With Ward Swadling & Scott Donovan
Letter Never Sent (Criterion Collection)
Dir. Mikhail Kalatozov Import (Region 1, $39.95)
This is Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov’s (1903–1973: The Cranes Are Flying, I Am Cuba), beautifully realised film of exploration & survival. Four members of a geological expedition are on a mission to find diamonds in the boreal forest of central Siberia when they are trapped by a forest fire that cuts them off from their supplies, stranding them in the bleak and unforgiving Siberian wilderness. With one glorious black and white wide-angle shot after another (the brilliant cinematography is by Kalatozov’s frequent collaborator Sergei Urusevsky), Letter Never Sent is both a fascinating piece of cinematic history and an edge of your seat adventure.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Dir. Igor Maslennikov (Region 2, $24.95)
Russian director Igor Maslenikov had great success with his early 80s cycle of Sherlock Holmes films. Hound of the Baskervilles was his 1981 excursion into Holmesology. Vasily Livanov & Vitaly Solomin play Holmes and Watson, with actor/director Nikita Mikhlakov as Sir Henry B, and Russian movie legend Oleg Yankivsky twirling his moustaches as the villain. These films were apparently hugely popular in Russia because of their tongue in cheek portrayal of British customs and stereotypes.
Freud: Dir. John Huston (Region 2, $39.95)
Preceding Vigo Mortensen’s studly Dr Freud, we have Montgomery Clift as father of psychoanalysis! Apparently the original script for this film was written by Jean-Paul Sartre but after (predictable, given the egos involved) disagreements with director John Huston, Sartre left in a huff & his name was withdrawn from the credits. The film covers Freud’s life from 1885 to 1890 when he began to use hypnosis to uncover the reasons behind the neuroses exhibited by the ‘hysterics’ most of his colleagues refused to treat. The film compresses the years it took Freud to develop his psychoanalytic theories, with nearly every neurotic symptom available manifesting in one patient—poor sexually repressed, hysterical, father-fixated Cecily Koertner (a bravura performance by the young Susannah York). Huston turns Freud’s research into something of a psychological thriller, making it an extremely watchable (if at times unintentionally amusing) film.
The Black Panther (DVD & Blu-Ray)
Dir. Ian Merrick (Region 2, $39.95)
This intelligent crime drama follows the infamous Donald Neilson’s (aka ‘The Black Panther’) killing spree across England during the mid-70s, which culminated in the kidnapping and death of a 17-year old girl. Donald Neilson, played by a young Donald Sumpter (recently seen as Maester Luwin in Game of Thrones), is a loser turned armed robber turned kidnapper with a major gripe against society—but the film maintains an accurate ugly realism, not the dreamlike fictionalised quality of Holly & Kit’s murderous trek in Malik’s Badlands. Despite the fact that director Ian Merrick manages to tell this disturbing tale without reverting to the sensationalism that it obviously lends itself to, the film fell foul of a media-driven campaign upon its original cinema release, which resulted in an effective ban. The film has been newly mastered from original film elements preserved at the BFI National Archive, and the Dual Format Edition also includes extras such as Bob Bentley’s rarely seen 1981 short film, Recluse, which is based on reports of another real life crime and a booklet with newly commissioned essays and contribution from James Oliver, Ian Merrick and Michael Armstrong. (UK Blu-Ray can be played on local blu-ray machines.)
The Story Of Film: An Odyssey (Limited Steelbook Edition)
Dir. Mark Cousins (Region 2, $89.95)
Five years in the making, The Story of Film: An Odyssey covers six continents and 12 decades, showing how film-makers are influenced both by the historical events of their times, and by each other. It provides a worldwide guided tour of the greatest movies ever made; an epic tale that starts in nickelodeons and ends as a multi-billion-dollar globalised digital industry. Director—film critic, producer and presenter—Mark Cousins visits the key sites in the history of cinema: from Hollywood to Mumbai; from Hitchcock’s London to the village where Pather Panchali was shot; and features interviews with legendary filmmakers and actors including Stanley Donen, Kyoko Kagawa, Gus van Sant, Lars Von Trier, Claire Denis, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Towne, Jane Campion and Claudia Cardinale. There are those who find Cousins’ voice over ‘idiosyncratic’ but it’s worth getting past this to experience this deep and broad ‘love letter to cinema.’
