film… is me. This character of the girl… is me.

When I arrived here in Manhattan I feel the same pain, the complete isolation, in the sense I tried to connect but it was very difficult to connect. I had to keep everything in myself and go on. When I was liberated in Bergen-Belsen I weighed 48 lbs, I couldn’t walk. I was 14 years old.”

A riveting, must watch interview, about a Director I was unfamiliar with, and unfortunately he would not do another film after SOMEWHERE WILD failed to make an impact at the theater.

The loss is cinema’s.

And then a wonderful, deeply entertaining and humorous 2016 audio interview with star, the effervescent and lovely Carroll Baker. I am now on the lookout for all her films.

 

And lastly a video interview with Historian Foster Hirsch who breaks down the history of the Actor’;s Studio and Roots of Method Acting.

Watch the Blu-ray then come back and read the rest of this review.

You’re back… good.

Minor spoilers follow.

It’s a film about assault, about a rape. And you have to understand the time period this film was made against, for the protagonist behavior to be… properly framed. In an age where rape was something that happened to other people, not good girls from a good upbringing, was not talked about in polite company, much less admitted to or shared or confronted or reported, SOMETHING WILD tackles the assault in a frank, and in your face way, that no film before and very few since, have really captured.

Again, wordlessly, like the title sequence, in Baker’s performance, we see someone having been robbed of their own sense of their body… as their own; portrayed in the way she lays down and is afraid to even touch herself.

It is a striking bit of direction and an even more striking performance, of a woman in a world where there was no concept of ptsd, or believed avenue for redress for such a violation, that this was something to be hidden and buried, and you see the effects of this unrelenting trauma, like a fissure running through her, breaking everything apart.

The subway scene, again a master class in direction, and performance, as it imbues in the viewer a sense of that press of human bodies, the rising panic, the nausea. It is really powerful film-making. And then at about the hour mark or so, it deviates from where I thought the film was going (I do not read descriptions when blind buying a movie, just so I can walk into surprises like this film had for me), and becomes something different.

Something unexpected,

Something strange.

And something that just keeps getting stranger. It’s a deeply morally problematic film, especially viewed from a modern lens, I can see this film being… taken to task for its choices. They are not admirable or sensible choices, and arguably that is the point. Trauma breeds trauma, and damaged people make imperfect choices.

It’s a deeply troubling film, but I have to say, while I watched the latter half of the film slack jawed and disbelieving, not agreeing with any of the choices made, I found it a captivating, daring, incredibly strange, movingly performed and strikingly filmed movie about broken people caught in regimented, grinding wheels from within and from without.

I can understand, particularly if you are a victim of trauma, not jibing with this film. It does not give us the resolution we want, all of the people in this film have feet of clay, but maybe that is why I do, appreciate it. It shows us people in the way we seldom see them, or ourselves, as victims of our unfaced traumas.

It is a horror film of a sort. But it is the horror of real life.

A deeply interesting film, that I am very glad I have viewed.

Movie Diary : 2022 Day 1- 01012022- UNDERWORLD AWAKENING 3D and PINA 3D from Criterion!

 

 

 

So my first movie viewing of 2022 is one that came into my 3D collection in the last couple of weeks of 2021, and I am just now getting a chance to give it a spin on my 3D projection system.

I am speaking of UNDERWORLD:AWAKENING. The 3D Blu-ray reviews on it were mixed, so I thought I would find out for myself. Generally the 3D is very similar to the quality of the movie, okay but nothing great.

I am a fan of a good creature feature, and even CGI laden werewolf transformation scenes are always fun to watch. You kinda know what you are getting with this UNDERWORLD franchise and this one delivers what you would expect.

Regarding the 3D, a couple of things really work against stereo imaging, even for natively shot 3D. Dark or underlit/dreary/ low contrast scenes, particularly night scenes, being one of the nemesis of good stereoscopy and poor shot compositions that flatten out the depth rather than accentuating it, being the 2nd one. A film like the first DOCTOR STRANGE… people tend to confuse great visual effects with 3D, when in actuality DOCTOR STRANGE has (for the most part) deplorable 3D, sporting both dreary, underlit scenes and poor/flat compositions.

