Saturday, 23 January 2021

Irréversible (DVD)

Irreversible
Irreversible
Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is notorious for its real-time rape sequence, its brutal (CGI) fire extinguisher murder scene, and its reverse-chronology narrative structure (though the latter was heavily influenced by Memento). Irréversible (like most of Noé’s films) is sexually explicit and intentionally confrontational; to see it on its theatrical release in 2002, I had to drive to a cinema thirty miles away (as local cinemas wouldn’t screen it) and read a notice warning viewers that it contained disturbing images.

Last year, Noé recut the film, putting it into conventional chronological order. This new version was released on DVD and blu-ray in France and Germany by Studio Canal in 2020, and will be available on blu-ray in the UK from Indicator later this year.

The recut version is actually shorter than the original, losing almost ten minutes of footage, notably from the S&M club sequence: explicit shots of sexual activity both outside and inside the club have been removed. Another change occurs after the end credits: the caption “LE TEMPS DETRUIT TOUT” (‘time destroys everything’) has been replaced by a new, more optimistic maxim: “LE TEMPS RÉVÈLE TOUT” (‘time reveals everything’).

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Le jour se lève (blu-ray)

Le jour se leve
Le jour se leve
Le jour se lève marks the high point of ‘poetic realism’, the fatalistic, atmospheric French thrillers that anticipated American film noir. Starring French cinema’s most iconic actor, Jean Gabin, Le jour se lève combines the meticulous visual style of its director, Marcel Carné, with a sophisticated flashback structure from screenwriter Jacques Prévert.

Le jour se lève was released on blu-ray by Studio Canal for its 75th anniversary in 2014. This restored version features two minutes of additional footage—including a rather risqué shot of Arletty in the shower—censored by the French government on the film’s original theatrical release.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Sunset Boulevard (blu-ray)

Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Sunset Boulevard was first released on blu-ray by Paramount in 2012. The disc included a newly-discovered deleted scene, in which lyricists Ray Livingston and Ray Evans sing one of their own compositions, The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues. The song was cut from the film—and replaced with Buttons and Bows—because the studio considered it too much of an inside joke, though plenty more inside jokes survived the edit.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Cannibal Ferox (blu-ray)

Cannibal Ferox
Eaten Alive!
The short-lived Italian cannibal horror subgenre was one of the most controversial chapters in the history of exploitation cinema. Umberto Lenzi directed the film that launched the cycle, Man from Deep River (Il paese del sesso selvaggio), though Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is the only example of any real cinematic interest. Despite its exploitation origins, Cannibal Holocaust provided a multi-layered critique of mondo filmmaking, and it directly influenced The Blair Witch Project and other ‘found footage’ horror films.

Cannibal Ferox eschewed the structural sophistication of Cannibal Holocaust in favour of ritualised, explicit violence. As Kim Newman wrote in Nightmare Movies: “Lenzi takes the form about as far as it can go in the direction of gratuitous violence”. Both films contain scenes of genuine animal killings, and both were included on the ‘video nasties’ list in the UK, though Newman calls Cannibal Ferox “the nastiest of the nasties”.

The deluxe blu-ray edition of Cannibal Ferox released by Grindhouse in 2015 features approximately twenty seconds of newly-discovered footage. This extra material, which has no soundtrack, includes additional shots of a pig being killed. (As a vegetarian, scenes like this are hard to watch.) The blu-ray supplements include a feature-length documentary, Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film, directed by Calum Waddell, featuring interviews with Lenzi, Deodato, and Newman.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Criterion Collection
Dr Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove was first released by the Criterion Collection on laserdisc, in 1992. That transfer was supervised by Kubrick himself, and he even designed the front cover, though the disc was swiftly withdrawn from sale after Kubrick complained about the unauthorised inclusion of a screenplay draft among the supplementary features. (The draft script opened with a segment titled The Dead Worlds of Antiquity, told from the perspective of an alien civilisation.)

The Criterion laserdisc presented Dr Strangelove “in its original split-format aspect ratio for the first time.” The film alternated between 1.66:1 and 1.33:1, as it had on its original theatrical release. (Criterion’s Lolita laserdisc also featured these alternating ratios.) When Dr Strangelove was released on DVD for the first time, in 1999, the split-format was retained, though all subsequent releases have been matted to 1.66:1. Sadly, the Criterion blu-ray, released in 2016, is also framed at 1.66:1, though it does have an uncompressed mono soundtrack.

