Sparing the Censor’s Scissors: Maitresse and others

MAITRESSE Barbet Schroeder, director/BFI Video BLU-RAY  Having lived under illiberal censorship laws for so long, it’s still refreshing to encounter more evidence of the enlightened times we now (temporarily?) live in; such as the Blu-Ray/DVD release of Barbet Schroeder’s sexually challenging Maitresse; this controversial study of a Parisian dominatrix (initially heavily scissored by the BBFC) is now available completely uncut. Barbet Schroeder’s fourth feature stars a slim and youthful Gérard Depardieu  (unrecognisable as the Brando-sized behemoth he has become) and Bulle Ogier. After upsetting moral guardians in 1976 with its uncompromising, unfaked scenes of torture and fetishism, it was shown only in club cinemas upon its release. It received a grudging an ‘X’ certificate in 1981 after the BBFC insisted on several of cuts. Here it is, though, untampered with on DVD and, for the first time, in High Definition on Blu-ray, in a Dual Format Edition. Apart from its sexual content, Maîtresse exudes a marked stylishness with costumes by Karl Lagerfeld. Among the special features are a documentary, Domestic Masochism: Barbet Schroeder’s Maîtresse, in which Patricia MacCormack and Edward Lamberti intelligently dissect the way in which Barbet Schroeder confronts film shibboleths.

SOUTHERN COMFORT Walter Hill, director/Second Sight BLU-RAY  When the British director John Boorman made the much-acclaimed Deliverance, he can have had little idea that he was virtually creating a genre – what might be called the ‘survivalist’ picture in which a group of hapless protagonists – usually in some forbidding rural setting – upset the locals and pay a heavy price when fighting back. The director Walter Hill’s The Warriors is a version of the concept, but perhaps his most accomplished – and certainly his most tense – variation on the theme is the excellent Southern Comfort which even though the central characters are a platoon of weekend soldiers (who find themselves being picked off one after another) are almost as ill-prepared to survive as the motley group of individuals in John Boorman’s original film. A routine exercise in the sultry Louisiana bayou ends up as a grim war of attrition when the ill-disciplined group of guardsmen (including a well-cast Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) get on the wrong side of a group of Cajun hunters — with fatal results for many of the platoon. As with much of Walter Hill’s work, a powerful Ry Cooder score perfectly complements the tension (delivered in the director’s typically economical fashion), and Southern Comfort once again demonstrates that Hill (whose career has stalled of late) in the great line of Hollywood action directors which stretches from Don Siegel onwards. This Blu-ray remastering represents an improvement over previous DVD incarnations, but certainly not in any revelatory fashion.

MONSTRO! Stuart Simpson, director/Monster Pictures  A retro-style ‘creature feature gore-fest’ sporting three female killers Beretta, Blondie and Snowball, hiding in a small beachside community after their killing spree attracts attention. So excessive, though, that the final effect becomes a touch anodyne – and more charismatic performances might have helped. 

CÉSAR ET ROSALIE Claude Sautet, director/StudioCanal  César et Rosalie is a beguiling French romance with the legendary Yves Montand and Romy Schneider. Claude Sautet (of Un Coeur en Hiver and Les Chose de la Vie) has the full measure of the material, and the ménage a trois here is handled with great authority. Montand is as impressive as ever.

DIE NIBELUNGEN Fritz Lang, director/Eureka BLU-RAY Perhaps the most stately of Fritz Lang’s two-part epics, the five-hour, Wagnerian Die Nibelungen is a remarkable, visionary work. Its famous set-pieces have inspired films up to and including Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR director, Second Sight Films BLU-RAY Flight of the Navigator is a lively 80s adventure film aimed at a young audience.12-year-old David Freeman wakes up and discovers it’s 1986 and he’s been missing for eight years. He discovers a hidden spaceship and with the help of MAX the computer sets off on a remarkable flight. In its day, the special effects of Flight of the Navigator were state-of-the-art, but watching the film today is a reminder of just how far such things have moved on. But it is still a charming experience, even if the manic computer MAX (particularly when infected with the childish, nyah-nyah attributes of the hero) distinctly outstays its welcome.

QUEEN OF VERSAILLES Lauren Greenfield, director/Dogwoof  This highly entertaining documentary details the lives of the billionaires Jackie and David, American vulgarians whose excesses (with their nouveaux riche status) are highly diverting – and along the way, the director makes some cogent points about the American dream as we follow the couple around their American recreation of Versailles.

HOLY MOTORS Leos Carax, director/Artificial Eye  This strange, beguiling (and sometimes infurating) film is almost impossible to describe, with its patchwork quilt of astonishing visual effects. The enigmatic M. Oscar (played in bizarre style by Denis Lavant) takes on a variety of strange disguises over the course of a day. This is the sort of uncategorisable film for which there is really only one approach: total surrender.

NYPD BLUE SEASON’S FIVE & SIX Various directors/Medium Rare  One of the most influential crime dramas of the 1990s is given a welcome outing here, and it’s a chance for viewers to reassess quite why the series managed to glean the seven Emmys and four Golden Globes that it did. Where the show was particularly ahead of the time was in the gritty, uncompromising storylines with a vision of a New York City suffering from urban decay. It’s time to reacquaint yourself with the caustic Denis Franz as Sgt Andy Sipowich — it won’t take long before you realise again why so many viewers were comprehensively hooked by the show.

