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Retail Therapy… July 31, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : General , 9 comments

Let’s see; the checklist for 2008 thus far…

There was the computer crash, which took down all the terminals in the office and at one point threatened the entire business. My fault. Well, Mr Gates and I will actually share the blame. I get all the credit for sorting it…balanced out by it costing us an unnecessary three figure sum and several dead working days. Strike one.

I barely had time to congratulate myself on what turned out to be no more than a harrowing experience, rather than a life changing one, than our home was burgled, while we slept. Electrical goods, clothing, credit cards, cash, laptops and more, all bundled into the family MPV - the keys being handily placed for the intruders to find - and then driven into the night. After hitting our gatepost and leaving part of the car on the drive as a souvenir. Strike two.

Panic ensued, not surprisingly, with chez Hodson being kitted out with a brand new, and very expensive, state of the art Alarm System that, amongst other features, rings us up to tell us if the house is being ransacked.

Or if it’s accidentally triggered at 4am by my dozy son. Oh, how I laughed…

First time we venture from Hodson Towers after the theft, my ‘phone rings and I very nearly have a pulmonary embolism. The thoughts of leaving these shores and having the alarm call me up to tell me in that monotone computer drawl that some recidivist scrote is thumbing through my DVD collection - dear God, take anything but my copy of The Searchers - while I’m an impotent 2,000 miles away, means we may never holiday again. I’m considering holing up in the dining room with a loaded shotgun. ‘Cept I need to sleep. And I don’t own a shotgun. Damn my insomnia proof, pacifist hide!

Meanwhile, the car insurance company, determined to get its pound of flesh from somewhere, asks for a copy of my driving license so that they can ‘put the claim to bed’. Like a lamb to the slaughter I happily do so, and a 19-year-old call centre monkey ’phones me up to tell me I’m a ‘very naughty boy’. I failed to declare a speeding ticket that West Yorkshire Police (lying in ambush at 7am - a few yards from a derestricted sign and safety - just outside Leeds) slapped on me in 1991. Seventeen bloody years ago. The insurance company wants it’s money back for the years that I ‘benefited from cheaper car insurance’. I suddenly feel like Nick Leeson; you’ll never take me alive, copper…

The Ford Motor Company meanwhile, cannot immediately replace my vehicle. It will be a ‘few weeks’; apparently demand is so high in Russia and China for the minions of oligarchs in Moscow and the thrusting young turks of Beijing’s tiger economy that Ford can’t build ‘em fast enough, and Brits must wait their turn to get MPV’d up. I still haven’t got it. It will be ’soon’.

Good job; allows us breathing space to shell out for the new outside security lights, the fencing and lockable side and rear gates. The wrought iron specialist asked Mrs H whether she wanted ‘balls or spikes’ atop the side gate; Silly question; of course, she wants the thieves balls on the spikes. Mrs H asked, Lady Macbeth like, if the spikes could be specially sharpened and dipped in a swift acting, extremely painful, snake venom for which there is no known antidote. Not an option, however. Sadly.

We fax the gate company with the suggestion. Look out for their Black Mamba line come 2009.

The toaster and microwave pack in; irritating. What next? I idly enquire of the Gods. You don’t want to know, they reply out of my hearing…

If only we’d have remembered the bottle of wine and not had to turn back for it. If only it hadn’t have been at rush hour, and I hadn’t been rushing. If only I’d have ignored the nice little old lady in the Peugeot who stopped and beckoned me into the gap in the traffic that she’d left (she was, I now know a succubus from Hades). If only I’d have been paying much closer attention to the line of traffic coming down her outside. And not pulled out straight in front of that big white Mazda Taxi. Ouch.

The poor bugger didn’t stand a chance. In one of those adagio moments, I see everything in an ultimate clarity; the driver’s face contorted as he wrenches the wheel, his teeth clamped hard at the physical exertion of stamping with all his strength on the brake pedal. Out of the corner of my eye, I note my daughter’s face buried in her hands. I sit there, zen-like, for the inevitable outcome. Motionless. I don’t recall there being any sound as glass, metal and plastic burrows deep into the side of the car I’m in; it’s almost like an ‘out of body’ experience. The driver of the taxi shakes his head, and I respond with a weak and totally inadequate ’sorry…’ People stand around and gawp; not one person offers any help, though there is, in truth, none that they can give. I look at them, they look at me. Now I know how a goldfish feels.

My wife’s car is now pretty much wrecked, though happily no-one has suffered any injury. The front wheel of her Citröen hanging at a nasty, spastic angle, our cars entwined as lovers. Someone shoot me now.

So here I am, my daughter very bravely adding my name to her insurance so that I can get about. And I drive Mrs H to get a hire car (’It’s HOW much!?’), in Katie’s cute little Renault. With the pink carpets and accoutrements, and the sparkly fairy tiara on the dash. Someone shoot me now - please? I call about my car on a daily basis; ’soon’ they say. Strike three - you’re out…

I need cheering up. Family expenses through the roof, right now I would, of course, be foolish in the extreme to spend money on anything more than necessities. I understand this. Completely; do I look stupid?

I order a new $399 DVD player.

Oppo DV-983H

It’s either that, Prozac or therapy, I really, really, can’t afford therapy, and I hate taking tablets. Besides, I don’t know any therapists with as many Michael Ripper films as I, and I’m not entirely sure that Prozac would allow me the benefit of watching my DVDs in upscaled 1080p. At least, it mentions nothing pertaining to such on the pack. Er, or so I’m told.

So, an Oppo DV-983H it is then; I’ve uhmmed and aahhed long enough, considered buying a Blu-ray player, but my obscenely humongous collection of SD discs - many of which will never see the light transferred to BD - deserves the best I can give it (that’s what the voice in my head keeps saying; obey the voice). The best at a time when we can least afford it. ‘Twas ever thus - I think I may get them to carve it on my headstone.

The Oppo will go nicely with the new monitor. Didn’t I mention that? Silly me.

The burglars very neatly (so neatly that I half expected to find a calling card a la ‘Sir Charles Phantom, the famous Lytton’…) unhooked our Toshiba LCD and hauled it to their - my - transport. The 42″ set cost over £1,600 just two years ago, but such is the march of time and technology, it was already showing signs of being very much out of date (or so I kept telling anyone that would listen. Which was no-one as it happens). Only a few days previous to the theft, I’d been mulling over how to gently persuade Mrs H that it might be replaced. Be careful what you wish for.

The house insurance company offer us a ‘like for like’ replacement. Except, instead of a ‘top of the range’ Toshiba - which it was just 27 months prior to being appropriated for drug money by a desperate junkie (police theory) - we are offered a near bottom of the range model. We take the cash value - £720, which is some depreciation to swallow, but swallow we must - and decide to put it towards something better. A quick look round (and you have to be quick because technology doesn’t exactly march as sprint these days) and we plump for a Samsung A656; because they don’t do a 42″ model, we’ll be getting a 46″ model instead. Corrrr!

It’s two days before the UEFA Champions League Final and we go to buy our new telly, from Costco, because of the excellent price, the 90-days no quibble return policy and the five year guarantee. They have none. But they do have a 52″ model - totally outrageous because it will be too big; the 42″ model was vulgar enough, but crikey Moses, with the 52″ there can be no place to hide your shame. Should ‘Ideal Home’ come to call, can you throw a sheet over it and call it a Matisse? I think not…

It is now 29 hours to kick-off, Sir Alex Ferguson needs me standing in front of my TV screaming for my team, telling them they are totally bloody useless, and won’t someone please - please - turn this stupid thing off?! At least he did in 1999. So we arrange to have the 52″ delivered; and buggeration to what the neighbours think. It is in place with hours to spare, and the rest is history. It was a damn close run thing and the denizens of Old Trafford will never know the debt they owe me; after the match, I need sponging down and a good rest in a darkened room. Football is hell.

There follows weeks and weeks of playing with the flippin’ thing, tweaking, calibrating, changing settings again and again. And again. Once upon a time, your TV came, you switched it on and either your colour was set so high that it looked like a very poor early two-strip Technicolor movie, or it was muted so low that it resembled a gently fading sepia tone lithograph. Up a lot, or down a lot; that was extent of ‘calibration’. No more, gentle reader, this is the freaky deaky technology-zone known as the 21st century, where fridges come with an internet connection.

Modern TVs have a host of confusing controls to cope with a host of conditions, environments and the variety of techno-freaks who suffer from OCD and buy large screen TVs. AKA ‘men’. And there are few LCDs on the market right now blessed with as many picture controls as the Samsung ‘6′ Series; not just brightness and colour, oh deary me no, nothing so mundane - we can control the ‘Colour Space’, the ‘Gamma’, the ‘Facial Tones’, the ‘White Balance’, the ‘HDMI Black Levels’, the ‘Tachyon Emitter’ (okay, I made that one up…) and the ‘Dynamic Contrast’ (which we subsequently learn is A Very Bad Thing. Apparently the AV Police come and take you away should you even think of touching any digital whatchermacallits). On and on, a whole host of gadgets to play with…and drive the family totally nuts. And I do, gentle reader. And how.

This is almost as good as my esoteric hi-fi days, except back then buying British - Scottish - gear was de rigeur. And keeping your CDs in the freezer was considered a major tweak. Well, it was cheap (which is more than can be said for the Scottish gear). I digress.

I can even update the firmware, which Samsung issues to solve the inevitable problems (because, as we all know, we are all beta testers now…). To check which firmware you have, you must access the Service Menu. Accessing the Service Menu, says Samsung apparently, invalidates the warranty. So, if I update the firmware, how to check if I have been successful and the serial number of my new firmware is correct? You have to go into the Service Menu. Can’t you hear Joseph Heller chuckling? Isn’t this just brilliant.

Apparently, I can pay to have my set calibrated professionally. A well-read chap will come to my house and set my TV up for me, tell me what’s good and bad; not what I like, you understand, but what is right. And I’m interested in what is right. How much? Around £300, depending on the distance. I lose interest verrry quickly. Besides, he may have to go into the Service Menu, and that’s another Very Bad Thing as we now know. I need a rulebook; quick.

But I play and play, and eventually, come across a whole bunch of settings which appear to be ideal for my monitor; I’m astonished that the picture looks as good as it does. There are the usual LCD caveats; it does look better in a room with at least some ambient lighting, but it’s substantially better than the Toshiba, which, I decide, Burglar Bill (I’m guessing; it could be Intruder Ian, or Light-fingered Larry…) is more than welcome to. SD or broadcast HD (and trust me, just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t a clue what most of these terms meant), it’s quite excellent. 52″ too big? Like hell it is…

However (and there always is a ‘however’ in these situations), the extra inches seem to be a little too much for our two years old Oppo DV-971H, a multi-region upscaling DVD player much lauded on release, and which has proved to be utterly reliable. When Oppo unveiled their flagship 983 model earlier this year, they were at pains to point out that users with screens of 50″ and above would benefit most from this most muscular deck. Suddenly, as a brand new member of that club, I began to see their point. And here, by the way, was the proof I needed to show Mrs H that we needed - we simply had to - replace our utterly reliable, up to this point, quite excellent DVD player. Which wasn’t even broken. I contemplated dropping it for good measure.

