The Luca Zingaretti Collection, I’m All Right Jack & The Vampire Lovers

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THE LUCA ZINGARETTI COLLECTION, Various directors/Odyssey  Having consolidated a solid fan base for his performances as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano in the hit TV Series, other work by the award-winning Italian actor Luca Zingaretti is clearly of interest to a wide audience. His filmic CV spans 30 years across film, TV and theatre, and courtesy of Odyssey DVD, five of his Italian films make their UK debut in this collection. The quality of achievement is variable, but there are excellent things here. Cefalonia tells of the real events surrounding the fate of Italian soldiers stationed on the Greek Isles during one of the most notorious atrocities of World War II, while Perlasca: Courage of a Just Man concerns the Oskar Schindler-like, Georgio Perlasca, a lesser-known Italian hero who saved the lives of several thousand Jews during the Holocaust. The set also features Calling Inspector Marotta: St Peter’s Treasure Zingaretti about the robbery of St Peter’s Treasure from The Vatican, but the key films here are By the Light of Day, retelling of the real-life story of Don Pino Puglisi, a Catholic priest who tried to get kids off the street in a Mafia-infested neighbourhood in Sicily. Compelling if at times a touch roseate and unpersuasive in its outlook, with none of the other actors matching Zingaretti’s impressive performance. Borsellino: The 57 Days is the story of famed anti-Mafia judge Paolo Borsellino, following the 57 days between the assassination of his friend and fellow judge Giovanni Falcone, to his own murder at the hands of the Mafia.

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS Roy Ward Baker, director/Final Cut Blu-Ray  As this impressive Blu-ray restoration reminds us,The Vampire Lovers (1970) represented for director Roy Ward Baker something of a consolation prize in terms of it being an adaptation from J Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla. The director had originally planned a version of the author’s Uncle Silas (to be written by the man who almost single-handedly created the modern espionage novel, Eric Ambler, who was also a leading British screenwriter). But while that project was stillborn, Hammer executives came to Baker with the suggestion that he film le Fanu’s influential vampiric novella. The resulting film was to create a certain degree of controversy, and its then-ground-breaking overt use of sexuality, lesbianism and female nudity was to introduce a new ethos for Hammer. This new frankness in terms of sexual material was to remain the company’s status quo till its final days. It is clear that Baker was prepared to give his paymasters what they wanted in terms of copious nudity and uninhibited sexual couplings, but his integrity as a filmmaker was never in doubt, and the strategies of le Fanu’s delicate tale are never ignored (perhaps this dichotomy in the film may be read more clearly in the 20th century; certainly, at the time of the film’s release, its lurid sensationalism was perceived as its defining characteristic, and tongue-clucking noises from moralists (along with BBFC disapproval) was inevitably accompanied by healthy box office receipts; cinemagoers relished the fact that Hammer had found a new way to pleasurably shock its audiences, as it had once done with Terence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein. The more indulgent attitude to nudity of the 1970s allowed the female sexual encounters in The Vampire Lovers to escape too much negative attention from the censor, but such aspects now seem less like modish flirtations with a more liberal era’s eroticism than an attempt to engage with the rule-defying undertones of the original Gothic novels (though a new 21st century puritanism may channel a different kind of moral disapprobation – accusations of sexism, etc.).

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK Roy Boulting, director/StudioCanal  The cinematic career of the Boulting Brothers was long and prestigious, with some impressive dramas to be found in their filmography. But their real métier lay in biting social comedies applying a scalpel to various aspects of British life (such as the church in Heavens Above); and the duo were canny enough to know that a key part of their success was the presence of the films of the multitalented Peter Sellers. The latter plays the curmudgeonly trade union figure Fred Kite in what is generally considered to be the duo’s best film, I’m All Right Jack. One of the great achievements of the satire here is to how it contrives to be equally merciless towards the film’s self-interested, strike-prone factory workers in the film as it is to the mendacious corrupt bosses; no-one in this stinging satire gets an easy ride. This new Blu-ray from StudioCanal shows the film to better advantage than it’s ever been seen before, with the crisp black-and-white photography as strikingly showcased as one could wish; the digitally restored Blu-ray and DVD are out on 19th January.

