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Friday, 29 June 2018

Bologna Diary (5) - Borzage's 7th HEAVEN triumphs. More Pagliero, More Stahl

Ahhhh. Borzage.

Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, 7th Heaven
The rained-out screening of Frank Borzage’s Seventh Heaven (USA, 1927) went on two days later at Bologna’s opera house, the spectacular Teatro Communale. Cecilia Cenciarelli kept the intro precise and the orchestra lead by Timothy Brock launched into a new score specially commissioned from the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France. 

It accompanied a new digital restoration supervised by MoMA in New York, funded by 20thCentury Fox and based on (according to Dave Kehr’s program note in the 432 page Cinema Ritrovato catalogue) “the only known original element, a nitrate print from the 1927 negative made in 1930”. 

Remarkable studio construction of 1914 Paris, most notably the creation of a five story set which leads up to Chico’s attic where the lovers (Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell) come together after he rescues her, popping up out of a sewerage drain, from a beating from her clearly crackers sister. Twice the camera takes us from ground floor to the fifth, the first time when he takes her home, the second (spoiler alert) when he returns blinded from the war on Armistice day. 

It was quite a night and I don’t think I’ve experienced such prolonged applause for a movie screening anywhere, ever.

Gabriele Ferzetti, Eleonora
Rossi Drago
Vestire Gli Ignudi
…and a final Marcello Pagliero, Vestire gli ignudi  (Italy, 1954) a modern day melodrama set among the wealthy as another young (Eleonora Rossi Drago) girl is rescued from prostitution by a wealthy writer (Gabriele Ferzetti, instantly reminding us of future Antonioni) and slowly we get the whole back story of class, privilege and abuse of women by richer men. It's a Pagliero trope. A main script credit goes to Ennio Flaiano, but Pagliero himself and Charles Spaak also get a mention. The story is allegedly based on a play by Luigi Pirandello. A pity about the copy which looked closer to VHS than 35mm….

Vincent Price, Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde
Leave Her to Heaven
The 35mm copy of John M Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven had also seen better days and was in a ‘very fragile’ state according to the introducer, Céline Ruivo from the Cinémathèque française. Bill Collins has shown better (digital) copies of this when presenting the film on Fox Classics. The DVD is similarly much truer to the original Technicolor that Leon Shamroy shot. You can obsess about these things though.

It has to be said that the re-presentation of Stahl’s work starting here in Bologna and continuing at Pordenone in a matter of weeks has hit a nerve. The 9.30 am session in the (air-conditioned) Jolly cinema had people standing at the back….

Japanese Film Festival (Sydney) - Barrie Pattison reviews HONNOUJI HOTEL (Masayaki Suzuki, Japan, 2017)

The Japanese have departed from the current national film event model running their festival one film a month in the Event multiplex.  I kind of miss their sixteen millimeter screenings, which were free, but this approach offers more recent material and theatrical presentation values.

This week we scored Masayuki Suzuki's Honnouji hoteru/Honnuji Hotel a big new A feature that you could think of as Japanese Berkeley Squareor their Les Visiteurs without the gags. 

We open in fifteenth century Osaka and move to the present where Haruka Ayase Ayase (Hirokazu Koreeda’s  Umimachi Diary/Our Little Sister) whose employer has gone bust, has settled for marriage to Hiroyuki Hirayama, his family having taken over her wedding arrangements. When she arrives in Osaka a street promoter gives her a Hot Spa Matchmaker leaflet and she buys a bag of the hard candy that historic ruler Oda Nobunaga is supposed to have enjoyed. 

However, the flash hotel where she intended staying has no vacancies and she tries the digital Honnouji Hotel on the site where the famous Honnouji incident is supposed to have happened. Manager Morio Kazama tells her the antique wind up mechanism she examines in the foyer doesn’t work anymore and she takes her room key and gets into the lift chewing the candy. The mechanism turns over and the lift deposits her in the sixteenth century - this is quite well done with daylight falling on her face and her doubling back through the lift door only taking her to the other side of the wooden screen.