I agonised over what to do, should I spend the money, should I keep the wallet closed. Think of the poor starving children, the ravaged planet Earth. The greenhouse gases, the dwindling rainforests, the melting polar icecaps, the…

Screw ‘em. I ordered one. Forgive me, Sting, mea culpa Al Gore.

First I placed my order with a UK company; neither they, nor Oppo itself out in Mountain View, California, had any stock. And as the expected ship date slipped, then slipped again, I switched my option to Oppo direct. Within 24 hours of placing myself on their notification list, a thumbs up email arrived, the order was placed and within four days, I got the shipping notice. Five more days it was here; our (well, to be honest, my) reward for being burgled, having my car nicked, smashing up my wife’s car, allowing the toaster and microwave (no toast and scrambled egg for me, then) to break and for failing to negotiate ’super economy’ deals with any number of workmen shoring up chez Hodson’s creaking defences. It pays to be bad.

That was Monday last. Like all men, I love these toys; I love to tinker with them, sweat and strain to hook them up, twiddle the knobs to get their output perfect, then twiddle ‘em some more just for the hell of it. It’s sheer bliss. After 24 hours, I discovered I had the speakers wired up incorrectly (around the time Clint Eastwood threw something in front of him and the sound came from behind my head) and had to dismantle the whole spaghetti mess of wires and start again. Even more bliss.

The Oppo itself? Well, I can only use the cliché that it is a ‘jaw-dropping experience’. I can’t describe how much better a machine it is than the 971, you’d have to judge that yourself, but the second part of the whole ‘let’s buy the best for our SD collection, then get a Blu-ray player’ plan has now gone on the back burner. Mrs H, who happily admits she cannot tell the difference between broadcast SD and HD (it’s a ‘Venus and Mars’ thang…), and frankly couldn’t give a hoot in hell about such matters actually volunteered the information that the 983 was a huge improvement on the 971. A first. My flabber had never been so gasted; someone pass the salts…

Not content with the ‘Mrs H Seal of Approval’, the Oppo has been winning accolade after accolade, scoring an unprecedented top score in a Secrets of Home Theater test, and is said to play SD DVDs better than not only rivals costing breathtaking sums, but also any current BD player; the fact that it can also play them from any region without trauma also gives it a distinct edge over most fancied Blu-ray decks.

Colours are beautifully lush and true, the picture is so much more incredibly detailed (how can they do that?), digital artifacts have simply disappeared and once problem discs are a problem no more, non-anamorphic discs are born again. Sonically, the Oppo actually outperforms our Yamaha DSP-A1 amplifier on the decoding front; the Yamaha was a bit of a beast in it’s day, but using analogue connections from the DVD player to the amp and letting the Oppo decode is a real improvement on the previous digital coax set up.

My Bought & Watched page reflects some of the titles I’ve been revisiting (yes, the first was The Searchers), all of which have been eye-wateringly gorgeous, and that’s not listing the chunks of other films that I’ve played, knowing that they contain previously difficult material, edging my seat closer and closer to drink in each new delight. I am truly gob-smacked each time I boot one up.

Can the leap to HD, particularly for the type of films that we want to watch, be that great, that much more stunning? Possibly, but the yen to find out has eased considerably. My DVD collection has, you will be pleased to know, been revitalised and saved for this proud nation. And I can now wait for the whole messy BD business to level out. Huzzah!

Is the Oppo DV-983H worth the money? You betcha, at twice the price even (hush now, don’t tell Oppo). Would I go through the whole of 2008’s trials and tribulations again, just to reach this point?

Are you mad? This is film, we’re talking about…

Oppo Digital’s website is here, and DVD Times excellent and detailed review of the Oppo DV-983H is here.

Showing Soon; The Best of The Rest… July 17, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , 7 comments

Following Showing Soon’s BFI and Optimum round-ups of what’s on the horizon for fans of (mostly) classic film in the UK, here’s the best of the rest… 

The train bound for ‘Goodtimes, Classicfilmsville’ (it’s on my Satnav…) has well and truly hit the buffers, as the majors, at least, have decided there is simply not enough profit in their lesser known yet to be released back catalogue titles. There have been big cut-backs across The Pond, though that appears to be nothing compared to the lack of interest shown by the Hollywood players in older film releases on DVD in the UK. In some cases, grinding to a halt could be read as progress. Read ‘em and weep, gentle reader…

First up, and Warners has a busy looking third quarter schedule, though it’s light on genuinely new stuff - at least, however, those Brothers Warner appear to be keeping the pot boiling. Upcoming at the end of this month, a Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years boxset, which seems to replicate the US R1 version with one major exception - the box contains Marriage On The Rocks, None But The Brave, Some Came Running, and The Tender Trap…but not The Man With The Golden Arm.

Into August with Warner, and the first of the month sees a raft of releases, a few re-releases, some completely new, some which were previously only available in box sets. I have no information regarding extras, but the rrp of only £9.99 means you’ll be able to pick them up quite cheaply - titles are (deep breath); Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, I Confess, Stage Fright & Dial M For Murder (unlike the R1, the R2 is anamorphic widescreen), Tracy and Hepburn in Woman of The Year, Pat & Mike & Keeper Of The Flame, Humphrey Bogart’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, High Sierra, Dark Passage & To Have And To Have Not, Cagney’s White Heat, Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties & Angels With Dirty Faces, Flynn’s They Died With Their Boot On, The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives Of Elizabeth & Essex, Dodge City & Captain Blood.

Released from the Garbo set, Queen Christina, Camille, Mata Hari, Anna Christie, Anna Karenina & Ninotchka, Crawford’s Possessed, The Damned Don’t Cry & Humoresque, a brace of Cary Grants, Night & Day & Destination Tokyo, Garland and Rooney in Love Finds Andy Hardy, Judy Garland’s In The Good Old Summertime & The Harvey Girls, Garland and Kelly in For Me & My Gal.

August 11 sees a five disc set for V: The Complete Original Series, the Stones Gimme Shelter, animation includes Vol. 4 of Top Cat and Thundercats The Complete Series 2. Look out too for The Neverending Story, Get Smart: Series 1 (five discs). The end of August and National Velvet, with Elizabeth Taylor, gets a release, The Lost Boys make it to Blu-ray, and there are simultaneous SD and BD releases in September for the Cool Hand Luke Deluxe Edition we mentioned a while back.

The same month sees R2 get a couple of sci-fi classics; Westworld and Logan’s Run, and classic TV includes The Dukes Of Hazzard: Complete Season 7 (6 DVD), Dallas: Complete Season 9, Chips: Season 2. How The West Was Won, presumably replicating the R1 releases, comes in SD and BD, though no accompanying ‘Ultimate Edition’ as per the US release (no surprise there). The end of August sees an Errol Flynn Westerns set, unlike the R1 counterpart this contains only Montana, Rocky Mountain and San Antonio - no sign of Virginia City (dammit - and I have an inkling the box may be a HMV exclusive; we’ll see).

October and there’s a Singin’ in The Rain Limited Edition on the cards, though we don’t quite know what makes it an LE, and I doubt it will be anything exciting given the rrp of £8.99. There’s also another Judy Garland title Meet Me In St Louis (rrp £7.99), Blue-ray releases for LA Confidential, A Christmas Story, Interview With The Vampire, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Michael’s Keaton Batman, Batman Returns, Val Kilmer’s Batman Forever, George Clooney’s be-nippled Batman & Robin and The Goonies. Warners also list 2-DVD SEs for Gigi and An American in Paris, which is rather exciting.

The news from the other major studios is rather less so. The highlight of Paramount’s third quarter releases may well be their August 18 release of Up The Junction with Dennis Waterman, Suzy Kendall and Maureen Lipman. Classic TV the same date includes The Untouchables Season 1: Part 1, The Streets Of San Francisco Season 1: Part 1, Perry Mason: Season 1 and The Fugitive: Season 1: Volume 1. At the end of August, Paramount dip back into their already released titles for a number of triple sets at economy prices - Serpico / The Untouchables / Chinatown, Naked Gun / Airplane / Top Secret, True Grit / The Sons Of Katie Elder / The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Gunfight At The OK Corral / Hud / Once Upon A Time In The West, GI Blues / King Creole / Blue Hawaii, Breakfast At Tiffanys / Funny Face / Sabrina, American Gigalo / Ghost / An Officer & A Gentleman, A Roman Polanski Collection (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Tenant), and a Robert Redford Collection (The Great Gatsby / Indecent Proposal / Barefoot in the Park)

September sees Mork & Mindy: Season 3, Love Boat: Season 1, Hawaii Five O: Season 4, a Michael Caine Collection (Sleuth / The Italian Job / Alfie / Zulu / Funeral in Berlin), Harrison Ford Collection (Witness / K-19 The Widowmaker / Clear And Present Danger / Patriot Games / Sabrina / Regarding Henry), a Footloose / Flashdance double and a Days Of Thunder / Top Gun double. The second week of the month sees Reds and Black Rainreleased on Blu-ray, a week late and you are offered a Tom Cruise Collection (Collateral / Days of Thunder / Top Gun / The Firm / Mission Impossible / War of the Worlds) and a Jack Nicholson Collection (Chinatown / The Two Jakes / Terms of Endearment / Heartburn), an Eddie Murphy Collection (48 Hours / Beverly Hills Cop / Coming to America / The Golden Child / Trading Places / Norbit), Frasier: Complete Series 11: 4 DVD, while the following month there’s gigantic Frasier: Complete Collection 44 DVD Box Set. October sees more back catalogue goodies from Paramount on Blu-ray; Warriors, The Untouchables and November Zulu makes the potentially thrilling leap to BD.

Fox is finally releasing Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 on July 28, delayed, apparently, as they sought better elements. And mark this because in my estimation this is unparalleled for many a year - it’s a landmark for Fox; shockingly, I think I’m correct in saying that it is their only new classic title released thus far in 2008. The rest of the year looks just as barren, not counting the BD of Batman: The Movie they have just released and the Bond Blu-ray six pack they have pencilled in for MGM in October - Dr No, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, Die Another Day, Live And Let Die, Thunderball. Fox appears to have completely abandoned it’s classic catalogue, including their R2 Studio Classics, in a clear bid to cut loose what they see as less profitable business. What on earth are you doing Fox? Have you no pity?

It’s looking almost as impoverished on the Universal front; immenently, they have a two-disc set of Karloff’s The Mummy, replicating (lush packaging aside) the R1’s Legacy Series set; cheap too; details here at DVD Times. September and Universalis also releasing steelbook collections for the trilogy of Jurassic Park, Pitch Black and Back To The Future films, plus the four Psycho films. Ho-hum… Much the same story for Sony’s Columbia label releases - I can’t even be bothered to list the triple-DVD sets of extant releases they’ve cobbled so lazily together, you’ve seen them all before and it’s getting just too depressing - where is the new stuff for us poor culture starved Brits you Hollywood based, martini sipping, credit crunch fearing numbskulls!!? Somebody shoot me now…

It’s largely down to the independents to lift the gloom then. And - largely - they do…

Following the successful release of the first four films in Second Sight’s Max Orphuls CollectionThe Max Ophuls Collection comes two more of visionary director Max Ophuls’ highly acclaimed films.

