Thanksgiving weekend brought an excess of eating and drinking (but no turkey!) and three great movies – plus one dud.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray presents Luchino Visconti’s darkly perverse The Damned in a new 2K restoration whose dense colours emphasize the gloom hanging over a powerful German industrial family collapsing under the weight of its own decadence as the Nazis consolidate their political power in the early 1930s.
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Beasts of No Nation (2015), a problematic depiction of child soldiers in Africa gets an impressive release on Blu-ray from Criterion. Fukunaga’s skills as cinematographer and director of actors are on full display, but the film falters in its treatment of of some of the moral issues it raises.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray of D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970) is a fascinating glimpse of the intense physical and mental labour which goes into the process of artistic creation, closely observing the recording of the original cast performing the songs from Stephen Sondheim’s breakthough Broadway show Company in one long fourteen-hour session. Tense, exhausting and exhilarating, it depicts dedicated professionals doing their jobs under intense pressure to deliver under a near-impossible deadline.
Criterion have just released Andrei Tarkovsky’s most personal Film, Mirror (Zerkalo, 1975), in an exemplary two-disk edition. The 2K restoration supplied by Mosfilm has been supplemented with four-and-a-half hours of new and archival documentaries, including a superb feature-length survey of Tarkovsky’s life and work made by his son, Andrei A. Tarkovsky, in 2019.
Director Bill Duke uses a mixture of film noir and blaxploitation tropes to explore the political complexities of being Black in the U.S. in Deep Cover (1992), his neon-tinted crime drama about an undercover cop (Laurence Fishburne) infiltrating the West Coast cocaine trade, now released in an extras-loaded 4K restoration by Criterion.
Two very different new releases from Criterion explore what it means to to maintain one’s humanity in the face of inhuman systems. Masaki Kobayashi’s overwhelming 9 1/2-hour epic The Human Condition (1959-61) follows a conscientious socialist into the brutal horrors of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during the Second World War, while Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and it’s sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) document the lives of homeless kids on the streets of Seattle during the Reagan era and the aftereffects of that experience in later life.
Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.
Dorothy Arzner’s pre-Code romantic comedy/tragedy Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) is given a gorgeous presentation by Criterion from a new 4K restoration. This story of a vibrant heiress (Sylvia Sidney) and her marriage to an alcoholic writer (Frederic March) avoids the standard Hollywood cliches which would soon become entrenched as the Production Code imposed rules of behaviour on the characters who populated studio movies.
Criterion have released a stunning restoration of History is Made at Night (1937), Frank Borzage’s startlingly unpredictable mixture of romantic comedy, melodrama, noir and horror, which climaxes as a full-blown disaster film. Production began with only half a script and much of the film was improvised on the fly, yet it emerged as a wonderfully entertaining, continuously surprising testament to Borzage’s belief in the redemptive power of love.