On the timber walkway she encounters retainer Gaku Hamada who tells her about the ruler. “My Lord is a cruel and brutal leader - like a demon.” She encounters Shin'ichi Tsutsumi  (Sion Sono’s Jigoku de naze warui/Why Don’t You Play in Hell) as Lord Nobunaga. He’s busily psyching the visiting trader into giving him the priceless tea caddy making up the set that marks the unification of Japan. Ayase outrages the courtiers by her violations of court etiquette -  like using his name in his presence. It looks like he might have her beheaded on the spot.

Ayase gets rocked back and forwards between the court and the present, leaving her shoes behind and getting kitted out in a kimono, as the story of her wedding, and Nobunaga’s plan to bring happiness, by uniting the country alternate. She undermines his confidence by pointing out that none of his courtiers, who go in fear of their lives, are smiling. He takes her out into the streets where the citizens are cheerful and busy (not bad, though Tsutsumi loses presence without the awestruck retinue) and she brings back the Buri Buri children's game which delights the stiff retainers and at which he proves to be an expert knocking the paper fan off its support with the wooden ball.

Back in the present, she learns of the revolt that led to his suicide in the company of devoted Hamada and is warned about changing history, which gives the writers a problem they are not all that good at solving. The characters seem rather casual about being in a blazing arrow inferno that would fry anyone.  The sunny ending, which does open up the possibilities of a more interesting sequel, isn’t really a great fit.

Production values are good - big convincing sets, lots of costumed extras, horse riding warriors with fluttering blue and yellow Samurai banners, inventive transitions and the 90 degree edits we saw in the old in the old Shintaro TV series back again, all very Japanese.

This one is a bit bland for my taste though it has its moments. Hard to tell how representative it is of current production.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Bologna Diary (4) - Marcello Pagliero, the retrieval of Edgar G Ulmer's DETOUR from PD hell and the newly invigorated DVD Awards

Marcello Pagliero
Who knew about Marcello Pagliero before this week? Not many I suspect, but the crowds in the (air-conditioned!) Jolly Cinema have been impressive. A bit of canny programming, some good program notes by Jean A Gili and lo and behold a director from the 50s, previously sunk into obscurity is back....a bit...Not on Blu-ray or DVD or subtitled... but back. 

Pagliero (dubbed the Italian from St Germain des Pres in the catalogue) is a dogged inheritor of the neo-realist tradition, an Italian who also made a handful of films in France which seem to be mostly finely shot features about the lives of working people right at the bottom of the pile and their travails with tough, indeed always exploitative, bosses. 

There’s a smattering of sexual tension to move the plots along as well as a couple of wild contrivances (the water in the petrol tank!). 

Les Amants de Brasmort  is about the lives of the barge owners and workers on the Seine inevitably produced a reference in the catalogue notes to Jean Vigo but we’re miles away. Miles away even from the poetic realism of Carné and Prevert. Doggedness rules here. 

An interesting byway of film history and all credit to Bologna for tracking it all down and especially to the Cinémathèque francaise for producing high quality 35mm prints.

Edgar G Ulmer
...and amazing credit to the American Motion Picture Academy Archive for the years it spent getting Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour back out of the public domain bondage to which it had been condemned for decades. The intro by Michael Pogorzelski, the head of the Academy Archive made the droll point that the work that had gone into the resto was greater than the original budget of the film. But it paid off with a superb black and white, sharp as a tack copy that demands we see the film anew. Over lunch a friend said you cant see Detour too often. With this copy, on digital and hopefully available widely including on Blu-ray eventually, the opportunity for that desire to be fulfilled is there at last. 

Finally, I can report that the former Papacy of the DVD Award  jury is no longer. The bunch of old white (and white-haired) guys whose membership changed only on the death of an occupant,  and one of whom once distinguished proceedings by sleeping through the entire show in full view on stage, are no longer, swept away by the new management regime and replaced by...well you can see for yourself in this photo supplied by Neil McGlone. Bravo....



