Local Hero

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Comedy;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Peter Reigert, Burt Lancaster, Denis Lawson, Jenny Seagrove.

Better than any movie of its era, Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero comes closest to pulling off full-fledged whimsy — or at least, that’s what I thought in 1983 and up to about a week ago. But now, I can assert my huzzah without qualification because time indeed has been kind, and this deserving (but, to me, somewhat unexpected) Criterion release now seems like feel-good perfection without need of any “closest to” stuff.

Of course, as is noted in one of this release’s accompanying supplements (which are, as DVD Beaver’s Garry Tooze likes to say, “stacked”), there was some financial resistance to green-lighting this Houston-to-Scotland dose of chuckle bait at the time because everyone in it is so likable — the implication being that without anyone for audiences to hate, no one would come. Now, there’s a telling commentary for you on something, and one wonders if this would still apply to mass taste in 2019. Whatever the case, even this comedy’s potential villain — a CEO played by Burt Lancaster whose deep pockets want to turn a Scottish village into an oil refinery — is hard not to like. Part of this is due to the character’s compensating virtues and some is due to Lancaster’s trademark spectacular charisma, even in, as here, business attire.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Still basking a little in residual ensemble glory for his role in National Lampoon’s Animal House, Peter Riegert turned out to be a felicitously droll choice to play the ambitious company exec that Lancaster picks to negotiate the deal. Riegert’s assignment is due to the fact that with “MacIntyre” as his character’s last name, Lancaster’s assumption is that this guy must be Scottish, though it turns out that this was just another case of immigrant name-mangling when the former’s Hungarian ancestors came to America. No matter: Lancaster’s “Felix Happer” — how can any audience dislike a Felix? — keeps failing to recognize his underling on subsequent meet-ups, even though the two have shared a passionate conversation (at least on the boss’s side) about this corporate giant’s overriding passion: astronomy.

The central joke here is that the Scottish locals are assumed to be financial patsies when, in fact, they can probably negotiate a deal as well as Hollywood’s old-school finest could (think Lew Wasserman or Swifty Lazar). This is less a case of villager veins getting a fresh infusion of ice cubes every morning than of this supposedly unassuming populace being set in ways that sometimes stretch back centuries if you factor in inherited land holdings. On the other hand, the populace isn’t so adverse to change that enough green might not make them reconsider. There is one key holdout: He lives in a ramshackle pile of something that doesn’t even have a front door, so to gain entrance, visitors have to climb in through a window. In other words, he’s not exactly motivated by money.

A good filmmaker might come up with one idiosyncratic writing or directing “ping” to enhance a scene, but writer-director Forsyth, who at the time was coming off the sleeper success Gregory’s Girl, floods us with as many as Robert Altman did. They can come out of anywhere: hilariously set-up gags about the degree to which the Scottish point-person played by Denis Lawson turns out to be a professional jack-of-all trades; a humble village dance (guys playing the fiddle and all that) where a punker stands out as much as Pavarotti would have; divulgence of the true biological identity of a dreamboat marine researcher played by Jenny Seagrove; Lawson’s pragmatic or lackadaisical approach (take your pick) to wedded bliss when every negotiating tool is in play; and the escalating extremes in the actions of a certifiable nut job that Lancaster has hired to insult and even humiliate him at work. The last is likely over Felix’s inadequacies over having inherited the family business, which kept from marrying and otherwise fulfilling his own potential.

Local Hero has a couple secret weapons. One is the unbeatable score by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, which captures both the comedy and the strain of melancholy that runs through the movie (Riegert’s character is lonely, too). To my surprise, because the score has a cult, it’s the one major component not really covered in the bonus section, though Fortsyth’s voiceover (with film critic Mark Kermode, who asks really good questions) does go on about Knopfler’s contribution at one point.

The other is the almost incalculable contribution of Chris Menges, who within four years of Hero’s release would win two cinematography Oscars (The Killing Field and The Mission). Usually, with whimsical screen material, one expects the premise, dialogue, comic situations and a deep bench of supporting players to carry the load. To be sure, all of that happens here, but this is also a movie laced by an underlying sadness, as well as one that deals substantially with the pull of the universe: bigger game, though it wouldn’t think of rubbing our noses in it. The imagery here is frequently thrilling and that’s not too strong a word. Menges even manages to elicit a substantial emotional kick from the manner in which he frames and lights a phone booth, which Criterion appreciated enough to make the structure the centerpiece of its cover art.

Menges rates his own nearly hourlong documentary in the bonus section, dealing with earlier works, which is instructional because they deal with films not widely known. My favorite extra, along with the Forsyth-Kermode voiceover, is a primer with how the picture came to be from inception through the ad campaign — an unusually specific fly-on-the-wall chronicle (Hero producer David Puttnam makes his one major appearance in this section) for which I can remember few screen precedents. As I keep asking with nearly every look at a Criterion release: How do the company’s sleuths keep finding the mausoleums where this stuff is buried? In this case, a lot of the material comes from the archives of Scottish TV.

One thing that wasn’t a factor in 1983 was the existence of You’ve Been Trumped, a 2001 documentary that everyone should have seen pre-election. With Forsyth’s fiction replaced by fact, though with meanness subbing for ultimate decency, it tells how Donald Trump high-pressured Scottish locals who wouldn’t sell him their land by turning the off their water as stacks of unwashed dishes piled up in their sinks. All so that he could build another of his golf courses for fat-cats and, presumably himself when he needed a spare place to shoot his standard 212 on the first nine holes before rewriting his scorecard.

