James Whale’s Show Boat (1936): music and race in Golden Age Hollywood

Black labour with echoes of slavery in James Whale's Show Boat (1936)

Although now he’s best-known for his four witty Gothic horror movies – Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein – Show Boat (1936) is arguably James Whale’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker. One of the decade’s great musicals, it is also one of the most complex and nuanced treatments of race and its impact on American culture produced at the height of Hollywood’s studio era. Criterion’s Blu-ray does full justice to the film’s intrinsic qualities and historical importance.

Edgar G. Ulmer’s Cossacks in Exile (1938)

Ivan meets the Sultan (Nicholas Harlash), who's travelling incognito in Edgar G. Ulmer's Cossacks in Exile (1938)

Thanks to the Provincial Archives of Alberta I’ve been able to fill in another small gap in my experience of Edgar G. Ulmer’s eclectic filmography; although scanned from a very ragged print, the Archives’ upload of the Ukrainian-language musical Cossacks in Exile (1938) reveals some interesting connections between the 18th Century history of Ukraine and what’s happening there today.

Murder, mayhem, sex and madness from Arrow

The respectable doctor finds ecstasy in unrestrained violence in Gérard Kikoïne’s Edge of Sanity (1989)

Two new Arrow releases – and one older one – plunge into sexual confusion, insecurity, violence and romantic longing: Robert Day’s TV movie The Initiation of Sarah (1977) riffs on themes from Stephen King’s Carrie; Gérard Kikoïne’s Edge of Sanity (1989) gives Anthony Perkins a chance to unleash his inner demons in a career-topping dual performance as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and Kathleen Turner is fearless as a businesswoman who moonlights as a prostitute inspires romantic passion in one man and murderous passion in another, the latter another ferocious, jittery performance from Anthony Perkins.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car (2021): Criterion Blu-ray review

Intimacy is unavoidable in the confined space of a car in Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car (2021)

Taking its time, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s award-winning Drive My Car (2021) begins with a sense of detached observation and gradually draws you into emotional depths as its characters come to know each other and themselves during the process of rehearsing a performance of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. Criterion’s Blu-ray presentation features a beautiful image, supplemented with a making-of, an interview with Hamaguchi and a press conference from Cannes.

Stanley Kwan’s Rouge (1987):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Chan (Leslie Cheung) immerses himself in theatricality in Stanley Kwan's Rouge (1987)

Rouge (1987), Stanley Kwan’s meditation on romance, the passage of time and the imminent return of Hong Kong to China after almost two centuries of British colonial rule, gets a luminous restoration for Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition, which also includes an interview with Kwan and two documentaries by the director which explore issues of gender in Chinese cinema and his own identity as one of the first openly gay Chinese directors.

Winter 2022 Arrow viewing, part two

Gunfighter Manuel (director Robert Hossein) reluctantly comes out of retirement in Cemetery Without Crosses (1969)

More genre viewing from Arrow, including a bleak French Western, a silent film noir which recapitulates the history of Japanese cinema, a pair of low-budget ’80s slasher movies, a mash-up of anime and low-budget live-action post-apocalypse, and two box sets: Kenji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale and Battle Royale II and the Children of the Corn trilogy.

Clive Rees’ The Blockhouse (1973) and other recent Indicator releases

Father Roche (Donald Pleasence) confronts an ancient religion on a remote Greek island in Kostas Karagiannis’ The Devil’s Men (1976)

Recent releases from Indicator have seemed oddly random – from an unexceptional genre movie (Kostas Karagiorgis’ The Devil’s Men [1076]) to an arthouse war film (Clive Rees’ The Blockhouse [1973]), a ghost story that comes across like a television play (Kevin Billington’s Voices [1973]) to an interesting if unsuccessful literary adaptation (Anthony Friedmann’s Bartleby [1970]) and a revisionist detective story which plays with the tropes of the English country house mystery (Chris Petit’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman [1982]).

Blasts from the past

Viewing notes, March-April 2015: part one

Additional Recent Viewing …

Criterion Blu-ray review:
Ermanno Olmi’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)

The resurrection of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990/2014)

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