On Blu-ray - David Hare relishes a new 4K Criterion edition of John Waters FEMALE TROUBLE

Happy and obscene Family Snaps from what has always been for me John Waters' crowning achievement, Female Trouble released in 1973, and still going strong with this elegant and voluptuously bonused new 4K transfer on Criterion Blu-ray. 
The only concession Waters makes to modern taste this year is to give all these originally 16mm full camera aperture early Baltimore epics the "modern" twist of minimal widescreen with a 1.66 ratio mask. I recall seeing this originally on first Oz release in Adelaide mid-1976 at a then fleapit, the Roma in Hindley St when then indie distrib Eric Dare brought it in to debut Waters to an unsuspecting public. Pink Flamingoes which accompanied it to the censor's office was banned outright and remains so but somehow, "mysteriously", a complete, uncut VHS tape copy of it started doing the rounds ca. 1983 and despite subsequent re-banning of that fragrant work, the source still survives. 

Female Trouble  is surely a supreme Valentine to the matchless Divine, and her alter ego, Glen Milstead. Indeed, this picture features both personae in a single scene depicting Divine's rape by herself (as Milstead with a rear shot showing his skid marked underpants humping up and down, an image which poetically evokes a modern day parallel of what Trump is doing to America). This of course leads to the inevitable birth of their half-witted baby, Taffy, in a bathtub, played at later ages to the dysfunctional hilt by the great Mink Stole. 
Indeed, further, the Gang's All Here including Edith Massey, and a young Michael Potter whose death defying singing asshole sequence in Flamingoesis probably one of the three things that keeps that picture banned in Oz. Everybody who was anybody in the Baltimore pre-punk Trash scene is in this picture. And the sensibility of total defiance to bourgeois hypocrisy and morality holds strong, a perfect position, I suggest for contemporary American youth who are seeking ways to give Trump and the American Establishment the giant "fuck you". 
I was always sorry to see Waters go soft, after Polyester. But we all grow older if not wiser, and he certainly donates hours of very recently recorded commentary, interviews and fun to this colossal disc. Almost as Colossal as the great Dawn Davenport herself.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Bologna Diary (3) - More Stahl and a one shot

There was the distinguished John Stahl, director of 40 films or more in a stellar career. Then there was Edwin J. Burke, director of one film though a writer of dozens including some 31 listed in Wikipedia that were filmed between 1928 and 1936. 

Burke wrote variously for Shirley Temple and for Raoul Walsh and Henry King but only once directed, for Now I’ll Tell in 1934.

It’s a fictionalised film based on the memoir of the same name by Mrs Arnold Rothstein, the wife of the big time gambler who liked to make the odds better in his favour by fixing fights and other sporting contests. His most notable achievement in this regard was to buy off the Chicago White Sox to lose the 1919 World Series. That story was documented by John Sayles in the terrific movie Eight Men Out. It is not referred to in Now I’ll Tellin which Spencer Tracy plays the nonchalant gambler with great aplomb. The full house in the air-conditioned Jolly was riveted.

The crowd had also been riveted during the previous session by a not entirely unknown movie by John Stahl, When Tomorrow Comes,in which Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne fall for each other notwithstanding they live on different sides of the tracks. She’s a waitress in a café whose female staff are so lowly paid that they have joined the union and are contemplating a strike. Dunne’s passionate speech sways them to take action and Solidarity Forever is sung at both the beginning and the end of the sequence. Boyer plays a concert pianist and brings her home the night before he’s due to sail off for a tour. Not before however, he’s forced to reveal he has a wife with mental problems that he’s trying to cope with as gently as possible. Raging romance, unrequited love. 


Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Bologna Diary (2) - John Stahl provides the surprise that has Il Cinema Ritrovato buzzing

Women of all Nations
The early morning screening of Raoul Walsh’s Women of All Nations  (USA, 1931) filled up the newly air-conditioned Jolly Cinema. Walsh’s return to the characters of Flagg and Quirt first seen in his 1926 What Price Glory is full of rollicking off-colour humour, and much use of double-entendres. A peripheral character exhibits much gay behaviour though is not pilloried for it in the way Walsh did in at least one other film from the period. Victor McLaglen is as crude and as loud as anyone could be in the pre-Code era.