Seeing Hero again made me long for the years when I programmed the AFI Theater because here was a dream double bill plunked in front of me. Just about the time I was congratulating my brainstorm after making the connection between the documentary and Forsyth’s more life-affiriming riff, my self-admiration was dashed upon hearing Forsyth and Kermode make the link themselves. The two thoroughly destroyed my thunder with a wink, the way the Scots do to do Big Oil here.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Whirlpool’

Oscar Nominee ‘Cold War’ Due on Disc Nov. 19 From Criterion

The Criterion Collection Nov. 19 will release Cold War on Blu-ray and DVD. The 2018 Polish film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film.

The sweeping, delirious romance begins in the Polish countryside, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a musician on a state-sponsored mission to collect folk songs, discovers a captivating young singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig). Over the next 15 years, their turbulent relationship will play out in stolen moments between two worlds: the jazz clubs of decadent bohemian Paris, to which he defects, and the corrupt, repressive Communist Bloc, where she remains.

The disc release will include a new 4K digital master, supervised and approved by director Paweł Pawlikowski and cinematographer Łukasz Zal, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Other extras include a new conversation between Pawlikowski and filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñàrritu; a press conference featuring Pawlikowski and Zal, actors Kulig, Kot and Borys Szyc, and producer Ewa Puszczynska; documentaries from 2018 on the making of the film; a trailer; a new English subtitle translation; and an essay by film critic Stephanie Zacharek.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Criterion’s November 2019 slate also includes 1996’s The Daytrippers, the feature debut of writer-director Greg Mottola. When she discovers a love letter written to her husband (Stanley Tucci) by an unknown paramour, the distraught Eliza (Hope Davis) turns to her tight-knit Long Island family for advice. Soon the entire clan-strong-willed mom (Anne Meara), taciturn dad (Pat McNamara), and jaded sister (Parker Posey) with pretentious boyfriend (Liev Schreiber) in tow-has squeezed into a station wagon and headed into Manhattan to find out the truth, kicking off a one-crazy-day odyssey full of unexpected detours and life-changing revelations.

The Blu-ray and DVD releases arriving Nov. 12 include a new 4K digital restoration, supervised by Mottola, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a new audio commentary featuring Mottola, editor Anne McCabe and producer Steven Soderbergh; new interviews with Mottola and cast members Davis, Posey, Schreiber and Campbell Scott; The Hatbox, a 1985 short film by Mottola, with audio commentary by the director; and an essay by critic Emily Nussbaum.

Due Nov. 19 on Blu-ray and DVD will be 1986’s Betty Blue, in French with English subtitles. When the easygoing would-be novelist Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) meets the tempestuous Betty (Béatrice Dalle) in a sunbaked French beach town, it’s the beginning of a whirlwind love affair that sees the pair turn their backs on conventional society in favor of the hedonistic pursuit of freedom, adventure, and carnal pleasure. But as the increasingly erratic Betty’s grip on reality begins to falter, Zorg finds himself willing to do things he never expected to protect both her fragile sanity and their tenuous existence.

The disc will include a high-definition digital restoration approved by director Jean-Jacques Beineix, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.

Extras include Blue Notes and Bungalows, a 60-minute documentary from 2013 featuring Beineix, actors Jean-Hugues Anglade and Béatrice Dalle, associate producer Claudie Ossard, cinematographer Jean-François Robin, and composer Gabriel Yared; “Making of Betty Blue,” a short video featuring Beineix and author Philippe Djian; Le chien de Monsieur Michel, a short film by Beineix from 1977; a French television interview from 1986 with Beineix and Dalle; a Dalle screen test; railers; a new English subtitle translation; and an essay by critic Chelsea Phillips-Carr.

Due Nov. 26 is 1950’s Best Picture Oscar winner All About Eve. In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s witty Hollywood classic, Margo Channing (Bette Davis) entertains a surprise dressing-room visitor: her most adoring fan, the shy, wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). But as Eve becomes a fixture in Margo’s life, the Broadway legend soon realizes that her supposed admirer intends to use her and everyone in her circle, including George Sanders’s acid-tongued critic, as stepping-stones to stardom.

The special-edition Blu-ray and DVD includes a 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.

The discs include two audio commentaries from 2010, one featuring actor Celeste Holm, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s son Christopher Mankiewicz, and author Kenneth L. Geist; the other featuring author Sam Staggs. Other extras include All About Mankiewicz, a feature-length documentary from 1983 about the director; episodes of “The Dick Cavett Show” from 1969 and 1980 featuring actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill; a new interview with costume historian Larry McQueen; Hollywood Backstories: All About Eve, a 2001 documentary featuring interviews with Davis and others about the making of the film; documentaries from 2010 about Mankiewicz’s life and career, the short story on which the film is based and its real-world inspiration, and a real-life “Sarah Siddons Society” based on the film’s fictional society; a radio adaptation of the film from 1951; the film’s trailer; and an essay by critic Terrence Rafferty and the 1946 short story on which the film is based.

