Herrmann’s Obsession in New Sonic Splendour

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HERRMANN: OBSESSION, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Nic Raine/Tadlow Music Tadlow 019 CD & Blu-Ray Audio  For some considerable time, the producer James Fitzpatrick has been putting collectors of the finest orchestral film scores in his debt with a continuing program of new recordings from the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the estimable conductor Nic Raine. For a time, it seemed as if the dynamic recording of the complete score for Franz Waxman’s Taras Bulba was the high water mark of the company, but this issue, enshrining a complete performance of one of the last film scores by Bernard Herrmann, is something special. Why? The reasons are principally sonic: the first disc in this two-disc set is a CD version of the score, impressive enough in its own way, but paling in comparison to the amazing dynamic range of the accompanying disc which is in the Blu-ray audio media — and showcases the massive dynamic range of Herrmann’s score, notably its ground-shaking organ passages in the fullest possible sound picture. If this is anything to go by, one can hope that for all future Tadlow Music issues, the company utilises Blu-ray audio. HERRMANN, GERSHWIN, WAXMAN, COPLAND Nash Ensemble Hyperion CDA 68094 More Bernard Herrmann, but this time of a more intimate nature: his charming and melancholic Souvenir de Voyage, the centrepiece of a subtle collection of small-scale works by composers (Gershwin apart), better known for their film scores. All the music here is dispatched with a combination of nuanced feeling and perfect attention to the colour of the restricted sound palette.

Arrow to release Horror Comedy THE VOICES

On July 13, Arrow Films are to release the  Horror Comedy THE VOICES on DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook (the latter exclusive to Zavvi.com) Co-starring Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick, The Voices is directed by Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian author and filmmaker best known for the Academy Award nominated animated film Persepolis (2007). In The Voices, Ryan Reynolds stars as a troubled, med-addicted factory worker driven to murder by his talking pets, a psychopathic cat called Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, his peace-loving dog. Reynolds also voices both of the animals, while Jacki Weaver, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick play the women unfortunate enough to cross his path.

 

Christopher Hirst in The Independent on Sex and Film

Christopher Hirst in The Independent on SEX AND FILM by Barry Forshaw (Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99) Beginning in the Thirties, when the first glimpse of pubic thatch was granted by Hedy Lamarr in Ekstase (1933), this intriguing guide throws up revelations on a central aspect of film. Forshaw’s probing ranges from profiles of early femme fatales – Mae West, Dietrich, Garbo – to Russ Meyer, the breast-obsessed auteur of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and ‘mainstream porn’ (The Private Afternoons Pamela Mann from 1974 is compared to Pinter). Forshaw’s intelligent appreciation is also a defence of a genre in decline: ‘Sex remains… a perfectly legitimate pursuit of the cinema.’

 

Blood and Black Lace and Other New Titles

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BLOOD AND BLACK LACE Mario Bava, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  The camera prowls around the gaudy exterior of a fashion house lashed by rain and wind, its sign broken loose and swinging. One of the models, Isabella, is stalked through the stormy night by a masked assailant, who brutally batters and murders her…Sei Donne per l’Assassino/Blood and Black Lace (1964) was Bava’s delirious tale of a masked killer prowling a fashion house, and remains the most influential Giallo ever made. In the UK, the film was sometimes hooted off the screen for the achingly crass dubbing, the besetting sin of virtually every giallo to gain a nationwide circuit release in both this country and the US. But the availability of Italian-language prints have made it possible for viewers to feast on the visual delights afforded by chiffon, marble, and the director’s cat-like camera prowling through the exquisitely decadent production design (the latter clearly as much the loving creation of the director as that of credited production designer Arrigo Breschi). British censor John Trevelyan took his scissors to the exuberant mayhem at the time of the film’s release, creating a cinematic coitus interruptus in which elaborate orchestration of suspense becomes a prelude to frustrating, barely-glimpsed pay-offs. However, the crippling censorship cuts that truncated every murder in the UK have been restored in new prints, and the elegantly rendered tension is now unspoilt. Bava’s calling card movie looks ever more decadently gorgeous as the years pass, and continues to be his most influential film (apart from Antefatto/Bay of Blood, 1971, whose catalogue of grisly murders was the blueprint for the Friday the 13th movies and their many imitations). Needless to say, characterisation is pitched at the most generous level (no nuanced playing here), with the saturated colour, wonderfully excessive production design (redolent of 1950s recreations of Italian verismo opera productions and exuberantly staged scenes of murder maintaining the viewer’s interest rather than any narrative rigour. If the film (and its many successors) possesses a vision beyond the desire to thrill and alarm the viewer, it’s a notably dyspeptic view of human nature in which venal instincts comprehensively outpace the demands of the libido; the beautifully photographed sensuousness of the female victims is a smokescreen (as so often in the Giallo genre) for a single-minded pursuit of filthy lucre. Perhaps the most immediate effect of Bava’s groundbreaking film is on the work Dario Argento, which simply would not exist in the form that it does without this glossy template. The carefully calculated multinational casting ensured the film’s saleability to a variety of markets (American Cameron Mitchell, Hungarian Eva Bartok, a cluster of much-employed Italian character actors, such as the wonderfully oleaginous Dante di Paolo as a drug-addicted red herring). The film has never looked better than in Arrow’s beautifully detailed Blu-Ray.

THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE  Nick Willing, director/Image Entertainment  The supernatural is clearly in vogue again. The unsettling ghost story The Haunting of Radcliffe House begins with a family moving to a remote estate on the Yorkshire moors – only to fall prey to dark forces. Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense) and Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises) star as husband and wife Meg and Alec who move to the darkly beautiful but desolate Radcliffe House with their two children. A mosaic on the floor hints at the terrible murder by Radcliffe of his wife Isabella – the result of a demonic black magic ritual that led to his suicide… or did it? Ghostly creatures haunt this house, teasing, taunting and invading those who linger within and something is driving Alec, maniacally, to recreate the presence of Isabella in the body of his wife. The ritual is about to be enacted once more, the past bloodily thrust into the present. Solidly made if quotidian fare.

INVADERS FROM MARS Tobe Hooper, director/Final Cut Blu-Ray  Quite some distance in tone from his debut The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s deliberately gaudy remake of the William Cameron Menzies 1950s sf favourite stars Karen Black, Louise Fletcher, Timothy Bottoms and (as the boy who happens upon a Martian takeover), Hunter Carson; his performance, sadly, is perhaps why he was never heard from again. The tongue-in cheek approach of the director is matched by his cast playing at full throttle, while the special features include ‘A career in Cannon/Tobe Hooper in the 80’s’ — an interview with David Del Valle — and other items such as ‘Mission to Mars — the Special effects of Tobe’s Invaders’ by Alec Gillis, the Art Dept. Coordinator and part of the creature effects crew.

HOSTAGES Various Directors/Arrow This DVD box set release makes available the complete season one of the compelling Israeli psychological thriller, filmed on location in modern-day Jerusalem. The series made its mark on BBC Four at 9pm on Saturday evenings – the same cherished time slot that enshrined The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, and Prisoners of War. A brilliant female surgeon, Dr. Yael Danon (played by Ayelet Zurer), discovers her family have been kidnapped the night before she is due to perform surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister. The hostage-holders have one demand: “Kill the PM on the operating table or her loved ones die. The tension lies in the contrast of two universally relatable themes – the choice between a very personal dilemma faced by everyday characters, and a greater moral issue of a wide-scale social and national conspiracy – which ultimately makes for addictive viewing.