"When will change come / Just like spring rain." - The Go-Betweens
1 from Criterion
Visions of Eight (West Germany / U.S., 1972)
It was 1972, the year of the Summer Olympics in Munich, and American producers David L. Wolper and Stan Marguiles gave eight prominent movie directors carte blanche to film any events they wanted and to each come up with a short film that would then be compiled into a feature-length documentary, Visions of Eight. Arthur Penn (U.S.) chose the men's polevault, Miloš Forman (Czechoslovakia) the men's decathlon, John Schlesinger (U.K.) the men's marathon, Michael Pfleghar (West Germany) the women's competitions, Kon Ichikawa (Japan) the men's 100-metre dash and Mai Zetterling (Sweden) the men's weightlifting, while Yuri Ozerov (U.S.S.R.) shot athletes preparing for their event and Claude Lelouch (France) athletes losing theirs. (Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene was also involved, but never completed his short film.) The XX Olympiad was ultimately marked by tragedy – the death of 11 Israelis and a West German police officer after a hostage-taking by Palestinian terrorists at the Olympic Village – and some of that made it into Penn's short, which closed Visions of Eight on a somber note. Eschewing the hero worship of earlier Olympics documentaries such as Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938), and working more in the fly-on-the-wall vein of Ichikawa's own Toyko Olympiad (1965), Visions of Light is equal parts poetry-in-motion, a nail-biting drama of individual will and a wry comedy on German officialdom. Initially screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and again at the same festival 40 years later, the movie was first released on Blu-ray by U.S. distributor Criterion just before Christmas 2017, paired with Masahiro Shinoda's 1972 documentary Sapporo Winter Olympics as disc 18 of the 32-disc boxset 100 Years of Olympics Films. Visions of Eight now gets a standalone release timed to this year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and it's a lovely little package. The film has been restored in 4K and looks great. Video extras include a new audio commentary by TheRinger.com podcasters Amanda Dobbins, Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan; a new, hour-long doc called "Munich '72: The Making of Visions of Eight" that features Lelouch, supervising editor Robert K. Lambert, Sembene biographer Samba Gadjigo, Munich Games historian David Clay Large, Wolper's son Mark Wolper and Penn's son Matthew Penn. There's also a six-minute promotional film for Visions of Eight shot on location in 1972, and a trailer. The booklet is a nice surprise, long and detailed, not the skimpier foldout leaflets Criterion includes in many other releases. Attractively designed and sporting the official Olympics logo on its cover, ir runs 50 pages and begins with a 1973 feature article from Sports Illustrated in which author George Plimpton details each of the eight directors' approaches to their subjects and remarks on the pervading sense of "the loneliness of the athletes." Following that is an extended excerpt from Wolper’s 2003 memoir Producer in which he describes how he made the film and laments that, at the time, it never really "found an audience" in theatres. Finally, there's a new appreciation of Visions of Eight by New York novelist Sam Lipsyte; introducing himself as a "mediocre but devoted" shot-putter in days gone by, he sums up Wolper's "intriguing" documentary as "eight memorable windows into the trials and tribulations of sports history's grooviest cohort, during a complex and painful 20th-century inflection point."
1 from Second Run
Before Tonight is Over (Czechoslovakia, 1965)
Sixties' yé-yé music is in the air, the dancefloor is full, the flirts are out in force and the drinks are flowing aplenty one night at a hip nightclub in a Slovak mountain ski resort. But it's not all fun-and-games; the despair and loneliness of the people at play are never far from the surface, as guys and dolls come together and fly apart. Restored in 2K, this underseen gem of the Czech (or more properly, Slovak) New Wave – whose delights include the beautfully fractured English of a jazzy torch singer's version of "Moonlight in Vermont" – is now available on an all-region Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run. Extras include a new half-hour documentary on the film's late director Peter Solan and two vintage short films: a tourism promo called "High Tatras" (1966, 12 mins.) and a TV ad for shaving foam (!) called "Operation BL (1959; 2 mins.). The disc comes with a 20-page booklet with a long, informative essay by critic Peter Hames.
