New Blu-Rays & DVDS from Eureka, BFI, Arrow, Odeon

a_farewell_to_arms_webA FAREWELL TO ARMS (Frank Borzage, director/BFI Blu-Ray) Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes and Adolphe Menjou excel in what is comfortably the best film version of Hemingway’s novel. This new digital restoration of Frank Borzage’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of the tragic Great War romance has been newly restored and is released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition (containing both Blu-ray and DVD discs). Cooper plays the world-weary Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American enlisted in the Italian army to drive ambulances during the war. Through his doctor friend, Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), he meets Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), an English nurse whose fiancé was killed at the Somme. What starts as a flirtatious and casual encounter soon develops into something much deeper – then the war intervenes. The film was a massive box office success when it was first released in 1932, and was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Cinematography (Charles Lang) and Best Sound (Franklin Hansen and Harold Lewis). The BFI have made it available in both High Definition and Standard Definition, with an alternative ending (1932, 5 mins): the ending shot for US audiences and other intriguing features.  SALVATORE GIUILIANO (Francesco Rosi, director/Arrow) is by no means a straightforward gangster film. It is both an examination of the life of the 28-year-old criminal discovered shot to death in a Sicilian courtyard and a cool disquisition on the nature of truth and perception – both historically and in the context of film itself. Rosi’s film is an early example of post-modern consciousness in its interrogation of the nature of its own presentation. Essentially, the film is a document detailing the career of the ambitious gangster (who was also a Sicilian separatist), his associates and the mystery of who exactly killed him, but the director also takes on board the interaction between the movement for independence, the Mafia and the local police, while examining social conditions in post-war Sicily. The fragmented infrastructure demands close attention on the part of the viewer – which it repays.  CAMERA OBSCURA: THE WALERIAN BOROWCZYK COLLECTION (Arrow Blu-Ray) brings together key films from the artist’s twenty five year period stretching from 1959 through to 1984. These unique release includes five of Borowczyk’s provocative feature films: The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, Isle of Love, Blanche, Immoral Tales and The Beast as well as his shorts and animation. Arrow Films have overseen the extensive restoration on Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection. Not only will many of these films available on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time, but accompanying this seminal release are documentaries and a book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke featuring newly commissioned essays on Borowczyk’s films and art.   American cinema audiences of 1947 had seen nothing quite like Jules Dassin’s jaw-dropping BRUTE FORCE (Arrow Blu-Ray). After the successful release of The Killers (1946), producer Mark Hellinger re-enlisted his newest Hollywood star Burt Lancaster to star in this dark prison film, and it went on to break box-office records in New York, Los Angeles, and several more cities in its seven-week run. Featuring a screenplay by the acclaimed novelist/writer/director Richard Brooks (Blackboard Jungle, 1955); cinematography by William H. Daniel (Greta Garbo’s lensman of choice), Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa and most importantly, the incomparable director Jules Dassin, legend of film noir. The Blu-ray has been accorded a slew of impressive extra features.  Marcel Carné’s classic LE JOUR SE LÈVE (DAYBREAK, Studio Canal Blu-Ray) is available restored in a never-seen-before uncut version, celebrating the 75th anniversary of its first release. Set in a five-story guesthouse in the middle of a Parisian working class neighbourhood, LE JOUR SE LÈVE opens on the top floor of the building with shouts and a gunshot. A door opens and the body of a man tumbles down the stairs. As the police start to besiege the building and a crowd gathers, the killer, François (Jean Gabin; La Grande Illusion, Le Quai des Brumes), flees the crime scene and locks himself in his room. After unsuccessfully failing to shoot their way into his room the police climb on top of the roof, and François, starts to recall previous events… His love for Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent; Le vie del peccato, Dawn Over France), the beautiful florist, and her love for Valentin (Jules Berry; The Crime of M Lange, Parade en 7 nuits), the attractive dog trainer. Also starring the renowned Arletty (Hotel du Nord, Thunder Over Paris) as Clara, Valentin’s assistant and suggested lover.   Boris Karloff admirers will cherish JUGGERNAUT (Renown); hardly a neglected gem but interesting for the actor’s fans. Victor Sartorius ( Karloff), is an ailing doctor working in Morocco. He teams up with Lady Yvonne Clifford, (Mona Goya), in a plot to poison her husband, Sir Charles Clifford, (Morton Selten), so he can collect the £20,000 necessary to save his experiments and his funding. Roger Clifford, (Arthur Margetson), the son of Sir Charles has also been marked for death. The only one who can stop the murder plot of Sartorius is Nurse Eve Rowe, (Joan Wyndham).  