La Ronde is Ophuls’ wonderful adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play of the same name which won the 1952 BAFTA for Best Film, and garnered two 1952 Academy Award nominations.

The vastly influential Ophuls’ penultimate Hollywood film Caught is another of his great exercises in cinematic beauty; this time in a film noir that showcases some of Tinseltown’s biggest legends at the peak of their powers. The visionary director imprints his own distinctive and unique European style on this thoroughly American genre.

Both films are released separately for the first time on DVD as part of The Max Ophuls Collection on 8 September 2008:

La Rondeis a series of character vignettes, set in Vienna in the early 1900s and woven together by the Raconteur (Anton Walbrook – The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes). Ophuls uses an old-fashioned merry go round to foreshadow the films events, in which each segment introduces a new character, who then moves on to an affair with another. On and on the carousel spins, revealing itself as the metaphor for the very nature of human relationships.

Max Ophuls is widely regarded to be one of the greatest and most revered directors in the history of cinema. His trademark array of lavish, fluid camera movements would influence generations of filmmakers to come. Among the many who have had praised his genius are Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick, who believed ‘his camera could pass through walls’ and, more recently, directors such as Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven Heaven) and  Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) who called him his ‘idol’.

Bonus features :
Working with Max Ophuls Daniel Gelin on La Ronde
‘Circles of Desire’ Alan Williams on Max Ophuls’ La Ronde
Audio commentary by Susan White White, author of The Cinema of Max Ophuls
Photo Gallery

The vastly influential Max Ophuls’ penultimate Hollywood film Caught is another of his great exercises in cinematic beauty; this time in a film noir that showcases some of Tinseltown’s biggest legends at the peak of their powers. The visionary director imprints his own distinctive and unique European style on this thoroughly American genre.

This film noir classic makes its DVD debut courtesy of Second Sight as part of The Max Ophuls Collection on 8 September 2008. Thinking she is living out her childhood dream of marrying a man worth millions, Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes – Dallas, Rear Window) leaps at the chance to marry the wealthy Smith Ohrig (Robert Ryan – On Dangerous Ground, The Set Up), unaware that her new husband is a cruel monster who forces her to remain a prisoner in her own home. In an effort to escape her miserable existence she falls in love with society doctor Larry Quinada (James Mason – Lolita, North By Northwest). With her life spiraling out of control, only a miracle can free her from her life of lavish bondage.

Bonus features :
Commentary by Lutz Bacher, author of ‘Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios’
Video Essay by film historian Tag Gallagher
Stills Gallery
‘Incisive and compulsively entertaining’
TV Guide

Turning in one of the finest performances of his legendary career, Albert Finney stars in the mesmeric Under The Volcano, John Huston’s 1984 adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s epic novel of the same name. The film will be released in September in R2, though it lacks the extra features that fill the scintillating Criterion DVD set, it’s well worth a look if you haven’t already grabbed the R1:

This multi award-winning masterpiece will be released on DVD courtesy of Mr Bongo Films on 22 September 2008. Set during the Mexican fiesta the Day of Death, we are taken through 24 hours in the life of Geoffrey Firmin (Finney – Saturday Night And Sunday Under The VolcanoMorning, Miller’s Crossing), an alcoholic British consul living in a small town in Mexico. His self-destructive behaviour is a source of perplexity and sadness to his ex-wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset – The Deep, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills) who has returned with hopes of healing him and their broken marriage.

Acclaimed by critics, Under The Volcanois a delicate yet shocking film, served by a captivating script written by Guy Gallo, and interpreted into an epic fever dream by visionary director Huston, who turns a novel many called ‘unfilmable’ into a masterwork. The picture is dominated by Finney’s immense portrayal of Firmin, cited by film critic Roger Ebert as ‘the best drunk performance I’ve ever seen in a film’. Alone, such a masterful portrayal would be enough to make this film a must see; combined with the beautiful script, stunning cinematography and deft direction, it renders it unmissable.

ITVDVD is releasing a Michael Caine Collection: 75th Anniversary Box on August 11 to celebrate the birthday of the Great Man:

Educating Rita (Dir. Lewis Gilbert) (1983): Rita, a hairdresser with a sharp wit, is married to Danny, and at 26 doesn’t want a baby. She wants to discover herself - so she joins the Open University. Dr Frank Bryant is a disillusioned university professor of literature. His marriage has failed, his girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend and he can’t get through the day without downing a bottle or two of whiskey. He refers to himself as an appalling teacher of appalling students. What Frank needs is a challenge - and along comes Rita. In this hilarious and often moving drama, the story tells how two people find a new lease of life through each other.

The Fourth Protocol (Dir. John Mackenzie) (1987): On July 1, 1968, America, Britain and Russia signed a treaty to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. The powers then added four extra clauses. The most secret of them was, and remains, the final. One winter, the Chairman of the KGB hatches a plan to breach this Fourth Protocol and destroy NATO. He sends an agent, Major Petrofsky, to assemble the operation. It is now up to MI6 agent John Preston, who now must race against an unknown deadline to stop him and his devastating mission.

The Eagle Has Landed (Dir. John Sturges) (1977): A Nazi Strike Force plots to assassinate Winston Churchill while he is resting in a desolate Norfolk Village. Colonel Radl masterminds the plot which, if successful, would change the outcome of the war. He enlists the help of Colonel Steiner and Liam Devlin. Disguised as Polish airmen, German paratroopers land in England. Radl’s plan appear to be going smoothly until an unforeseeable incident exposed the Germans. But the kidnap continues and Steiner, Luger in hand, approaches the unmistakable figure of Churchill…

The Ipcress File (Dir. Sidney J. Furie) (1965): The tense spy thriller by Len Deighton that turned Michael Caine into a superstar. Cynical and rebellious ex-army sergeant Harry Palmer has been blackmailed into working for Britain’s security service. Hot on the trail of a kidnapped scientist, Palmer finds himself enmeshed in a sinister conspiracy involving horrifying brainwashing techniques, murder and treachery that reaches up to the highest levels of the security service itself…

Without A Clue (Dir. Thom Eberhardt) (1988): A madcap comedy which takes a fresh look at the classic Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson escapades. Holmes is actually a figment of Dr. Watson’s own success in crime detection, a character who Watson uses when he writes in `The Strand’ magazine. But when the printing plates for five pound notes are stolen Queen Victoria calls for the country’s greatest detective.

Presumably the extras will reflect the current stand alone release, though ITVDVD’s The Ipcress File may be shorn of the extras Network blessed their superb release with, so be warned. August 11 also sees ITVDVD release of the newly remastered David Lean Centenary Collection Box Set; The Sound Barrier, Hobson’s Choice, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Madeleine, The Passionate Friends, This Happy Breed and In Which We Serve. For more details on the restorations, see this post.

Optimum will also release the restored The Sound Barrier & Hobson’s Choice on their own, and ITVDVD the rest, so you can cherry pick, should that suit your wallet or your fancy. Great Expectations has also just been released on Blu-ray and looks excellent apparently. ITVDVD are also planning a A Night To Remember 50th Anniversary Edition in August, though it’s not known how - or if - it will differ from the current disc. Coming September on Blu-ray from ITVDVD - Educating Rita, and later that same month, the long planned Auf Wiedersehen Pet: 25 Years Ultimate Box Set.

Odeon ploughs on with their July releases including Michael Winner’s The System, School for Randle (1949), the horror duo Neither The Sea Nor The Sand and The Flesh & Blood Show, plus Peter Sellers Battle Of The Sexes. Suspicion with Anthony Andrews comes August as does 1947’s Things Happen At Night, and a Master Of Gore Collection, four discs, a quartet of exploitation classics from the godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis; includes: 2000 Maniacs, Wizard Of Gore, Gruesome Twosome and Colour Me Blood Red. Lewis’s Gore Gore Girls is also released by Odeon August, as is Pete Walker’s sex comedy Cool it Carol.

2|entertain is promising 1981’s Private Schulz, with the much missed Michael Elphick at the end of July alongside Tom Baker in Doctor Who - The Brain Of Morbius from 1976, Are You Being Served? - Series 7 arrives in August with a Colin Baker adventure, Doctor Who - The Trial Of A Time Lord. In September expect In Sickness And In Health - Series 2, a William Hartnell era story, Doctor Who: The War Machines from 1966, and a Peter Davison era Who, Doctor Who - Four To Doomsday from 1981.

On the blocks from Network; Jason King - The Complete Series Special Edition:

Jason King, the scene – stealing, dandy and suave crime investigator from the star - studded series of DEPARTMENT S – also a NETWORK release – makes a long-awaited entrance into the spin–off series on DVD; JASON KING – THE COMPLETE SERIES SPECIAL EDITION (PG) is out on 14th July 2008, RRP £59.99. This 8–disc set includes all 26 episodes complete and uncut.

Peter Wyngarde reprises the role of Jason King in this excellent series. Jason King is now an author, who is in the process of writing his adventure novel, featuring the fictional character Mark Cain, who resembles Jason King from general appearance down to mannerism and personality. Though constantly harassed by his publisher about deadlines and people who need help, Jason King is still not one to shy from enjoying life to the fullest from good food to beautiful women. His research for the book and thirst for adventures take him all around the world and to some exotic, mysterious locations. He encounters more stirring dramas, greater danger, deeper and more colourful intrigue, more exceptional situations, not to mention more beautiful women than any one man has the right to experience. He copes with all this in his long, elegant and flamboyant stride. He expects anything to happy – they usually do, he also is sure to take care of everything, which he usually does too.

Special features in this set include:
• Wanna Watch A Television Series? Chapter 2: Fish Out of Water narrated by Peter Bowles and featuring contributions from, amongst others, Cyril Frankel, Burt Kwouk and Dick Fiddy
• Stills gallery
• Music suite
• TV play The Cross Fire starring Peter Wyngarde. A drama set in Algeria during French colonial rule, it also stars Eric Portman, Ian Hendry and Roger Delgado.

There’s full review of the set at DVD Times hereNetwork has Louis Malle’s Atlantic City as coming in August, but their website’s own specs reveal it to be full screen and not OAR; could be an error, but, sadly, probably not. They are also releasing some titles from that Hitchcock box set that they launched earlier in the year; Young & Innocent, Sabotage, The Pleasure Garden, The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1934 version despite what some websites claim), and The Lady Vanishes. These should replicate the discs in that Hitch set, complete with extras (hopefully), something of a bargain with an rrp of just £5.99, and just £3.99 each on pre-order at HMV. At the end of August Network also releases Doctor On The Go Series 1 (2 DVD),  The Army Game: Complete Series (6 DVD), and John Pilger: Volume 1/2/3/4 15 DVD Box Set.

