"Lenten ys come with love to toune / With blosmen and with briddes roune" (Spring is come with love to town / With blossom and with birds' song) - Anonymous, 14th century

05.2019

3 from the British Film Institute

The Best of British Transport Films: 70th Anniversary Collection (U.K., 1952-1978)

British Transport Films was established in 1949 as an act of pride and public education. Over the next 35 years, in theatres and on TV, the general public was exposed to over 700 short documentary extolling the "British way" in railway travel and transportation, taking them to all four corners of the country as the nationalised system progressed from steam to diesel to electric. Always popular and, since the 1980s, long available on home video, the 16mm and 35mm films now get a major sprucing up thanks to the British Film Institute. Celebrating the BTF's 70th anniversary, the BFI has released a two-disc Blu-ray edition – the first in that format – of 21 films from the collection, digitally restored and remastered. Among the best (and best-known) are Terminus (1961, 20 minutes), director John Schlesinger’s day-in-the-life of London's Waterloo Station, and Railways For Ever! (1970, 7 mins.), poet John Betjeman’s eulogy for the end of the steam era. Also well-known is Rail (1967, 13 mins.), director Geoffrey Jones’ Technicolor treatment of the technological changes transforming an industry; the BFI has given it a stunning 4K restoration for its Blu-ray debut. The other remastered films include: Farmer Moving South (1952, 17 mins.), Train Time (1952, 28 mins.), This is York (1953, 20 mins.), Elizabethan Express (1954, 20 mins.), Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955, 10 mins.), Any Man's Kingdom (1956, 20 mins.), Fully Fitted Freight (1957, 21 mins.), Every Valley (1957, 20 mins.), A Future on the Rail (1957, 10 mins.), Between the Tides (1958, 22 mins.), A Letter for Wales (1960, 25 mins.), They Take the High Road (1960, 25 mins.), Blue Pullman (1960, 25 mins.), The Third Sam (1962, 10 mins.), The Scene from Melbury House (1972, 15 mins.), Wires Over the Border (1974, 18 mins.) Locomotion (1975, 15 mins.) and Overture: One-Two-Five (1978, 7 mins.). Pulling up the rear of the region-B-coded Blu-ray set are a series of archival extras, the first of which will certainly interest Canadian audiences. Expo 67: An Introduction by Edgar Anstey is a 3-minute short made for the World's Fair in Montreal; in it, the BTF's founding chief officer reflects on what trains and movies have in common as they "unroll in to the future, steadily, constantly." Several year later, in 1974, Anstey celebrated the BTF's 25th anniversary with three days of screenings at London's National Film Theatre; gathered for this Blu-ray is audio of his introductory remarks for four screenings, totalling 43 minutes. The edition comes with an illustrated booklet featuring a new essay by BFI curator Steven Foxon and credit lists for all 21 films.

Room at the Top (U.K., 1959)

In the late 1950s in England's industrial North, upwardly-mobile wannabe Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) gets a boss's daughter (Heather Sears) pregnant and has an affair with a married Frenchwoman (Simone Signoret). Adapted by Neil Paterson (and Canada's Mordecai Richler, uncredited) from John Braine's novel and directed by Jack Clayton, Room at the Top had a less-successful sequel six years later, Life at the Top. Extras on the BFI's dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD, both code-locked for the U.K. and Europe) include audio commentaries from 2009 by Neil Sinyard and Jo Botting, Jack Gold's 1959 short film drama "The Visit" (35 mins.), and seven documentary shorts: "Bailey's Royal Buxton Punch and Judy Show in Halifax" (1901, 3 mins.), "Tram Ride into Halifax" (1902, 4 mins.), "Halifax Day by Day" (1910, 2 mins.), "We of the West Riding" (1945, 22 mins.), "This Town" (1969, 8 mins.) and "Bradford Town Hall Square," 1986, 2 mins.). There are also three image galleries that run a total of about eight minutes and the film's original trailer (3 mins.). There's an illustrated booklet, too.