Also due Nov. 26 is 1942’s Now, Voyager, also starring Davis. Nervous spinster Charlotte Vale (Davis) is stunted from growing up under the heel of her puritanical Boston Brahmin mother (Gladys Cooper), and remains convinced of her own unworthiness until a kindly psychiatrist (Claude Rains) gives her the confidence to venture out into the world on a South American cruise. Onboard, she finds her footing with the help of an unhappily married man (Paul Henreid).

The Blu-ray and DVD includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” from 1971 with Davis; an interview with Paul Henreid from 1980; selected-scene commentary on the film’s score by professor Jeff Smith; a new interview with film critic Farran Smith Nehme on the making of the film; a new interview with costume historian Larry McQueen; two radio adaptations from 1943 and 1946; an essay by scholar Patricia White; and a 1937 reflection on acting by Davis.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Klute’ and ‘The Leopard Man’

Klute

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi.
1971. Released in relatively stealth fashion during a unforgettable movie summer, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute is a psychological drama wrapped in thriller/mystery trappings rather than a thriller/mystery per se — which possibly resulted in its being underrated at the time, though Jane Fonda did win a Best Actress Oscar for a performance that is among the significant ones of the modern screen era.
Extras: Blasting out of the gate with a new 4K remastering of Gordon Willis’s trademark anti-solar cinematography, Criterion’s new Klute release is one of the best-produced Blu-rays I’ve ever seen, and its combined package of nary-a-dud bonus extras now pounds it into me how unusual this film was. We get two remarkable Fonda interviews, conducted decades apart, that artfully operate in tandem here.
Read the Full Review

The Leopard Man

Shout! Factory, Horror, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks.
1943.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur shortly after he and producer Val Lewton turnedThe Cat People into one of the most profitable sleepers of the entire World War II movie era, The Leopard Manwas the third of nine creepy features Lewton made for RKO during his famously remarkable run from 1942 to 1946.
Extras: There are two bonus commentaries — one by The Exorcist director William Friedkin, the other a highly informative nuts-and-bolts one by film historian Constantine Nasr that gives a compelling back-dropper about the kind of miserable-sounding life that source author Cornell Woolrich seems to have led.
Read the Full Review

Klute

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi.

Released in relatively stealth fashion during a unforgettable movie summer in 1971 that put and puts the last 10 (at least) to shame, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute is a psychological drama wrapped in thriller/mystery trappings rather than a thriller/mystery per se — which possibly resulted in its being underrated at the time. Don’t get me wrong: Almost everyone save Jane Fonda bashers thought it some degree of good or better. But speaking for myself and not in isolation, it paled somewhat next to the concurrently released McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Carnal Knowledge and Walkabout (and let’s not forget that Two-Lane Blacktop is pretty close to a deity to the carburetor set and/or blackbelt cultists).

Blasting out of the gate with a new 4K remastering of Gordon Willis’s trademark anti-solar cinematography, Criterion’s new Klute release is one of the best-produced Blu-rays I’ve ever seen (Susan Arosteguy). And its combined package of nary-a-dud bonus extras now pounds it into me how unusual this film was — though credit as well half-a-century of the Women’s Movement, which was more or less in its torch-lighting phase around the time Klute came out, especially in and around where I had the good historical fortune to be: NYU. Of course, it always had what seems even more impressive today: an Oscar-winning Fonda performance that is among the significant ones of the modern screen era.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Criterion always seems to know what kind of supplemental material we want to see and, equally important, how or where to get them — so we get two remarkable Fonda interviews, conducted decades apart, that artfully operate in tandem here. The first was when she was young, pregnant and amid a personal political controversy (“Hanoi Jane”) that has abated only a sliver to this day. The other sit-down is a recent one, conducted by Illeana Douglas specifically for this release, in which Fonda (who is really smart regardless of where you stand on her politics, which were mostly way ahead of their time) talks about what she went through to research the role. And how she wanted to bolt the project on the eve of shooting because weeks spent with real-deal parties had convinced her that no one would accept her as a call girl.

This is what her “Brie” character is and a New York one as well, though she’s moved from more fashionable clientele and digs in a better part of town to something a few rungs down — she’s by no means a street person, or barely better, which is what some of her old colleagues have become. This is the New York before Giuliani turned it into Disney World (no value judgments here; I like Disney World) when “litter” was a cottage industry and even on the Upper West Side where I lived, I could see a guy urinating in the street late at night as I came home to my apartment after a double feature at the New Yorker or Thalia rep movie houses, which all the NYU film students regarded as second homes. Into this world comes the title small-town cop (Donald Sutherland) hired to investigate the year-long disappearance of a friend and possible onetime Brie client. Hers is not a profession, though, where one remembers customer physical descriptions, even of the ones who beat her up.

There’s some evidence that the missing man is one who did just that, yet this kind of violence is or was against his character, depending on whether he’s now still alive. Beyond this, someone has been recently barraging Fonda with frightening phone calls (no caller I.D. in this era, folks), the kind where the caller breathes into the receiver like an asthma victim. Thus, Sutherland/Klute — whose backstory isn’t defined, which in this rare case, may be to the dramatic good — becomes both a sleuth and a bodyguard as the two odd acquaintances retrace her old haunts in an attempt to follow up on scanty hints. One of these involves a former pimp (compared to many, “polished”) played by Roy Scheider, about four months before he broke through with an eventually Oscar-nominated performance in The French Connection.