This film, UNDERWORLD AWAKENING, is not flawed to that degree; it actually has good shot composition– designed to make use of 3D, but is hampered by the fact that 90% of the film takes place at night or in low light situations, effectively undermining the very separation you are trying to get in a stereoscopic movie.

Still there is enough 3D to be noticeable and given the choice I would much rather watch this film in even muted 3D, then without. So worth a look. Grade: C- for the movie and C- for the 3D.

Now onto PINA.

 

I knew very little about the film PINA, before watching it today. I knew it was the only 3D release that seminal Boutique Blu-ray company Criterion has released. I knew it was in some way to deal with dance.

Now having seen it, I completely do not understand how this film is virtually never mentioned, even by die-hard Criterion experts and fans. This is clearly one of Criterion’s best and most essential releases.

PINA, by the great director Wim Wenders, is at once a love letter to a calling — a vocation, while also being as moving an eulogy as one person has ever had. It is a dance troupe’s love letter to their guiding star, choreographer Pina Bausch, and as great and effective and affecting a use of 3D as I am likely to see all year.

What LIFE OF PI was able to do for a fiction film, PINA does for documentaries/performance art, making the 3D more than a gimmick, but an indispensable part of the storytelling process.

The doorway sequence close to the end is one of numerous excellent uses of stereo imaging, but may be my favorite of the whole film, as they break rules in that shot, moving the camera, as the actors move, as all the layered doorways seem to move, it is a brief moment, but it helps your idea of reality tremble for a moment, and what more is magic but that.

As a fan of theatre, great theater is hard to translate to great film. While a fan of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI the film, it pales to the power and immediacy of the theatrical presentation I saw. The same with nearly every version of RICHARD THE III I have seen, they pale to the experience of having attended a walking theatrical play of RICHARD III , conducted at night, in the rain, following the actors in an out of decaying edifices, with roofs gone, and nothing to stop the heavens to bearing witness. Great theater is hard to match.

Very rarely does that happen the other way, where the film can capture or surpass the theatrical presentation.

A few come quickly to mind, Branagh’s HENRY THE VTH (1989), Anthony Harvey’s THE LION IN WINTER (1968) and this film, Wim Wender’s PINA (2011) while not an adaption of any one performance, but rather the overview of a troupe’s body of work, offers an immediacy in how the camera is used, and the stereo imaging is used, that allow the artists to communicate with you in a way that transcends, perhaps by a little — perhaps by a lot, anything that you can experience sitting in the best seats of the best traditional theater.

PINA becomes therefore great film, and even rarer a great and essential 3D film. Grade: A. a film that must be experienced in 3D, and a must own film.

p.s. THE CRITERION RELEASE OFFERS A MAKING OF, THAT IS ALSO IN 3D (SOMETHING I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE), as WELL AS A COMMENTARY. THIS FILM HAS A WEALTH OF CONTENT FOR NUMEROUS VIEWINGS and REVISITS. A RELEASE I LOOK FORWARD TO ENJOYING FOR YEARS.

 

“Dance. Dance! Or otherwise we are lost.”

–Pina Bausch

 

These reviews were conducted using 3D Blu-rays, a region free 3D compatible Blu-ray player, and a short throw, full HD, 3D compatible short throw projector (Essential for a flexible/portable system) offering at least 3000 lumens, and high contrast, and active DLP glasses (one of the most important parts of any system)..

 

 

 

If you would like to purchase your own pre-assembled system you can use this link as well as clicking the images in this post to acquire the items depicted.

If you found this post useful please like, subscribe, and patronize the attached links.

 

Criterion Blu-Ray of the Day : Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)- FOLLOW-UP REVIEW

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)– It is not till rewatching DO THE RIGHT THING after any period of time, that you understand just how strong a film, not only that it was for its time, but it remains. While Lee’s 2nd film (after SHE’S GOT TO HAVE IT, which was his first feature length. JOE’S BED-STUY BARBERSHOP iS CLOSER TO A VERY LONG SHORT THAN A FEATURE FILM ), DO THE RIGHT THING does not feel like a 2nd film.

