Saturday Night at the Movies
Summertime Blus: Best re-issues of 2018 (so far)
By Dennis Hartley
Since we’re halfway through 2018 (already?) I thought I’d alert you to some of the latest and greatest Blu-ray reissues I’ve picked up so far this year. Any reviews based on Region “B” editions (which require a multi-region Blu-ray player) are noted as such; the good news is that multi-region players are now more affordable! In alphabetical order…
Dead Man (The Criterion Collection) – Rhymes with: “deadpan”. Then again, that could describe any film directed by the idiosyncratic Jim Jarmusch. As far as Kafkaesque westerns go, you could do worse than this 1995 offering. Johnny Depp plays mild-mannered accountant and city slicker William Blake (yes, I know) who travels West by train to the rustic town of Machine, where he has accepted a job. Or so he assumes. Getting shooed out of his would-be employer’s office at gunpoint (a great cameo by Robert Mitchum) turns out to be the least of his problems, which rapidly escalate. Soon, he’s a reluctant fugitive on the lam. Once he crosses paths with a semi-mystic Native American named Nobody (the wonderful Gary Farmer), his journey takes on a mythical ethos. Surreal, darkly funny, and poetic. Robby Mueller’s B&W photography is stunning.
Criterion’s 4K digital restoration shows a marked improvement over a previously released Blu-ray from Lion’s Gate. Extras abound; including footage of Neil Young working on the soundtrack, a new interview with Farmer, and an entertaining Q & A produced exclusively for Criterion, with Jarmusch responding to inquires sent in by fans.
Farewell, My Lovely/The Big Sleep (Shout! Factory Select) – The chief reason I geeked out over this “two-fer” was Farewell My Lovely, one of a handful of films directed by renowned 1960s photographer/TV ad creator Dick Richards. The 1975 crime drama is an atmospheric remake of the 1944 film noir Murder My Sweet (both adapted from the same Raymond Chandler novel). Robert Mitchum is at his world-weary best as detective Philip Marlowe, who is hired by a paroled convict (Jack O’Halloran) to track down his girlfriend, who has made herself scarce since he went to the joint. Per usual, Marlowe finds himself in a tangled web of corruption and deceit. Also featuring Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, and the late great Harry Dean Stanton.
The companion feature, writer-director Michael Winner’s 1978 remake of The Big Sleep (also adapted from a Raymond Chandler novel) is more of a hit-and-miss affair. Mitchum reprises his role as Marlowe; but he kind of phones it in this time out. This may be due to Winner’s decision to contemporize the story and move it to London; I suspect this threw Mitchum off (Winner may have been inspired by Robert Altman’s 1973 reimagining of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which featured Elliot Gould as a present-day Marlowe). I think Farewell My Lovely works better because Richards sets the story in late 1940s L.A., which is more faithful to Chandler’s original milieu (and Mitchum’s own iconography is deeply tethered to the classic noir cycle). Still, The Big Sleep is worth a peek, with a cast that includes Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, James Stewart, Oliver Reed, and Candy Clark.
While neither of these films look to have necessarily been restored, Shout! Factory’s digital HD transfers are the highest quality versions I’ve seen on home video (and both titles have been previously difficult to find). Extras include a new interview with Sarah Miles, a brief interview with Michael Winner, and a vintage featurette on The Big Sleep.
Female Trouble (Criterion Collection) – The late great Divine chews up major scenery as Dawn Davenport, a “good girl gone bad” …in the worst ways imaginable. Parents be cautioned: if your teenage daughter demands cha-cha heels for Christmas…for God’s sake, humor her–or there will be hell to pay. Even by his own mondo bizzaro standards, “czar of bad taste” John Waters has seldom topped the utter depravity of this mordantly hilarious 1974 entry. That said, our “reality” continues to catch up with his once-satirical, hyperreal vision of an American society completely driven by narcissism, an unhealthy obsession with the cult of celebrity, and self-aggrandizement at any cost. A trash classic.