THE ARRIVAL OF WANG Manetti Bros, directors/Saffron Hill/Peccadillo Pictures  This gripping and ambitious Italian film is a sort of modern riff on Robert Wise’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, in which an alien visitor is met with a hostile response when he arrives on Earth. The new film is far more grim and uncompromising than Wise’s could be (intelligent though it was), and is distinguished by a remarkable performance by Francesca Cuttica as the hapless interpreter who finds herself involved in the brutality. The CGI alien visitor him/itself is generally well characterised, but hardly shows sufficient response to the unpleasant treatment meted out. What’s more, the voice actor for the creature seems only peripherally affected by the torture he receives. Nevertheless, an intriguing and unusual film.

THE NIGHT VISITOR Laslo Benedek, director/Simply Media  This extremely difficult-to-see, rather obscure psychological thriller has a matchless cast, including two of Ingmar Bergman’s most prestigious actors, Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman, not to mention Britain’s Trevor Howard. The cast alone justifies your time, although the director also offers some Hitchcockian diversions.

EXCISION Richard Bates, director/Monster Pictures Blu-ray  This uncompromising tale of a delusional teenage outcast has created something of a stir, and is not hard to see why. Its gruesome effects are in-your-face, and it is not (as they say) for the squeamish.

 

 

 

Wash and Rinse for Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein  Terence Fisher, director/Lionsgate

As this very welcome Blu-ray reminds us, the film which announced Terence Fisher to the world as the definitive Hammer horror director is The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. Interestingly, the company’s move into the horror genre was actually occasioned by the success of its adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s BBC Quatermass serial as The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), which, although being firmly in the science-fiction genre, achieved many of its most memorable effects with the use of horror tropes (such as the sucked-dry husk of a corpse). And it was the latter genre which was to prove the studio’s most enduring legacy in filmic terms. Continue reading

The Haunted House of Horror Michael Armstrong, director

A studio attempting to make its name synonymous with cinematic terror was the British film production company Tigon. The company was founded by the energetic Tony Tenser, an enterprising producer (with a solid commercial instinct) who encouraged directors to push the barriers of acceptable taste beyond their limits. His battles with the censors became as notorious as his maxim: only two things are guaranteed to sell a film – sex and horror. The Tigon portfolio included two film which quickly achieved major status, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Michael Reeves’ massively accomplished Witchfinder General (1968). Interesting (if less accomplished) was another Tigon film which now appears as something of a harbinger of the latter-day menaced teenagers/slasher film, Michael Armstrong’s The Haunted House of Horror (1969), notably gory for its day, in which the ghost of another, more intriguing film may be seen in the DNA of the concept. A polyglot multi-national cast is headed by minor American pop star Frankie Avalon (playing a teenager at 30), with a slew of second-string British actors later to make their mark in TV sitcoms (including Richard O’Sullivan) and another minor pop singer, the UK’s Mark Wynter (whose version of “Venus In Blue Jeans” may have been running through audience’s mind ashes as he is bloodily slaughtered in the film’s most memorable set piece) .As a group of youthful revellers are stalked and dispatched by an unseen knife-wielding psychopath, the talented Michael Armstrong’s instinct sometimes guide him in interesting disrtions (his original concept was apparently more surrealistic and non-linear, and the film was tampered with), although miscasting (such as the uncharismatic Julian Barnes – not the novelist — in a key part originally intended for David Bowie) compromises his vision. The final tense confrontation with the soon-to-be-unmasked murderer (in which a phallic knife rises slowly between two survivors, with audiences uncertain as to who is holding it) suggests the more imaginative film that this might have been.

The Haunted House of Horror, Odeon Entertainment

 

 

JANUARY RELEASE FOR GANGSTERS, GUNS AND ZOMBIES

A January 2013 DVD release is planned by Lionsgate for the exhilarating GANGSTERS, GUNS AND ZOMBIES. A  getaway driver for a group of hardcore gangsters finds himself up against a slightly more unexpected enemy than the boys in blue when his latest job coincides with the start of a zombie apocalypse. After completing an armed robbery, getaway driver, Q, thinks that the most difficult job is behind him, at least until he notices that people have started to look and behave very strangely. What started as a simple job now becomes a fight for survival against the ever increasing Zombie horde.

Apocalypse on the Set: Nine Disastrous Film Productions

   

Ben Taylor’s Apocalypse on the Set: Nine Disastrous Film Productions is to be published by Duckworth in November. With sky-high budgets and competing egos, almost any film production has the potential for disaster. But some become full-fledged nightmares. Take Pulgasari – a North Korean Godzilla clone dreamed up by Kim Jong II and created by a kidnapped South Korean director, with a budget of millions and a staff of seven hundred fed on truckloads of pheasants, wild geese, and deer. Continue reading

Seasons 5 & 6 of NYPD BLUE hit DVD

Seasons 5 & 6 of NYPD BLUE hit DVD
Released for the first time on DVD on 10th December 2012, Seasons 5 & 6 of NYPD BLUE finally appear.The show is without doubt one of the most influential, iconic drama series of the 1990’s. Critically acclaimed and winner of 7 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes and numerous other awards, Seasons 5 and 6 are to be released for the first time on DVD on 10th December in two 6-disc box sets, courtesy of Medium Rare Entertainment. Continue reading