DO THE RIGHT THING feels like what it is, not a 2nd film, not a follow-up, but the only film. A fixed point in time, a galvanizing screed against the moment, all moments. it really is a filmmaker who has fully found his voice and vision and audacity, and all of that is in display in that opening title sequence; with the astonishing introduction of Rosie Perez, over stylized lighting and backdrops, and her thrusting and gyrating, which is as much about war as it is sex. All done to the strains of the, at the time, most ground breaking and political band of the day, PUBLIC ENEMY.

It is nice to have this film on the Criterion roster in a truly gorgeous semi digi-book packaging with scintillating, vibrant art and accompanying book. However, the Blu-ray (released on the 30th anniversary of the film) while stellar in packaging feels underwhelming in actual special features.

That is until you look at the SECOND Disc, which is chock full of additional interviews and features done just for this release. Highlights being TWENTY YEARS LATER (absolutely a must watch), and THE ONE AND ONLY DO THE RIGHT THING.

Which makes this film not just great to have on Blu-ray, but great to have it accompanied by current reflections on the film.

Here, well into the 21st century, streaming has quickly made itself King. However what physical media offers is 1/sumptuous content, mastered in pristine quality, that will not change due to bandwidth throttling, or ISP load caused bit-rate fluctuations, or political games, or the screeching of the uninformed mob and 2/extensive special features that show a love and concern for the central film.

This Criterion release succeeds in both those broad areas. And in this release competes with other labels, including stellar non-us labels, that are stepping up their game and giving us simply jam-packed releases with often multiple new commentaries and special features.

Final Grade:  While I still miss an up to date commentary done for this release, on the whole — Criterion continues to make a physical object that cries out for a place on better bookshelves and display cases everywhere. A+ for the film. B+ for the Criterion release.

 

Get your copy here!

Criterion Blu-Ray of the Day : George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

Night of the Living Dead

I’m watching George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on Criterion’s beautiful newly released 2-Disc Edition.

 

DISC 1: THE FILM

I’ve seen the movie before, years ago, as well as other Romero films. And while understanding the significance of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I have never been a fan of the zombie/ghoul genre. Most likely due to its over-saturation by lesser filmmakers just regurgitating Romero’s novel approach, as well as simply not being a fan of gore.

Romero’s re-imagining of the Zombie as a flesh eating corruption never stood well with me. It was the myth of the ghoul, rather than the older Haitian mythology of the Zombie. A Zombie, as understood from Haitian lore, was something dead, that had been transformed into something beyond death and beyond corruption, more in common with the Jewish Golem, and seen most visually in the Val Lewton produced I WALK WITH A ZOMBIE

Romero’s flesh eating, rotting monstrosity, that was all corruption, could not be more different than the idea of the Zombi. However, to Romero’s credit he did identify the creatures accurately in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as ghouls, but for whatever reason ; the press or marketing latched onto calling them by the incorrect nomenclature of Zombie. If I had to guess, I would think the more exotic sounding Zombie, simply appealed to them more, than the more crude (but accurate) term of ghoul.

So while I appreciated NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I was never the biggest fan of it. It’s a little too strident for me, and argumentative, filled with unlikable people, which may or may not be accurate in such a situation; but was for me, not what I wanted to spend time viewing, and was a bit plodding because of it.

However, re-watching the film, on this Criterion release I have a new appreciation for the film. 

First thing that strikes you is how stunning this film looks, in this Museum of Modern Art remastered edition. The Black and White cinematography is beautiful, and I see now exactly how stylish the film was in its use of camera angles and shadows. It may be Romero’s most beautiful film because of its noirish and dutch angle filled aesthetic.

2nd, the very structure of the film, while commonplace today, at the time the ‘house under siege’ motif was new, most notably seen in 1964’s Vincent Price vehicle THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD managed to build on that premise, and deepen it, by adding group dynamics to the mix, as well a claustrophobic ‘you are there’ intensity, in its cinema verite shooting style. Not to mention the creation of a whole new breed of monster.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, taken in context of when it was made, is ground breaking in terms of how it is filmed; the mixture of science fiction, horror, group dynamics and intended irony and unexpected social commentary, along with the running commentary of the media helping to tell the film’s back-story. And just the general bleakness of the film is astonishing, even watching it today. Given how truly threadbare and Indy this film was, in a time before the concept of Independent film even existed, its nihilism still has the power to impress.

