Tuesday, 19 January 2016

On DVD and Blu-ray- David Hare looks at new Blu-ray releases by Visconti, Wenders and Richard Quine

Rocco and His Brothers

Some advance grabs from the gorgeous L'Immagine Ritrovato 2015 4k restoration of Rocco e Suoi Fratelli of 1960. These are from the first official Blu-ray release on Spanish Divisa label. with only Spanish audio and subs for linguistic options. Masters of Cinema in the UK will be releasing a transfer from the same 4k master in March with copious extras including an extremely rare French audio dub, and English subs. Rocco is my own favorite Visconti marriage of cinematic verismo and stylized operatic action with male sexuality driving the soup. Between them Renato Salvatore and Alain Delon represent the height of Luchino hunkdom, after the glorious episode with then Luchino BF Massimo Girotti and the Communist "lo Spagnolo" (Elio Marcuzzo) who is in love with him in L' Ossessione way back in 1943 and the birth of so called "neo-realism". Boxing promoter Roger Hanin adds a more directly gay hunk intermediary to all this barely suppressed horniness. The sequence of Hanin wrestling Salvatore to the floor to "overpower" him with the camera cutting away from the impending male to male sexual action to flickering tv images of nude male "classical" art is always worth the price of admission. Visconti's best film.

The American Friend
Criterion's new American Friend from a new 4K restoration. Wender's best film, and for the scenes with Nick Ray a reminder of a time back when lofts in Soho were cheap and nasty spaces only acceptable to starving artists in then edgy downtown Manhattan. Another world ago..... It's awful how much downtown Manhattan has changed. And I haven't been back since the late 1990s. Back in Sydney last month the entire NorthWest dockside of the central city (the old Walsh Bay) has turned into a hideous mini Dubai with vile green and black skyscrapers looking like giant anal warts but with a lovely but pitifully small token parkland as a concession to public amenity. This was the last living breathing part of the original working harbor. The early 20th century docks and sheds have long gone. I think when every old Harbor city loses its maritime heritage it spells the end and and the fouling flood of gentrification. Ditto London docklands and all those vile waterside apartments for Etonian spiv drug dealers and Tory merchant bankers..

Bell, Book and Candle.
A fine transfer, as to be expected from Twilight Time and Grover Crisp's team at Sony for the meticulous mastering. The resolution of detail and the perfect color timing is so fine you can see subtle changes in makeup, wig hairlines and almost every pencil line in Novak's "Witch" eyebrows. There's no doubting Will Krupp's point about the gay text. (“A good portion of the flamboyantly outre feeling of BB & C can also be traced to the original play, which author John Van Druten always acknowledged as a comic allegory for gay life in mid century Manhattan”). Even Jack Lemmon's supporting part as Nicky the brother/drummer/warlock is not gender specific when it refers to his love life. In fact his hookup with the bogus witchcraft author, played with wonderful pure New York method line reading of Van Druten's text by "Sidney"/Ernie Kovaks implies they have hooked up in more ways than one.
At one point Sidney says to Nicky/Lemmon "you're irresistible"! Another trait of this great disc is the clarity of Jimmy Wong Howe's luscious camera movements into and back from Novak and the cat, a clear evidence of Quine's nurturing and adoration of Novak through the supple graceful mise en scene.
Which leads me to my first cinephile heresy of the day. I frankly think the partnership of Novak and Stewart in this is superior to Vertigo and I frankly prefer the Quine as a movie to the Hitchcock. I won't delve too far into this but to say Quine's direction of Novak gives us a wildly superior performance to her half phony, half sluttish double part in the Hitch. I actively dislike her in the Hitch and agree with him about Vera MIles. I also have other issues with the picture, including the self consciousness of the narrative conceit. But Novak is so fine in all her Quine pictures, like another actress at another level altogether. And the parallels with Vertigo go further here, than you might expect as though Van Druten or at least screenwriter Daniel Taradash had consciously kept the conceits of Vertigo in mind while writing this very moving (beneath all the whimsy) subject of acknowledging genuine affection. In Quine's wonderful Pushover (USA, 1954) which debuts Novak as a star, Quine embeds the very subject and the impossibilities of a love affair within the context of a Noir world with Fred MacMurray as the chump. Quine badly needs resurrection and re-appraisal. Peter Kemp, if he needed the booze to make films this good, I raise a glass!

My coolness on Vertigo goes back a long way. The one thing I think works best in it is Hermann's score. As for Novak's performance surely a lot of the blame has to rest with Hitchcock's screenplay and his own direction of her. She's simply guided to Dutchess as Madeleine, as she had a year earlier for George Sidney in Jeanne Eagels but at least that movie is bedded down in Sidney's general let's have a party atmosphere even at the melodrama's shrillest moments. And she basically just slums it as Judy. Not to mention the sheer nerve edging ultra middlebrow annual S&S etc etc Canonification of titles via received fucking wisdom. (You and I need to walk quietly wearing a sign saying "unclean" Peter Kemp). And surely it would be churlish to deny fans and Quine himself a happily hetero reading of the text and performances which all work for me perfectly in tandem with the gay levels. And surely Miss Novak's own sexuality itself has always been at the forefront of the giant question mark thought bubble in the sky?

.....The absolute low point in the Hitch is that fucking nun ringing the fucking bells. At this point it's beyond camp. And yes the Boileau-Narcejac shoulders a lot of the blame. When a great artist takes his own hero worship too seriously he makes art films. Not movies.

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