THE NAKED CITY Jules Dasin, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  Jules Dassin’s classic film noir The Naked City makes its Blu-ray debut, joining other celebrated Dassin titles in Arrow’s reissue series including Rififi and Brute Force. The Naked City, shot partially in documentary style, was filmed on location on the streets of New York City and its visual style was inspired by New York photographer Weegee, who published a book of photographs of New York life entitled Naked City (1945). Weegee was hired as a visual consultant on the film, and is credited with helping to craft its imagery. Both Screenwriter Albert Maltz and Dassin were to subsequently fall foul of the notorious House Un-American Activities and Dassin, himself, was forced to leave the US. It’s ironic that having so clearly proved himself capable of telling us of the eight million stories of his American home, he was forced to leave that very place having only told one. This deluxe edition features an all-new high definition transfer of the film, alongside a wealth of extras including New York and The Naked City a newly-filmed look at New York’s relationship with the moving image by Amy Taubin, a 40-minute interview with Jules Dassin at LACMA with Bruce Goldstein in which the director discusses his career and The Hollywood Ten and also the 1950 documentary short on the ten filmmakers blacklisted from Hollywood for their refusal to name names before the House of Un-American Activities, including The Naked City’s screenwriter, Albert Maltz.

 

Daniel O’Brien on The Mighty Sons of Hercules

Classical Masculinity and the Spectacular Body on Film: The Mighty Sons of Hercules   Daniel O’Brien  Forget the unwieldy title and just marvel at the fact that academic writing on film can be as lively and stimulating as this! Daniel O’Brien — whose knowledge of Italian genre cinema is nonpareil — produces a remarkably allusive study of the cinema’s treatment of the muscular male physique (with particular attention to the Hercules movies directed by such talented auteurs as Vittorio Cottafavi and Mario Bava, as well as lesser talents such Pietro Francisci, responsible for the two Steve Reeves Hercules movies). O’Brien examines the fascinating subtexts of this oft-despised genre and its contradictory approaches to masculinity. What’s more, O’Brien performs a particularly impressive feat of prestidigitation, couching complex notions within prose that is always supremely readable. In Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation, I offered this nugget on the Hercules cycle, relating to the director Mario Bava: ‘Bava had a hand, too, in most of the best sword and sandal movies that immediately preceded the horror boom. The muscleman epics (or peplums) were a mixed bunch, but Bava’s exotically lit contributions as second unit director to Pietro Francisci’s Hercules (Le Fatiche di Ercole, 1958) and Hercules Unchained (Ercole e la Regina di Lidia, 1959) starring Steve Reeves, added a lustre to these energetic comic strips, and Bava’s own Hercules in the Haunted World (Ercole al Centro della Terra, 1961), with a vampiric Christopher Lee as Lord of the Underworld, has all the delirious imagination of his horror films. The other notable peplum, of course, is Vittorio Cottafavi’s Hercules Conquers Atlantis (Ercole alla Conquista di Atlantide, 1961), with Reg Park as a lazy Hercules, and some stunning mise-en-scène.’ But O’Brien’s extensive analysis makes my paragraph seem footling; Classical Masculinity and the Spectacular Body on Film – both for its complex, prodigal ideas and its counterintuitive clarity — should be required reading both for afionados of genre cinema and for those academics unable to write anything but clotted, impenetrable prose. Classical Masculinity and the Spectacular Body on Film: The Mighty Sons of Hercules by Daniel O’Brien is published by Palgrave Macmillan

 

Desert Hearts Gets Belated DVD issue

The much-acclaimed cult movie Desert Hearts is to receive its first  official release on DVD in UK. This influential gay-themed film (to be issued by  Final Cut) stars Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau. It is 1950s Nevada, and Professor Vivian Bell arrives to get a divorce. She’s unsatisfied with her marriage, and feels out of place at the ranch she stays on, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Cay Rivers, an open and self-assured lesbian, and the ranchowner’s daughter. The emotions released by their developing intimacy, and Vivian’s insecurities about her feelings towards Cay, are played out against a backdrop of rocky landscapes and country and western songs. Adapted from the novel ‘Desert of the Heart’ by Jane Rule