Duane Jones gives a compelling performance as Ben, and is the bedrock upon which the film cements itself as a classic. But all the performances are surprisingly intriguing, from Russell Streiner and Judith O’Dea and William Hinzman (lead Ghoul) who effectively open the film in a now iconic sequence, to on-screen couples Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley and Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, and Kyra Shon as their daughter.

A word on Marilyn Eastman who plays Mrs. Cooper, she gives, in a small role, one of the best performances of the film, up their with Dwayne’s work. You can not take your eyes off of her when she is on screen, she is so nuanced and compelling in a very contained performance, that plays all the more effectively in counterpoint to the histrionics and testosterone around her. She also was part of the crew and is on this commentary, and her insights are always an informative part of the commentary.

DISC 1 SPECIAL FEATURES

Regarding the Special Features, Co-producer Russell Streiner in the INTRO TO NIGHT OF ANUBIS feature, explains NIGHT OF ANUBIS was the working title for the film as it was under production. NIGHT OF ANUBIS was actually the 2nd title for the film, they originally wanted to title the film THE NIGHT OF THE FLESH-EATERS. However a cease an desist order from a studio with plans to release a movie called FLESH-EATERS led to Romero coming up with the title NIGHT OF ANUBIS.

So the movie would go all through production with the title NIGHT OF ANUBIS, however once the film wrapped the distributors did not like the title ANUBIS, found it too esoteric no doubt, so the name was changed for the last time for its release, and the film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was born.

FIRST COMMENTARY

Romero and select Crew- It’s not the most interesting commentary, one reason is because there are so many voices on the commentary, and they are all going in different directions, and largely they are discussing minutiae even by commentary standards. Whether eye-glasses were supposed to be half on or all on, and discussions like that.

It is initially a very pedantic, pedestrian, minutiae focused commentary. However the commentary does pick up in moments, and becomes quite incisive, such as about 25 minutes in as they discuss the actors, among them the lead Duane Jones. and the thoughtful changes he made to his character. One intriguing thing is, it was colorblind casting. The role was not written for a Black guy, they actually had another actor, a White Actor, they were going to go with, but then Dwayne Jones came in an auditioned. His audition impressed everyone and he got the part.

It was a threadbare Pittsburgh production, and for the character of Ben they just needed a big guy to play him, as initially he was supposed to be a Brutish trucker. So largely they lucked out with Duane, as they got an actor who brought so much more to that character, than was on the page.

Necessitating rewriting that character for the more erudite and thoughtful presence that Duane brought to that role.

That in hindsight the film is notable for a Black protagonist, I think overlooks the stronger blessing of that casting; which is that they were lucky enough to get a great actor for that role. Duane Jones ended up bringing a unique variable to that performance, that would have been lost –  not just by an actor of a different ethnicity, but an actor of lesser sophistication. By any actor that was not Duane Jones.

There is a humanity Duane brings to a brutish character, that careens it away from the facile, surface level histrionics— to instead explore someone captivating and heroic and flawed. The takeaway from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is not that they cast a Black actor in the role, but rather that the best actor for that role, was a great actor, who was also Black. It is a subtle distinction but I believe an important one, that is still not quite embraced today.

Another interesting segment on the commentary, is an hour into the film, where they discuss the making of one of their more involved shots, the Washington DC based tv coverage, where the crew drove down to DC, and play the roles of reporters and military personnel. Involved, because for all intents and purposes this was just a very small Pittsburgh production, done by the crew, in any free time they could carve out, around their full time jobs.

The commentary than segues into discussion of Duane Jones before his passing. From this point to the end, the commentary gets far more intriguing. Overall, while not always fluid, this commentary gives you historic insights into the film and the performers that otherwise would have been lost to time. For this reason while not a great commentary, there are gems in here that make it an essential commentary.