September and we can look forward to Spitting Image - Series 3 from Network, Only When I Laugh - Series 4 plus a box containing Series 1 - 4, Strangers - Series 3, Dennis Potter At London Weekend Television Vols.1 and 2, Dick Turpin - Series 1 And 2 - Complete/Dick Turpin’s Great Adventures, Father Dear Father - Series 4, Robin’s Nest - Series 5, and The Crossroads Collection. September also promises a The Red Balloon / White Mane double (though some sites are suggesting that it’s the 2007 film Flight of The Red Balloon [Le Voyage du ballon rouge] and The White Mane [Crin blanc: Le cheval sauvage]; I rather think a pairing of both Albert Lamorisse’s films is more likely). The Network release of This Sporting Life we flagged some time ago has, it appears, been postponed indefinitely - so take these pre-release announcements with the same pinch of salt!

No doubt about this though; Network also have a ‘web exclusive’ on their website for their 3-disc From A Birds Eye View; The Complete Series:

Actress and comedienne Millicent Martin and American actress Patte Finley star as high-spirited air stewardesses facing one dizzy dilemma after another in this rarely seen ITC series made in 1969. Martin plays the well-meaning but dangerously impulsive Millie – whose heart invariably rules her head – while Finley stars as Maggie, her anguished American colleague who knows that every trip will be a flight into the unknown. Their exploits cause endless consternation for long-suffering boss Mr. Beauchamp (Peter Jones), but Millie’s Irish uncle, Bert (Robert Cawdron), is always on hand to offer his unique brand of advice…

From a Birds Eye View broke new ground for a TV situation comedy, for the first time pairing two established comediennes in an Anglo-American comedy series. The series also boasted direction by U.S. comedy veteran Ralph Levy – whose previous work included I Love Lucy, The Groucho Marx Show and The Beverly Hillbillies – and drew on the talents of legendary actor and producer Sheldon Leonard (The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy). The complete series of From a Birds Eye View is presented here, for the very first time in any format.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Image Gallery
Promotional Material PDF

Imminent, and Acorn are releasing a ‘remastered’ Lonesome Dove Collection; Lonesome Dove, Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk. Acorn are also on the cusp of releasing the 1976 TV version on Lorna Doone, while still in classic TV, Universal have the mini-series Masada, starring Peter O’Toole, ready to roll.

Towards the end of July, Eureka adds to their impressive Masters of Cinema range with Bruno Dumont’s La vie de Jésus (The Life of Jesus):

One of the great debut films of recent times, Bruno Dumont’s La vie de Jésus [The Life of Jesus] presents life’s brutality and exhilaration played out by turns within the quarters of a tiny Flemish country town. Here, positioned in relative isolation from the rest of so-called cultural Europe, the connections between individuals will take on a physical power inflected by boredom, by desperation, and by urges as raw as the earth.

Freddy and Marie (played by David Douche and Marjorie Cottreel in astonishing performances) are two teenagers with their futures uncertain and their present undefined. They ride motorbikes, they have sex – communication like any other sort. But in their hometown of Bailleul in Flanders, where news from the world-at-large disappears just as quickly as it drifts in, death proves to be inescapable, and decidedly permanent. As the film’s powerful climax unfolds, the viewer will come away with his or her own interpretation of how the life of Christ has figured into the story of Freddy and Marie – a contemplation on the magnitude of mercy.

With its frank, honest depictions of the body in the course of the sexual act, La vie de Jésus announced the emergence of a powerful philosophical intelligence – and a master of dramatic control – onto the scene of world cinema. Winner of the prestigious BFI Sutherland Trophy, Camera d’Or at Cannes, the Prix Jean Vigo, European Discovery of the Year at the European Film Awards, amongst many others, The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Bruno Dumont’s feature debut for the first time on home video in the UK in a director-approved edition.

• The debut film by Bruno Dumont, the provocative director of such controversial films as ‘L’humanité’ (Artificial Eye), ‘Twentynine Palms’ (Tartan), and ‘Flanders’ (Soda Pictures), in an edition approved by Dumont himself.

• Winner of the prestigious BFI Sutherland Trophy, Camera d’Or at Cannes, the Prix Jean Vigo, European Discovery of the Year at the European Film Awards and many others.

• One of Michael (Hidden, Funny Games) Haneke’s favourite directors

• Includes the original French trailer, and English subtitles in a new and improved translation.

• Accompanied by a lavish collectible 40-page full-colour booklet.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer in the original aspect ratio

• New and improved optional English subtitles

• Original French trailer

• Full-colour 40-page booklet including a lengthy interview with Dumont on the making of the film, and Dumont’s work-notes created during production, in new English translations.

In August, Eureka releases Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr in an edition that easily appears to at least rival Criterion’s upcoming R1 of the same film:

The first sound-film by one of the greatest of all filmmakers, Vampyr offers a sensual immediacy that few, if any, works of cinema can claim to match. Legendary director Carl Theodor Dreyer leads the viewer, as though guided in a trance, through a realm akin to a waking-dream, a zone positioned somewhere between reality and the supernatural.

Traveller Allan Gray (arrestingly depicted by Julian West, aka the secretive real-life Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg) arrives at a countryside inn seemingly beckoned by haunted forces. His growing acquaintance with the family who reside there soon opens up a network of uncanny associations between the dead and the living, of ghostly lore and demonology, which pull Gray ever deeper into an unsettling, and upsetting, mystery. At its core: troubled Gisèle, chaste daughter and sexual incarnation, portrayed by the great, cursed Sybille Schmitz (Diary of a Lost Girl, and inspiration for Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss.) Before the candles of Vampyr exhaust themselves, Allan Gray and the viewer alike come eye-to-eye with Fate — in the face of dear dying Sybille, in the blasphemed bodies of horrific bat-men, in the charged and mortal act of asphyxiation — eye-to-eye, then, with Death — the supreme vampire.

Deemed by Alfred Hitchcock ‘the only film worth watching… twice’, Vampyr’s influence has become, by now, incalculable. Long out of circulation in an acceptable transfer, The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Dreyer’s truly terrifying film in its film restored form for the first time in the UK.

Special Features:

• New, high-definition transfer of the Martin Koerber / Cineteca di Bologna film restoration in its original aspect ratio (1.19:1)

• New and improved English subtitle translation

• Full-length audio commentary featuring film scholar Tony Rayns

• Full-length audio commentary featuring Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro talking about one of his favourite films

• Two deleted scenes, removed by the German censor in 1932

Carl Th. Dreyer(1966) – a documentary by Jörgen Roos

• Visual essay by scholar Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s Vampyr influences

• The Baron – a short MoC documentary about Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg

• Inspiration for the film – Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla – as an on-disc pdf.

• 80-page book featuring rare production stills, a facsimile reproduction of the 1932 Danish film programme, writing by Tom Milne (The Cinema of Carl Dreyer), Jean and Dale Drum (My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer), and Martin Koerber (film restorer).

Also in the same month Eureka welcomes Georges Franju into the MoC Series with two films Judex (1963) and Nuits Rouges (1973) together in the same set with an accompanying booklet.

JUDEX is the faithful feature-film version of the exploits of French serial eponymous superhero, a sharp-witted detective and master of disguise who employs his skills in the defence of the world from archenemy Fantomas.

NUITS ROUGES tells the story of an arch criminal known as ‘the man without a face’ and his pursuit of the fabled treasure of the mythic order of the Knights Templar.

In September, in Eureka’s MoC range, Maurice Pialat’s 1968 film L’Enfance-nue:

One of the earth-shaking feature debuts in the history of cinema, Maurice Pialat’s L’Enfance-nue [Naked-Childhood] provides a perspective on growing-up that rejects both sentimentality and modish cynicism. Its unflinching, but also warmly accommodating, outlook on childhood attracted François Truffaut to take on the role as co-producer of Pialat’s film — which, ironically, exists as much as a response to Truffaut’s own debut The 400 Blows as that film was to the ‘cinema of childhood’ that came before the New Wave.

First-time actor Michel Tarrazon plays the young François, a provincial orphan whose destructive behaviour precipitates his relocation from the home of a long-term foster family to the care of a benevolent elderly couple. In the course of this transition, Pialat’s film presents the turbulence of François’s unmoored existence, and his explosive reactions to the contradictory emotions it engenders. This is the naked portrait of a soul’s — and an entire society’s — dysfunction, before the moment of reconciliation.

L’Enfance-nue represents the ideal introduction to the films of Maurice Pialat — an artist whose work resides alongside that of Jean Eustache and Philippe Garrel at the summit of the post-New Wave French cinema. One discovers in his pictures a raw and complicated emotional core which, as in the films of John Cassavetes, reveals upon closer examination a remarkably rigorous visual aesthetic, and a facility of direction which lifts both seasoned actors and debut amateurs to the level of greatness. Coupled here with Pialat’s poetic and brilliant early short L’Amour existe [Love Exists, 1960], L’Enfance-nue is the first masterpiece of an artist whose work has had an incalculable influence on contemporary directors as diverse as Bruno Dumont, Olivier Assayas, Michael Haneke, and the Dardenne brothers, among others — and whose 2003 passing led Gilles Jacob, president of the Festival de Cannes, to declare: “Pialat is dead and we are all orphaned. French cinema is orphaned.” The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Maurice Pialat’s 1968 debut feature film — and Prix Jean Vigo winner — in a magnificent restored transfer for the first time on home video in the UK.

2-DISC EDITION:

• New anamorphic transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio

• New and improved English subtitle translations

L’AMOUR EXISTE [LOVE EXISTS] (1960) — Maurice Pialat’s poetic 19-minute film about life in the Paris banlieues

• 2003 video interview with co-screenwriter Arlette Langmann, conducted by former Cahiers du cinéma editor-in-chief, and current director of the Cinémathèque Française, Serge Toubiana

• 32-minute 1973 interview with Maurice Pialat, from the programme Champ contre-champ

CHOSES VUES AUTOUR DE L’ENFANCE NUE [THINGS SEEN AROUND L’ENFANCE NUE] (1969) — 50-minute documentary by Roger Stéphane shot in the course of L’Enfance-nue’s production, examining Pialat’s film-in-progress and the plight of foster children

• 2005 video interview with Michel Tarrazon, the star of L’Enfance-nue

• The film’s original trailer, along with trailers for other Maurice Pialat films to be released by The Masters of Cinema Series

• 40-page booklet containing a new essay by critic and filmmaker Kent Jones, and newly translated interviews with Maurice Pialat

Also the same month, Maurice Pialat’s Police:

Maurice Pialat’s Police delivers on the raw promise of its title, insofar as much of its action qualifies as an insistently ‘procedural’ descent into the Paris drugs underworld. But the hyper-real route that the film takes to arrive there, before veering into a zone of dangerous emotional play, contributes to a disorienting, adventurous, and ultimately tremendously exciting experience unlike any ‘police-thriller’ ever before conceived.