Criterion’s Blu-ray edition features a restored 4K transfer; the film (shot on 16mm) has never looked more vivid (which might not necessarily be a good thing for squeamish viewers, who may spend some time afterwards wishing they could “un-see” certain scenes). Nonetheless, aficionados will be delighted by the generous piles of extras, including a commentary track (recorded in 2004) by the ever-chatty and vastly entertaining Waters, new and archival interviews with cast members, outtakes, and more.
Liquid Sky (Vinegar Syndrome) –A diminutive, parasitic alien (who seems to have a particular delectation for NYC club kids, models and performance artists) lands on an East Village rooftop and starts mainlining off the limbic systems of junkies and sex addicts…right at the moment that they, you know…reach the maximum peak of pleasure center stimulation (I suppose that makes the alien a dopamine junkie?). Just don’t think about the science too hard. The main attraction here is the inventive photography and the fascinatingly bizarre performance (or non-performance) by (co-screen writer) Anne Carlisle, who tackles two roles-a female fashion model who becomes the alien’s primary host, and a male model. Director Slava Zsukerman co-wrote the electronic music score.
This 1982 space oddity has been long overdue for a decent home video transfer, and Vinegar Syndrome gets an A+ for its 4K Blu-ray restoration (devotees like yours truly were previously stuck with a dismal DVD release that, while sold “legitimately”, screams “bootleg”). Extras include commentary track by director Zsukerman, plus a 50-minute “making of” documentary, a new interview with star Carlisle, outtakes, and much more.
Threads (Severin Films Limited Edition) – This stark and affecting cautionary tale debuted on the BBC in 1984, later airing in the U.S. on TBS. Director Mick Jackson delivers an uncompromising realism that makes The Day After (the U.S. TV film from the previous year) look like a Teletubbies episode. It’s a speculative narrative that takes a medium sized city (Sheffield) and depicts what would likely happen to its populace during and after a nuclear strike, in graphic detail. While this is a dramatization, the intent is not to “entertain” you in any sense of the word. The message is simple and direct-nothing good comes out of a nuclear conflict. It’s a living, breathing Hell for all concerned-and anyone “lucky” enough to survive will soon wish they were fucking dead.
Severin Films’ Blu-ray sports an excellent restored HD transfer, and marks the first edition playable on North American devices. Extras include a commentary track with Jackson and new interviews with actors, film crew, and screenwriter Stephen Thrower.
Woodfall: A Revolution in British Cinema (BFI box set; Region “B”) – If you’ve been looking for a convenient excuse to invest in a multi-region Blu-ray player, look no further than this magnificent box set from the British Film Institute. In 1958, taking their cues from the Italian neorealists and Cahiers du Cinema crowd, director Tony Richardson, writer John Osborne, and producer Harry Saltzman founded Woodfall Films, an indie production studio that aimed to shake up the staid UK movie industry by creating what would come to be known as the British New Wave. The studio’s oeuvre was initially pigeonholed as “angry young man” or “kitchen sink” films, but there was more diversity in style and content than that labeling would infer, as this 8-film collection demonstrates.
The set features 5 films directed by Richardson: Look Back in Anger (1959), The Entertainer (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1962), and Tom Jones (1963). That would make for a fabulous collection in and of itself; but also included are Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Desmond Davis’ Girl with Green Eyes (1964), and Richard Lester’s The Knack…and how to get it (1965). This is also a showcase of breakthrough performances from the likes of Richard Burton, Albert Finney, Rita Tushingham, and Tom Courtenay.
There are over 20 hours of extras (in which I have made but a small dent so far) spread out over the 8 films plus a 9th disc dedicated solely to bonus material. In addition to new and archival interviews with filmmakers and actors, there is a treasure trove of rare shorts by Richardson, Reisz and others, plus an 80-page booklet with essays on all 8 films. Picture and sound quality are excellent (many of the films are newly restored; Tom Jones looks particularly gorgeous) with one caveat: for whatever reasons, The Knack…and how to get it is glaringly unrestored. The transfer of the film is decent enough, but the print is a little rough in patches and the audio somewhat muffled (thankfully there is a subtitle option). It’s a minor hiccup in an otherwise stellar package. A film buff’s delight!