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Saturday, 5 March 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare on Comanche Station, Compulsion, L'Inhumaine & Panique - and a trip to the movies for Carol

Comanche Station
The climax of Comanche Station (Budd Boetticher, USA, 1960) The last, and one of only two Scope titles, from the monumental Batjac/Ranown cycle by Boetticher and Scott from 1956 to 1960 with this great farewell. In place of any surely redundant comment from me it might be instructive as a reviewer to report trawling through the disc for screens to be amazed to find a virtual absence of close ups. Especially for the craggy, wise old face of Randy who more often than not is framed in background, shadow, or often absent from the shot.

We watched this again last night. I had completely forgotten about the final reconciliation with Nancy's husband, and - here we go again - was in floods of tears. These Boetticher-Scott films just get more and more perfect with the passing of time. There's not a superfluous shot,. or line of dialogue, or bit of acting. Not an unnecessary CU or a frivolous travelling shot or overly busy montage during the action sequences. He also does something in Westerns one only ever sees in Ford, he photographs the animals with so much affection and respect as players in the story. There are several wides of some of the actors standing more or less in front of line with the horses (and the one mule) all tethered in a row with them. The camera seems to love the nags so much it's as though they're upstaging the cast!

This beautiful transfer is from a new Blu Ray by the French Sidonis label and their terrific Western de Legende series. The source looks similar to that used for the old Sony/Film Foundation Boetticher box set. But the new master from a Sony 2K or higher is a huge leap in quality for detail, color timing, grain, Some original prints of this were Tech IB rather than Pathe Eastman and that's what this looks like here.   As many collectors already know, Sidonis is notorious for sometimes encoding forced French subs on its transfers, but I can certainly disable them here on the Oppo. This may not be possible on all players, so be mindful.

Compulsion
Bradford Dillman confides to his real true love in Compulsion (Richard Fleischer, USA,1959) via this cracker of a new 4K transferred to a flawless Blu Ray from new-kid-on-the-block UK label Signal One Entertainment. Fixed Region B.
As a Leopold/Loeb retelling of the gay boyfriend psycho thrill killers this version sits squarely between the 48 Hitchcock Rope version, and the 1992 Tom Kalin new queer cinema feature Swoon. In many respects, although Kalin's film is possibly the most challenging artistically, and goes furthest with gender and power issues, and Hitch's perhaps the most intriguing as a semi failed experiment in the ten minute take, Fleischer is probably the perfect director for a straightforward dynamic narrative presentation, as a formally controlled story of the hysteria surrounding both the murder and the trial. Coming as it does a year before Preminger officially cracked the Code silence on "it" - Arthur Laurents' substitute name for homosexuality when they were making Rope. Fleischer steps neatly all around "it" while allowing "it" to holler from the closeups and the performances, Dillman's in particular. And with both Dillman and pretty boy Dean Stockwell now old enough to wear long pants and have a BF you would have to be deaf not to hear "it".
Fleischer is one of the best American directors of violence from the classic post war American studio era and his relative restraint here is more than compensated by sheer intensity of B&W Scope mise en scene. This is one of his best half dozen pictures.
The disc simply can't be faulted.
Carol
Rooney Mara ("Therese") and (below) Miss Blanchett as Carol in Todd Haynes' new movie. Let's begin with the good, and the very good as one should, I hope DP Ed Lachmann gets the Oscar for best cinematography. I didn't think it was possible to see anything more beautiful last year to look at than Hou's The Assassin, but this is it. As is now well known Lachmann and Haynes decided to film on Super 16mm stock with a new Arriflex camera to highlight high but consistent film grain, and among other things to achieve distinct tonal and chromatic color and light effects otherwise unachievable on regular 35mm fine grain neg or Digital source. 

The degree of visual expressiveness in this film is completely mind boggling and would take pages to begin to describe. There are even sequences which recall, in the loveliest way imaginable late period 1952-53 three strip negative filmed Technicolor IB prints with very faint hints of three strip mis-registration from negative shrinking , or what used to be called "fringing", itself considered a "mistake" but here, during the first Department store pickup episode, the fringing itself becomes the element for the chromatic ambience and the cold/hot mood swings of the sequence from wide to close shots, and from hot to cool color temps. Lachmann deserves a lifetime award for this picture (and the rest of his career.)
The screenplay by Haynes and Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith's novel a clef seems exemplary and moves the material with swift deliverance. The performances from all but two players are very fine and perhaps indicative of Haynes' intimate, instinctive ways of working with actors. I especially liked, indeed lusted after John Magaro and Kevin Crowley as young suitors, spunkbuckets both. I badly wanted to feel similarly horny about hunko extremo Kyle Chandler but whether by accident or design his role as the notional villain seems to limit the range of his performance to just a few short scenes of strained expression, and drunken tottering. The actor deserved better treatment from the movie, something I would rarely say but must here. I consider it's important because, in many ways "Harge" is the narrative's biggest "loser", far more than either Carol or Therese. It's clear Haynes understands this but the actor can't fully deliver the empathy, a fault I am obliged to attribute to the director. Maybe the part simply needed some amplification.