The iconic Gérard Depardieu (who also collaborated with Pialat on Loulou, Sous le soleil de Satan, and Le Garçu) plays Mangin, a cop whose brutal method of investigation finds its obsessive outlet in an attempt to crack a Tunisian narcotics ring. It is when Mangin enters into close acquaintance with the defiant Noria (expertly played by Sophie Marceau in one of her first screen roles) that the film proceeds to chart an unexpected, emotionally ambiguous course — and the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and ‘power’ and ‘freedom’, terminally blur.

Written with Catherine Breillat (director of The Last Mistress, Anatomy of Hell, Fat Girl), but relying in equal measure upon Pialat’s improvisatory control (directing, among others, his star-actress from A nos amours, Sandrine Bonnaire), Police is a genre-defying excursion rivaled only by John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie in the pantheon of cinema’s most idiosyncratic thrillers. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Maurice Pialat’s daring 1985 film in a magnificent restored transfer for the first time on DVD in the UK.

2-DISC EDITION:

• New anamorphic transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio

• New and improved English subtitle translations

• 2003 video interview with director and Police co-screenwriter Catherine Breillat, conducted by former Cahiers du cinéma editor-in-chief, and current director of the Cinémathèque Française, Serge Toubiana

ZOOM SUR POLICE [ZOOM ONTO POLICE] (2002) — 34-minute documentary by Virginie Apiou about the production of the film

• Vintage screen-tests featuring Maurice Pialat and C. Galmiche, the inspiration for the character of Lambert

• Excerpt from a 1985 episode of Cinéma Cinémas shot during the course of the 17th day of production on Police

• 23-minute video discussion with Yann Dedet, the editor of Police

• The film’s original trailer, along with trailers for other Maurice Pialat films to be released by The Masters of Cinema Series

• 40-page booklet containing a new essay by filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt, and newly translated interviews with Maurice Pialat

The Devil & Daniel WebsterFinally, before we finish, can I point you at Mike Sutton’s DVD Times reviews for Optimum’s upcoming Boulting Brothers titles Suspect - here - which sounds like a very poor effort, and Run For The Sun, not quite as damaged by being transferred in the incorrect aspect ratio as feared, here

That’s it for the time being, until the next Showing Soon, au revior mes enfants…

BREAKING NEWS; Just announced, two more MoC titles you must know about - Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai’s Mad Detective and William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster. No details on either, and it will be fascinating to see if Eureka can outgun Criterion’s excellent R1 of the latter, but I will include a little art. Nice.

And thanks to Gary Couzens for the news that Metrodome are releasing five US indies over the next few months: Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street (starring Carol Kane) comes out on 28 July and Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man on 18 August. There are a further three on 22 September: Frank Perry’s David and Lisa, The Luck of Ginger Coffey (starring Robert Shaw, directed by Irvin Kershner from Brian Moore’s novel) and Robert M. Young’s Alambrista!

Metrodome are also releasing a 4-disc set of documentaries in their Bruce Weber Collection the same month; Letter To True, Chop Suey, Broken Noses and the seminal Let’s Get Lost.

Showing Soon; Optimum Highlights… July 10, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , 5 comments

Another look at what the world of (mostly) classic film is throwing up for fans in the UK, and after Showing Soon’s recent BFI Special, we’ll put the spotlight this post, gentle reader, firmly on Optimum… 

British distributor Optimum has another of their sledgehammer schedules hovering over the anvil, but, aside from some real treats for western fans, things might not be quite as mouth-watering as they first appear. We’ve seen many of these titles before, I’m afraid…

Optimum are set to release a number of titles previously sold via Momentum, presumably the licensing rights for titles being held by Optimum’s parent Studio Canal, having expired. It’s not certain whether, across the board, Optimum will carry across any extras that were on the previous discs (in some cases - at least where they’ve actually revealed details - they clearly haven’t in others, they appear to have done a little better), or if they will improve on previous transfers.

The release of a handful of titles that were under MGM’s control is a puzzle - maybe it’s to do with Optimum’s relationship with Fox, who market those titles for MGM, maybe, again, the rights have simply fallen to Studio Canal - but I can only speculate. On to the list…

DVD Times has the artwork for two of the Boulting Brothers titles coming imminently - here - and the following press release:

Optimum Home Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of three Boulting Bros titles on 14th July 2008. British filmmakers Roy and John Boulting were born on 21 November 1913 in Berkshire, and were to become best known for their comedies such as the BAFTA-winning I’m Alright Jack and The Family Way. They also mastered the dramatic genres with such films as Brighton Rock and The Magic Box.

The three titles released by Optimum in July are Seven Days to Noon, Suspect and Run to the Sun [sic]. Priced at £12.99 each, the discs are all barebones with the main features presented in 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 4:3 Full Screen and 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen respectively. Audio is English Mono and there are no subtitles.

The problem is, quite clearly, Seven Days to Noon was shot in Academy (though it’s been matted for TV broadcast in recent years), Suspect was most probably 1.66:1 and Run For The Sun is a ’scope feature. We can but hope, but sadly, Optimum is becoming extremely sloppy - I was appalled recently by their treatment of The Long and The Short and The Tall, the state of which would have shamed a low-life public domain outfit.

Also imminent, The Richard Attenborough Screen Icons Collection; The Ship That Died Of Shame, Brighton Rock, Dunkirk, The Man Upstairs and The Angry Silence, and possibly Brothers-in-Law and Private’s Progress - I say ‘possibly’ because some etailers show this as a five disc set, others as a seven. Sadly, Optimum wouldn’t answer my question when I ‘phoned to confirm (I had to ‘email’; never had a reply yet). Keep ‘em guessing - good old Optimum!*

There’s no doubt about the titles in a very handsome looking 14-disc Ultimate Godard Collection:

Jean-Luc Godard

This mammoth collection features thirteen of the Jean-Luc Godard’s most memorable films along with an exclusive bonus disc (details of which have yet to be revealed). Films included: Le Mepris, Alphaville, Passion, A Bout De Souffle, Made In USA, Pierrot Le Fou, Une Femme Est Une Femme, La Chinoise, Le Petit Soldat, Detective, Notre Musique, Helas Pour Moi and Eloge De L’amour. Look out too for the Jeunet & Caro Collection; Delicatessen, The Bunker of the Last Gunshots and The City of Lost Children.

Coming the same date (July 14) is John Boorman’s Emerald Forest and a Brigitte Bardot Screen Icon Collection: The Vixen, Le Mepris, Naughty Girl, Love On A Pillow, Viva Maria. No word on extras on either, if any.

The following week sees the release by Optimum of Peter Yates ‘letter to Hollywood’, Robbery, and at the end of July a Gerard Depardieu Screen Icons Collection; Buffet Froid, Mon Pere Ce Heros, Tous Les Matins Du Monde and Le Colonel Chabert. The only extra is on Tous Les Matins du Monde; a  making of featurette.

August sees a glut of those former Momentum titles appear including Universal Soldier, though, as said, no word as yet as to whether the extras have been carried over. Other titles in what Optimum calls their Action Icons line include Stargate, Flash Gordon, Red Heat, Raw Deal, Red Sonja, Total Recall and – the only titles new to UK DVD from this bunch - Iron Eagle II and Iron Eagle III. Be careful; Stargate was to be an SE, but the extras have been dropped from the intial release, and the extras that were on Momentum’s excellent Flash Gordon set don’t appear on the Optimum disc. Full details and artwork at DVD Times here.

Incidentally, August 4 also sees Optimum release Blu-ray discs of Cliffhanger, Terminator 2 and Total Recall. Dick Lester’s enjoyable romps The Three Musketeers and the sequel The Four Musketeers are scheduled for a DVD double set the same date as is Air America, a three disc Sylvester Stallone Action Icons Collection: Lock Up, Cliffhanger, Death Race 2000 and a four disc Arnie Action Icons set (reviewed here): Red Heat, Red Sonja, Total Recall and Raw Deal.

John Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape From New York SE (I’m assuming this will replicate the Momentum disc) get simultaneous SD and BD releases, They Live comes the week after, August 11, while Renny Harlin’s enjoyable Cutthroat Island also makes the move to Optimum - interesting one this; the original Momentum release was cut - headbutts if I recall correctly - but the BBFC relaxed their rules shortly after it came out, so this should - should - be uncut. August 11 sees the release of the newly restored David Lean films Hobson’s Choice and The Sound Barrier part of his Centenary Celebrations, and at the end of August, a nice, and nice and cheap in these ‘credit crunch’ days, looking box set comprising a Walter Hill Collection:

Walter Hill is undeniably one of the most underrated filmmakers to have emerged during the 1970s. His influence on the modern action film is immense and perfectly exhibited in this collection of six films. Includes: The Driver, Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome, Red Heat and The Warriors.

DVD Times has art and details on a Special Edition for The Elephant Man (here), with the extras amounting to: The Real Elephant Man featurette on life for Merrick in Victorian England (19 mins), Trailer, New & Exclusive John Hurt interview, New & Exclusive David Lynch interview.

August 24 also sees two 40th anniversary releases; The Producers SE, and The Lion in Winter The Lion in Winter(I’ll be astounded if the latter amounts to more than the previous Momentum disc, but nice cover art) and fingers crossed for Optimum to produce an OAR, anamorphic release of John Schlesinger’s Far From The Madding Crowd. Am I optimistic? Sadly not. Go on, surprise me.

There’s a 3-disc David Lynch Collection on the way; Elephant Man, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, and another entry in the Boulting Brothers line; the long postponed Happy is The Bride.

September and things get a little more interesting; The first of the month sees Blake Edward’s What Did You Do In The War Daddy, with James Coburn, a brace from Ken Russell; ValentinoCrimes of Passion, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s ‘58 version of The Quiet American, Michael Winner’s awful (bless him) Bullseye, John Frankenheimer’s awful (not often that word is used with Mr Frankenheimer) Island of Dr Moreau, Nic Roeg’s estimable Eureka, with Gene Hackman, and Ted Post’s excellent Vietnam set drama Go Tell The Spartans with Burt Lancaster - can Optimum better Warner/HBO’s frankly dreadful R1 transfer? It wouldn’t be hard.

Milking their ‘Carry On’ titles, Optimum are to release the titles in four 4-disc sets, with a budget rrp of £12.99 (currently £7.99 per set at HMV).

The second week in September sees a glut of westerns, a feast for fans - Robert Mitchum, Angie Dickinson and David Carridine in Burt Kennedy’s Young Billy Young, Sterling Haydon in the unusual and interesting Terror in a Texas Town, Dick Fleischer’s The Spikes Gang with Lee Marvin, Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe with Burt Reynolds (who, by the by, felt cheated because he thought he’d signed up to a Sergio Leone movie), and Anthony Mann’s superb Man of The West with Gary Cooper. This was not long ago released by MGM in R2 and R1; too much to hope that Optimum will add some extras this film deserves? I reckon.

