WOLCOTT: The Complete Series/Colin Bucksey, director/Network Blu-Ray A welcome chance for re-acquaintance with a neglected series. Fresh out of uniform, supremely confident and keen to make waves, Wolcott is a man in the middle, facing hostility both from the community he polices and his colleagues in the Force. His investigations into the fatal stabbing of an old woman and a journalist soon uncover a brutal drug war being fought between criminal gangs. The prestigious police drama Wolcott was the first British production purposefully broadcast in the mini-series format – and also the first British drama to feature a black actor, George William Harris, in a leading role. Wolcott channelled the same hard-edged, streetwise vibe as The Sweeney. Harris (whose crime drama work included Layer Cake) impresses as a tough, loner detective with a penchant for rubbing people up the wrong way. Winning sizeable viewing figures, its unflinching depiction of crime left a marked impression on viewers. Wolcott also included notable roles for Hugh Quarshie, Warren Clarke and Rik Mayall.
CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF Terence Fisher, director/Final Cut Blu-Ray It’s heartening to report that this classic Hammer film, now on Blu-Ray courtesy of Final Cut, is the uncut version. Cutting room floors throughout the world are often held fragments of Hammer films, ruthlessly expunged by the censors –fragments which now (if they still exist) are now being restored, much to the benefit of these half-century-plus-old classics. This wash-and-rinse process was particularly advantageous in the case of Terence Fisher’s attempt to revive another of the great Universal Studios monster franchises with The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). The film arrived at an awkward moment for Hammer when the establishment disgust with the studio’s product (which inevitably was inverse proportion to the public’s wholehearted embrace of the films) meant that censorship customarily removed several key details – and, what’s more, pre-censorship took its toll (the film’s scripts were invariably submitted to the BBFC, arriving blue-pencilled with often hilarious suggestions as to how elements that might disturb viewers should be removed). That Fisher’s film (even before the recent restoration of censored elements) still carries a considerable charge today – is not only a testament to the mixture of unassuming professionalism and Michael Powell-style romantic impulse that characterised Fisher’s work but a particularly fortunate piece of casting, with the late Oliver Reed moved up from supporting parts for the company to an important central role, which he attacks with customary ferocity (even, it has to be admitted, in non-lycanthropic state). The cadaverous actor Richard Wordsworth had already made an important contribution to Hammer iconography by appearing as the doomed astronaut in the studio’s first horror/science fiction outing, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), undergoing a grotesque transformation as he was infected by an alien presence brought back from a space mission. His transformation in The Curse of the Werewolf is in the nature of the make-up applied to the actor (as a spectacularly unprepossessing beggar at a banquet; the Wordsworth character, however, is to be indirectly responsible for the real transformation in the film, that of his son (the unlikely premise at the base of the film is that the brutal rape of a servant girl (played by the pneumatic Yvonne Romain) by the imprisoned beggar (the latter has now been reduced to virtually animal level in his filthy cell) could produce as their offspring the lycanthropic central character is a ludicrous notion, but functions perfectly adequately as a plot engine here. The narrative of Curse of the Werewolf devolves on the tragic central character played by Oliver Reed. Leon is the product of a vicious rape who is blighted with a lycanthropy which has strong sexual undertones, heavily emphasised by Oliver Reed’s charismatic (if overwrought) performance. During the credit sequence, Fisher utilises the actor’s eyes (in werewolf make-up) in extreme close-up, darting to the left and right, blinking and shedding tears – it is one of the most effective openings to any Hammer film, and it is considerably finessed by one of the most impressive scores ever written for Hammer by British serious composer Benjamin Frankel. While James Bernard was the signature composer for the company and produced (again and again) plangently effective soundtracks for the variety of monsters and killers whose flesh-ripping activities he underscored; his speciality was the repetition of jagged dissonant motifs – admittedly effective, but inevitably beginning to sound rather like each other from film to film (particularly so in the composer’s arresting Dracula leitmotif, which he utilised in several appearances for the Count). Benjamin Frankel’s score for Curse of the Werewolf, however, was considerably more complex than those of Bernard, and utilised subtleties and felicities of orchestration that would have been regarded as too nuanced for the more straightforwardly dramatic Bernard. Frankel’s score is notable for its then-novel use of serial technique (which is music based upon all 12 notes of the