Which leads me to my old problems with Todd Haynes' work as a metteur en scene.I would rather submit to torture by Australian Border Control than ever cast eyes or ears again on a semiotics text. Now thank the goddess Todd Haynes appears to have toned down the early days of "emblematics", and the offsets and the references to focus as he did so wonderfully with Mildred Pierce, on character and narrative. The material itself is enough, and he understands it inside out. The great major Sirkian reference here aside from the repetitions of mirrors and windows, and gone largely unnoticed by all those "serious" critics like Richard Brody, is the train set and toys , straight out of There's Always Tomorrow, one of SIrks' bleakest films . Haynes' referencing it here is so direct and clean it works superbly without further visual embellishment or hammering. But this then leaves me with two serious problems. The first is the score from Carter Burwell which kept hitting me over the head with its chamber woodwind intimations of Phillip Glass as elevator music, punctuated with early 50s pops. At least with Glass you get dodecaphonically determined writing, not the sort of major-minor binary 'niceness' of Burwell's wavering/not wavering underlining and cueing. I just hated it. Burwell's score is something Todd should have just left behind.

And then there's Miss Blanchett. Sigh. Her first appearance at the Department store in wide shot with her Scope wide gash of red lippy and her opening lines jolted me back to none other than Faye Dunaway impersonating Joanie in Mommie Dearest. For a while I really enjoyed all this - all her business with the hair stroking, jewellery clutching, zhuzhing, pouting, eye rolling and deep smoke throated invocations of Auntie Sappho are enormous fun. But the performance never took me where I hoped it might, to some other level of reference. It was always and only about performance itself, nothing more. Perhaps good manners suggests I leave it at that for now so I will. (As I duck tomatoes and brickbats from all and sundry).

L’Inhumaine
I very much doubt you will see anything even remotely as camp as this anywhere this week. Or this year. Here are some screens from the astonishing new 4K mastered Blu Ray of L'Herbier's completely silly avant garde deco/cubist masterwork "L'Inhumaine". The film is as exhaustive a compendium of the highs and lows of 20s French avant garde movement as you could ever see in one picture - design music, dance and what some might loosely call performance.
Although Darius MIlhuad's original score for this is now sadly missing the disc is adorned by two new scores from the ever reliable Alloy Orchestra and - my favorite - a very neat, expertly composed jazz percussion mood score by Aidje Tafial which I thought made far more sense of the bollocks screenplay than the movie ever does. The "Diva", Claire Lescot, is played by an already faded real life diva Georgette Leblanc whose chronically bad over gestural vamp-camping from ca.1912 looks for the world like a Mack Sennett female impersonator doing her last big vanity project as the cinema's original Femme Fatale. (This was a year before Metropolis). Not that the nelly fagmay nancy boys in tuxedos and too much mascara and lippy scattered throughout this twadlle of a plot are anything to write home about, their doom at the hands of the imperious Claire seems to be sealed to fall-in-a-faint swooniness.

This new Lobster/Flicker Alley Blu Ray from the maestro of silent reincarnation Serge Bromberg is a thing of immense beauty. The two enjoyable extras could go on forever (the grabs from the dailies are a blast.). Given the designer pedigree on this film - its most distinguished attribute by a mile - Leger, Mallet-Stevens, Autant-Lara, Cavalcanti, almost everyone who was anyone in the late 20s French avant garde except Leon Barsacq, a couple of 30s short Laszlo Maholy Nagy 16mmm home architecture and travel movies would have been a nice complement to the arthouse weightiness of this wonderful coffee table monster of a Blu Ray disc.
But enough of that. I'm off to throw on my caftan and smoke some more opium.