ROCK ‘N’ ROLL’S GREATEST FAILURE: OTWAY THE MOVIE (Steve Barker, director/Odeon) may look initially unpromising, but this documentary — which details the rollercoaster career of struggling but gutsy rock musician John Otway — is quietly pleasurable. The singer-songwriter has fought for recognition for 40 years, and has accrued many devoted fans. Steve Barker’s film entertainingly charts the story of a man who struggled against odds – usually unsuccessfully — but showed the true underdog’s resilience. It’s a genuinely pleasing film.  Odeon Entertainment have also released the first ever documentary on the career of light orchestral music maestro MANTOVANI : KING OF STRINGS. The film is also an intriguing look at a lost era of British popular music. MARK OF THE DEVIL (Michael Armstrong, director/Arrow Blu-Ray), once proclaimed as “positively the most horrifying film ever made”, finally arrives uncut in the UK with both English and German audio tracks. Writer-director Michael Armstrong (heavily under the influence of Witchfinder General) created a bloody and brutal critique of state-funded brutality and religious corruption with a doomed romance at its centre. The use of real torture implements, which Armstrong had found in the Mauterndorf Museum, added to the realism of the picture and made it all the more shocking and the violence unpalatable. But after more than forty years, the full-blooded, full-frontal version of Mark of the Devil can be released onto an unsuspecting UK public making its UK Blu-ray debut on 29th  September 2014 in a newly restored transfer with a host of extra features including an audio commentary by Michael Armstrong.  To tie in with the new Sci-fi Days of Fear and Wonder season, the BFI offer a much-requested reissue of the television play by Alan Garner, RED SHIFT (John McKenzie, director), which Garner adapted from his own novel, with its complex interweaving of different time periods and characters. The brand-new high-definition transfer works wonders.  I CLOWNS (Eureka Blu-ray) is a little-seen Fellini film made for television by the director, and it has been out of circulation for years. It is one for the director’s admirers rather than anyone else, but is still a fascinating curio.   Eureka also have another intriguing foreign film, the delirious and deliberately absurd crime drama YOUTH OF THE BEAST (directed by Seijun Suzuki), which is a truly phantasmagoric offering. Not really to be taken seriously, but marked with a truly audacious use of colour. Is any further recommendation needed for THE KILLING, SERIES 1-3 (Various directors, Medium Rare/Freemantle)? Novelty and perceived ‘quality’ are both factors in the astonishing success in Britain of the lengthy, slow-burning Danish TV series The Killing, which refracted and reinvented police procedural clichés through an intriguing Danish prism (the actress Sofie Gråbøl, as the tenacious, unsmiling copper Sarah Lund with a dysfunctional personal life (in unvarying black-and-white Faeroe Island jumper) is now a cult figure, and has even generated leader columns in The Times. (I covered all three series at length in my books Death in a Cold Climate and Nordic Noir).  CRIMES OF PASSION (Various Directors/Arrow) is markedly different crime drama from the dark, moody Scandicrime which has characterised the genre for so long. But this sunny, unclouded mystery series was seeded in in a different way from The Killing or The Bridge. Its creator (in the novels on which the series was based) was one of the earlier writers in Swedish crime fiction, Maria Lang (whose real name was Dagmar Lange, and who died in 1991). She was part of the old guard which younger, more socially committed Scandinavian crime writers felt the need to react against, despite the considerable success she enjoyed in her day with such books as The Murderer Does Not Tell Lies Alone, 1949. Lang’s inspiration was (unsurprisingly) the English crime Queen Agatha Christie, and Lang was undoubtedly enjoyed by many readers by presenting a similarly unrealistic picture of her country, where crime is not the deeply destabilising force it is for later writers. The adaptations in the series Crime of Passion inhabit a Christie-like Nordic universe, and offer more relaxing entertainment that deserves attention alongside the edgier fare.



Why Movie Musicals Matter

Over the years, there have been many books written about the American film musical, ranging from the superficial to the academically analytical. Few have the sheer readability – and concentrated insight – of Dangerous Rhythm (Oxford)  by Richard Barrios, an enjoyable (and highly informative) volume. Subtitles ‘Why Movie Musicals Matter’, the book ranges from the earliest days of the musical up to such latter-day manifestations as the television series Glee, Barrios rescues an often-despised form from the low esteem in which some critics hold it and makes the case that the musical genre itself is often as worthy of serious critical attention as the genre from which it grew, opera. But this is no po-faced analysis; rather it is a celebration as much as it is a treatise. And like all the best books on film and theatre, it will send the reader out with a keen desire to experience this material afresh – ironically, even in the case of films which inspires little enthusiasm in the writer, such as Otto Preminger’s now-unseeable film of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, left in limbo after a dispute with the Gershwin estate.


Dangerous Rhythm is published by Oxford University Press