 

SECOND COMMENTARY

Commentary Two has even more people involved, so lots of similar voices overlapping. Russell Streiner (producer/actor ‘He’s coming to get you, Barbara!‘), helping to sheep-herd this conversation, gets it off to a more compelling, entertaining start than the first commentary. And it places this commentary in time, to hear them discuss the upcoming laserdisc release. As someone who remembers laserdisc and still own some, it is a nice nostalgic touch.

And I like that, in this commentary, they reassert that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was not made as a social message film, they were simply making a horror film, and Duane was hired simply because he was the best actor who auditioned for the role. Add to that a running gag about Marilyn Eastman and lumber, and it is just a fun, affable commentary.

 

DISC TWO : A WHOLE DISC FULL OF SPECIAL FEATURES

Holy cow. Is this a loaded, feature rich release. This disc includes over 12 special features. Including interviews with the cast, and new documentaries made just for this release. It is just  wonderful grab bag of content that you can revisit and dive into at your leisure.  Including just a wonderful 1987 audio interview with Duane Jones recorded with Tim Ferrante.

“That moment, the total surrealism of the racial nightmare of America, being worse than whatever we were doing as a metaphor in that film, lives with me to this moment.”

-Duane Jones, 1987

 

SUMMATION

All in all, is a must own physical media release. In terms of beauty of the product on your shelf, and the content itself, and booklet. I came to this release a bit hesitantly, because as I mentioned I was never a huge fan of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Revisiting this film, and listening to the commentaries, and going through the special features, I have to say this is one of the treasures of my collection. Highly Recommended.

 

Get your copy here!

 

Criterion Blu-Ray of the Day : Jeffrey Wright on the phenomenal film RIDE WITH THE DEVIL

Like the war it pivots around, Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, is a troubling property.

A box office failure on its release in 1999, the film came and went from theaters, virtually unseen. The release of the movie on Blu-ray, from respected Blu-ray Boutique label Criterion, finally gives audiences a chance to (most for the first time), see and explore what may be the most challenging film, from a director known for taking on eclectic and challenging material.

It is not an easy film, filled as it is with absurdities, and contradictions and stupidities reflective of the time. However stick with it, as it is a rewarding film, as much for what it says about the mistakes this nation has made, as it is prophetic and timely about the mistakes this nation is currently making.

Is it a great film? It has moments of greatness, and is never quite what you think it is.

It is ultimately a film I bought simply upon Jeffrey Wright, mentioning it as one of his favorites; and one I am very glad I bought. The beautiful criterion release offers a great interview with Jeffrey Wright, snippets of which I have provided below. However, please watch the film before indulging in the full special features.

In an age of streaming, this Criterion release of RIDE WITH THE DEVIL makes a case for physical media just in the gorgeousness of the gestalt. From the striking and handsomely designed packaging, to the overflowing with special features director’s approved and remastered release, to the eye-catching booklet filled with informative essays on the film; in every way this film is as much a tactile and dimensional experience, as a visual one.

A must own release. Grade: B+.

 

“I think that’s what separates this film from other films about the civil war, and other films that deal with historical racial dynamics in this country, that Ang was open to the complexity of it. That war is a seminal event in the character of American history, and it continues to inform who we are today, and who we will become. The story is a non-conventional look at historic race relations in this country. “

“I understood the attack they had planned, and I understood the subtlety of the character they had drawn. Holt, the character I played, that Ang described as an emerging character, and I thought it worked on multiple levels, relative to the film. Interestingly that was the first role I got, not having had to audition. Ang said that he had seen my work, he had seen Basquiat prior to that and maybe some of my stage work and said ‘There was something in your eyes that I saw, that was right for the character.’ That as well gave me a lot of confidence in the way that he worked, and  the way he understood what acting was.”

“Black folks in the south, in the years before the civil War did not have a voice. Holt, is reflective of the nature of Black folks relation to society at that time. And ultimately as he emerges out of that silence, what he does say is all the more heightened, and all the more powerful.”

“I think it has gained a core audience since then — an expanding audience, it’s a film that’s going to survive. RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is the last film about the Civil War of the 20th century, and I think the arc from BIRTH OF A NATION, at the beginning of the 20th century to RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is an evolution of our ways of portraying this critical and defining point in our history, through cinema.”

Get your copy here!