A major player in the movie is one john’s sinister-sounding collection of portable tape recordings of Brie/Fonda on the job, a techno side issue that became dramatically cutting-edge for its day (three years, even, before Coppola’s The Conversation). This eerie invasion of privacy subtext — and the participation of cinematographer of Willis on all three films — made Klute the first of Pakula’s oft-termed paranoia trilogy, preceding The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. (Parallax is nowhere to be found on Blu-ray because its rights controller is hapless Paramount, who’d prefer to bring out Grease XLVII if it could.) This was only Pakula’s second feature after a fairly distinguished producing career, and though Willis had already shot at least two worthy-plus commercial flops since his debut the year before, Klute was his first wave-maker. Visually and audibly (the picture has great mono sound and Michael Small scoring), the print caliber here is comparable to what might have been shown at the first critics’ screening in the Warner screening room, 1971.

What makes the movie (we know the mystery with an hour to go) is the manner in which it takes dramatically risky time to examine Brie’s very confused psyche. It’s divulged not just by her actions but by monologues to her psychiatrist — something we didn’t see much in major studio cop movies of the day (see Clint Eastwood’s thematic fourth cousin Coogan’s Bluff as a reference point). This is a person who’s totally confident in her trade where she controls the situation but an emotional shambles outside the bedroom — especially in actress/modeling auditions that end in rejection, even though from the evidence we see, she ought to be garnering more respect.

This is a woman who likes to needle and even ridicule cop Klute, who responds negatively just once. But he gets under her skin, and she sometimes feels an extremely cautious emotional attachment. In off hours, she ditches the party scene and curls up in bed with a hardback book — not the best choice, but this a crowd where you don’t see much reading oaf any kind; she’s stylish about her clothes but can’t keep the rubble off the floor of her apartment. Ultimately, all this is much closer to what the movie is really about, which is a major reason it has aged so well.

Michael Chapman was the camera operator here (I didn’t know that), and he supervised the transfer. Vanity Fair’s Amy Fine Collins gives the full rundown on the film’s fashions and Brie’s character-enhancing accoutrements, and delivers a massive amount of revelatory info seemingly off the top of her head. Pakula gets his day via a documentary that includes Annette Insdorf and Steven Soderbergh just for starters — and there’s a half-hour of the director on a Dick Cavett show right after his reunion with Fonda on Comes a Horseman (or “How To Look Fab Out on the Trail in Jeans and No Makeup”). Mark Harris wrote the essay (you don’t get any classier than that), and even the thrown-in promotional featurette that Warner did at the time is pretty good. (Where did these play? They were too long for a TV spot, and I never saw one in a theater — only several in 16mm years after the fact.)

Pakula had a much more scintillating visual style than his ex-partner Mulligan did, though I suppose that having Willis as cinematographer (he shot five of the 16 Pakula features) could have turned Lesley Selander into an auteur. Before his wretchedly flukish 1998 death on the Long Island Expressway, Pakula definitely had his share of bombs — several of which I’d like to see again for reevaluation. But he had a highly praised track record with actresses (Fonda, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Liza Minnelli), which is noted on one or more of the bonus extras. Of course, with All the President’s Men (by far my favorite movie of his career), he didn’t do too shabbily with male actors, either.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Klute’ and ‘The Leopard Man’

Criterion Releasing Classic ‘Godzilla’ Blu-ray Collection

The Criterion Collection Oct. 29 (order date Oct. 1) will release Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 on Blu-ray as an eight-disc set containing 15 Japanese kaiju films.

The films will be presented with high-definition digital transfers and accompanied by a slew of supplemental material, including a deluxe hardcover book with an essay by cinema historian Steve Ryfle, notes on the films by cinema historian Ed Godziszewski, and new illustrations from 16 artists.

The original Godzilla gave rise to an entire monster-movie genre (kaiju eiga), but the King of the Monsters continued defend his throne against a host of other formidable creatures. Japan’s Showa era was marked by technical wizardry, fantastical storytelling and indomitable international appeal that established the most iconic giant monster the cinema has ever seen.

The included films are:

  • Godzilla (1954)
  • Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963) — U.S. release version
  • Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
  • Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
  • Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
  • Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
  • Son of Godzilla (1967)
  • Destroy All Monsters (1968)
  • All Monsters Attack (1969)
  • Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
  • Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
  • Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
  • Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

 

The films will feature uncompressed monaural soundtracks and, with the exception of King Kong vs. Godzilla, are presented in Japanese with new English subtitle translations. Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again are presented in the original black and white. International English-language dub tracks will be available for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla.

The set will also include a high-definition digital transfer of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 American edit of the original Godzilla, and the 1962 original Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Other extras include:

  • Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat;
  • A Directors Guild of Japan interview with Ishiro Honda, director of the original film and several others in the franchise, conducted by director Yoshimitsu Banno in 1990
  • Programs detailing the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences from Toho releases including Destroy All Monsters;
  • A new interview with filmmaker Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era “Godzilla” films;
  • New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai;
  • An interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011;
  • An illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla;
  • Trailers.

 

The boxed set will carry spine number 1,000, marking the 1,000th Criterion release, and is listed at $224.95.

A Face in the Crowd

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick.