How I Won the War (U.K., 1967)

At the height of the Vietnam War, Anglo-American director Richard Lester followed up his rollicking successes (A Hard Day's Night, The Knack ... and How to Get It, Help!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) with this satire of the British Army in the Second World War. It flopped. Casting the Beatles' John Lennon (in his only non-musical role) should have brought in the crowds, but it didn't, especially in the U.S., where the jokes and accents went right over people's heads. Extras on the new dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD, both code-locked for the U.K. and Europe) include an audio commentary by Neil Sinyard, two early 1950s animated shorts ("Animated Genesis," 22 mins.; "A Short Vision," 7 mins.), two early '70s shorts  ("Head Rag Hop," 3 mins.; "Plod," 21 mins.), two four-minute segments of the 'Trailers from Hell' blog (with Allan Arkush talking about The Knack and John Landis about Lester's The Bed Sitting Room), audio of Lester in conversation with director Steven Soderbergh in 1999 (88 mins., as an alternative commentary track), a four-minute image gallery, and an illustrated booklet.

2 from Eureka!

The Woman in the Window (U.S., 1944)

Fritz lang directs Edward G. Robinson in this Hollywood noir about the degradation of a university professor caught in the murderous web of a femme fatale (Joan Bennett). The new Blu-ray, part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema series, is code-locked for Region B and comes with a trailer and a 23-minute video essay by critic David Cairns, as well as a previously available audio commentary by Imogen Sara Smith. There's also an illustrated booklet with new essays by film writers Amy Simmons and Samm Deighan. 

The Night of the Generals (U.K/Fr./U.S., 1967)

Warsaw, 1942. A high-class hooker is viciously murdered and suspicion falls on three generals of the occupying German army. The case is dropped. Two years later, in Paris, another prostitute is murdered and the three general again implicated. The focus then narrows to General Tanz (Peter O'Toole) – did he do it? The new Blu-ray from Eureka! Classics comes with two trailers and a new audio commentary by author Scott Harrison, who also writes the essay in the accompanying booklet. The disc is code-locked to Region B.

3 more from the U.K. 

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (U.K., 1948)

A racy postwar British noir that the Monthly Film Bulletin called "the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen,” No Orchids for Miss Blandish was adapted from a gangster novel and subsequent West End play by James Hadley Chase. Linden Travers stars as the titular anti-heroine, a wealthy heiress who's kidnapped after a botched jewelry heist and held for ransom by a gang of violent thugs, one of whom (Richard Nielsen) she falls in love with. Things end tragically, of course, for all involved. In its spectacular, all-region Blu-ray debut on British distributor Powerhouse's Indicator label, the film comes in two versions: the original U.K. one and its rejigged American release, titled Black Dice). Extras are plentiful: a trailer for each version, a 2010 interview with Nielsen and producer Richard Gordon (34 mins.), a new look at the censorship of the film by ex-British Board of Film Censors examiner Richard Falcon (41 mins.), a 25-image gallery of vintage promotional material, and a 1945 docudrama called Soldier, Sailor (49 mins.), about life aboard a British merchant navy ship in World War Two, by ... Miss Blandish director St John Legh Clowes. The accompanying booklet runs 40 pages and has several essays and reviews, including an excerpt of one by George Orwell, who called the film "sordid and brutal ... pure Fascism."

La ronde (France, 1950)

Max Ophuls adapted Arthur Schnitzler's turn-of-the-century play, Reigen, in French in 1950. Set in Vienna, the film begins and ends with an encounter with a prostitute (Simone Signoret), and crisscrosses the city in a series of interlinking amorous tales of a soldier (Serge Reggiani), a chambermaid (Simone Simon), an unfaithful wife (Danielle Darrieux), a shopgirl (Odette Joyeux), a poet (Jean-Louis Barrault), an actress (Isa Miranda), an aristocrat (Gérard Philipe) and several others. The 92-minute  movie was last released on DVD over a decade ago, in 2008 in both the U.S. (Criterion, pictureboxed, code-locked) and the U.K. (Second Sight, region-free), with plentiful extras. The extras disappeared for La ronde's Blu-ray debut in 2016 (Screenbound, all-region); now comes another British BD, this time from Bluebell (region-free, compressed mono sound, one-minute photo gallery, with a DVD). Worth getting for the better visuals, at least.

