Friday, 8 January 2016

On DVD and Blu-ray- David Hare runs through his recent acquisitions (2)

In a previous post which you can find here  I gathered up a series of Facebook posts by longtime scholar and cinephile David Hare discussing his latest Blu-ray  and DVD acquisitions. Below is another set. (Click on the images for a hopefully good capture.)

Twilight Time's new Blu-ray of The Detective (Gordon Douglas, USA, 1968), another flawless 60s DeLuxe Eastmancolor Scope transfer from Fox. In these grabs Sinatra extracts a confession from Tony Musante and with an incredibly open and physically played intimacy that director Gordon Douglas makes the high point of the film, in contradiction to the procession of faggy stereotyping elsewhere that surely comes direct from the pages of the trash novel by Roderick Thorp. The production lumbers the film with a painfully arch quasi Nouvelle Vague multi flashback structure to confusingly counterpoint Lee Remick's "nymphomania" to the more primary homosexual text. This and a literally unbelievably bad career worst performance from Jacqueline Bisset fail to completely dampen interest in this as a major pre-Gay Lib time piece and a Douglas project. The first of his three Tony Rome movies with the Blue eyed one, it remains fascinating as a pre Friedkin Boys in the Band (USA, 1970), pre- Stonewall direct presentation of gay material from a major studio picture. Rather than dwell on the fag baiting minutiae it's a better idea to take your cues from Frank the king of cool himself in the opening murder investigation, when someone says to him (stating the bleeding obvious given the Lydeckerian apartment) "He wuzza Homosexual". Frank slips out sotto voce without blinking, "yeah, the leader." Later in the picture, during a bar sequence the soundtrack features David Raksin's great theme for Laura (another Fox property of course) to signal another Waldo-esque gay dimension to the picture. Unreservedly recommended.

Twilight Time's flawless new Blu-ray of Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, USA, 1995). Here's Denzel Washington at a career highpoint which sadly failed to make a dent in the Box Office. Also in the two shot Don Cheadle in his first big breakthrough role as Denzel's/ Easy's' id, Mouse. Carl Franklin's immaculate direction is supple, mobile and taut with Franklin's own screenplay tightly transferring the Walter Mosley late 1940s black noir novel. Prime atmosphere from composer Elmer Bernstein and DP Tak Fujimoto, Jonathon Demme's then favored DP, with Demme also producing. The picture's period recreation easily meets Chinatown but set a decade later, and the ambience here has the added punch of poisonous, suppurating racism, never needing more than a nudge to eat away at the glimpses of hope throughout Fujimotos' cloud and grain inflected pale blue LA skies, and the astonishing color palette, down to an amazing range of skin tones which take on unexpected new narrative meanings through the course of the plot with variations in light and focal length, all rendered in a consummate recreation of late 40s dye transfer Technicolor post war pastel palette. The picture badly needs rediscovery and if this gorgeous new transfer doesn't do it nothing will. Noir as black reality in which white people, starting with the cops are murderers and thugs, and the rest are corrupt perverts. Even Daphne's/Jennifer Beale''s "secret" doesn't save her from the racist quicksand.

Anton Walbrook reads Emeric Pressburger's fine speech denouncing German fascism to Eric Portman's Nazi in Powell's perfectly marvellous 49th Parallel from 1941, from the 2013 Carlotta Blu-ray. It's effectively part one of his (and Emeric's) later highly personal monologue as a pending refugee in the 1943 Blimp, in an even greater sequence. Both episodes are filmed by Powell in just two takes, MCU and close. Like much of the picture the speech is a fine element in itself, as is much of the movie, but the sum of its parts never quite reaches a perfect whole. Even Vaughan Williams' superb score seems to strike an outside key, just as the performances themselves seem so irascibly varied. Perhaps it was the fact that Powell still took sole director credit and Emeric took sole writing credit. Their perfect union would only come with the next picture. It would also be an understatement to describe Larry's performance as scenery chewing but there you go. Some equally if more restrainedly delicious refinement comes from suprising actors like Lesley Howard, Raymond Massey and even a juvenile Glynis Johns. As an ensemble cast the movie plays with more varied performance styles and personalities than a Robert Altman picture.

And for those who share my fascination with lingering shots of men in underpants or showering, and soaking wet crotch revealing trousers, frequent displays of very physical male camaraderie and hugging etc, you won't be disappointed. The banter is very, uhh Canadian Mounties. The disc is impeccable, especially given the absence of any O-neg or even a mint archival first gen 35mm NItrate. Carlotta seems one of the most reliable BD houses these days for fine quality transfers, and this is another. The only thing they might now have been able to conquer if they were doing it in 2016 rather than 2012 is a digital application to tame the gate weave that hits very infrequent rougher dupe looking passages. But a minor quibble. Removable French subs and the disc includes the 42 minute curiosity short docu-feature with Ralph Richardson in the navy, The Volunteer which is however a 25fps/50Hz source with the usual speeded up squeaky voice syndrome. This item is worth watching if only for the brief shots of the Denham 1936 Modernist post deco studio canteen which looks like it jumped out of a Maholy-Nagy short.

Yet another new Twilight Time Blu-ray, King Vidor's less than camp Solomon and Sheba (USA, 1959). Here's La Lollo tempting a parrot with some crumbs while her toenails are painted. A bit like the cast with the audience really. This sequence which apparently has no other purpose in the narrative runs over four minutes - who knows why. God knows De Mille did this sort of static pageantry-luxe so much better. This is also the movie that can claim one of the 50s most mysterious screen credits: "Gowns for Miss Lollobrigida executed by Schuberth of Rome." I want to know more, don't you? I struggle to see much relevance from it to Vidor's career, and the color palette seems to come from the mind of some demented queen on downers, even in this technically astute transfer from a presumably Eastman 35mm reduction print which has to wrestle with both the ugly cheap looking production design and the technical weaknesses of the source. Yul was substituted for Tyrone Power after the latter's fatal heart attack two thirds of the way through filming (and no bad jokes at this point, in the interests of good taste), and the movie also claims George Sanders impersonating the semi fictional "Adonijah". Yul wears a rug to do Solomon, and even more amazingly David Farrar plays Pharaoh in white cocktail gown with matching headpiece, and seems to slur repeatedly through his line readings while teetering on the verge of toppling off the throne. Despite all this the picture isn't big on laughs. Even the midpoint orgy sequence is fully clothed which says it all.

The very first CU in the whole of cinema of a very realistic procedural from Feuillade's fantasy masterpiece Fantomas. This is a grab from the third title on disc 1 from the new Kino Lorber/Gaumont Blu-ray 2-disc set. The quality is simply unbelievable - resolution, contrast, grain, fine detail, stability. It made me weep with joy. And the transfer literally knocked me off my seat. If anything at all comes along in 2016 to beat this for Blu-ray of the year I will be amazed. Run don't walk. Film Restoration, 4K mastering and Blu-ray transfers do not get any better than this.

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