Deep breath, more westerns; Enzo Barboni’s Man of the East (E poi lo chiamarono il magnifico) with Terence Hill, Carlo Lizzani’s The Hills Run Red (aka Un Fiume di dollari; Thomas Hunter and Dan Duryea slumming it), Don Medford’s über-violent The Hunting Party with Oliver Reed and Gene Hackman, Michael Witney’s Doc, another take on the Earp legend with Stacey Keach and Faye Dunaway, André De Toth’s Day of The Outlaw with Robert Ryan and Henry Hathaway’s pseudo-western Legend of The Lost with John Wayne and Sophia Loren. Soldier Blue also makes the switch from Momentum.

Excellent news; Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Best Man, a political drama from the acid dipped pen of Gore Vidal, with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson is also set for September as is a six disc Roger Corman Collection; Five Guns West, Gunslinger, The Haunted Palace, The Premature Burial, The Masque Of The Red Death, Wild Angels.

The long ago scheduled Rashomon gets a mid-September release date alongside another Momentum refugee, The Graduate; Collectors Edition, and both SD and BD versions of Basic Instinct.

Late September and horror/thriller releases from Optimum; Assault On Precinct 13: Special Edition, The Vincent Price Horror Icons Collection; City Under The Sea, The Masque of The Red Death, Comedy of Terrors, The Cry of the Banshee, The Oblong Box, a two-disc set of The Vampire Lovers / Lust For A Vampire. The Stephen King Collection (Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet and the risible King directed Maximum Overdrive), Blood MoonKiller Klowns from Outer Space, Dead and Buried, The Lady in White (1988), Wes Craven’s Shocker, Michael Mann’s Manhunter (again), Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, Joe Dante’s The Howling, The Hitcher, The Evil Dead 2 (also on Blu-ray) and Evil Dead 3, George C. Scott in The Changeling, Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, and, another two-fer, Blacula / Scream Blacula Scream.

Well, that’s the plan from Optimum; the usual caveat applies however - titles could be postponed, cancelled, zapped into another dimension, changed, added to, taken away from, at any moment…Showing Soon will be back before you know it (hopefully), with a round-up of the rest of the third quarter ‘08 news in the UK…

*EDIT - DVD Times confirms the Attenborough box as seven titles - for more information on that, and other July Optimum releases, go here and here.

Square Eyes; Citizen Kubrick… July 7, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Television, Square Eyes , 4 comments

Fans of the film genius, the reclusive, the enigmatic, the elusive unto death (and beyond) Stanley Kubrick are in for a treat with the UK digital channel More4’s screening of a special season of films and documentaries dedicated to the great man, during the second half of July.

As well as screenings of seven of Kubrick’s movies (Barry Lyndon, Paths of Glory, Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing & The Shining) the season features two rarely seen early career short documentaries; Day of The Fight (1951) and from the same year Flying Padre.

The season also includes a brand new documentary, part of C4’s True Stories strand; Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, plus four ‘bitesize’ Kubrick shorts, Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes, presumably culled from the same filming sessions as their longer parent, on both Channel 4 and More 4, in the 3 Minute Wonder slot.

To promote the season Channel 4 has filmed a quite astounding promo, which was recently reported in The Guardian newspaper thus:

Channel 4 has painstakingly recreated the set of Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining, complete with look-a-likes of the crew and cast members including Shelley Duvall, for a TV ad to promote a More 4 season of the director’s films.

The 65-second promotional spot has been filmed as a one-take tracking shot through the recreation of The Shining set.

Viewers get Kubrick’s point of view as he walks through the set, ending up in his director’s chair as the crew prepare to shoot the famous scene of Danny Torrance, the son of Duvall and Jack Nicholson’s characters, riding round and round the deserted corridors of the Overlook Hotel.

The promo, filmed as a single tracking shot with a cast of 55 actors, was meticulously researched to “remain as faithful as possible to the period in which it was shot and the culture of the British studio in the late 1970s”.

Channel 4 Creative Services, the broadcaster’s in-house creative resource, cast people who resembled Kubrick’s own crew including his script lady, assistant director and director of production, John Alcott, who also worked on films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange with the director.

Look-a-likes were also found for Duvall, Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance, and the twin girls who appear fleetingly in the film.

Most of the equipment that appears in the promotional clip was actually used in the filming of The Shining.

Many of the props that appear, including the tricycle and Kubrick’s script, were produced for the promotional clip based on photos or sketches from the late director’s archives.

The spot, which was shot over two days at London’s Bray Studios, was filmed using a 25mm Cooke lens – a favourite of Kubrick’s.

The promo can be seen currently on C4 and More4, and on The Guardian website here.

The Citizen Kubrick season (a title More4 initially coined for the season, from Jon Ronson’s original Guardian article, but look to have dropped), starts on Monday July 14. The schedule:

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 14 July, 11:50am - 11:55am, Channel 4. Also 14 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Think Kubrick - Showing as part of More 4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the first of four short films concerning the late director. Members of Kubrick’s audience relate their fondest memories of his films.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 14 July, 11:55am - 12:00pm, Channel 4. Also 15 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Showing as part of More4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the second of four short films concerning the late director. Inspired by an actual callsheet from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, this film reconstructs the production meeting that took place prior to the callsheet being issued.

True Stories: Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008); 15 July, 10:00pm - 11:05pm, More4. A biography of a remarkably talented man as seen though the rich collection of material he left behind. Stanley Kubrick’s films were landmark events – majestic, memorable and richly researched. But, as the years went by, the time between films grew longer and longer, and less and less was seen of the director. What on earth was he doing?

Two years after Kubrick’s death, Jon Ronson was invited to the director’s estate to explore the hundreds of boxes the legendary film director had collected during his decades at Childwick Manor in Hertfordshire. He’s been returning ever since, and the story of Kubrick and the archive, now housed at University of the Arts London, is revealed in this fascinating documentary.

Ronson asks: is it possible to get to understand such a man – and his extraordinary working methods – by looking through the hundreds of boxes he left behind?

Day of the Fight (1951): 15 July, 11.05pm, More4. Documentary short. A day in the life of a middleweight Irish boxer named Walter Cartier, particularly the day of his bout with black middleweight Bobby James.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 16 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Showing as part of More 4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the third of four short films concerning the late director. This film features a sequence of references to his most iconic works.

Barry Lyndon (1975); 16 July, 11pm, More4. Kubrick’s oeuvre was never more lavish, ravishing or brilliantly eccentric than in his 18th Century story of pugnacious Irish chancer Barry Lyndon, a man with a talent for money and appearances, but with a crippling lack of love in his heart.

Barry Lyndon was a box office flop on its first release. Perhaps after the spacey future pyschedelia of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the teen malcontent of A Clockwork Orange, this painterly adaptation of an obscure picaresque novel was a leap too far for contemporary audiences. Nevertheless, it’s a tour de force, with the director pushing the limits of film technology to realise his singular vision, developing new camera lenses to tell this 18th Century cautionary tale with only natural, available light.

3 Minute Wonder: Stanley Kubrick’s Small Boxes; 17 July, 1:05pm - 1:10pm, More4. Overlook - Showing as part of More4’s Stanley Kubrick season, the last of the four short films concerning the late director. An exploration of the ghostly continuity photos from The Shining.

Paths of Glory (1957); 17 July, 11:55am, More4. A story designed to make the blood boil: blameless French soldiers carry the can for their superiors’ mistakes after a botched WWI assault. A work of genius from Kubrick, with a brilliant performance from Kirk Douglas.

Paths Of Glory was the first time Stanley Kubrick got to work with a major star - and in the late 1950s, stars didn’t come any more major than Kirk Douglas. He championed this ‘hard to sell’ anti-war film to the Hollywood studios, and bankrolled the 28-year-old tyro director who, with his growing reputation, still had it all to prove in Hollywood. And with his indignant performance Douglas provides an emotional counterbalance to Kubrick’s chilly, conceptual style.

Flying Padre (1951); 18 July, 12.55pm, More4. Documentary short. Two days in the life of priest Father Fred Stadtmuller whose New Mexico parish is so large he can only spread goodness and light among his flock with the aid of a mono-plane.

Lolita (1962); 18 July, 9pm, More4. Kubrick’s controversial and deeply ironic black comedy stars James Mason as a middle aged professor obsessed with a precociously sexual minor. Adapted by Nabokov from his own novel
In filming a book derided at the time as paedophiliac pornography, Kubrick put both his artistic and commercial reputation on the line, but the result is a sophisticated and moving tragi-comedy riddled with queasy wit.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); 19 July, 1.30pm, More4. We know what the year 2001 looks like now, and it didn’t look much like Kubrick’s vision. But 2001: A Space Odyssey itself still looks immaculate. Spectacular, trailblazing and philosophical, it’s an undisputed masterpiece.

Kubrick, cinema’s chilliest genius, abandons conventional narrative here and presents a succession of beautifully-composed sketches on the theme of evolution, death and rebirth linked by the mystical presence of a large black monolith.

Killer’s Kiss (1955); 21 July, 11.30pm, More4. Stanley Kubrick’s stylish second feature, shot on a shoestring but a clear indication of the great things to come. Intricately plotted, it tells the story of a has-been boxer who falls for a beautiful broad with a violent boyfriend.

With three documentaries and one self-buried feature under his belt, Kubrick wrote, directed, co-produced and edited this film noir for just $75,000. The result might be primitive by the meticulous standards the director would later apply, but it remains an inventive evocation of time and place with some spectacularly sinister visual flourishes.

The Killing (1956); 23 July, 12.05am, More4. Tightly plotted heist-goes-wrong thriller with which established the reputation of legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Sterling Hayden stars as an icy ex-con masterminding a robbery at a race track. His meticulous plan is to create a distraction by shooting the favourite horse during a race, muscle into the course’s counting house and flee with the wedge before you can say “and they’re under starter’s orders.”

The Shining (1980); 25 July, 9pm, More4. Stanley Kubrick’s atmospheric adaptation of a Stephen King tale. Jack Nicholson stars, in maniacal, terrifying form in Stanley Kubrick’s Gothic chiller. Aspiring-writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson) accepts a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel during an icy Oregon winter so he can write his book. But the hotel has a macabre history that soon begins to worm its way into the present through the medium of his psychic son, Danny.

There are some reports of More4 also screening the 1953 documentary The Seafarers, Kubrick’s first colour feature which for 40 years was thought lost, but sadly this appears to have been removed from the More4 schedules. Keep your eyes open just in case there’s a change of heart and it is in fact screened on the night of Tuesday, July 15.

Stanley Kubrick’s archive is now housed at the University of the Arts London.

Showing Soon; A BFI Special… July 4, 2008

Posted by John Hodson in : Film General, DVD News & Info, Showing Soon , 2 comments

Showing Soon has been in stasis, mutely twiddling his thumbs while the rest of the world fizzed and zoomed around him; then, shrugging off the stifling torpor and with one mighty bound - he was free!

Time to play catch-up; first with a focus on BFI releases of the recent past, present and near future:

In the musty back catalogue world of classic film, frankly not a huge amount of import has been stirring as the larger studios seem to consign niche titles to the back burner, on both sides of The Pond. Their output shrinking as the effects of the ‘credit crunch’ combine with the hike in world oil prices (engineered by speculators, gentle reader, or ‘bastards’ as we are wont to call them…) sending The Suits into a tailspin.