Hardly anybody left when the lights came up and then the audience was joined by dozens more seeking seats for John Stahl’s Seed (1931) a film seemingly unknown even to the hardcore heavyweight cinephiles who could be spotted in the audience. For starters, Bernard Eisenschitz was one among the new entrants who took up a seat in our row.  Then there was a terrific intro from scholar Imogen Sara Smith.

Seed
In Seed, Bart Carter (John Boles) is labouring away as a bank clerk when his former flame Mildred (Genevieve Tobin) comes into the office. She’s a highflyer in the same company and he invites her home for dinner. There she meets Bart’s wife Peggy (Lois Wilson) and very boisterous five kids, the latter being the reason that Bart is chained to a dead end job instead of being the highly promising novelist that Mildred knew.

Mildred awakens Bart’s ambitions and in the end Bart’s wife walks with the kids leaving Bart to hook up with Mildred and become a writer once again. Cut to “Ten Years Later” and Bart finally re-establishes contact and promptly proceeds to entice the kids away from the straitened family circumstances. Promises of finishing schools and university win them all over and the wife is left lonely and bereft, her job as a mother done and no gratitude shown. A coda has the two wives meeting and the second saying that the kids will be back. We’re not at all sure that Peggy’s advice to her future daughter-in-law never to have children and inflict such misery on yourself remains. Tremendously touching and I think the applause at the end went on longer and stronger than for any other film of the week. Serious cinephiles were later already asking each other ‘Did you see Seed?

This Cant Happen Here
At every one of Bologna’s iterations there is always one movie that people say made the show. I think it may be Seed  this year.  It certainly wont be GW Pabst’s Mysterious Shadows a complicated and leaden post-war melodrama and wont be Ingmar Bergman’s This Cant Happen Here/High Tension, a film suppressed first by the master himself and later by the Bergman family on the basis that Bergman’s attempt at a Cold War thriller clunks rather a lot. It has virtues and the anti-Soviet message was strong but the plot seemed too simple as it rolled along to a less than breathless conclusion. The fact that the audience, which included many of the same heavyweight cinephiles who again were all seeing the long-hidden film for the first time, started to trickle out, notwithstanding its very short 85 minutes, said a bit.

Raoul Walsh, John Stahl, GW Pabst, Ingmar Bergman (and a minor William Dieterle as well) made for quite a day. 

Bergman of course is everywhere this year, celebrating his 100thbirthday. There were no doubt 5000+ in the Piazza Maggiore for a resto of The Seventh Seal last night and no doubt more than a few at a screening of Margarethe von Trotta’s new doco about the master. Von Trotta also did the Piazza intro.

Monday, 25 June 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes a new edition of Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN

Rohmer and Chabrol in their wonderful book on Hitchcock, which ends at The Wrong Man in 1957, are in the text below contradicting Andre Bazin’s analysis of Hitch’s continuous long take experiment with the filming of Rope in 1948 as simply an alternative to traditional montage, in the way Bazin suggests it simply re-arrives at the conventional setups and “champs-contrechamps” POVs of the travelling shots. I think they very astutely pick out both the correct nature of Hitchcock and Cardiff’s completely liberating travellings in Under Capricorn as well as providing the key to this critically underrated movie, thus:
“The majestic beauty of Under Capricorn foreshadows that of I Confess in 1953. These films are related not only by theme but by rhythm, both having been conceived as a slow but sure march punctuated by abrupt halts. Though neither scorns to jangle our nerves, the very baldness of these effects purifies them, makes them more fascinating than really terrifying. At the highest point of the emotion in which they grip us they nevertheless permit us the distance necessary for the contemplation of great works of art. This distance needed only be taken once. The profundity of this work having been brought out, it will reflect light on the other films.”
I will only add to this typically poetic homage from les gars that even after Hitch himself complained so long and loudly of his disappointment with the “failure” of Under Capricorn, commercially, artistically and critically, there is no ignoring the astonishing steps he takes with this new adventure in long takes and travellings in which the camera and the movie itself is liberated not only from the conventions of the narrative, and conventional dramatic tics, to express a pure physical lyricism which extends the imagination of the film to another plane, beyond even the fourth wall of the camera, the audience and the screen itself. In Rope Hitch’s long takes (and the trick invisible cuts with the camera travelling behind furniture, etc) were all executed in the service of presenting a drama in real time, an exercise itself which denies to a large extent very much more meaning to the camera as visual signifier. In Capricorn Cardiff’s first travellings, after several very long takes, all static, of four minutes or more are used for the copious (and tiresome) exposition. With Sam’s/Wilding’s first visit to see his cousin the governor Cedric Gibbons having his bath, a narrative turning point, Cardiff’s camera glides behind and with Sam through not one but two doorways and apparently solid walls which appear to dissolve into the depths of Government House. 
The shock of this, after so much prosaic and fundamentally routine setup literally breaks the movie’s mood and only just prepares the viewer for the next of several outstandingly beautiful series of travelling and counter travelling tracks, dollies and cranes – all of them great lyrical flights with the power of the privileged moment, which enable us to glide as well over under and into the Flusky house and the characters imprisoned within it. 
SCREEN 1
Not only does Cardiff’s camera visually correlate Henrietta’s addiction and confinement, it creates another completely open frame of reference for viewing and interpretation which is clearly promising the possibility of liberation and freedom. That outcome will only be delivered in fact by Henrietta’s Confession which itself is played in the last staggering eight minute take of the picture.
Screens above (1) are Bergman as Henrietta Flusky and Michael Wilding as Charles Adare, in the first mirror shot after he’s freeing her from the house. 
SCREEN 2
Next (Screen 2) Bergman drugged but conscious seeing the steps Margaret Leighton as Milly has been taking to drive her crazy. And (Screen 3) Cotton in a shock of natural auburn hair as the “emancipist” Flusky. The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray is derived from a new 4K scan, although the disc is not clear about provenance. I have included a couple of screens at the end of the review to show the radically different tone and color of the first NTSC DVD disc released by Image back around 2000, and a French Universal PAL DVD released in 2005. Both look like they have used a weak and fairly damaged Eastman element, with color and black levels that have been obviously manipulated for too much contrast and indeed the limitations of the old DVD medium. 
SCREEN 3
The new Kino Lorber displays a strong, coherent and ultimately very satisfying image, with ideal, maximum white levels (Like the sort coming from projection of a Tech IB print thrown with a carbon arc lamp.) And a neutral color tone which is consistent and correct for skin tones. There is hardly any trace of three strip Technicolor fringing and shrinkage based frame instability which plagued both DVD renditions. The new 4K image is not what I was expecting but it has to be said I’ve simply never seen a 35mm, or even a decent copy of Under Capricorn 
IMAGE DISC, NTSC, 2000
until now. The bonus items on the disc are not yet explored by me but if Kino had more faith in sales the title might have benefited from a fuller supplemented package of critical opinion. 
But, thanks to the new disc, one of Hitch’s most maligned pictures is rescued for a new generation of enthusiasts. This might be one of the most important “rediscovery” titles of the year for movie lovers in fact.

French Universal Pal, 2005



Sunday, 24 June 2018

Bologna Diary - Standing Room Only for and in Scorsese

Martin Scorsese, Gianluca Farinelli 
Martin Scorsese drew more to Bologna's Piazza Maggiore than the average Rugby League crowd in Sydney. There were maybe 12,000+ lining every vantage point when the great man introduced Enamorada (Emilio Fernandez, Mexico 1947) to a very supportive crowd. The restoration, done by Bologna's own L'Imagine Ritrovato laboratory was a splendid piece mixing action movie, melodrama, social realism, romance and knockabout comedy.
Then  there was an ending to make feminists hair stand on end as the heroine Beatriz (Maria Felix) abandoned her rich American fiancee in order to trail along on foot holding the saddle of her object of desire, Mexican revolutionary general Jose Juan Reyes (Pedro Armendariz) as he departs the village in order not to hurl himself into battle with the advancing and government forces. At least she had influenced him that much...