Lucking out with a good fourth-row seat in mid-auditorium, I was there for 1971’s opening showing at the Museum of Modern Art’s Elia Kazan retrospective, when the director who’d made an unbroken 1954-69 string of movies that I love introduced his personal pick for the launch. It was 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, which Kazan’s On the Waterfront colleague Budd Schulberg had adapted from one of his own short stories, a script to which its eventual director gave co-equal status. And it was an interesting choice because the picture had been a flop at the time, both with critics and public, though even in ’71, you could feel that the tide had already turned in favor of this warning shot about how broadcast mass media might soon be able to “package” political candidates the way Madison Avenue had done for antacid TV spots.

Richard Nixon, whose name rates a brief mention in Crowd, was already president — and though Nixon was about as much of a television natural as (on a contrasting decibel level) William Jennings Bryan, the conceit that you could jerry-build a presidential timber out of a TV background had gained ground. Mother of God and father of Ivanka, has it ever.

As a result, either Crowd or Network (and for not dissimilar reasons) is the most prescient of all American movies, though that’s an adjective critic April Wolfe actively shies away from in an outstanding Criterion essay because, as she notes, America had long seen a mingling of entertainers with the political class. Think of, for one, Will Rogers — who was one of the acknowledged influences on Crowd’s “Lonesome Rhodes” character, though I’ve always had a tough time reconciling the Rhodes malevolence here with the droll senior of easygoing John Ford comedies.

But with a dash of Elvis thrown in — due exclusively to the manner in which teenaged girls go into sexual frenzy over Lonesome’s guitar strumming — the subject most vividly brings to mind is the once ubiquitous workhorse Arthur Godfrey. Now almost totally forgotten, Godfrey was a Hall of Fame carbuncle and anti-semite who at one time hosted two primetime TV shows and a weekday radio/TV simulcast when he wasn’t firing talent demeaningly referred to by him as “Little Godfrey’s.” There’s also a dash here, in Lonesome’s ability to manufacture headlines, of real-life newscaster Walter Winchell — another windy Big Shot who eventually fell from grace, though any roman a clef linkage is defused some by Winchell’s cameo as himself in this movie.

So the deal is this. A rarely better Patricia Neal plays an outwardly mature young woman who left rural Arkansas to attend Sarah Lawrence and then came back to work for her uncle’s radio station in, from outer appearances, a burg largely populated by dogs. One guesses that she must have a really interesting backstory, but the story concentrates on her discovery of a rough gem in the local hoosegow (Andy Griffith). Tape-recording the mostly harmless hoboes behind bars for a human-interest story, she discovers Griffith’s Rhodes character presumably sleeping one off in what looks like the oversized cell’s drunk-and-disorderly nook. And despite these unlikely origins, Lonesome is full of aggressively spouted cornpone homilies, knows how to fake “pickin’” and has a sexual magnetism a lot of women find attractive — something that’s going to get Neal in trouble down the road. One can’t say enough about the actress’s characterization here (which was ignored by the Academy) and the way that Neal can go from borderline plain to sexy practically from scene to scene.

This was Griffith’s screen debut feature — he made surprisingly few big-screen appearances — and he gives one of the two performances from Kazan’s screen prime (the other is Pat Hingle in Splendor in the Grass) that I always thought the director might have toned down some. Overall, though, time has caught up with it almost as much as it has with the picture, and you can now make a case that the Griffith/Rhodes broadness is no more extreme than what we see coming out of the White House everyday. First-timers to Crowd may find it a bit disconcerting to see the Pride of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show” as a demagogue. It’s a little like seeing visual proof that Aunt Bea once worked the red-light district.

As for the rest of a hand-picked cast, Anthony Franciosa’s congenital oiliness is better suited to his on-the-make agent here than in, say, The Long, Hot Summer from the same period; Walter Matthau is a reflective intellectual (“Vanderbilt, ’44” — with a pipe) and not the sardonic scowl he later became; and Lee Remick (her screen debut) is a majorette who captures Lonesome’s eye enough to become his wife despite an ex all ready to go to Confidential magazine to spill old marital beans if our boy doesn’t come through with a payoff after becoming a network sensation. The Neal character can’t help herself from falling for Lonesome herself and spends a lot of lonely nights on the road promoting his professional cause — except for the times he “drops in” when he can’t find anyone else. He’s insecure enough to know that on some level, he needs her.

The movie’s satirical high point, then and now, is the uproarious New York “agency” material — crasser than anything in “Mad Men” but also (and accurately) dealing with a caliber of TV commercial that were already pretty risible as early as 1960 and likely would have been too crude for much of the “MM” era, which more or less came in with JFK. Owned by a Koch Brother type known as “The General,” Lonesome’s sponsor is something called Vitajex — caffeine-heavy snake oil that brings to mind Geritol, which sponsored the infamous quiz show “Twenty-One” and “The Lawrence Welk Show.” But whereas Welk promised little more than perhaps a little more pop in your polka, Vitajex all but promises you more sexual partners than Wilt Chamberlain.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

These scenes are crucial because they segue into The General’s promoting of a nondescript white-haired old California senator into a presidential run. It is here that Rhodes, brought in as a consultant, mandates using Madison Avenue techniques to “sell” the product on the star’s TV show, a faux cracker-barrel affair where so-called plain folks sit around and jawbone about current events between chaws. Like everything and almost everyone involved in this phony enterprise, you can all but hear the actors counting down the time until the cameras go off so that they can finally ask, “Where are the broads?” The senator, by the way, is played by silent filmmaker Marshall Neilan (a year before his death) following years in limbo after torching his career by making an enemy of Louis B. Mayer. (Gotta love him for that.) I don’t know who got the brainstorm to cast Neilan, but he is bullseye here.