November (Estonia, 2017)

Billed as "a hauntingly beautiful and twisted Estonian fairy tale about unrequited love," November is Tallinn director Rainer Sarnet's third feature. It's set sometime in the 19th century, somewhere in the deepest countryside of the small Baltic nation of Estonia, where evil spiritual forces, made flesh, get the better of a peasant boy and girl as they prepare to be wed. Passing through their village, an aristocrat's daughter becomes an object of obsession, and things end badly when class lines get crossed. Since its theatrical release, November has gone through three Blu-ray iterations: by Oscilloscope (U.S., all-region), Donau (Germany, code-locked) and now Montage (U.K., code-locked). The latest edition, an off-beat offering distributed through Eureka! Entertainment, is dual-format (one BD, one DVD) and comes with two trailers and a booklet featuring a new essay by Australian critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

1 from Criterion

House of Games (U.S., 1987)

One of my favourite American films of the late 1980s, an homage to the conman genre with a psychosexual twist, House of Games was the debut directing effort of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright/screenwriter David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross). Lindsay Crouse plays Dr. Margaret Ford, a New York therapist and bestselling self-help author who gets caught up in a series of cons led by a magnetic cardsharp named Mike (Joe Mantegna). Celebrity magician Ricky Jay (subject of a fascinating TV documentary, Deceptive Practice, four years before his death in late 2018) co-stars as one of Mike's conspirators; J.T. Walsh is a businessman who turns out to be more than he seems; and William H. Macy is a hapless Marine who winds up no wiser after getting conned at a Western Union office. Roger Ebert loved House of Games so much, he put it among his all-time 'Great Movies', and that's no bluff. With one exception, extras on the new Blu-ray are the same as on the DVD that Criterion released in 2007: an audio commentary by Mamet and Jay, two 15-minute interviews with Crouse and Mantegna, a vintage making-of with Mamet (25 mins.), and a trailer. The booklet has an essay by critic Kent Jones and excerpts from Mamet’s introduction to the published screenplay. New to this edition is a short but instructive series of storyboards for a small con, "the Tap," that Mamet had wanted for the film but, at Jay's suggestion, eventually replaced with something less elaborate, "the Flue."

04.2019

1 from Second Run

Everybody in Our Family (Romania/Netherlands, 2012)

All that 30-something divorcé Marius (Serban Pavlu) wants to do is take his daughter on holiday to the seaside, but everything and everybody conspires to make sure that doesn't happen. The third feature by Romanian director Radu Jude is a dark comedy whose anti-hero is as jittery and erratic as the handheld camera that follows the man around, yet there's pleasure in watching his life disintegrate. When the mental breakdown finally comes, it's a wallop. Extras on the all-region Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run include a career-spanning interview with the director (26 mins.) and two of his early short films: "Alexandra" (2007, 25 mins.) and "The Tube with a Hat" (2006; 23 mins.). There's also a trailer and a 16-page booklet with an essay by critic Carmen Gray.

2 from the British Film Institute

Shakespeare Wallah (U.S./India, 1965)

The travails of a travelling theatre troupe in India in the early 1960s was the subject of the second feature film by the team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. It bursts its low-budget, black-and-white boundaries with seductive aplomb, portraying the disappearing way of life of itinerant actors whose audiences are getting smaller with each show and whose Shakespeare is less and less appreciated as the mass media (and Bollywood) take over. Extras on the BFI Blu-ray include audio of a public lecture that Merchant and Ivory gave in London in 1983 (82 mins.), moderated by critic David Robinson; audio of a 1994 interview with Shashi Kapoor (54 mins.); a video interview with Ivory and star Madhur Jaffrey in New York (47 mins.); a 1938 travelogue short called "A Road in India" (10 mins.); a stills gallery (two-and-a-half minutes); and two trailers (original and 2017 re-release). Rounding out the edition is a 28-page illustrated booklet. Buyer beware: though digitally restored in 2K by Cohen Media in 2017, and approved by Ivory, the visuals on this disc leave a lot to be desired (the original camera negative was lost, apparently), and the mono sound is rather undefined and flat (and that includes the soundtrack by none other than the famous Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray). Do note, too, that the disc is coded Region B for the U.K. and Europe; it won't play on standard North American players.

