"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Pandora's Box (Germany, 1929)
At just 22 years of age, Kansas-born dancer-turned actress Louise Brooks became an icon of international silent cinema with a star turn in her first-ever European picture, playing Lulu, the sexually adventurous heroine of Austrian director G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box. Adapted from two erotically charged plays by German man-about-town Frank Wedekind, the film scandalized bourgeois society when released in 1929, at the height of the freewheeling Weimar Republic, and was cut for distribution in foreign markets, most drastically in the United States. Adultery, lesbianism, prostitution, serial killing – there was a lot for the censors to object to. Eureka!'s new Blu-ray edition shows the film in a seamless 2K rendering of the restoration made by the George Eastman House in 2009 (and funded by Playboy magazine's Hugh Hefner), in collaboration with the Cinémathèque Française, the Cineteca Bologna, the Gosfilmofond of Russia, the Narodni Filmovy Archiv Prague and the Deutsche Kinemathek. Pandora's Box comes with optional English translations for the German intertitles, and a previously available (also optional) modern orchestral score by Bavarian composer Peer Raben. The region-B disc has several newly made extras as well: an audio commentary by critic Pamela Hutchinson; nine minutes of film preservationist Martin Koerber (of the Filmmuseum Berlin) explaining, via webcam, the movie's complicated restoration process (there was no original negative or print to work with, only duplications from the 1950s and '60s); and visual essays of about 20 minutes each by three film critics: Kat Ellinger explores what she calls "new women & the Jazz Age: the dangerous feminine in Pandora's Box;" David Cairns traces the life and times of Pabst and his fascination with the "godless beasts" of Weimar; and Fiona Watson looks at "Lulu in Wonderland," notably Brooks' literary love for and identification with Lewis Carroll's Alice and also Frank. L. Baum's Dorothy. The swank packaging holds one BD and a book of 60 illustrated pages, with new writings by critics Alexandra Heller Nicholas, Imogen Sara Smith and Richard Combs, in a solid cardboard case.
1 boxset from Powerhouse
'Universal Noir #2' (U.S., 1945-49)
Last November, on its Indicator label, British distributor Powerhouse released its first Blu-ray boxset of late-1940s and early 1950s American film noir produced by Universal Pictures. Now comes Volume 2: six pictures on six region-B discs, with a number of new and archival extras and a 120-page book. The films are: Lady on a Train (1945, directed by Charles David), Time Out of Mind, (1947, Robert Siodmak), Singapore (1947, John Brahm), A Woman's Vengeance (1948, Zoltán Korda), An Act of Murder (1948, Michael Gordon), and The Lady Gambles (1949, Michael Gordon). With themes ranging from adultery and amnesia to compulsive gambling and mercy killing, the movies feature major Hollywood stars of the era such as Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Fredric March, Ava Gardner and Deanna Durbin, along with less familiar names like England's Phyllis Calvert. (Look, too, for a 30-something Jessica Tandy, later famous as the 80-year-old who won an Oscar for her starring role in Driving Miss Daisy.) The extras are spread through all six discs in this Indicator edition and include newly recorded commentaries by Glenn Kenny, Farran Smith Nehme, Adrian Martin, Kelly Goodner, Jim Hemphill and Pamela Hutchison, as well as video appreciations by Jose Arroyo, Neil Sinyard and Christian Newland (the latter particularly informative about Gardner and her career). There are also a number of rare archival short films, some shot for wartime propaganda purposes. Most compelling (for me, at least) are two from 1945: "French Town…," a poignant portrait of a newly liberated, unnamed municipality, narrated by A Woman’s Vengeance actor Cedric Hardwicke, and "Welcome Home," about American servicemen (and women) returning to the States at the end of the war, narrated by March a year before took home an Oscar for playing just such a demobbed Yankee in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. You also get a radio adaptation of the Casablanca-like Singapore, featuring its stars MacMurray and Gardner.
1 from Criterion
Freaks / The Unknown / The Mystic ('Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers') (U.S., 1932 / 1927 / 1925)
Dwarves, Siamese twins, a bearded lady, a man with an abnormally small head, a "stork woman" – Kentucky-born director Tod Browning's use of real people with disabilities portraying members of a travelling circus was controversial when it was released under the title Freaks in 1925, and it continues to divide critics and audiences to this day. But Browning came by his subject honestly and with utter compassion; he was a circus man himself, a contortionist, barker, clown and eventually magician. In his late 20s he graduated to acting in movies, then started writing and directing them, including Freaks and two other circus-themed features included in this new, two-disc Blu-ray set from New York distributor Criterion: 1927's The Unknown, a silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford, and 1925's The Mystic, about con artists who hold fake seances to fool their victims. On Criterion's Disc 1 is the hour-long Freaks (it originally ran 30 minutes longer, but was cut after test audiences were, predictably and literally, freaked out by the graphic content, forcing MGM to trash the offending footage forever.) Augmenting the movie is an audio commentary by film scholar David J. Skal and several informative extras: a short called "Tod Browning's Freaks: The Sideshow Cinema" (7 minutes); a 2019 episode of critic Kristen Lopez’s podcast 'Ticklish Business,' about how people are portrayed in Freaks (52 mins.); a reading by Skal of “Spurs,” the short story by Tod Robbins on which the movie is based (48 mins.); a three-minute prologue added to Freaks in 1947; a program on the alternate endings made for the movie (6 mins.); and a video gallery of portraits from the film (11 mins.) Criterion's Disc 2 has The Unknown (68 mins.) and The Mystic (74 mins.), with Skal provided an audio commentary for the former and a nine-minute video introduction the latter; there's also a new, half-hour interview with author Megan Abbott about Browning and the horror genre in the Pre-Code Hollywood era. The accompanying booklet has an essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme.