The blu-ray’s supplementary features include an extraordinary new discovery: an exhibitor’s trailer of highlights from the film, narrated by Kubrick himself (“Please remember, as you watch this, that the material is uncut”). The disc also includes an interview with Mick Broderick, author of the excellent Reconstructing Strangelove. The packaging is equally impressive, with reproductions of the “miniature combination Russian phrasebook and Bible” and the “Plan R” dossier.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Birth of a Nation (blu-ray)

The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation, the first epic American film, is now rightly regarded as racist propaganda. Even on its original theatrical release, it was condemned as inflammatory. Nevertheless, it’s a historically significant film, and it was released on US blu-ray by Kino in 2011. A UK blu-ray edition, as part of the Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series, followed in 2013. The Birth of a Nation was the very first film to feature an intermission, and the “End of the first part” intertitle was restored for the two blu-ray releases. (It had been missing from previous video versions.)

Blade Runner
(30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition)

Blade Runner
Dangerous Days
The Blade Runner 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition blu-ray features five (yes, five) versions of the film: the original theatrical release (with the studio-imposed happy ending and narration), the international theatrical cut (with slightly more violence), the director’s cut (with the unicorn dream sequence), The Final Cut (with some CGI enhancement), and the workprint. (For an exhaustive comparison of the different versions, see Future Noir.)

The three-disc blu-ray set also includes the feature-length documentary Dangerous Days, a definitive guide to the making of the film. The set was originally released on DVD in 2007, and was rereleased on blu-ray in 2012 for the film’s 30th anniversary.

The Exorcist (blu-ray)

The Exorcist
Raising Hell
Mark Kermode’s The Fear of God is the definitive documentary on the making of The Exorcist. It was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1998, and an extended version (featuring interviews with actress Mercedes McCambridge and censor James Ferman) was released on the BBC iPlayer last year. However, the 2010 blu-ray release of The Exorcist contained a thirty-minute featurette, Raising Hell, which includes newly-discovered silent 16mm footage shot on the set.

The Criterion Collection
Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead
Night of Anubis
Due to a technical oversight—the omission of a copyright notice in the opening title sequence—George A. Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead was a public-domain film from the moment it was released. (The law has since changed, and copyright is now granted automatically.) Without copyright protection, the film was distributed on video by all and sundry, in various poor-quality editions.

A restored version was finally released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in 2018. The Criterion edition also includes a workprint version of the film, with the alternate title Night of Anubis. (The workprint is silent, though audio from the theatrical version was synched with it.) The blu-ray also features newly-discovered dailies (also silent), and the release was supervised by Romero shortly before his death.

The Criterion Collection
The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s stunning The Tree of Life was released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in 2018. One disc features the theatrical version, though Malick also created an extended version (fifty minutes longer) especially for the Criterion release. The extended cut has also been reframed, revealing slightly more of the image while retaining the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

It Came from Outer Space (blu-ray)

It Came from Outer Space
It Came from Outer Space
Jack Arnold’s classic 1950s sci-fi film It Came from Outer Space was released on blu-ray in the UK in 2016. The disc features both the 3D and conventional 2D versions of the film, though this edition is particularly significant for completists as it includes the original theatrical intermission.

Intermissions are usually associated with epics such as Gone with the Wind, though they were required for all 3D films in order to change reels on both projectors. So, despite its brisk eighty-minute running time, It Came from Outer Space also had an intermission, and this blu-ray release is the first video edition to include it.

Apocalypse Now (Full Disclosure)

Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure
The three-disc Full Disclosure edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was released on blu-ray in 2010. The box set includes the original theatrical version of Apocalypse Now, the extended Apocalypse Now Redux, and the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness (though not, of course, the five-hour workprint or the recent Final Cut version). It also features a booklet with material from Coppola’s archive.

This release is most notable for its aspect ratio, it being the first time that the film was ever released in 2.35:1 on any video format. All previous video editions were cropped to 2.0:1—the Univisium ratio retroactively applied by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro—a fate that also befell Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo).

Monday, 1 April 2019

Psycho Legacy Collection
Deluxe Edition

The Psycho Legacy Collection Deluxe Edition was released in Germany earlier this year. It includes an uncut version of Psycho that has been broadcast on television in Europe but has never previously been available on any video format.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Different Views, Death Sentence

Different Views, Death Sentence
Suthachai Yimprasert's Different Views, Death Sentence [sic] (ต่างความคิด ผิดถึงตาย ๖ ตุลาคม ๒๕๑๙) was released on DVD in 2011. The documentary explores the long-term issues that led up to the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, providing context and analysis missing from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย).