Heat and Dust (U.K., 1983)

Forbidden love between a married young Englishwoman (Greta Scacchi) and a princely  Indian Nawab (Shashi Kapoor) in the 1920s is revealed half a century later by the lady's grand-niece (Julie Christie), who thereupon embarks on adventures of her own, inspired by her great-aunt's courage. Another Merchant-Ivory film, again written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (based on her novel), the movie is lush, romantic and tragic. The BFI's two-disc Blu-ray (Region B) set looks gorgeous (restored in 4K by Cohen Media) and comes stacked with extras. The first disc has a long audio interview with Merchant, Ivory and Jhabvala from 1992 (100 mins.); a half-hour video interview with Scacchi and co-star Nickolas Grace from 2017 (42 mins.); and two trailers (original and 2017 re-release). Disc two has Ivory/Jhabvala's 1975 TV film Autobiography of a Princess, starring James Mason and Madhur Jaffrey (58 mins.); a half-hour interview with Ivory by screenwriter Chris Terrio in 2017; a 2017 Q&A with actress Madhur Jaffrey (22 mins.); "Indian Durbar," a 1940 travelogue short (11 mins.) shot by Jack Cardiff; "Our Greatest Ambassador," a 1921/1922 documentary short (33 mins.), featuring the then-Prince of Wales; "Delhi - Jubilee Review 1935; Jaiour: Jotwara," shot by a colonel in the Indian Army (13 mins.); an eight-minute stills gallery; and the 2017 trailer for Autobiography... The package comes with a 30-page illustrated booklet. 

1 from Powerhouse

The Reckless Moment (U.S, 1949)

Exiled to France, then Switzerland, then the U.S. during World War Two, German-Jewish director Max Ophuls (Letter from an Unknown Woman, Lola Montès) made a handful of memorable pictures in Hollywood after the war before returning to the Continent; The Reckless Moment, a noir starring Joan Bennett and James Mason, was the last. It's a tale of accidental death, cover-up, fatal attraction and suburban angst and ultimately murder, with Bennett a duplicitous housewife and Mason the man sent to blackmail her. On the all-region Blu-ray now released by British distributor Powerhouse as part of its Indicator series, the film has been remastered in HD and supplemented with a number of extras. Previously available are a 44-minute documentary from 2010, in which Ophuls biographer Lutz Bacher offers a personal view of the director and the making of The Reckless Moment; and a 2006 featurette called "Maternal Overdrive," in which Hollywood director Todd Haynes (Carol) discusses Ophuls and his film for 23 minutes. New to this Blu-ray is video of two lectures and an audience discussion that followed a revival screening last year at the University of London organized by the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image. First up is "James Mason as Homme Fatal," by Adrian Garvey (26 mins.); next is "James Mason: Watching the Violence Unfold" (33 mins.), by Sarah Thomas; and lastly, both speakers take questions from the audience about Mason and his legacy (39 mins.). An image gallery of 29 lobby cards, stills and other promotional material completes the disc's contents. There's also a 36-page illustrated booklet with a new essay by Diabolique Magazine editor Samm Deighan, an appreciation of Ophuls from 1971 by critic Andrew Sarris, a Cahiers du cinéma interview with the director from 1955, a short speech by him from 1956, a Sight and Sound magazine review from 1950 and another from Cahiers du cinéma in 1958.

2 from Twilight Time

The Snake Pit (U.S., 1948)

Fox's highest-grossing film of 1948, nominated for Best Picture and six other Academy Awards, The Snake Pit was a career highlight for director Anatole Litvak (Sorry, Wrong Number) and a risky departure for glamorous star Olivia de Havilland, here cast as a writer who descends into mental illness and is institutionalized for schizophrenia. Extras on the all-region Blu-ray mostly replicate Fox's 2004 DVD (a commentary, five awards ceremony newsreel extracts), with the addition of two vintage radio shows (from 1950 and 1956, with Agnes Moorehead in the latter) and a new booklet.