chromatic scale and utilised in a series of variations); Frankel had use this compositional approach in his First Symphony, and its ambitious employment here is of inestimable value to Terence Fisher’s film. But is Oliver Reed’s twitching, hyper-tense reading of the tortured Leon an asset to the film or a weakness? Over the years, critics have disagreed, some calling the performance crass and obvious – but the truth is not so straightforward. The actor’s un-English, Latin appearance and repeated filmic struggles with the demands of his characters’ troubled psyches became a trademark of his early career, and although Terence Fisher’s film would appear to call for precisely this kind of performance from Reed, it’s hard to imagine another young actor of the period making such a strong impression in the relatively underwritten part. What’s more, Roy Ashton’s exceedingly effective make up (given a relatively brief amount of screen time) – was more striking than that created for such actors as Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man (1941), utilised Reed’s own physiognomy (notably his perpetually furrowed brow and flaring nostrils) to allow the actor’s personality to remain visible even when he has become a snarling homicidal beast. A potential salvation for Leon lies in the virginal Christina (played by Catherine Feller), the daughter of the man he works for, but there is no real sense in which it appears that Leon will be able to shake off his tragic destiny. His ultimate death at the hands of a sympathetic but stern father figure is nevertheless moving, and although the character could not be considered to be developed in any serious fashion, as paly on an archetype it has considerable potency. The film had considerable problems with the BBFC on its initial cinema release and was subsequently cut by around 5 minutes before release. Much of the edits were made to the beginning of the film and involved the complete removal of the scenes where the servant girl is attacked in the castle dungeon, and her later confrontation with the Marquis (which results in his fatal stabbing). Other cuts included heavy edits to the murder scenes and a shortening of the bedroom scene between Leon and the prostitute. The 1995 Warner VHS featured a print often shown by BBC which featured different cuts. Much of the above was intact (bar for a reduced stabbing) though additional shots were missing including scenes showing dead bodies, shots of dead goats, and much of the climactic killing of the werewolf, including his deafening by the bells, the bloody gunshot wound, and some shots of his dead face over the closing credits. The film was later completely restored with all the missing footage intact and first shown on BBC in 1994, and this version was released (on Region 1 DVD only) as part of Universal’s “Hammer Horror Series” 8 film box set. The 2010 12-rated DVD features the same restored and fully uncut print.
DRAGON INN, King Hu, director/Eureka Blu-Ray King Hu’s Dragon Inn is the influential 1967 blockbuster which broke box-office records on release in Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines, on Blu-ray in a Dual Format edition for the first time in the UK. A quintessential entryway into the highly stylized, tightly choreographed wuxia genre of martial arts cinema, Dragon In was a global breakthrough for the form’s greatest practitioner, King Hu. Its influence remains incalculable, from its annihilation of traditional expectations of what kind of role an actress should inhabit (also chipped away at by Hu’s previous masterpiece Come Drink with Me, to the formation of many of the genre’s archetypes — such as the Eunuch, the Swordswoman, and the Family of Murdered Loyal Officials — that are still recognizable in the martial arts films of today.
MISSISSIPPI BURNING, Alan Parker, director/Second Sight Blu-Ray Based on one of the most notorious race-related murder cases in US history, Alan Parker’s (The Commitments), multi-award winning Mississippi Burning gets its first ever UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight. This powerful film stars Hollywood heavyweights Gene Hackman (The French Connection), Willem Dafoe (Platoon) and Frances McDormand (Fargo), and arrives in a newly restored edition with a slew of brand new special features on 14 September 2015.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, John Ford director/Arrow Blu-Ray Arrow have made available the UK Blu-ray premiere release of the iconic Wyatt Earp epic My Darling Clementine, director John Ford’s celebrated return to the Western genre following his equally acclaimed and iconic Stagecoach. Starring Henry Fonda as the legendary lawman in arguably the most famous of his on-screen portrayals, this 1946 classic comes in a glorious new 4k digital transfer, alongside two different cuts of the film, the original version that premiered in December 1946 and the longer ‘pre-release’ cut that had played to preview audiences. Both versions, along with a host of extras which are detailed below, come packaged together as an exclusive slipbox edition, limited to 3,000 copies. Alongside both cuts of the film, this new version will also include another Wyatt Earp tale Frontier Marshal, Allan Dwan’s 1939 film starring staring Randolph Scott and Cesar Romero.
CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, Nagisa Oshima, director/Eureka Blu-ray A young Japanese woman squats on the floor, her groin covered by a thin strip of fabric. There is blood on the carpet between her legs, and her gown is pulled open revealing her naked breasts. With the index finger of her right hand, she draws a line across her stomach in menstrual blood. A young man, virtually nude, stands in front of a fully clothed crowd. He wears a traditional Japanese hairstyle and has a large flower tattooed on his stomach. His groin is thrust aggressively forward, covered only by a wisp of material, leaving his pubic hair fully exposed. A young woman moves her mouth gently around the penis of her lover, and smiles at him as seminal fluid runs down from either side of her mouth. All of these deeply provocative images come from the films of one of the most uncompromising directors in modern cinema, the Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima. His turbulent career began in the 1960s, and his films were always ready to engage with the problems of society, both that of the past and the present. Frequently at the centre of his work was a readiness to utilise graphic sexual imagery in a way found unacceptable in many countries; the last of the three images mentioned above comes from his best-known film, Empire of the Senses (1976) which, although subsequently available almost completely uncut on video and DVD was considered so shocking in this country that the only way to see it in London was to temporarily join a ’pop-up’ cinema club (for this legal circumvention, a Notting Hill cinema was converted to a cinema club for the period of the film’s showing). The curious proviso for this wheeze was that there had to be a delay after signing up before being allowed into the cinema, so that it was impossible for viewers to see the film from the beginning; as in the heyday of cinemagoing, people had no choice but to wait till sometime after the opening of the film and sit through till the beginning of the next showing. Oshima was the first major modern Japanese director whose work was to be seen in the West, and his achievement was first recognised in a significant fashion when London’s National Film theatre showed a selection of his work, although there had been earlier showings at the now-defunct Gala film club. The director’s subject was post-war Japan, and he directly dealt with the problems of living in his country in a different manner from that of his much respected predecessors Ozu and Mizoguchi, showing a more focused concentration on society’s outsiders. In ten years, the director made fifteen features and worked in television, but most of this work remained (and still remains) unseen in Britain. His celebrity – of a part with his self-willed creation of an outrageous cinematic metier — resulted from two films made for the major studio Shociku dealing with teenage rebels and featuring acts of violence and carnality, Cruel Story of Naked Youth (1960), released in a crisp print here and The Sun’s Burial from the same year. The treatment of the favourite themes of the director in these two films (both remarkably prescient of the imminently pending sexual revolution) was more extreme than that to be found in other Japanese cinema of the day, not to mention the more censorious cinema of the West. The violence Naked Youth, for instance, showed a young woman whose foot is caught as she’s trying to free herself from a moving car and is dragged along the road on her face. The subsequent Death by Hanging eight years later used Brechtian devices distancing the viewer from the film, while Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969), though still using such distancing effects (which makes watching the film an often infuriating experience) simultaneously went for a direct visceral appeal. Unlike his predecessors, the director was concerned directly with the effects of Western society on traditional Japanese mores, and particularly the changes taking place in the lives of young Japanese. Student riots, for instance, were treated in non-judgemental fashion; if any judgements were present, it was an impatience with the stiff-necked values of the earlier wartime generation. A recurrent theme of Oshima’s films is a kind of refraction of Kabuki theatre method through the strikingly posed performances of his cast, combining the artificiality of an ancient theatrical tradition with a neorealist observation; an almost impossible marriage which the director is repeatedly able to bring off. The shadows of Japanese imperialism fall heavily on his work, and Oshima rejects such values by stressing the freedom that sexual expression brings — even though there is often a heavy price to pay for such licence
ASYLUM, Peter Robinson, director/OEG Classic Movies Trailblazing psychiatrist R.D. Laing changed the way mental illness was treated with his unique approach to therapy and in the early 1970s he allowed a film crew access to a group of his patients in one of the most incredible fly-on-the-wall documentaries ever made, Asylum. Now this fascinating film makes its UK DVD debut courtesy of OEG Classic Movies. With David Tennant on board to play the renowned Glasgow-born analyst Ronald David Laing in a major new biopic, this timely release gives an insight into mental illness as filmmaker Peter Robinson and his crew enter the world of the schizophrenic residents of a hospital in Archway, London. Filmed over a seven-week period the film takes us behind the doors and into the lives of mentally ill patients and Laing’s controversial approach to healing them through compassion and freedom. Originally released in 1972 the film comes to burnished with a slew of special features.