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Pleasure Factory (DVD)

Pleasure Factory
Pleasure Factory (快乐工厂) was made in Singapore by Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham, whose previous film was Beautiful Boxer (บิวตี้ฟูล บ๊อกเซอร์). When Pleasure Factory was shown in both Thailand and Singapore, an explicit masturbation sequence (featuring Loo Zihan) was censored, along with two sex scenes. Altogether, around two minutes of footage was cut. However, the film was released uncut on DVD in Europe and America.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Sweet Gang (DVD)

The Sweet Gang
The Sweet Gang
The Sweet Gang (ยกก๊วนป่วนหอ), a low-budget sex farce directed by Niran Thamprecha, was made for the Thai straight-to-VCD market in 2005. It was also released on VCD and DVD in Hong Kong (界女鬥一番). (The film's on-screen title is The Sweet Gang, though the video covers all drop the definite article.)

The Sweet Gang is of almost no interest, except for its use of self-censorship for comic effect. Whenever a character is about to disrobe, the film is interrupted by a flashing "SENSOR !!!" [sic] warning. This happens several times, lasting from a few seconds to more than a minute, by which point the joke has worn rather thin.

A very similar device was used by Apichatpong Weerasethakul three years after The Sweet Gang. When Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was censored in Thailand, Apichatpong replaced the cut sequences with silent, black footage to highlight the censorship.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Jan Dara: The Beginning (DVD)

Jan Dara: The Beginning
Jan Dara: The Beginning (จัน ดารา ปฐมบท), directed by Pundhevanop Dhewakul, is a prequel to Nonzee Nimibutr's original Jan Dara (จัน ดารา). It stars Mario Maurer, who later starred in Pundhevanop's At the Gate of the Ghost (อุโมงค์ผาเมือง). (Both films demonstrate why Mario, a former model, is more famous for his looks than his acting skills.)

For its theatrical release in 2012, Jan Dara: The Beginning was cut to obtain an '18' rating, though a Thai senator started a brief moral panic by complaining that it was still too sexually explicit. (The film has plenty of topless nudity, which is rare in mainstream Thai cinema.) The Ministry of Culture responded by requiring cinemas to check audience-members' ID cards at the box office.

According to the Film and Video Act, age verification is only required for films rated '20', while the lower ratings ('13,' '15', and '18') are purely advisory. The exceptional (and illegal) ID-check was not widely enforced by cinemas, and the film had already been playing for a fortnight before the policy was confirmed. The DVD is uncut (almost half an hour longer), and rated '20'.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

78/52 (DVD)

78/52
78/52
The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary 78/52 refers to the (supposed) seventy-eight camera setups and fifty-two shots in the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. (It could have been called A Long Hard Look at Psycho, but that title was already taken by Raymond Durgnat's book.) After an introduction to Psycho's cultural significance, the documentary analyses the shower scene shot-by-shot: the painting covering the peephole, the "calm before the storm", the three jump-cuts as Marion screams (echoing the monster's first appearance in Frankenstein), and the montage as she is attacked.

Talking heads, all filmed in black-and-white, include Hitchcock scholars Stephen Rebello (author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho), Bill Krohn (author of Hitchcock at Work and Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock), and David Thomson (author of The Moment of Psycho). Philippe's greatest coup is his interview with Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh's body double, who has rarely spoken about her role before. The most revealing contribution comes from Walter Murch (editor of Apocalypse Now), who meticulously deconstructs Hitchcock's editing and camera placement.

This is not the first study of Psycho's shower scene: Philip J. Skerry's book Psycho in the Shower also includes a detailed analysis of the sequence. Surprisingly, Skerry isn't interviewed in 78/52, though his book (like Rebello's) is essential, especially if read alongside Richard J. Anobile's book of Psycho stills. (Leigh has written her own memoir on the film, Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller; and Hitchcock is a lightly fictionalised account of Psycho's production.)

78/52 includes plenty of clips from Psycho, though it clearly couldn't secure the rights to the original Bernard Herrmann score. It also features short extracts from Laurent Bouzereau's documentary The Making of Psycho. The DVD includes a fascinating extended interview with Philippe, and a booklet with a short written statement by him.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Meat Grinder (DVD)

Meat Grinder
Tiwa Moeithaisong's horror film Meat Grinder was heavily censored for its Thai release. (Also, its Thai title was changed from ก๋วยเตี๋ยว เนื้อ คน to เชือดก่อนชิม.) The UK DVD version, released by 4Digital in 2010, is uncut in terms of violence, though some sequences have been removed for pacing reasons. These scenes are present in the Thai version, which has substantially different editing and alternate footage.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide was released on DVD in the UK by Nucleus. The release, in 2009, was a limited edition (of which my copy is number 620), and it included five postcards featuring video inlay covers.

The three-hour documentary, directed by Jake West, includes interviews with Martin Barker (author of The Video Nasties, the first book on the subject) and Kim Newman (author of Nightmare Movies), amongst many others. The exhaustive documentary is accompanied by trailers for the 'video nasties' themselves, introduced by interviewees from the documentary.