1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
The Hands of Orlac (Austria, 1924)
A concert pianist loses his hands in a train crash and, to his horror, surgeons replace them with the hands of an executed murderer, in this silent Expressionist thriller starring Conrad Veidt and directed by Robert Wiene. On Blu-ray, Eureka! offers two restored versions of the film: one by the Film Archiv Austria at 94 mins. in high-definition with German intertitles and English subtitles, a score by Johannes Kalitzke and a new audio commentary by critic Kim Newman, the other in standard-def by the F.W. Murnau Foundation at 113 mins. with English intertitles and a score by Paul Mercer, along with a 14-mins. comparision video. There's also a new half-hour video appreciation by filmmakers David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (U.S., 1965)
Richard Burton stars as Alec Leamas, the titular British spy who fakes defection to the East in this black-and-white adaptation of John Le Carré's novel set in Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Oskar Werner co-stars as his interrogator and Claire Bloom as his young Communist love interest; they're directed by Martin Ritt (Hud, Norma Rae). First issued on Blu-ray in 2013 via Criterion, the film now gets a Region-B release from British distributor Eureka! as part of its Masters of Cinema series. The disc has fewer extras, but they are new: an audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin and a new, 22-minute video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns, as well as a trailer. The booklet has an essay by U.K. critic Richard Combs.
1 from Criterion
Merrily We Go to Hell (U.S., 1932)
Early feminist/lesbian director Dorothy Arzner directs this 1932 drama starring Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives) and Sylvia Sidney (You Only Live Once). They play a mismatched Chicago couple – he's a journalist, she's an heiress – whose young marriage is put to the test by his alcoholism and the adultery of both (she, with Cary Grant, in an early role). Restored in 4K for this Criterion release, the Blu-ray comes with two substantial extras: "Dorothy Arzner: Longing for Women," a 1983 documentary by Katja Raganelli and Konrad Wickler (47 mins., in German and English, with optional English subtitles); and a video essay by film historian Cari Beauchamp (27 mins.). A foldout leaflet has an essay by film scholar Judith Mayne.
1 from Second Run
The Silence Before Bach / Mudanza: Two Films by Pere Portabella (Spain, 2007/2008)
Experimental filmmaker Pere Portabella, a Catalan from Spain who for a brief time in the late 1970s also played a political role as a senator in the fledgling democracy that took root after the death of Franco, displayed an entiely different passion in his 2007 documentary/fiction film The Silence Before Bach, about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The following year, he made a 20-minute documentary short called "Mudaza" about the Granada home of the García-Lorca family. Now brought together on an all-region Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run, the films come with a 2010 TV interview with Portabella (25 mins, in Spanish with English subtitles) and a 19-page booklet featuring a separate interview with the director.
4 from Powerhouse
Irréversible (France, 2002)
Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel star in this hyperviolent rape-revenge drama by French-Argentinian writer-director Gaspar Noé. The story can be viewed two ways: forwards or backwards in time, and British distributor Powerhouse offers both versions, on two region-B discs, in its new deluxe box-set, part of its Indicator series of curated Blu-ray releases. You also get a foldout poster, an 80-page book, an eight-page booklet, and a whack of extras: vintage audio (a director's commentary and masterclass, and a cast Q&A) and video new and old (a 2019 making-of, a critic's appreciation, two whirligig-style music videos, an image gallery, trailers and teasers, a 2002 documentary short, and more).
Fatherland (U.K / West Germany /France, 1986)
Another Ken Loach movie, this time set in Berlin before the fall of the Wall. East German protest singer Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannaf) emigrates to the West and gets a record contract, but soon grows disenchanted with the capitalist music industry. Socialist playwright Trevor Griffths wrote the script, which, like the film, failed to impress critics.Improving on the U.S. Blu-ray released by Twilight Time in 2016, Powerhouse has added two image galleries (including the shooting script of Fatherland) and two vintage documentary shorts about early 1970s unemployment in Britain, one made by Loach, the other showing him in a protest march. The German subtitles for Fatherland are optional (they were burned-in on the U.S. disc). A 36-page liner booklet completes the package.
Carla's Song (U.K. / Spain /Germany, 1996)
A Glasgow bus driver (Robert Carlyle) befriends a desperate refugee from Nicaragua (Oyanka Cabezas) and follows her back to her wartorn homeland in search of the man she left behind. Powerhouse improves on the Blu-ray that was released six years ago in the U.S. by Twilight Time and that had burned-in Spanish subtitles. As before, you get a 2005 audio commentary by director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty (Carla's Song was the first of many collaborations), several deleted scenes and trailer, but Powerhouse has added an image gallery, a 36-page booklet and new interviews totalling over an hour with six crew, including producer Sally Hibbin, composer George Fenton and editor Jonathan Morris.