RIPPER STREET: SERIES THREE, Various directors/BBC Worldwide Blu-Ray The BAFTA-nominated period crime series inaugurated a notable first: a resurrection from the dead after it had been cancelled, despite its clear popular success. Series Three begins four years after the culmination of the previous series, and represents another heady descent into the lives of the denizens of the dangerous streets of Whitechapel in late Victorian London. The vivid scene-setting and rich atmosphere of the earlier series is satisfyingly in place.
LA GRANDE BOUFFE Marco Ferreri, director/Arrow Blu-Ray Four friends, played by Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Ugo Tognazzi and Philippe Noiret retreat to a country mansion where they determine to eat themselves to death whilst engaging in group sex with prostitutes and a local school teacher (Andréa Ferréol, The Tin Drum), who seems to be up for anything… Arrow Video has released Italian provocateur Marco Ferreri’s controversial classic La Grande Bouffe in a stunning new 2K transfer. The most famous film by Marco Ferreri (Dillinger is Dead), La Grande Bouffe was reviled on release for its perversity, decadence and attack on the bourgeoisie yet won the prestigious FIPRESCI prize after its controversial screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Released for the first time in the UK on Blu-ray, this new edition comes loaded with a host of new extra features and comes packaged with newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx. At once jovial and sinister, the film’s jet-black humour has a further twist as the reputed actors (whose characters use their own names) buck their respectable trend for a descent into fart-filled chaos that delivers a feast for the eyes and mind.
COLORS & STATE OF GRACE, Dennis Hopper & Phil Joanou, directors/Second Sight Blu-Ray An intriguing brace of tough Sean Penn classics Colors and State Of Grace, are released on Blu-ray courtesy of Second Sight. Colours is directed by cult actor/director Dennis Hopper, classic 1980s cop drama Colors starring Hollywood heavyweights Sean Penn and Robert Duvall makes its UK Blu-ray debut courtesy of Second Sight. Late 1980s Los Angeles, the gangs rule the streets, with the Crips and the Bloods battling to reign supreme. In a dog-eat-dog world of drugs and guns, they don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire. It’s blue verses red and if you’re wearing the wrong colour it could cost your life. Long serving cop Bob Hodges’s (Robert Duvall) plans for an easier life are scuppered when he is moved to LAPD’s Gang Crime Division. His years of experience and street-wise ways are put to the test when he’s partnered with hot–headed rookie cop Danny McGavin (Sean Penn). The pair grapple with their new partnership on the gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles and although Danny finally lets Hodges show him the ropes, his adrenaline-fed brutality earns him a reputation with the very gangs they want to help as a war on the streets is ready to explode. In State of Grace, Sean Penn gives a star turn as an undercover cop who infiltrates a local crime gang in his hometown, in the classic 90s New York gangster movie State of Grace. Also starring acting greats Ed Harris and Gary Oldman. After a decade away, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) is welcomed back into the fold in his New York Irish-American neighbourhood, Hell’s Kitchen. A one-time street tough, Terry is now an undercover officer tasked with getting entrenched with crime boss Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris), who happens to be the brother of both his best friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) and old flame Kathleen Flannery (Robin Wright). As he rekindles old friendships and his romance with Kathleen, he starts to question his loyalties as the violence begins to escalate. State of Grace, a flop on its initial release, looks better than ever in this Blu-Ray incarnation.
EYEWITNESS, Jarl Emsell Larsen, director/Simply Media And still they come: Nordic Noir drama that grips like a vice; another prime example from an endless stream. The latest import is this compelling six-part series. Two school friends become grimly involved in a series of frightening encounters after witnessing a crime. With the customary impeccable performances for the genre, Eyewitness is another winner.