But the plucky BFI, displaying all the obdurate grit, determination and sheer suicidal benightedness that make Britons great (or incredibly stupid; only time will tell…), ploughs on regardless to the delight of movies fans most everywhere…

Chris Petit’s cult classic Radio On (1979), released on DVD in May by the BFI, is ‘one of the most striking feature debuts in British cinema – a haunting blend of edgy mystery story and existential road movie, crammed with eerie evocations of English landscape and weather’:

Stunningly photographed in monochrome by Wim Wenders’ assistant cameraman Martin Schäfer, Radio On is driven by a startling new wave soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Lene Lovich, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Robert Fripp and Devo, and reveals an early screen performance by Sting.

Following a young London DJ (David Beames) on the road to Bristol to investigate the mysterious death of his brother, Radio On offers a unique, compelling and even mythic vision of a late 1970s England, stalled between failed hopes of cultural and social change and the imminent upheavals of Thatcherism.

Previously Film Editor at Time Out magazine, Chris Petit interested the BFI Production Board and Wim Wenders in backing his first feature despite having no previous filmmaking experience. He went on to make more films during the 80s and in recent years has worked in collaboration with psychogeographer Iain Sinclair. His most recent film was Ideal Love (2006). Chris has also published several novels and regularly reviews books for The Guardian.

Extras
• New filmed interview with Chris Petit and producer Keith Griffiths
• radio on (remix) (Petit, 1998, 24 mins): a digital video essay – with radical disruption of the original soundtrack by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert
• Original trailer
• Illustrated 28-page booklet with contributions from Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, John Patterson, Ian Penman, Chris Petit, Sukhdev Sandhu, Jason Wood and Rudy Wurlitzer; director biography and credits

You can read the DVD Times review here

One of the very last silent films to be made in Britain before the talkies revolutionised cinema, A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) is a virtuoso piece of film-making, a final passionate cry in defence of an art form soon to be obsolete.  Restored from film materials preserved in the BFI National Archive, this little-known gem was released on DVD for the first time in the UK in May by the BFI, and presented here with a specially commissioned score by Stephen Horne.

Directed by Anthony Asquith (better known for The Browning Version and The Way to the Stars) A Cottage on Dartmoor is an embroiled melodrama, a tale of love and revenge, set on the bleak landscape of Dartmoor.

In a small-town hairdressing salon, a young barber, Joe (Uno Henning) is trying to court Sally, the beautiful manicurist (Nora Baring) and asks her out. She rejects him in favour of the security offered by an older, wealthier farmer. In a jealous rage Joe slashes the farmer with a razor and is sent to Dartmoor prison for attempted murder. He escapes over the moors to find Sally, who does not know if he has come to kill her or ask her forgiveness, and it’s at this point that the film begins. The rest of the story is told in flashback.

Overlooked by critics more eager to heap praise upon his contemporary, Hitchcock, (who made Blackmail during the same year), Asquith’s films display the same skill in inventive story-telling and technical artistry. Steeped in the work of the Soviet avant-garde and German expressionism, Asquith adopts these styles whilst instilling the film with a particularly British sensibility.

Extras
• Insight (1960) – Study of Anthony Asquith at work featuring on set footage and interviews
• Rush Hour – Comedy film from the BFI National Archive about Britain’s workers coping with the transport system during the War (Asquith, 1941)
• Fully illustrated booklet including essays by Bryony Dixon and Geoffrey Macnab

Intriguingly, the BFI press release adds:‘More films by Anthony Asquith will be released by the BFI in the future.’ A Cottage on Dartmoor has been reviewed at DVD Times here.

Combining elegance and wit, Lubitsch’s last film, Cluny Brown, set in 1938 London, is one of his most engaging romantic comedies. In partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Hollywood Classics, the BFI made it available on DVD for the first time on 26 May.

Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer team up as the plumber’s niece (later housemaid) and the intellectual Czech refugee, who throw English society into disarray with their disregard for conventions.

This charming satire, aided by a wonderful script taking in snobbery upstairs, downstairs and in the middle classes, is given a jolly run around by a cast comprising most of Hollywood’s British stalwarts from Sir C. Aubrey Smith and Peter Lawford to Sara Allgood and Una O’Connor.

Extras
• Original trailer
• Illustrated booklet with original publicity photos, film review by A.H Weiler of the New York Times from 1946, a director biography by Thomas Elsaesser; cast and credit details
• Dolby Digital mono audio (320 kbps)

You can read the DVD Times review of Cluny Brown here

A ‘lost’ late 60s’ cult classic by John Huston (The African Queen, The Misfits, The Night of the Iguana), A Walk with Love and Death stars his daughter Anjelica Huston aged 17, in her first acting role

‘In the 14th Century, England and France were engaged in a war that would last a hundred years. Claudia and Heron were born after the war began, and would die before it ended…’

With this brief prologue begins John Huston’s A Walk with Love and Death, a story of a student, Heron (Assi Dayan), who leaves Paris to walk to the sea but encounters Claudia (Anjelica Huston), a young noblewoman with whom he falls in love and pledges to protect after her home is destroyed in a peasant revolt.

Filmed in 1968, (the same year as Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet) Huston’s tale of young lovers adrift in France during the Middle Ages owes more to the spirit of the late 1960s in its questioning of authority and insistence on love, not war.

Based on Hans Koningsberger’s novel of the same name it stars a 17-year-old Anjelica Huston in her first acting role and features a wonderful score by Georges Delerue with one of his most haunting love themes.

Special features
• Walking with Love and Death (1968): Behind-the-scenes footage of Huston on set, directing the actors
• Illustrated booklet with an original essay by Hans Koningsberger on the filming of his book (from Film Quarterly, Spring 1969); a review from Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977; cast and credits
• Dolby Digital mono audio (320 kbps)

Mike Sutton’s DVD Times review of the disc is here

In June the BFI released the Bill Douglas Trilogy; My Childhood, My Ain Folk, My Way Home:

Three of the most compelling films about childhood and adolescence ever made – released for the first time on DVD

Bill Douglas’s award-winning films – My Childhood, My Ain Folk and My Way Home – which the BFI releases together in a two-disc DVD set with special features, are three of the most compelling and critically acclaimed films about childhood ever made.

The narrative is largely autobiographical, following Jamie (played with heart-breaking conviction by Stephen Archibald) as he grows up in a poverty-stricken mining village in post-war Scotland. In these brutal surroundings, and subject to hardship and rejection, Jamie learns to fend for himself. We see him grow from child to adolescent – angry and bewildered, but playful, creative and affectionate.

In My Childhood (1972), eight-year old Jamie lives with his granny and elder brother in a Scots mining village in 1945. With his mother in a mental home, and his father absent, he is subject to the hardships of poverty. In My Ain Folk (1973), Jamie is sent to live with his paternal grandmother and uncle; a life full of silence and rejection.  My Way Home (1978) sees Jamie’s ultimate victory over his circumstances; after a spell in foster care, and a homeless shelter, he is conscripted into the RAF, where he embarks on a redemptive friendship with Robert, which allows him to emerge from his ineffectual adolescence to pursue his artistic ambition.

Watching the Trilogy is far from a depressing experience. This is cinematic poetry: Douglas contracted his subject matter to the barest essentials – dialogue is kept to a minimum, and fields, slag heaps and cobbled streets are shot in bleak monochrome. Yet with its unexpected humour and warmth, the Trilogy brims with clear-eyed humanity, and affection for an ultimately triumphant young boy.

Special features
• Bill Douglas: Intent on Getting the Image (2006, 63 mins), a new documentary about Bill Douglas’s life and work
• Come Dancing (1970, 15 mins), Douglas’s remarkable, rarely-seen student short
• Rare archive interview with Bill Douglas (4 mins)
• Illustrated booklet containing newly commissioned essays, notes and credits

This super set is reviewed at DVD Times here

Restored by the BFI National Archive and released on DVD for the first time with commentary by Terence Davies, The Terence Davies Trilogy (Children, Madonna and Child, and Death and Transfiguration) comes to DVD at the end of this month.

While at Coventry Drama School in the early 1970s, Terence Davies wrote the script for Children which he directed in 1976.  He subsequently took up a place at The National Film School and with the support of the BFI Production Board, made his graduation film Madonna and Child (1980). Three years later, also part-funded by the BFI, he completed the Trilogy with Death and Transfiguration.

Restored by the BFI National Archive who worked closely with Terence himself, the films are preserved by the BFI and are now released on DVD for the first time alongside The Long Day Closes (1992).

Before Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes confirmed Terence Davies’ status as one of the cinematic masters of our day; these three early shorts reveal a filmmaker of great promise. 

In stark black and white, Davies excavates the life of his fictional alter ego, Robert Tucker, in a narrative that slips between childhood, middle age and death, shaping the raw materials of his own life into a rich tapestry of experiences and impressions.

Over the course of these three films, we witness the emergence of Davies’ singular talent and style, the refinement of his technique, and a director growing in confidence, soon to become fêted as British cinema’s greatest film poet.

Special features
• Full feature commentary by Terence Davies
• Filmed interview with Terence Davies by Geoff Andrew
• 10-page illustrated booklet including essays by Derek Jarman and Distant Voices, Still Lives producer Jennifer Howarth on Terence Davies at Film School

The BFI will release Terence Davies’ new film Of Time and the City in cinemas nationwide on 31 October and on DVD in 2009. The BFI DVD Distant Voices, Still Lives is out now.

Released on DVD for the first time, Terence Davies’ follow-up to Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes,  extends his autobiographical memoirs into the ’50s

Following his prize-winning debut feature film Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), in 1992 Terence Davies made The Long Day Closes, now released by the BFI on DVD for the first time, alongside The Terence Davies Trilogy.

Terence Davies’ lyrical hymn to childhood revisits the same territory as Distant Voices, Still Lives, this time focusing on his own memories of growing up in a working-class Catholic family in Liverpool.

Eleven-year-old Bud (a heartbreaking performance from Leigh McCormack) finds escape from the greyness of ’50s Britain through trips to the cinema and in the warmth of family life.  But as he gets older, the agonies of the adult world; the casual cruelty of bullying, the tyranny of school and the dread of religion, begin to invade his life.

Time and memory blend and blur through Davies’ fluid camerawork; slow tracking shots, pans and dreamlike dissolves combine to create the world of Bud’s imagination and the lost paradise of his childhood.

Special features
• Full feature commentary with Terence Davies and Director of Photography Mick Coulter (Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually)
• On-set interview with production designer Christopher Hobbs (Velvet Goldmine, Orlando)
• Previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage of Terence Davies directing
• 18-page illustrated booklet with essays, director biography and credits
• Fully uncompressed PCM stereo audio

Black Five, to be released July 21, is three films by Paul Barnes that celebrate and regret the final days of steam on the railways – preserved by the BFI National Archive and newly re-mastered for DVD release to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of steam in Britain.