Blu-ray Must own Masterpiece of the Day : Criterion’s THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ (1982)

THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ – What first strikes you is the unique way the film is shot. By Director Robert M. Young (who also rewrote the script). There is a wonderful strangeness to its palette (starting with the striking choice of a lemon lime ocher sunset as opposed to the more often seen red one), and an originality to how it is shot, a lyricism that is at once somber and plaintiff and passing strange. Edward James Olmos, known for his taciturn performances, here gives his most emotive and impassioned channeling, as a family man, who one day at the hands of an alien and hostile law, has all sense leave his world.

A film about a rough miscarriage of justice in 1910, unfortunately remains sadly timely and prescient of the same type of miscarriages and abuses occurring, at the time of this writing, in 2020. The history we do not learn from we repeat. And it is not Latin history, or Anglo history, or Pan-African history, or Asian history, it is simply history.

The film could just as easily be called THE BALLAD OF KENNY WALKER. [ An active case as of this writing, Walker (the Boyfriend of Breonna Taylor), who tried to defend Ms. Taylor and their home, when  men, later identified as law enforcement; broke-in, opening fire, and shooting the naked Ms. Taylor eight times.]

The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)

Film, the best of it, helps us internalize the missteps of history, and codifies a sense of morality, that urges us away from such similar follies. Never preachy, in simple strokes THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ tells us of outrages past, and if we be of human stuff, we may learn from it a better perspective of and answer to, outrages present.

Criterion has produced a simply must own Blu-ray release, sporting a not to be missed 2018 interview with Edward Janes Olmos, and adorned by the most striking and beautiful artwork/Blu-ray design; if you can own only a few Blu-rays, this Criterion release without a doubt should be among them. Grade: B+.

 

Get your copy here!

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MATEWAN By John Sayles – A masterpiece made in 1987 that is absolutely relevant in 2020

 

‘You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain’t a union, it’s a goddam club! They got you fightin’ white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain’t but two sides in this world – them that work and them that don’t. You work, they don’t. That’s all you got to know about the enemy.’

-MATEWAN [2 syllables, pronounced MATE(as in your spouse)- WAN (as in WAND)]

 

Matewan

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People use words like masterpiece and great, and sometimes the true weight of what you may be getting across may be lost.

Let me therefore explain MATEWAN to you thusly, I just finished watching the film yesterday. And I’m watching and listening to the, newly cut 2019 Criterion interviews today. (quick aside, i really appreciate that criterion went to the expense of doing new interviews and features for this film, which is something i am critical of them not doing, in other films. These 2019 featurettes are really— stunning, and on top of the greatness of the film, make the blu-ray a must own purchase.)

 

This morning I watched the news of Resident Trump dressing up essentially unidentified strike breakers and thugs, and letting them loose in Portland Oregon, and calling it the law.

 

“If you have vacation benefits, if you have unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation— these things weren’t given to you; they were fought for by people throughout this country. And i’m passionate about the fact that people have actually made an effort to fight for other people’s rights.”

—Karen VuRanch, THEM THAT WORK (2004) Documentary/featurette on the Matewan Massacre

 

Watching MATEWAN, a stunningly beautiful film, referencing a caustic bit of American history,  from exactly 100 years ago, gives me, and I think it will give you, one of the greatest gifts art can can give— perspective. Perspective on the mistakes we have made, and the tyranny we have allowed.

And perspective helps us deal with the present, without ignorance, and if not without fear, without hopelessness. Because we can see others have seen these days of Gethsemane, and endured it, triumphed over it.

You can go many days of your life without gaining that type of perspective, that barest hint of —- grace. Looking at the world, many people go their whole life without finding the type of perspective, that glimpse of grace— that MATEWAN hints at.

For $30 to $40, Criterion’s MATEWAN blu-ray is one of the best purchases you can make. And ultimately, what it has left me with, like the best of true art, is priceless.

 

 

 

” The way she poured herself into her song— it can make a doubting man religious.”