The Criterion bonus extras are illuminating, as they especially need to be on a movie like this, and do not shy away from Kazan’s somewhat delayed pariah status from having not only named names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities but then took an ad out in the New York Times defending the action. Schulberg cooperated as well but didn’t rub people’s faces in it as much, though there’s a part of me that admires — probably against my better judgment — the way Kazan held a decades-long grudge against his perceived artistic inferiors in the Communist Party who were trying to horn in his work. It brings to mind Humphrey Bogart’s comment about how the greatest thing about being successful is that you can tell people you don’t like to go to hell.

In any event, interviewed historian Ron Briley (The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan) strengthens the undeniable case that Kazan’s work got better and more committed after the HUAC blow-up, while an excellent 2005 featurette doc is carried over from the old Warner DVD release, which this 4K transfer puts very much in the shade. (Though I wouldn’t rate Crowd as one of the more interestingly shot movies of Kazan’s career). In addition to Wolfe’s beauty of an essay, there’s a lengthy excerpt from Kazan’s introduction to the published Crowd screenplay from 1957, as well as the same year’s New York Times profile on Griffith. Also interviewed on camera is Griffith biographer Evan Dalton Smith (as personable as Briley), whose biographical backgrounding intensifies the oft-told stories of just how much this project took out of a performer who’s previously been a kind of standup comic monologuist. Griffith used to say that it took three months to shoot Crowd and four for him to get over it, but I have a feeling that the latter period was longer.

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Face in the Crowd’ and ‘Tarantula’

Criterion July 2019 Slate Includes ‘1984,’ ‘Do the Right Thing’

Titles coming to the Criterion Collection in July 2019 will include Michael Radford’s 1984, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, the Jane Fonda starrer Klute, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa Europa, the 1938 comedy The Baker’s Wife and a Blu-ray edition of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy.

July 9 (order date June 11) sees the Blu-ray release of the BRD Trilogy, a trio of films focused on the perspectives of three women in West Germany following World War II. The trilogy includes 1979’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, 1981’s Lola and 1982’s Veronika Voss. The films are in German with English subtitles

The set includes new 4K digital restorations of The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks; a high-definition digital restoration of Veronika Voss, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; audio commentaries from 2003 featuring filmmaker Wim Wenders and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (The Marriage of Maria Braun), film critic and author Tony Rayns (Veronika Voss), and film scholar Christian Braad Thomsen (Lola); interviews with actors Hanna Schygulla, Rosel Zech,and Barbara Sukowa; interviews with cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, screenwriter Peter Märthesheimer and film scholar Eric Rentschler; Life Stories: A Conversation with R. W. Fassbinder, an interview filmed for German television in 1978; I Don’t Just Want You to Love Me, a feature-length 1992 documentary on Fassbinder’s life and career; Dance With Death, a program from 2000 about Ufa studios star Sybille Schmitz, Fassbinder’s inspiration for the character Veronika Voss; a conversation between author and curator Laurence Kardish and film editor Juliane Lorenz; trailers; plus an essay by film critic Kent Jones and production histories by author Michael Töteberg.

Also due July 9 on DVD and Blu-ray is 1990’s Europa Europa, the story of a 16-year-old German Jew separated from his family during World War II. The release includes a new 2K digital restoration supervised by director Agnieszka Holland, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an audio commentary from 2008 featuring Holland; new interviews with Holland and actor Marco Hofschneider; a new video essay by film scholar Annette Insdorf; a new English subtitle translation; and an essay by critic Amy Taubin.

Due July 16 (order date June 18) on DVD and Blu-ray is 1971’s Klute, starring Jane Fonda as a call-girl and aspiring actress who becomes the focal point of a missing-person investigation when detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) turns up at her door. The release includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by camera operator Michael Chapman, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include a new conversation between actors Jane Fonda and Illeana Douglas; a new documentary about Klute and director Alan J. Pakula by filmmaker Matthew Miele, featuring scholars, filmmakers, and Pakula’s family and friends; “The Look of Klute,” a new interview with writer Amy Fine Collins; archival interviews with Pakula and Fonda; “Klute in New York,” a short documentary made during the shooting of the film; plus an essay by critic Mark Harris and excerpts from a 1972 interview with Pakula.

Also arriving DVD and Blu-ray July 16 is The Baker’s Wife, a comedy from playwright turned cinema auteur Marcel Pagnol, who draws a vivid portrait of a close-knit village where the marital woes of a sweetly deluded baker (Raimu) snowball into a scandal that engulfs the entire town. The release includes a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include selected-scene audio commentary featuring Pagnol scholar Brett Bowles; an introduction by Pagnol from 1967; an excerpt from a 1966 interview with Pagnol for the French television series “Cinéastes de notre temps”; a short French news program from 1967 revisiting the village of Le Castellet, where the film was shot; a new English subtitle translation; plus an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Arriving July 23 (order date June 25) on Blu-ray and DVD is 1984, an adaptation of the George Orwell novel starring John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton. The release includes a new 4K digital restoration supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include new interviews with director Michael Radford and Deakins; a new interview with David Ryan, author of George Orwell on Screen; behind-the-scenes footage; the film’s trailer; and an essay by writer and performer A. L. Kennedy.