Three Coins in the Fountain (U.S., 1954)

Love, American-style, mid-'50s Rome. Shot in Deluxe colour, this CinemaScope "prestige picture" was a Fox fantasy of the Eternal City, and seems ridiculously trite today. Nevertheless, from Frank Sinatra singing the title tune in stereophonic sound to the "perfect" ending by the Trevi Fountain, it does have its charms. Besides the Victor Young score as an optional isolated track, extras on the all-region Blu-ray mostly replicate Fox's 2004 DVD: a commentary, Oscar-night newsreel, original teaser and trailers, and a booklet (with a new essay by Julie Kirgo).

3 from Eureka!

The Song of Bernadette (U.S., 1943)

Henry King's 1943 film, based on the bestselling Franz Werfel novel, stars Jennifer Jones as the titular heroine, a French schoolgirl who, in 1858 in Lourdes, had so many visions of the Virgin Mary that she was investigated by the Catholic Church, officially approved and ultimately, decades later, canonized. Today, Lourdes is a top destination for millions of pilgrims. Part of British distributor Eureka!'s Classics line, the new Blu-ray is code-locked to Region B (U.K. and Europe) and, like the near-identical American BD that Twilight Time released in 2013, is a limited edition (2,000 copies). You can watch the two-and-a-half-hour film with or without the original, 7-minute orchestral overture or the audio commentary (by Jones biographer Edward Z. Epstein, Newman biographer John Burlingame and biographer-historian Donald Spoto). There's also a trailer, an illustrated booklet with a new essay by film journalist Amy Simmons, and a slipcase.

The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)

A vampiric reindeer haunts the snowy wastes of Finnish Lapland in this 1952 horror drama directed by Eric Blomberg. Restored in 4K, the film now comes to Blu-ray on a region-B disc from Eureka!, enriching its Masters of Cinema catalogue. Limited to 2,000 copies with an O-card slipcase and optional English subtitles, the disc has an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, a video essay on the portrayal of witches in Nordic cinema, a Blomberg short from 1947 called "With The Reindeer," archival colour test footage, and a featurette of the film's success at the 1952 Jussi Awards. The packaging includes a reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing by film scholars Alexandra Heller Nichols and Philip Kemp.

One, Two, Three (U.S., 1961)

Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) returns to his native Germany to spoof the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall dividing an American industrialist (James Cagney) from the affections of his scatterbrained daughter (Pamela Tiffin), who's fallen in love with a headstrong young Red from the East (Horst Buchholz) . Now part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema series, the film gets a limited-edition Blu-ray release (2,000 copies) in a special O-card slipcase with a booklet featuring new essays by film scholar Henry K. Mille and critic Adam Batty. The disc is code-locked to Region-B and includes a new interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard and a previously available audio commentary by film historian Michael Schlesinger.

03.2019

1 from the British Film Institute

Bergman: A Year in a Life (Sweden, 2018)

1957 was a watershed year for Swedish superstar director Ingmar Bergman: he had two new movies playing in cinemas (The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, both masterpieces), directed no fewer than four classic stage plays (for the Malmö city theatre), and took a one-act drama ("Mr Sleeman is Coming") and adapted and directed it live for Swedish TV. Prolific, as loved as he was feared, tyrannical and tender when it suited him, Bergman was a complex man, as geniuses tend to be. In the centennial year of his birth, Swedish documentary filmmaker Jane Magnusson took an unsparing look at Bergman, going backwards and forwards from 1957 to better illuminate the artist, warts and all, and examine his legacy. Premiered last May at Cannes, Bergman: A Year in a Life went on to win the best-documentary award at the 31st European Film Awards. It now comes to Blu-ray in a three-disc edition from the British Film Institute, with each disc code-locked to region-B players (U.K. and Europe). The first has the two-hour version of the film that was shown in theatres; the second and third present "Bergman: A Life in Four Acts," the extended version that aired on Swedish TV in four one-hour episodes. You'll spend a lot of time reading subtitles, but at least they can be made not to appear when people are speaking English, including Bergman himself in the many interviews he gave over the years, most notably to U.S. talk-show host Dick Cavett. Other stars and celebrities appearing in the documentary include Bergman's leading ladies (and lovers) Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson, Hollywood actors Elliott Gould and Holly Hunter, and Barbra Streisand. Bergman himself died in 2007, age 89, but speaks from the grave thanks to extensive audiovisual archives. So does his older brother, Dag, in an especially revealing interview recorded in the 1980s that has never been seen until now (it was mothballed by Swedish TV at the request of the great director, prickly to the end about his reputation as a suffering artist). The BFI have loaded on a few extras, all on the first disc: there's an hour of audio of an interview Bergman gave The Guardian in 1982 that can be played over the film; a quarter-hour Q&A with Magnusson onstage in London; an 11-minute animated short she made about Bergman in 2018 called "Vox Lipoma," in which he appears as a cartoon character with major anger-management issues; and a trailer. A 20-page illustrated booklet rounds out the package. 