—James Earl Jones on Hazel Dickens’ song in the film

Currently Watching : Eureka MASTERS OF CINEMA Blu-Ray OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) by James Whale

Guys if you buy only a few Blu-rays in 2020, Eureka’s slip-covered release of OLD DARK HOUSE should be one of them. The new art that adorns the slip cover is frame worthy, and the release itself is well mastered and over flowing with features. Sporting three interesting featurettes  as well as three film commentaries, and a booklet; the release is a worthy addition to any film fan’s collection.

Now it’s not all laudable, as I find the earliest commentary, between Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, for an earlier DVD release, to be while informative, oddly dismissive of certain things. Most notable Karloff’s performance, which I, and obviously by his billing, the studio recognized was the crux of the film. It is the menace of Karloff’s character of Morgan, that drives much of the film. Karloff is either wordlessly commanding the camera, or if off screen — is the concern the other characters are discussing.

So for the Newman and Jones commentary to dismiss Karloff’s performance, just strikes me as they have missed some crucial points regarding the film.

The second commentary is a welcome one by star Gloria Stewart (most famous these days by being in James Cameron’s TITANIC). She offers welcome insights, but just be aware that this is less an overview on the film, and much more just Gloria Stewart discussing her life as an actress, particularly as the film goes on. So if looking for a commentary that is discussing the film, this is not that. But it is great to hear her recount her insights and anecdotes. So not a great commentary per se, but it is a great and welcome interview, talk, from one of the few remaining people who was there, and knew these people. In that way it is an invaluable recording.

I have not yet listened to the third commentary, but plan to do so soon. So for all the reasons above, for the wealth of content included, I count it as a must own for any fan of classic cinema.

Get your copy here!

Currently Watching : Criterion Blu-Ray THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov

Letyat zhuravli (1957)

“I believe in poetic cinema. Poetic cinema is the cinema created in especially vivid form… by great masters like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Dovzhenko. In my own work I strive to affect a viewer’s consciousness and soul by means of poetic cinema.”
-Kalatozov in a 1961 interview. Available on the Criterion Blu-ray

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957)-Three things period Russian films do just about better than anyone else, is tragedy and beauty and grandeur, and Director Mikhail Kalatozov’s THE CRANES ARE FLYING is overflowing with all three. You get the deep focus cinematography immortalized by Orson Welles married to a balletic, spiraling, intimate ground breaking, “you are there” camera movement, that is uniquely Russian. what kalatozov himself would call— poetic cinema.Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Almost 7 decades later and without any need for CGI, and 20 years before the invention of the Stedicam – the cinematography in this film (by the equally acclaimed Sergei Urusevesky) remains— both unbelievable and sublime. It is a film that draws you in from frame one, and holds you and the characters like a lover— deeply, afraid to be parted.Aleksandr Shvorin in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

All in all, a transfixing and haunting viewing experience, greatest of which is the beauty of Tatyana Samoylova, whose beauty captured here for all time, is so great –- and her performance so affecting—- that at times looking at her – is like looking at the sun.

One of the great Russian beauties, she becomes the mythical Helen – whom all young men seek to impress with war; and ‘changed by the war’ young men; seek only to hold in peace. THE CRANES ARE FLYING is up there with I AM CUBA/SOY CUBA (another Kalatozov cinematic achievement, with this time a stunning Cuban beauty) as a milestone of Russian cinematography, and by extension a milestone of world cinematography; up there with Welles CITIZEN KANE and Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is no putting this movie on, and not being captivated by it.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING is another masterpiece lovingly provided by the Criterion Blu-ray label. I am on a hunt now to see the other available Kalatozov directed films, as well as Tatyana starring films. Kalatozov,while IMDB lists 20 directing credits for him, most of those appear to be documentaries or shorts or state sponsored work. It really appears he only has 6 or 7 feature films to his name, all coming toward the end of his career, especially once he found a kindred spirit in his cinematographer, Urusevesky.  So I look forward to adding THE FIRST ECHELON, LETTER NEVER SENT and RED TENT to the list of Kalatozov films to add to my collection. Grade: It is a simple enough story, but the visuals just make it, cinema undeniable— A+.Aleksey Batalov in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Click the image below to get the best price on the feature rich Blu-ray, and you also earn a few very appreciated pennies for this blog! A win-win!

Letyat zhuravli (1957)