Also arriving July 23 on Blu-ray and DVD is 1989’s Do the Right Thing. The release includes a new 4K digital restoration approved by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include audio commentary from 1995 featuring director Spike Lee, Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and actor Joie Lee; introductions by Spike Lee; “Making Do the Right Thing,” a documentary from 1988 by St. Clair Bourne; new interviews with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, camera assistant Darnell Martin, New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., and writer Nelson George; an interview with editor Barry Alexander Brown from 2000; programs from 2000 and 2009 featuring Lee and members of the cast and crew; a music video for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” directed by Spike Lee, with remarks from rapper Chuck D; behind-the-scenes footage; the Cannes Film Festival press conference from 1989; deleted and extended scenes; original storyboards, trailer, and TV spots; Plus an essay by critic Vinson Cunningham, and (on the Blu-ray) extensive excerpts from the journal Lee kept during the preparation for and production of the film.

Mike’s Picks: ‘La Verite’ and ‘Men Must Fight’

La Verite (The Truth)

Street 2/12/19
Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Brigitte Bardot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Sami Frey.
1960. A structurally lumpy yet intriguing 128-minute portrayal of murder-trial brutality spun off of tragic events we see played out in extensive flashbacks, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La Verite is the movie that proved Brigitte Bardot had real acting chops and then some.
Extras: Clouzot projects a civilized demeanor and pipe-smoking urbanity in two of the three Criterion bonuses, with the third of these going to Bardot in an extraordinary 1982 documentary excerpt where she relives what she had to go through in terms of press scrutiny when her son was born and her second marriage was busting up.
Read the Full Review

 Men Must Fight

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone, Phillips Holmes, Robert Young, May Robson.
1933. Men Must Fight all but anticipates World War II in terms of its eventual London Blitz-type attack on New York City.
Read the Full Review

 

La Verite (The Truth)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/12/19
Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Brigitte Bardot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Sami Frey.

Understandably marketed as The Truth when, for obvious reasons, this Columbia Pictures pickup of a 1960 film got wider U.S. distribution in 1961 than most imports, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La Verite is the movie that proved Brigitte Bardot had real acting chops and then some — a revelation that apparently had been at least hinted at in 1958’s Love Is My Profession. That Jean Gabin co-starrer is one I’ve yet to see, so I can offer no first-hand ammo, but La Verite’s reception at the time (it was eventually a foreign-language Oscar nominee) is news that even at the time got to my home state Ohio, where both BB’s tease-ish comedies and now this emotion-charged courtroom drama played theaters on the other side of town that were impossible for a young adolescent to reach without wheels. Sometimes we get to these treasures slowly.

A structurally lumpy yet intriguing 128-minute portrayal of murder-trial brutality spun off of tragic events we see played out in extensive flashbacks, La Verite also turned out to be the penultimate film completed by writer-director Clouzot, whose relatively tiny feature output over three-plus decades included Le Corbeau, The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques. Those combined credits alone deserve to get anybody into any exclusive “club” of important filmmakers, even if Francois Truffaut, for one, was pretty vocal about not caring for Clouzot’s style. Oh, well, time passes on, even for auteurists like me, and I’m too old for old arguments these days; pass the Maalox.

As London-based film scholar Ginette Vincendeau emphasizes in her Criterion liner notes, on-set tyrant Clouzot had four female screenwriters collaborating on the script (including his actress-wife Vera, who died at 46 about a month after La Verite opened in France). This has to help explain why the picture has a such a strong feminist bent, though Clouzot notes in one of Criteron’s bonus inclusions of archival interviews that his main purpose here was to note how difficult it is to discover “the truth” when passing judgment on another person. That point is in no ways blunted here, but I was also struck by — like, maybe every 30 seconds or less during the trial scenes — the overwhelming misogyny of nearly everyone involved, save Bardot’s defense attorneys.

She’s on trial for murdering her lover (a breakthrough performance in an emotionally demanding role by Sami Frey), who had previously been engaged to Bardot’s sister (Marie-Jose Nat). A French virgin (speaking of exclusive clubs, if we go solely by PR), the latter does everything by the book, is a dutiful daughter much favored by the two siblings’ parents and for a while, even provides shelter and food for her carefree sister, who can’t even get out of bed to shop for groceries. In other words, Bardot does herself no favors when it comes to any kind of societal support system. She’s sullen, flaunts her great looks to take advantage of men and is not a person one can count on … well, forget in a pinch, but in any situation. Some of this may be chalked up to immaturity; Bardot was 25 or maybe even 26 when she made La Verite, but I wonder if the character as written may have a little younger.

Aspiring symphony conductor Frey is treated sympathetically for much of the movie (he takes a lot of emotionally spent bullets before Bardot follows up by attempting to gas herself on the scene), but his own behavior doesn’t always bear scrutiny. Ambitious and dogged by rehearsals, he should likely stick with his more supportive fianceé (a musician herself) who can take it. Instead, it’s tough not to avoid the thought that he might be using Bardot sexually — and that there’s scant chance that he’s projecting a future where she sit in the balcony as an adoringly dutiful mate as he conducts a Bach concerto. On the other hand, Bardot does have a habit of knocking on his door at 3 a.m. to force him maybe halfway out of pajamaed sleep stupor — only to discover that the knocker is a woman who looks like … Brigitte Bardot. In keeping with the movie’s subtext of examining French jurisprudence, you be the judge.