1 from Second Run
Pearls of the Deep (Czechoslovakia, 1966)
Here are some notes from the U.K. distributor Second Run's advance publicity material (as I have yet to screen the Blu-ray): "A manifesto for a new generation of young filmmakers, Pearls of the Deep is one of the delights of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Based on stories by Bohumil Hrabal, the film is a compendium of five films showcasing the talents of directors Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Věra Chytilová, Evald Schorm and Jaromil Jireš. Each vignette demonstrates the differing styles of the five emerging filmmakers, each with unique approaches to Hrabal's multi-faceted tales of ordinary people and odd obsessions. Ranging from the surreal to the satirical and the romantic, the films capture the essence and spirit of Hrabal's work, and emerges as a joyous rallying cry for subversion and artistic expression. 'Generally anarchist and scaldingly farcical, the films look totalitarian life square in the eye, but they’re also living testaments to the era’s lovable, grungy Euro-slacker esprit,' wrote The Village Voice. 'All five films are compelling time capsules of defiance and love.”'
1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Touch of Evil (U.S., 1958)
What a blast! (And I'm not just talking about the famous opening tracking shot.) Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) directs and stars, Charlton Heston is a Mexican police chief, Janet Leigh plays his alluring new bride, and Marlene Dietrich runs a border-town brothel – yes, Touch of Evil is devilishly over the top, but hey, this is Orson Welles. The 1958 movie was Welles' last with a major studio (Universal) and veritably glows in the new 4K UHD incarnation by British distributor Eureka!, a two-disc boxset that's part of its Masters of Cinema series. Eureka! provide all three versions of Touch of Evil: the theatrical version (95 mins.), the preview version (109 mins), and the 1998 reconstruction (110 mins). There are four audio commentaries: one with restoration producer Rick Schmidlin; another with Schmidlin again, accompanied by Heston and Leigh; a third with film critic F. X. Feeney; and the last with Welles scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum. New to this edition are interviews with critic, broadcaster and cultural historian Matthew Sweet; critic Tim Robey; and author and critic Kim Newman. There are also two featurettes, "Bringing Evil to Life " and "Evil Lost and Found," that interview cast and crew, critics and admirers, plus an original theatrical trailer. The accompanying illustrated booklet runs an extensive 100 pages and includes writings by (and interviews with) Welles, François Truffaut, André Bazin, and Terry Comito, along with a timeline of the film’s history and two new essays by critic Richard Combs.
1 from Second Run
Interrogation (Poland, 1982)
Polish director Ryszard Bugajski smuggled out a VHS copy of this, his first feature film, when he emigrated to Canada in 1985, leaving behind the Soviet-sponsored clampdown by General Jaruzelski that had resulted in his movie being banned. Interrogation is a nightmarish tale of political repression set in the Stalinist early 1950s: after a drunken party, cabaret singer Tonia (Krystyna Janda) wakes up in jail, wondering how she got there and why she's being kept behind bars. No explanation is offered, and over the next few days and weeks and months stretching into years (five, in total), she's cajoled by her jailers, browbeaten, interrogated endlessly and tortured, mercilessly. It took the fall of communism in December 1989 for the movie to finally get its premiere, in Warsaw. On its subsequent release in Cannes, the U.K. and North America, critics praised the movie and especially Janda for her performance ("a riveting tour de force," the Washington Post called it, characterizing the film as "vital viewing" that "stays right under your skin"). The new Blu-ray has one extra, previously available on Second Run's 2005 DVD: a half-hour interview Bugajski gave that year, in English, in London, and which incorporates five minutes of footage from the movie's 1989 premiere with clips of Janda being interviewed and a stage address by Polish cinematic great Andrzej Wajda, under whose 'X' studio Interrogation was made. An accompanying 40-page booklet has an essay by Polish-American communications and history professor Michael Szporer, reproduces two pages of original storyboards, and also has an exhaustive and fascinating 25-page transcript of the 1982 hearing before the so-called 'co-laudation commission' of censors that took place ahead of the film’s suppression in Poland.