The Chalk Garden (U.K. / U.S., 1964)
A new governess (Deborah Kerr) is hired to corral an obstreperous teenager (Hayley Mills) running wild on the East Sussex coastal estate of the girl's imperious grandmother (Dame Edith Evans). Who will break first? The region-B Blu-ray from Powerhouse has three optional audio tracks: a new commentary by two British film historians, an isolated music-and-effects track, and a feature-length interview with director Ronald Neame from 1991. There are three new featurettes – a 21-minute appreciation of composer Malcolm Arnold; a 10-minute appreciation of playwright Enid Bagnold, who wrote the original drama; and seven minutes with the film's assistant production accountant – plus a minute of 8mm location footage from 1963, a trailer, an image gallery and a 32-page booklet.
1 from Criterion
History is Made at Night (U.S., 1937)
It's been fun these last couple of years to rediscover the French-American actor Charles Boyer: as a gigolo who undergoes a change of heart in a Mexican border town in 1941's Hold Back the Dawn, released on Blu-ray by the U.K.'s Arrow Films; as a sadistic murderer driving his wife (Ingrid Bergman) insane in 1944's Gaslight, which Warner has released on BD in its Archive label; and as a globetrotting headwaiter who falls in love with an unhappily married socialite (Jean Arthur) in Frank Borzage's 1937 dramedy History is Made at Night, released this month by Criterion. The movie covers a lot of ground: sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry, sometimes you're scared, sometimes you simply scratch your head at the improbable plot developments (spoiler alert: the picture ends with a ship striking an iceberg, Titanic-style). Little wonder, this potpourri of genres; History is Made at Night was made up as the shooting went along, and so remains an example of what Hollywood talent can do with incomplete material; sometimes little movie miracles can happen. Now making its debut on Blu-ray and DVD, this underappreciated film has been restored in 4K from a 35mm nitrate duplicate negative, and looks great. Extras include a half-hour conversation from 2018 between author Hervé Dumont and film historian Peter Cowie, a 13-minute interview from 2019 with critic Farran Smith Nehme , a half-hour audio interview with Borzage from 1958 curated by the George Eastman Museum; a half-hour radio adaptation from 1940 starring our man Boyer, and a nine-minute demonstration of the film's restoration. The foldout insert has an essay by critic Dan Callahan.
2 boxsets from Eureka!
Karloff at Columbia
Hollywood horror icon Boris Karloff was born William Henry Pratt in Surrey, England, in 1887. Best known as Frankenstein's monster in three classic films of the 1930s (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein), around the same time Karloff also starred in six movies under contract with Columbia Pictures, and now you can appreciate them all in a specially curated Blu-ray boxset from Britain's Eureka! Classics. With Karloff variously playing a mad doctor or parody thereof, and (in the first film) twin brothers who inherit a family castle, there's The Black Room (1935), The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), The Man with Nine Lives (1940), Before I Hang (1940), The Devil Commands (1941) and The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942). Each film comes with a new audio commentary and image galleries, and there are also two half-hour Karloff radio mysteries from 1945 and another two from 1952. The booklet has essays by Karloff biographer Stephen Jacobs and film scholars Jon Towlson and Craig Ian Mann. All discs are coded region-B to play on British and European (or international code-unlocked) Blu-ray players.
Straight Shooting & Hell Bent: Two Films by John Ford
Long before he shot Stagecoach and The Searchers and other classic Hollywood westerns, John Ford (born John Martin Feeney in 1894) was a prolific director of silent movies, many of them westerns, and two he made during the First World War have now been liberated from the vaults and spiffed up in a new Blu-ray set from Eureka!, packaged together on two region-B discs as part of the distributor's Masters of Cinema Series. Straight Shoooting, released in August 1917, was Ford's first feature, runs an hour, and stars Harry Carey as an enforcer for ranchers bent on running a farmer off his land. Carey returns as the same character in Hell Bent, from July 1918, and over the course of the film's 50 minutes rides into Rawhide and winds up rescuing a dancehall girl in distress. Extras on the second disc include audio commentaries by film historian Joseph McBride, a 1970 audio interview of Ford by McBride (45 mins.) and a pair of short video essays by critic Tag Gallagher, who also contributes to the accompanying booklet. Zachary Marsh and Michael Gatt composed the musical scores.