There was standing room only as well in the much smaller Sala Scorsese for one of those movies subject to increasing interest as the days go by. The work of the Nazi Germans in France has only continued to gain attention and the output of the infamous Continental Films 

The notes told us this was a ferocious story of the aristocracy rejecting an interloper they first welcomed - a mere nightclub owner (Albert Prejean) who sweeps one of their gorgeous daughters (Claude Genia) off her feet. It's told in long flashbacks from the present day of the divorce court where the family is lined up to get rid of this parvenu. No such luck. (Oops, should have been a spoiler alert there). Did you see that coming...

Jiafeng Xuhuang
...and there was Lubitsch everywhere. In the Piazza Maggiore, a smaller crowd than for Scorsese relished the beautiful MoMA restoration of Rosita with a superb live orchestra accompaniment conducted by composer Gillian Anderson. ....in the newly-aircqonditioned Jolly Cinema a Chinese variation on the master's more playful later work Jiafeng Xuhuang  ((Huang Zuolin, China 1947) made much fun of pretensions to upward mobility among the sophisticated middle class that either cuts hair and  manicures nails or has their hair cut and nails manicured but yearns for more and goes to elaborate lengths to plot to gain undeserved riches. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

On Blu-ray - A selection of David Hare's Blu-ray reviews collected

Editor's Note: Below are links to the reviews published on the blog in which serious cinephile David Hare reviews new Blu-ray editions of classic titles.

Click on the film title to take you through to each post. Most of the pictures are David's own screen captures.





                                                                                                       

                                                                                                               


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Friday, 22 June 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare reviews a new edition of DESIGNING WOMAN (Vincente Minnelli, 1957)

Gregory Peck (above) as the male principle, "Mike", with female exemplars Lauren Bacall, as "Mrs Marilla Brown Hagen", and the almost absurdly voluptuous Dolores Gray as the ex-girlfriend, "Lori", who incidentally is one of two semi-closeted characters in the picture. 
Then there is Lauren's marvellous standard Poodle whose name I can't recall, who is the frequent arbitrater between warring husband and wife in Minnelli's often overlooked, but unnaturally compelling Designing Woman, from 1957. 
The screens are from a terrific new Warner Archive Blu-ray. The encode for this gorgeous disc was taken, as usual with Warner Archive practice, from a graded and restored Metrocolor first gen Inter-positive to a 2K digital master for the encode. 
The picture has never looked this good, and that extends to original Metro(Eastman) screenings back in the day, when non-Technicolor prints coming out of the States to the antipodes at best had a slim chance of being at all good in quality terms. Also back, despite the original 4 track stereo tracks no longer existing is a very clean remix to DTS-HD five channel master audio which works a treat. 
The movie is compelling, partly because it belongs to a string of seemingly director guided manifestos of late 50s movies focusing on gender and gender roles. The screens here end with Minnelli granting a rare performing glimpse of the great choreographer, Jack Cole playing a small part here, more or less as himself. Cole in the screen above is hauling sportswriter Peck out of a trash can after single-footedly knocking out a small army of gangland match fixing sports mobsters with what can only be called the cinema's first big kickboxing fight. Cole does this whole sequence of mega-butch assurance in two elegant long takes with the deftest footwork this side of the beginnings of late 60s wuxia into western movie theaters
This particular fight scene is immaculately enhanced by the taste of the director and choreographer of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Is There anyone here for Love". Clearly Pre-1960 code driven is Cole's character "Randy" who is obliged to play a straight man (as Minnelli himself did so often). 
And perhaps as a distraction or even a beard for his enforced closeting, Dolores Gray (below) plays Peck's former GF as someone hidden away through shame from his new bride for reaons that frankly elude me for any coherent narrative reason. 
The business however is in the action, and the testing of stereotyped gender responses to situations like the fights, fashion shows and the great pasta eating sequence, are what drives the movie as a generic comedy. At this level the picture plays with the lightest of tones, and Bacall and Peck seem to be having a lot of fun doing the show, despite Bacall's husband's illness in real life. Bogie was then in the final stages of cancer and would die before the picture was released. But Bacall never puts a foot wrong. 
The movie was shot by MInnelli favorite, the titanic John Alton, and the new Blu-ray delivers Alton's stunning color and lighting with a real whack. Andre Previn who was by now well established in the movies took over musical direction with much of the material being transposed from the earlier Freed/Donen/Comden & Green musical, It's Always Fair Weather. Previn also worked uncredited on the earlier picture. 
The movie succeeds at a completely surface level, on its own terms as marital comedy. But I confess to having real problems with the way Minnelli takes on gender based material in movies like this, and especially the lamentable Tea and Sympathy. The latter remains to me unendurable, perhaps his outright worst. Both it and Designing Woman were compelled by the censorship regime of the day to deny the magic gay word but they make a bigger hash of things by actually drowning even a coded gay option to the point of losing the real dialogue that is going on here. 
Cukor's Pat and Mike from 1952 makes an infinitely better job of this sort of genre material on multiple fronts. The Kanin/Gordon screenplay for one, the Hepburn and Tracy chemistry, and in a smaller but significant note like Cole's in Designing Woman, the openly gay David Wayne playing Kate's best girlfriend, Kip, whom he also plays as flirtatiously but openly gay. To say nothing of Cukor's own relative uncloseted-ness with which he could build trust with his cast and writers. It would be another decade or two before the cat really clawed itself out of the bag, and the whole not insubstantial business of heterosexual relationships themselves could get a more completely honest working over, not least with some reflection of the possibility of various "other"nesses. Like Minnelli's own.