Mother Joan of the Angels
Dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz (Region 2, $39.95)
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, Mother Joan of the Angels is based on the documented story of the demonic possession of a group of nuns that led to the burning of a priest at the stake in Loudun, France in 1634—an earlier take on the inspiration for Ken Russell’s The Devils and Aldous Huxley’s novel The Devils of Loudun. Despite the exorcism, flagellation and murder, in Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s hands, aided by an extraordinary performance by Lucyna Winnicka as Mother Joan, the film is a quieter and more subtle study of the tragedy of emotion repressed by dogma than Russell’s masterpiece of excess. This celebrated film has now been fully and carefully restored from original materials and is presented in a new high-def transfer.
Into the Abyss: A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life Dir. Werner Hertzog (Region 2, $31.95)
Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) pursues his fascination with long term incarceration in this exploration of life in prison. Michael Perry was involved in a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, and Herzog interviews him on death row eight days before he’s scheduled to die. He also interviews Jason Burkett who has been given a life sentence for the same crimes (levels of guilt and innocence are disputed by both Perry and Burkett), and Burkett’s wife who met and married Burkett after his conviction—although only allowed contact by holding hands under guarded supervision, she claims to be pregnant with his child. Herzog’s inquiries also extend to the families of the victims and perpetrators as well as a state executioner and pastor who have been with death row prisoners as they’ve taken their final breaths. The usual Herzogian gaze into the abyss!
Farewell to the King
Dir. John Milius Import (Region 2, $24.95)
Writer of the first draft of Apocalypse Now, John Milius revisits his heart of darkness themes in this newly released wide-screen version of the 1989 film Farewell to the King. Deserting American soldier, Learoyd (Nick Nolte) escapes the Second World War by venturing deep into the jungle of Borneo where he is found staggering and half-deranged by a local head-hunting tribe of Dayaks. They consider him ‘divine’ because of his blue eyes, and the next thing you know Learoyd is reigning king of the Dayaks. When British Commandos discover King Learoyd they try to enlist him in the fight against the Japanese—but it is only when his own people are attacked that the reluctant Learoyd agrees to engage.
Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
Treme Season 2 (Local, $39.95)
Season 2 of Treme opens with a young boy (Robert) blowing the same 4 trumpet notes over and over—the beginning of Oh When the Saints Go Marching In. In the funeral music tradition of New Orleans, a band plays this tune as a dirge while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery, and on the way back from the burial, it will switch to the upbeat ‘Dixieland’ style. When the boy gets chased off the stoop by his frazzled mother he takes his trumpet practice to the streets and we cut to: Antoine Batiste playing a trombone tribute at the graveside of his teacher Nelson Moses Nelson; Big Chief Albert Lambreaux laying flowers on his wife’s tomb stone; LaDonna and her mother visiting Daymo’s grave; and Toni and Sofia Bernette marking (unsuccessfully) husband/father Cray’s absence by eating at his favourite, and newly reopened, New Orleans gelateria Brocato’s. Batiste’s ‘bone’ falls silent and Robert’s four notes take over the soundtrack again as his walk passes by a cemetery and the approving eye of Big Chief Lambreaux. So themes of loss and renewal are played out, told with the usual rich underlay of music traditions, and all before the title credits. If possible things seem even harder for those struggling in Treme 2’s New Orleans—because 14 months after Katrina not only has the gang violence, political corruption and police brutality returned, but the carpetbaggers have come to town. The conviction with which banker C. J. Liguori hands out platitudes and opportunities to ‘fix things’ and make money has an awful, casual villainy to it that not even LaDonna’s rapists can match. This is a feast of a show—the music, the food, the performances and the exceptional writing—I wanted to start rewatching before the first episode was done. Viki