Again, Clouzot indicated that his intention wasn’t to take on The System here, but even given that it is prosecutors’ roles to make the accused or unfriendly witnesses look as wretched a possible, these men (and they are men — and primarily older ones as well) really pour it in when it comes to the Bardot character’s sexual history. Of course, from all the morally offended clucking from women witnessing all this from the gallery, it appears as if, French or not, this public reaction may be simply reflecting the attitudes of the country’s society as a whole in ’59 and ’60.

In this vein, remember that Bardot’s own love life and the so-called scandals it engendered enabled a lot of fringe show biz journalists to pay their bar tabs at the time — so if we can momentarily substitute the film industry for justice, it all reminds me of Paul Schrader’s recent and very true remark that current movies will get better when audiences do. Atop all this, the film also reinforces the international truism that prosecutors and defenders are frequently friends when they’re out of court and amassing their own bar tabs. At the very end, the predominant opposing attorneys (played by familiar faces and outstanding actors Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel) note that “next week” they’ll be on opposing sides in another case.

Both actors worked super-memorably with Clouzot before: Vanel as the suicide-mission colleague who gets flattened by Yves Montand’s water-submerged moving truck in Wages — and Meurise as the study in sheer nastiness from Les Diaboliques, which additionally gave Vera Clouzot her one great claim to screen fame in a very limited acting career. Apparently, her husband worked her to the bone when she had a serious real-life heart condition that eventually killed her, and there’s a famous story (reiterated a couple time in the bonus section) where the director slapped Bardot on set to get the right response  — apparently, this was part of his standard directorial repertoire — only to have her slap him back and stomp on his foot. Which apparently improved their relationship.

Still (akin to fellow tyrant Otto Preminger’s alternative self), Clouzot projects a civilized demeanor and pipe-smoking urbanity in two of the three Criterion bonuses, with the third of these going to Bardot in an extraordinary 1982 documentary excerpt where she relives what she had to go through in terms of press scrutiny when her son was born and her second marriage was busting up. The much longer of the two Clouzot profiles is a 2017 doc that covers a lot of early material — including the filmmaker’s temporary postwar banning from industry employment due to having worked for Nazi or Nazi-controlled authorities in making apolitical films during the war. Then he went out and made Le Corbeau, whose heavy criticism of anonymous accusations pleased the Occupational forces not one bit. Apparently, Clouzot liked to do things his own way, including taking on a project as insane as Wages was in the first place.

Addressed some, but not a lot, is Clouzot’s attempt to film L’Enfer (later realized by Claude Chabrol well after Clouzot’s death), which was curtailed after going disastrously over budget amidst a Clouzot heart attack, leaving a lot of tantalizing color footage with intended lead Romy Schneider. Thus, this release, above and beyond its being in 4K for a sterling presentation, makes a bittersweet companion piece to 2009’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno — which Arrow Academy released on Blu-ray exactly a year ago and which includes extensive footage from the boxes of shot footage that were eventually unearthed.

Mike’s Picks: ‘La Verite’ and ‘Men Must Fight’

Criterion Collection Sets April 8 Launch Date for SVOD Service

The Criterion Channel, a new classic movie streaming service, has set an official launch date of April 8 in the United States and Canada and will be available on desktop, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, iOS, and Android devices.

The streaming service will feature more than 1,000 classic and contemporary art-house films, at a subscription price of $10.99 per month or $99.99 for an annual subscription. Those who sign up before the launch date can do so at a discounted rate of $9.99 per month or $89.99 per year.

Further sweetening the charter subscription offer is a 30-day free trial as well as access to a members-only Movie of the Week between now and launch.

Criterion says the new streaming service (criterionchannel.com) will give subscribers access to “constantly refreshed selections of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies, plus access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of more than 1,000 important classic and contemporary films from around the world.”

Movies in Criterion Collection’s library include Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The company said the service will offer “constantly refreshed selections” of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies. Criterion Channel also will include a Sunday Spotlight feature, focusing on a different director, star, genre, or theme as well as exclusive content like guest programmer series Adventures in Moviegoing, Tuesday’s Short + Feature, the Friday Night Double Feature, Meet the Filmmakers, Art-House America, and Observations on Film Art (billed as a 15-minute-per-month film school).

As reported last November by Media Play News, subscriber pushback over the shuttering of the Turner Classic Movies SVOD service FilmStruck led The Criterion Collection to announced plans to launch its own freestanding service in spring 2019 through a special arrangement with WarnerMedia.

Wholly owned and controlled by the Criterion Collection, the independent Criterion Channel will pick up where it left off as an add-on to the FilmStruck service, with thematic programming, regular filmmaker spotlights, and actor retrospectives, featuring major classics and hard-to-find titles from Hollywood and around the world, complete with special features, including  commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage and original documentaries.

The library of films will also be part of WarnerMedia’s recently announced direct-to-consumer platform slated to launch in the fourth quarter of 2019. WarnerMedia shut down FilmStruck Nov. 29.