On Blu-ray - Rod Bishop welcomes THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Billy Wilder, USA, 1970)

Editor's Note: A challenge is issued in the final para. Send in any entries for the single film you would choose if you only had one film to accompany you on a Desert Island.

After nearly half a century, there is finally an acceptable version of Billy Wilder’s most cherished, if heavily emasculated film. 
Billy Wilder
All the previous VHS and DVDs have been terrible, including the 2014 Kino Lorber Blu-ray. But here we have something approximating the original. The chief beneficiaries are Christopher Challis’s beautifully nuanced cinematography and Alexander Trauner’s glorious and meticulous production design. This Masters of Cinema release also includes a superb 52-page booklet with two great essays, one from Philip Kemp and the other a revelatory, blow-by-blow account of the shoot by Trevor Willsmer.
Billy Wilder’s ill-fated Sherlock Holmes journey started in 1955 when the director purchased the rights to the character from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate. He planned a Broadway musical to be written with George Axelrod, but his option lapsed. In the 1960s, The Mirisch Company re-optioned the character for Wilder who planned a filmed musical with the My Fair Lady team of Lerner and Loewe. It never got up.
With long-time collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder then began work on The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and in 1963 announced Peter O’Toole would play Holmes and Peter Sellers would be Dr Watson. “What I plan is a serious study of Holmes. Here is a most riveting character. A dope addict. A misogynist. Yet in all the previous movies made about him, nobody has ever tried to explain why.” 
Written as four of Holmes’s “cases”, as told by Dr. Watson, and accompanied by Miklos Rozsa’s achingly beautiful Violin Concerto, the four stories would amplify Holmes’s cocaine addiction, his misogyny and his relationship with Watson.
Colin Blakely, Robert Stephens, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Shooting commenced in 1969 on a budget of $10 million ($100m today) with Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson. It was designed as a three-and-a-half hour “roadshow” film with an Interval and reserved seat screenings in some cities, followed by wide distribution. 
The 13-week shoot blew out to 29 weeks and the rough cut came in at four hours. Wilder then set about supervising a final cut. Philip Kemp writes: “The completed film ran well over 200 minutes [although Trevor Willsmer suggests it was 165 minutes] …United Artists put Sherlock Holmes into preview at the Lakeside Theatre in Long Beach. Audience response was disastrous, and UA insisted the film must be cut by at least a third. Wilder was devastated. He walked away from the film, leaving it ‘in the good hands of my editor [the Englishman Ernest Walter] and my pals the Mirisches and they murdered it.’” 
Two of the four cases (The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners and The Curious Case ofThe Upside-Down Room) were dropped entirely; a lengthy Prologue involving Dr Watson’s grandson and a brief Epilogue with Inspector Lestrade also disappeared; along with a lengthy flashback to a love affair at Oxford explaining why Holmes believes “woman are unreliable and not to be trusted”. Only two stories remained, “The Singular Case of the Russian Ballerina” and “The Adventure of the Dumbfounded Detective”. The final version runs 125 minutes. 
On release, it became Wilder’s greatest financial flop, recovering only $1.5m at the box office. Film reviewers were dismissive, but there were exceptions. Andrew Sarris called it a “mellow masterpiece” and “one of the greatest films of the Seventies”. Christopher Lee, who plays Holmes’s brother Moriarty, claimed: “Sam Spiegel saw the whole thing before the film came out and said it was one of the greatest films he’s ever seen…Fred Zinnemann also apparently thought it was one of the finest films he’d ever seen. Billy showed it to them complete.” 
