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Saturday, 28 July 2018

On French Blu-ray - David Hare is enthralled by a new edition of Max Ophuls DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO

Yes folks, it's John Lodge (above) just four years after playing "Alexei" for Josef von Sternberg in The Scarlet Empress, now promoted to Archduke Ferdinand, with commoner "Sophie", played by the great French diva, Edwige Feuillère in Max Ophuls' last movie made in France from 1939 (released May 1940,) before he took his family and fled certain death under the Nazis, to arrive in Hollywood in 1941. 
'...the great French diva, Edwige Feuillère...'
The screens come from a gorgeous new 2K restoration for Gaumont and CNC finished in 2016, of Max's De Mayerling a Sarajevo, set in the late Hapsburg era ca.1906. It's one of three new Gaumont Blu-rays of late 30s Ophuls released on their Découverte ("Uncovered") line. Which sadly means there are no English subtitles, but they do carry Francais HOH for those who can cope with this. 
The other two pictures are the sublime Sans Lendemain made earlier in 1939, and from 1937, Max's Butterfly adapatation,Yoshiwara, with Pierre Richard-Willm in the PInkerton part, Tanaka Michiko in the titular role, an actress who worked entirely in Europe, and Sessue Hayakawa as the third point of the triangle. 
The other two titles are still on their way, but having seen the glorious 2K restoration of Sans Lendemain earlier this year at Sydney's CINEMA REBORN, I can only add the visual glories of this restoration for Mayerling are equally revelatory and completely stunning. Where Lendemain and Yoshiwara were both shot by the great Eugene Schufftan, Mayerling was photographed by Curt Courant plus a second unit, and like Lendemain the deeply layered studio lighting and Max's orgasmic travellings, in this breathtaking new restoration are on show for the very first time in a state good enough to display the beauty of his mise-en-scène.
This movie and this resurrection of it in fact seems to be emblematic of an ongoing problem within the world of cinephilia. Max's prewar films were a group of virtually secret, unseen and unknown holy grail for so many of us for decades. Découverte indeed. Going back literally 40 plus years it was only the first big rediscovery (in a mint 35mm print) of Max's sole Italian film, La Signora di Tutti (1935) which was, once again championed in its first New York and European re-issue by Andrew Sarris in deservedly masterpiece terms. 
But the rest of this incredibly fine body of work remained stubbornly out of reach. Then, slowly, with TV and the prehistoric video age, post-1982, some, usually very bad, prints started playing for instance on Stratton's now legendary SBS schedule in Oz, as they also did in both the UK and French TV. Among them Max's single Dutch movie, Comedy in Gold, and his 1932 German masterpiece, Liebelei, although Strat could only track down the French language co- shoot version of that, Une Histoire d'Amour. 
Since then other, perfectly dreadful copies from antique provenance surfaced occasionally of one or two things, but the version doing the rounds for two decades of De Mayerling was so visually weak and hard to watch I don't think any of us have ever been able to evaluate it properly from that source. 
Certainly not me, in fact as I started to watch this new 2K I basically had to keep picking myself off the floor. 
It's a new movie discovered for the first time. And it's another outright masterpiece, without reservation, and it joins with the rest of Max's prewar French work as all at that level of masterpiece, with the sole exception of the 1938 Werther, his apaptation from Goethe. But even that now has to go into a queue of "subjects for further research". 
I can't say how disappointed I am Gaumont didn't release these three in its general Blu line which always includes English subs. But the invitation is there, I guess, pregnantly one might say, for someone like Criterion to collect the six French pictures into a curated boxset, like the recent Dietrich-Sternbergs. 
Now that Criterion are about to get the weight of the complete fucking Bergman off their chests (not a fan) they can perhaps turn their attention again to something less arthouse middlebrow, and infinitely more rewarding. Or if you love both Ophuls and Bergman, keep their balance. These would surely be more welcome than another 90s mumblecore.

Editor’s Note: For some fascinating additional commentary go to David’s  Facebook page where this post first appeared and scroll down to the comments below. 
BTW the Bergman Criterion set remains devoid of his 1950 ‘thriller’ This Cant Happen Here, recently restored to show off especially Gunnar Fischer’s remarkable B&W photography. That restoration was screened at Bologna with much introductory chuckling about how the Great Man Ingmar reacted to a screening at the Swedish Cinematheque


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