...which prompted this Facebook exchange about L’Herbier, Gremillon and other matters
Geoffrey Gardner Dont spare your feelings DH...
David Hare The men in this are so fey they make the effete Count Told in Mabuse der Spieler (played by Alfred Abel with a fine horsehair wig and pancake makeup) look butch.
Noel Bjorndahl I can hardly wait for my copy to arrive.
David Hare I hope the experience doesn't change you Noel. I want you to stay just as you are.
Neil McGlone This film has long been a favourite of mine since i had a copy on VHS from an early recording from French TV. It had a great score too, much superior in my opinion to that which is used on the new edition. I also remember seeing L'Herbier's EL DORADO at the same time, another little gem.
David Hare HIs Eldorado is great, Neil, but I - unusually for me - actually prefer the 34 Pabst version with Brigitte Helm. Later L’Herbier is interesting and not least for the very  obvious homsoexuality running beneath the texts with his male players -   see Les Nouveaux Monsieurs (1934). This movie was a "problematic" job from the start. The whole theatrical gesatkunstwerk-y conception was non cinematic to begin with, and has too much of the worst pretentiousness of the French A-G which was itself the domain of too many dilettantes. The eccentric ballet,  which brings in all the "Diva's" servants who have been wearing weird animal masks form the beginning, always makes me laugh out loud when I know I shouldn't. Gremillon obviously quotes this segment in 1931 with real cinematic genius in the cruise ship/s masked ball sequence of the genuinely astonishing,fabulous Dainah la Metisse. (This is a real masterpiece I believe.)
Øystein Tvede You surely mean Les hommes nouveaux from 36. And there seems to be a mixup with L'Atlandide (Atlantis) by Feyder (who also made Les nouveaux messieurs from 1929) as well.
Noel Bjorndahl Dainah la Metisse-what a discovery even in its incompleteness. I have you to thank for that. Gremillon is probably the most under appreciated of all the great French directors.
David Ehrenstein L'Herbier is deliciously bonkers. His boyfriend Jacques Catalan is easy on the eyes.
David Hare Much prettier than the nancy boys in this picture. All of whom are straight (naturally.)
David Ehrenstein L"Herbier's best is L'Argent"-- a modern dress adaptation of Zola that was the most expensive French film until Les Amants du Pont-Neuf
Con Skordilis I have the excellent Masters of Cinema DVD
David Hare Nouveaux Monsieurs is his best bet here DE. It's very naughty
David Ehrenstein Thanks for the heads-up.
David Hare As beloved acolyte and neveu Oystein noted above it's Les Hommes Nouveuax, I am suffering from opium overdose confusion DE.
Con Skordilis definitely buying this one, David. I've only ever seen pathetic prints of this landmark experience.
David Hare I first got to know it year sago (more than ten?) from what is almost certainly the VHS broadcast source Neil has cited. This restoration is truly beautiful and astonishing work, whatever one thinks of the film and its reputation.
David Hare David Ehrenstein Jacques Catalain is the male "love interest" in this of course and to be honest his performance is less mannered than anything else in the movie. Pity they plastered so much makeup on such a comely face. The main extra on the disc is a background mini doc of the period and the production of the film in 1924, but like virtually all French crfitical writing on the 20s avant-garde it's completely hagiographic. It's as though no debate is permitted about the actual worth of so many of the avant garde figures from the era, and their actually peripheral relevance to French cinema. By the thirties and the studio system barely three directors had any real roots with the A-G movmenet - Clair, Gremillon and Cocteau (who was always his own artform anyway.) Even Carne who began his career with the silent and very fine impressionistic short about the Ginguette, Noges, Eldorado du DImanche, was really only waiting to step straight into narrative fiction film. By the time the Avant Garde was itself dissipating within the French film world by early 30s, other far more powerful influences were coming into play - Russian emigres for one and the growth of the important Albatross Studio and its invaluable contribution to 30s French cinema, the Front Populaire and its ties to the new "realisme" of major writers like Spaak, and the influence of the US and German (Paramount, UFA and Tobis Klangfilm) big businesses in the pre war French film world. Avant-Garde was a memory by now.

Panique
M. Hire (Michel Simon) facing the mob in Duvivier's superb Panique (1946), adapted by Duviv and the great Charles Spaak from Simenon's novel. I'd go so far as to call this the best post war Duvivier, and the best French movie from 1946, in what can only be called a year of extremely giddy re-grouping after the war and occupation era, which more than ironically springs from the benefits of the Gestapo Head of Occupation's French Film program, Alfred Greven, who effectively rebuilt an industry that had become bankrupt and systemically run down by rorting and corruption at the dawn of WWII. Most other movies from 1946, like Carne's Les Portes de la Nuit and even the crazy Marcel Blistine Musical-Noir, L'Etoile sans Lumieres oblige themselves to wrestle with the privations of "good taste" and barely even remotely address post war issues like mob violence, "collaboration" and the betrayals and score settling within France. Panique however is blessed with Duviv's (and Spaak's) innate pessimism and cuts directly to the material and the amoral sleaze which underlines every aspect of the text.


This is the first Duviv to debut on Blu Ray. We can also look forward to the new 4K of La Belle Equipe later this year. Panique comes from French Label TFI with French only HOH subs. So for French fluent viewers only so far. The source for this I would guess is a 35mm fine grain which has been given substantial grading and stabilization work in a very good restoration. It may well be no O-neg exists. The transfer from this master is completely impeccable with tight contrast sharpness and clarity. Lossless DTS MA audio is also a massive upgrade from the older DVD and bootlegs.

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