In 1968, enginemen faced the last months of steam haulage on Britain’s mainline railways. For those who worked on the Black 5 locomotive the inevitable progress to diesels and electrics prompted mixed feelings.

Black FiveBlack Five (1968) directed by Paul Barnes, records their reminiscences as they faced this great change in their lives – of craftsmanship, camaraderie, and of the ‘personality’ of these great machines. The workers’ comments are an elegy to a time gone by, to skills no longer needed, and they make a poignant background to the beautifully filmed images of the heavy iron beasts trundling their way to the end of the line.

Black Five is filmed around Carnforth station in Lancashire, a location which had been the setting for the archetypal railway romance, David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945) over 20 years earlier.

The DVD also contains two other short films by Paul Barnes. The Painter and the Engines (1967) follows painter David Shepherd’s race against time to record on canvas the magic and romance of steam during the locomotives’ last weeks at South London’s Nine Elms sheds.  King George V (1970) charts the history of the celebrated locomotive, which was taken out of service in 1965 but offered a length of siding at Bulmers of Hereford to continue running, in steam.

Special features
• Illustrated booklet containing newly commissioned essays and notes

At the end of July, the BFI release Jacques Demy’s 1967 ’scope musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort as a two-disc SE.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

An effervescent and captivating celebration of life, Jacques Demy’s much-loved musical stars Gene Kelly, Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac

Following the huge success of Les Parapulies de Cherbourg (1964), Jacques Demy went on to make Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, a large scale tribute to the Hollywood musical featuring screen legend Gene Kelly. Released in the UK on DVD for the first time by the BFI, the 1996 restoration is presented in a 2-disc set that also features an hour long documentary by Agnès Varda and other special extras.

Jacques Demy was one of the most distinctive directors to emerge from the French New Wave in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The films he made up until his untimely death in 1990 constitute one of the most extraordinary bodies of work of that era, much of which was screened in a career retrospective at BFI Southbank last November.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort centres on twin sisters Delphine and Solange (played by real life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac). Tired of their humdrum existence in the picturesque seaside town of Rochefort, they dream of leaving to find success and romance in Paris, just as a carnival and an American composer (Gene Kelly) hit town.

The superb ensemble cast also features Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli, Jacques Perrin, George Chakiris and Grover Dale.

With a plot of pure Shakespearean farce, witty dialogue and lyrics by Demy and a magnificent jazz score by three-times Academy Award winner Michel Legrand, this has to be one of the most joyously ebullient movies ever.

Special features
• Les Demoiselles ont eu 25 ans (Agnès Varda, 1993, 64 mins) –  documentary mixing on-set footage, home movies and footage from the 25th Anniversary celebrations in Rochefort
• Extracts from the Guardian Interview in which Catherine Deneuve talks about working with Jacques Demy and his influence on her career
• Audio extracts from Gene Kelly’s Guardian Lecture on the Hollywood Musical
• Illustrated booklet containing original publicity photos and production stills
• Fully uncompressed PCM stereo audio
 

On August 18, the BFI releases a brace of films by Jean Cocteau; first, the 1946 classic La Belle et la bête:

Visionary filmmaker and poet Jean Cocteau responded to the terrors and creative constraints of occupied France with this elaborately realized take on the classic fairy tale BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Suggested by his longtime collaborator and muse, French actor Jean Marais, the cinematic version of the fable first penned by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont became Cocteau’s most celebrated film. Cocteau renders the story of a gentlehearted beast in love with a simple and beautiful girl in the style of the luminous paintings of Dutch master Vermeer. 

From the quaint and humorous scenes of Beauty’s happy home to the ominous surreal spectacle of the Beast’s enchanted estate, Cocteau transforms the simple tale of tragic love into a surreal vision of death, desire, and beauty. Marais is chilling as the lonely and tormented beast, projecting a wounded love for the glacial yet endearing Beauty (Josette Day), whose simple request for a rose from her father brings tragedy crashing down on her whole family. Cocteau expands upon the cinematic inventiveness first seen in his masterpiece Belle et la bête with mirrors made of water, living statues, and candelabras fashioned from living arms, transforming a children’s fable into a complex and radiant cinematic classic.

The second Cocteau release is 1950’s Orphée:

Cocteau’s luminous adaptation of the famous Greek myth, set in post-occupation Paris, remains one of the most stunning achievements of the auteur’s career. Orphée (Jean Marais) is a successful Parisian poet, whom–despite popular acclaim–feels isolated and uninspired. When his wife Eurydice (Marie Dea) is stricken down by leather-clad bikers, he pursues them into the underworld, where he falls into a romantic entanglement with the dark-haired beauty Death (Casares). Stunning cinematography and surrealist flairs punctuate this beautiful, hypnotic masterpiece.

The same date, and John Maybury’s Love Is The Devil: Study For A Portrait Of Francis Bacon, gets the BFI treatment:

An intriguing biographical look at British painter Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi), focusing on his turbulent and tragic relationship with lover and model George Dyer (Daniel Craig), a former boxer and small time thief who competes for Bacon’s affections so passionately that it eventually destroys him. Tilda Swinton also stars.

Slightly less exotic, the BFI has scheduled a busy August 18 for British Transport Films: Volume 8 - Points and Aspects:

Continuing the BRITISH TRANSPORT FILMS COLLECTION, POINTS AND ASPECTS is a fond look back at the history and evolution of the locomotive, as well as a fascinating documentary in its own right. Topics covered in this volume include: ‘Single Line Working’, ‘Day To Day Track Maintenance Pt.1′, ‘Day To Day Track Maintenance Pt.2′, ‘The Signal Engineers’, ‘Mishap’, ‘Spick And Span’, ‘The Long Night Haul’, ‘Care Of St Christopher’, ‘Measured For Transport’, ‘Channel Islands’, ‘Under The Wires’, ‘Points And Aspects’, ‘Scotland For Sport’.

Almost there; and the BFI has announced the UK two-disc SD SE and all-regions Blu-ray Disc releases of Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom on 22nd September 2008 priced at £22.99/£24.99. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final and most controversial film has been banned, censored and reviled the world over since its first release in 1975. It did not receive UK certification until late 2000, when it was passed uncut.

The film is a brutal allegory based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Special features (these apply to the Blu-ray set - specs and art for the SD set can be found at the DVD Times link provided below):

Disc 1: Main Feature
Fully Complete & Uncut, telecined from original Italian restoration negatives
1.85:1 (1080p, 24fps) / BD25 / PCM mono
Original Italian language version (with optional English subtitles)
Original English language version (with optional HoH subtitles)
Original Italian trailer (with optional English subtitles)
Coil - Ostia (the Death of Pasolini) The original 1987 track from Coil’s celebrated second album, Horse Rotorvator, with a newly created video accompaniment, shot especially for this release, by Peter Christopherson.

Disc 2: Extra Features - A standard definition PAL DVD with the following content:
On set footage and interviews (1974, 25m) – newly created documentary using full colour footage shot in 1974 by acclaimed film journalist and Pasolini expert Gideon Bachmann.
Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die (1981, 58m) Philo Bregstein’s classic documentary on the life and death of Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Fade to Black (2001, 25m) – documentary with Mark Kermode exploring the ongoing relevance and power of Pasolini’s controversial masterpiece, with Bernardo Bertolucci and other leading directors.
Ostia (1991, 25m, with optional director commentary track) – Julian Cole’s short film about the last days of Pasolini, starring Derek Jarman.

Fully illustrated booklet
Newly commissioned essay by Sam Rohdie (Italian film scholar and author on Pasolini)
Sight & Sound article by Gideon Bachmann incorporating his on-set diary
1979 review of the film by Gilbert Adair
James Ferman letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions
Cast and credits for the film
Pasolini biography by Italian film specialist Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
Photographs of Pasolini at work on set 
 

Artwork (this has a Showing Soon ‘busty substances’ alert) for Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom can be seen at DVD Times here. Also looking forward to September, and three more documentary sets from the BFI; Manufactured Landscapes, GPO Volume 1 (2-DVD) and Animal Films, but more on those another time.

That’s the end of this ‘BFI special’ Showing Soon; the next blog in this strand will be posted here next week (no fear of overwork then…), and Showing Soon will take a look at the rest of the upcoming releases he feels are of note in the UK.  

Deserved Award For BFI Project 

The BFI National Archive’s ‘Documentary Centenaries’ project which included the restoration and release of the BFI DVDs Night Mail Collector’s Edition and the 4-disc box-set Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930 - 1950 won the Award for the Best Archive Restoration or Preservation Project at the Focal International Awards 2008, presented recently.

Marking the centenaries last year of five pioneer documentarists, this ambitious project of great importance to the UK’s cultural heritage involved the curatorial assessment of each of the film-makers’ entire surviving output. Some 84 titles were then selected for restoration, preservation and programming for exhibition, touring and release on DVD.

In addition to a major ‘Documentary Centenaries’ season at BFI Southbank last September and an international tour of Humphrey Jennings: Finest Hour, a Collector’s Edition DVD of Night Mail was released in partnership with The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) and the Royal Mail, instantly becoming a BFI best-seller. The critically-acclaimed Land of Promise 4-disc box-set, in deluxe packaging complete with a 96-page book, was released in April 2008 and quickly sold out. It is already on its second manufacturing run.

Patrick Russell, Senior Curator for Non-Fiction at the BFI National Archive, accepted the award on behalf of the BFI and said: “It’s apt that this project celebrating a collective movement of film-makers was itself deeply collaborative. This award is gratifying recognition of a lot of hard work by many colleagues across different teams in the BFI over the last two years. We are delighted that the essential contribution of our technical archivists, and the sheer quality of their work, is valued so highly in the archival community. And it is immensely encouraging that there is such a public appetite for archival documentary – an important part of our national film-making heritage” 

A much deserved award.

At the Movies…

Hailed as one of – if not the most – sophisticated film ever to come out of Cuba in the early days of Castro’s revolution, Memories Of Underdevelopment (Memorias Del Subdesarollo) is visionary Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s 1968 tour de force and is coming to UK cinemas, on limited release, in a few days time.

The blurb:

Listed at number fifty-four on Derek Malcolm’s 100 Greatest Movies, this cinematic masterpiece will receive its UK theatrical release on 11 July 2008.

Memories Of Underdevelopment follows Sergio (Sergio Corrieri - Soy Cuba), through his life following the departure of his wife, parents and friends in the wake of the Bay of Pigs incident. Alone in a brave new world, Sergio observes the constant threat of foreign invasion while chasing young women all over Havana before finally meeting Elena (Daisy Granados), a young virgin girl he seeks to mould into the image of his ex-wife, but at what cost to himself?

Even though director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was a staunch and devoted supporter of the revolution, Memories of Underdevelopment makes a raw and uncompromising analysis of the newly formed system of government. Through a moving blend of narrative fiction, still photography and rare documentary footage, Alea catalogues the intricacies of the early days of the Castro regime; producing a stirring and enigmatic work that feeds from the culture of the very subject it is studying; Cuba.

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