1 from Second Run

Ikarie XB 1 (Czechoslovakia, 1963)

Before 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, there was Jindrich Polák's Ikarie XB 1, a science-fiction adventure set on a spaceship 200 years in the future. While Kubrick and Tarkovsky opted for colour, Polák shot his Czech-language masterpiece in black-and-white, heightening the contrast between life aboard the Ikarie XB 1 vessel, home to 40 astronauts and personnel, and the uncharted wilds of the Alpha Centauri system they've been sent to explore in search of other forms of life. Loosely based on an early novel by bestselling Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote Solaris), the film now finally gets the home-video release it deserves. Updating its 2013 DVD with a 4K master made in 2017, British distributor Second Run offers the film on all-region Blu-ray with plenty of extras. Besides an appreciation by critic Kim Newman from the previous DVD (12 mins.), there's a short film Polák made in 1963 called "The Most Ordinary of Occupations" (12 mins.); the opening scene and (quite different) ending of Ikarie's U.S.-release version called Voyage to the End of the Universe (4 mins. and 1 min., sourced from a VHS);  a restoration trailer of Ikarie from 2016 as well as the original trailer for Voyage ...; a one-minute photo gallery; and, as a hidden extra, a quarter-hour Barbican Cinema podcast on Ikarie by Second Run founder Mehelli Modi. There's also a 20-page booklet (the same as the 2013 DVD, re-sized for BD).

1 from Twilight Time

The Quiller Memorandum (U.K., 1966)

This mid-'60s British spy drama was scripted by Harold Pinter and has a sober, haunting pace. It also happens to be Quentin Tarantino's favourite in the genre, according to its star, George Segal. The American actor plays Quiller, a secret agent in West Berlin who is charged by his English boss, Pol (Alex Guinness) to flush out a gang of violent neo-Nazis. Will Quiller fall for the discreet charms of Inge (Senta Berger), the young schoolteacher he meets at the start of his investigation? Will the fascists find out where the British spies have their secret headquarters? Is Quiller strong enough not to crack under interrogation by the sinister ringleader, Oktober (Max von Sydow)? Michael Anderson (The Dam Busters) directs; Robert Helpmann (The Red Shoes) co-stars, with George Sanders (All About Eve) and Robert Flemying (Funny Face) in bit parts; and for history buffs, the location photography in Cold War Berlin (Olympic Stadium rendez-vous and Autobahn car chases by day, deserted streets and cat-and-mouse skullduggery by night, all shot in widescreen Panavision) is worth the price of admission. Extras on the crisp-looking, all-region Blu-ray from Twilight Time include a previously available (from the 2006 Fox DVD) audio commentary with film historians Eddy Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer, an optional audio track that plays John Barry's musical score (including its Hungarian cimbalom theme and the ballad "Wednesday's Child," heard on American Forces Network radio), and an original trailer. The illustrated booklet has appreciative notes by Julie Kirgo on the film and on Segal especially. [Note that there is another BD on the market, a region-B disc released in the U.K. in 2014 by Network; it has inferior visuals but a rather nice selection of vintage cast-and-crew interviews (34 mins.) and image galleries (24 mins.).]