Blu-ray slight return: Film classics edition
Some stone cold classics are currently spinning on the Blu-ray platter. And I don’t mean some movie that came out eight weeks ago and is now on Blu, but rather honest to goodness works of cinematic brilliance that have not been forgotten by time.
Up first is The Brontë Sisters (Les soeurs Brontë) from French director André Téchiné. The Brontë Sisters (7/30, Cohen Media Group) unwinds with austerity and historical accuracy, and is available in any format for the first time. If you’re not a Brontë scholar it won’t matter especially after a commentary track with such a scholar that puts many pieces of the puzzle firmly in place. (Okay, maybe Emily never wore pants whilst running across the moors, that’s Téchiné’s artistic license.)
There were six Brontë siblings: two died young and the sisters – Charlotte, Anne, Emily – and their brother Branwell went on the various degrees of fame. Branwell in particular was a real sensitive cocksman who was having an affair with the wife of a minister (Mrs. Robinson). All of the Brontë siblings died before middle age, Charlotte living the longest yet dying at age 38. This sense of loss and tragedy looms throughout Téchiné’s film, and in particular a group portrait (now evidently hanging in the National Gallery in London) serves to remind of the family’s strong bonds, as well as their collective neurosis.
Branwell who painted the original actually painted over his image during an opium fueled stupor. After so many adaptations of Brontë novels, perhaps the most recent being Andrea Arnold’s super realistic multi racial version of Wuthering Heights from last year, it’s welcome to have a full length movie that celebrates the sisters by looking at facets of their lives. And the best reason to pick up The Brontë Sisters is that the film stars three of the greatest French actresses of their time: Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani and Marie-France Pisier.
A Boy and His Dog (8/6, Shout! Factory) was one of my favorite sci-fi films from the 1970s. Violent and misogynistic in tone and yet in keeping with what a post-apocalypse world would look like the film was helmed by actor L.Q. Jones (a Peckinpah regular) and written by Harlan Ellison. In an extra to the Blu-ray recorded this year Ellison and Jones hash it out for an hour with all sorts of interesting tidbits revealed, in particular about how the film was financed. It comes as no surprise that Ellison freely admits he isn’t anti-woman but rather that he hates all humans, male and female. (Ellison is should be noted wrote the best Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever.)
A Boy and His Dog stars Don Johnson, in 1975 just another pretty male ingénue, and his loyal mutt Blood as they travel across a vast desert of nothing except a few ad hoc villages housing the rag tag survivors of a nuclear war. Blood communicates to Johnson (and the audience) telepathically, with the voice of Blood provided by Tim McIntire, himself best known for several golden era television westerns. Blood is fucking hilarious, everything coming out of his mind being sarcasm or snippy one-liners. Johnson on the other hand has a one-track mind with his entire being devoted to finding food or women. And Johnson does find a woman; only you might say that Quilla June (incredibly sexy Susanne Benton who was also a Playboy pin-up) finds him. Johnson ends up being seduced by June and brought to an underground city run by Jason Robards where he’s promptly drugged and hooked up to a milking machine. You see, Johnson is the only potent male left and the city fathers intend to use his seed to repopulate their society and then have him killed. The transfer truly captures that 70s film stock look you don’t see in movies nowadays. While some of these sci-fi memes appear in other films (like THX 1138) the bond between animals and humans with animal instincts has never been topped.
While the previous two selections are fairly recent, another new Blu-ray comes from a film nearly 100-years young. Foolish Wives (7/30, Kino Classics) was a triumphant hit for Erich von Stroheim and was also a poster child for movies as art. von Stroheim was certainly an auteur and Foolish Wives, while obviously being a product of the time since it was a silent film, was surrounded by stories of directorial extravagance as well as cut to hell by studio executives. Sound familiar, or was von Stroheim merely adjusting the template of every temperamental director to still be born.
Monte Carlo in 1922 was every bit as decadent as any gambling mecca is today, and von Stroheim captures the allure of people posing to attract those who actually have money, and the gulf between. There are some great directorial choices the least of which is a big reveal that a major character’s been killed by showing their lifeless body being thrown headfirst down a sewer. Another scene has von Stroheim, also one of the film leads, shooting a pistol with a silencer. When was the last time you saw a silent film where there was a weapon with a silencer?
Another device has a femme character being seduced by von Stroheim while sunbathing, and what is she reading but a book called Foolish Wives. von Stroheim was a stickler for authenticity right down to caviar for food in one scene and yet whenever the film cuts to a newspaper clipping it looks like a cheap paste-up job. What one era considered heightened realism another generation considers as time passing slowly. This excellent transfer (at 143 minutes running time being the most complete version of the film) also includes the 1970 documentary The Man You Love To Hate.
— Michael Bergeron