"En hiver la terre pleure  /  Le soleil, froid, pâle et doux  /  Vient tard et part de bonne heure  /  Ennuyé du rendez-vous."             - Victor Hugo

02.2021

1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

The Last Warning (U.S., 1928)

The final film of German Jewish emigré Paul Leni, The Last Warning is a whodunnit, a thriller, a haunted house mystery. Haunted theatre, actually, since the story takes place on Broadway: five years after an actor mysteriously dies during a performance, the cast is reassembled to restage the same play and try to catch the murderer. Using sets left over from Universal Pictures' 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera, Leni incorporated sound into the film, as well as releasing a fully silent version; only the latter survives. Audiences today would be hard-pressed to recognize any of the stars, but by name alone they appear very much of their era: Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, Mack Swain, Burr McIntosh, Slim Summerville and others. As for the director, he's better remembered for his earlier films (Waxworks, made in his native Germany, and The Cat and the Canary and The Man Who Laughs, both made in Hollywood) and for his untimely death (Leni died several months after making The Last Warning, of an untreated tooth infection, age 44). Part of the Masters of Cinema series by British distributor Eureka!, the new region-B Blu-ray is sourced from a 4K restoration by Universal and comes with a new audio commentary by horror and fantasy authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, a 10-minute visual essay made in 2019 by New York film historian John Soister, and an image gallery of production and promotion stills. The score by composer Arthur Barrow is in lossless stereo. The accompanying booklet features essays by Barrow and critic Philip Kemp.

01.2021

1 from Criterion

The Ascent (Soviet Union, 1977)

A Soviet war movie that chronicled a people's tragedy and was succeeded by a personal one: such was The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko. Five years after making it, the Belorussian filmmaker died in a traffic accident, age 41, while scouting locations for her subsequent picture, Farewell, completed the following year by her husband, Elem Klimov, writer-director of Come and See (1985). Like that movie, The Ascent is a set among the Soviet partisans of Belarus in the early 1940s, focusing on the relationship of two soldiers on the run from (and eventually captured by) their country's German occupiers. Shot in black-and-white in the dead of winter and as grim as a windswept steppe, The Ascent is also shot through with Christian imagery, right down to its concluding scene of the execution of one of the men, rendered Christ-like on his scaffold mount flanked by other martyrs to the heroic cause. Powerful stuff. For the Blu-ray, Criterion have upgraded the transfer they used in 2008 on their two-DVD barebones Eclipse set (paired with Shepitko's 1966 debut feature Wings, as shown in the biographical teaser above), using a 4K restoration from 2018 provided by Mosfilm. For extras, film scholar Daniel Bird provides a half hour of commentary for selected scenes, there's a new video introduction by Anton Klimov (son of Shepitko and Klimov), a new 22-minute interview with actress Lyudmila Polyakova, and several archival TV documentary portraits of the director: "Larisa" is a 1980 tribute by Klimov (21 mins.); "A Talk with Larisa" is an hour-long interview that Shepitko gave for German television in 1999, a year after The Ascent won top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival; "Islands," from 2012, features Shepitko's sister and son (40 mins.); and "More Than Love," from 2012, looks at Shepitko and Klimov as a couple on and off the set (39 mins.). Lastly, there's "The Homeland of Electricity," a 39-minute drama Shepitko shot in 1967 but that went unreleased for two decades, shelved by the censors for its unflattering depiction of Bolshevism after the October Revolution of 1917. English subtitles are optional and there's a foldout booklet with an appreciative essay by American poet Fanny Howe.

1 from Powerhouse

Light Sleeper (U.S., 1992)

Paul Schrader's follow-up to his 1990 picture The Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper continues in the American writer-director's psycho-thriller vein with a tale of a courier (Willem Dafoe) working for a high-society New York City drug dealer (Susan Sarandon) who gets into trouble with his ex-girlfriend (Dana Delaney) and winds up in jail for murder. Canadian actor Victor Garber co-stars, along with Mary Beth Hurt, Sam Rockwell and David Spade (memorably cast as a "theological cokehead"). The region-B Blu-ray comes with two audio commentaries from 2002: a full one by Schrader and a scene-specific one by Dafoe and Sarandon (18 mins.). Another audio track – an onstage interview that Dafoe gave at the National Film Theatre in London in 1998 – can be played as an alternate commentary (65 mins.). Three featurettes follow: two are new ("The Midlife Movie: Paul Schrader Remembers Light Sleeper" (18 mins.) and "Dear Paul Schrader, Thank You for Light Sleeper" (11 mins.)) and one dates from 2008 and is titled "The BAM Interview with Ed Lachman and Paul Schrader" (31 mins.), A trailer and 41-frame image gallery round out the package, along with a 36-page booklet that includes an archival on-set report on Light Sleeper written for Sight & Sound magazine.