However, its initial run lasted only a few weeks and the film all but disappeared.
A few years later, in 1975, Wilder commented: “Today we are dealing with an audience that is primarily under 25 and divorced from any literary tradition. They prefer mindless violence to solid plotting; four-letter words to intelligent dialogue; pectoral development to character development…they just sit there waiting to be assaulted by a series of shocks and sensations…Ernst Lubitsch, who could do more with a closed door than most of today’s directors can do with an open fly, would have had big problems in this market…
Slowly, as the decades passed, television screenings and the emergence of home video found new and appreciative audiences who remained perplexed by the cruel treatment meted out to the film and wondered what had happened to the lost footage.
The artefacts that remain of the missing footage are included as Extras on this Blu-ray and they remain inconclusive. Some footage has image and no sound; some has sound and no image; and some only exist as pages from the screenplay. As best as they can be assessed, the missing material does not match the quality of the final 125-minute release. When a film loses more than 30% of its running-time to the cutting room floor, what remains will almost certainly have structural issues.
The final film is also far removed from Wilder’s usual style. His fans may well have asked: where’s the acerbic wit and biting cynicism? All we have here is unabashed, heartfelt romanticism and elegiac images with a pervasive, melancholic tone.
Robert Stephens, Genevieve Page, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes fans probably had similar problems. Robert Stephens’s wonderful performance of Holmes is either played as gay (he escapes a breeding request from a famous Russian ballerina by intimating his ‘real’ relationship with Watson precludes such activity) or as an unapologetic misogynist (“This is a very small flat, Watson. We don’t want to clutter it up with women”) or as a man whose emotional attraction to an abandoned waif causes him to lose his lauded powers of detection. Moriarty has to explain to his brother that his “client” is a German spy. Fans probably found all this a mite confusing.
I’ve re-watched this film far more times than any other. I’ve even bored friends to death by stopping the film and having them read the script excerpts from the missing footage in chronological order. Thirty years ago, I asked a friend in Los Angeles with restoration and archival resources, and who knew Wilder professionally, to approach him about a director’s cut. My friend reported back that Wilder went very quiet, dropped his head and whispered that he had no intention of ever revisiting the most heartbreaking film of his career. 
Wilder’s response mirrors the way his ill-fated masterpiece ends. Holmes and Watson are having breakfast at Baker Street, both in their dressing gowns and a letter arrives from Moriarty. It turns their comfortable domesticity into the most heartbreaking scene I’ve ever encountered in a cinema.
Genevieve Page, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The second most heartbreaking moment, however, is slyly buried in the opening credits. The contents of Watson’s box, “only to be opened 50 years after my death”, are revealed: photos, deerstalker, pipe, magnifying glass, handcuffs, a seven of diamonds, a plaque labelled “221b” and a handwritten sheet of music for violin. The dust is blown away from the sheet music. On the right hand-side is written “Sherlock Holmes, comp”. On the left, “for IIse von H”. Holmes’s watch then appears and is opened to show a portrait of a woman.
It’s a poignant moment, almost Lubitsch-like, and it only makes sense to viewers who have loved the film and are re-watching it. 
Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes - always my first choice as a desert island disc.