Interesting factoid: In the movie Red River (1948), Walter Brenan as Nadine Groot never once says the line, “I am Groot.”

There were three Sergios prominent in Italian spaghetti westerns in the 1960s. Sergio Leone (natch), Sergio Sollima and Sergio Corbucci.

Corbucci was the director of Django (1966), which was the inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained. A new Blu-ray release of Corbucci’s western The Great Silence (1968, Il grande silenzio) will delight those who previously had only heard about the legendary film, which was only available on an out of print DVD, if not an expensive Japanese laser disc. The Great Silence streeted June 5 from disc distributor Film Movement.

In between Django and Great Silence, Corbucci found the time to make a few American westerns like the Burt Reynolds starrer Navajo Joe. While The Great Silence presents a constant snow driven background, the film was an aesthetic influence on Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. (Although Hateful Eight was really the perfect homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing as well as Agatha Christie mysteries.)

The extras on The Great Silence, as well as the informative booklet essay, go a long way in putting this previously unknown masterpiece in perspective. A visual breakdown of the film narrated by Alex Cox acknowledges that Great Silence is the most pessimistic western ever made.

Spoiler Alert: The Blu-ray includes two alternate endings. Yet the original ending has the villain (a smarmy Klaus Kinski) killing the hero, Silence (so named because he’s mute, played to the max by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and then literally killing everybody in the town who are being held hostage in the local saloon. It’s one of the most what-the-fuck endings of any film ever made. In the narrative, Trintignant teams up with widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee, later a familiar face in films like Blacula and Shaft in Africa) and the film’s interracial content was also years ahead of its time.

The snowbound locations include the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain. Another extra examines 1960 Italian westerns with location footage shot on the set of Grand Silence.

Cohen Media releases restorations of film classics with the same aplomb as the Criterion Collection. Two of their latest releases include La Belle Noiseuse (5/8) and King of Hearts (6/12).

La Belle Noiseuse, directed with an eye for the complexity of relationships by Jacques Rivette, unwinds at a leisurely four-hours and deals with a great artist (Michel Piccoli) coming out of retirement to paint his masterpiece with Emmauel Béart, naked most of the running time, as his muse. Jane Birkin co-stars and French artist Bernard Dufour doubles as Piccoli’s hands in several scenes depicting the process of sketching and then filling in the lines of the painting, all seen in close-up. The ironic thing about this film is that the viewer never sees the complete painting, while the character do. Despite the long running time, La Belle Noiseuse or “The Beautiful Troublemaker,” is constantly mesmerizing.

King of Hearts, from French filmmaker Philippe de Broca, became a cult film instantly after its 1966 release. Many audiences saw this film as a perennial midnight movie in the 1970s.

Alan Bates plays a Scottish soldier in WWI who is sent to disarm a bomb left by retreating Germans in a small French town. Only a series of circumstance lead Bates to the local insane asylum, which he finds populated by people who are more rational than the enemy or his military superiors.

An all-star supporting cast includes Adolfo Celi (Thunderball), Geneviéve Bujold, Michel Serrault (La Cage aux Folles), Jean-Claude Brialy and Françoise Christophe among others.

The inmates overrun the town, but in the end the battle ends with all the soldiers on both sides killed except for Bates, who rapidly disrobes and joins his brethren safely in the asylum. King of Hearts was the anti-war film that American audiences latched onto during the Vietnam War era.

Also On

  • Swung (Omnibus Entertainment, 5/22) offers up a delicious sex comedy about a Scottish couple looking to re-ignite their love life by becoming swingers. Part of the joy of this film is the unknown cast along with Elizabeth McGovern as a dominatrix.
  • Hamlet (Omnibus Entertainment, 6/12) presents a post-modern theatrical version of the Shakespeare play headlined by Maxine Peake as the Danish loner. Shot in the round (the audience is always in the dark) with characters in modern dress remind us how many of the lines are classic as to be instantly recognizable. Some of the shots are cinematic, like overhead views, while much of the play relies on the dialogue to advance the drama.
  • Edward II (Film Movement, 6/12) marks one of the high points of the then nascent Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s. Adapted liberally from Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play of the same name, Derek Jarman gives new life to the purported relationship between Edward and his male lover Gaveston. Jarman littered his visionary landscape with cigarettes and modern accouterments amidst the minimalistic sets. Steve Waddington, Andrew Tiernan and a youthful and vibrant Tilda Swinton make the experience memorable.