Recent releases from the BFI

Heroin addict Alex (Dexter Fletcher) retreats to a seedy hotel in Nichola Bruce & Michael Coulson's Wings of Death (1985)

Recent BFI releases offer a selection of amateur and professional short films from the 1950s to the ’80s in volume 3 of Flipside’s Short Sharp Shocks series, as well as a provocative documentary lecture from filmmaker Nina Menkes which asserts that the apparatus of cinema itself is gendered and weighted against women.

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964): Criterion Blu-ray review

A crowd bears away a murdered student in the wake of a riot in Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba (1964)

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964) uses the striking cinematography of Sergei Urusevsky to create a fever dream version of the Cuban Revolution, a series of archetypal moments of oppression and resistance leading to an ecstatic explosion of justified communal violence. Filled with heightened emotions rendered in breathtaking images and seemingly impossible camera movements, the film looks gorgeous in a 4K restoration on Criterion’s Blu-ray.

The lasting pleasures of second-tier golden age Universal horror movies

Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff) makes unethical decisions to further his research in Arthur Lubin's Black Friday (1940)

Three two-disk sets from Eureka provide an overview of Universal Studios’ horror movies from the mid-’30s to the early ’50s, in the period when the first wave of early sound horrors petered out and briefly flourished again as low-budget B-movies as the Depression gave way to World War Two. Karloff and Lugosi are joined by notable, if lesser, genre figures like Lionel Atwill and Rondo Hatton in a mix of science fiction and the supernatural, with gangsters and Gothic trappings spicing the mix.

Buddy Giovinazzo’s American Nightmares

Johann (Heino Ferch) and Rafaella (Ornella Muti) have had enough of their old friend Mickey (James Russo) in Buddy Giovinazzo's The Unscarred (2000)

Severin’s recent release of Buddy Giovinazzo’s fourth feature, The Unscarred (2000), on disk reconfirms this outsider as an intriguing auteur; a chamber piece in which the psychological games of four old friends grown increasingly darker is a taut, polished piece of work which sent me back to watch his raw first feature, Combat Shock (1986), again. As technically different as the two movies are, both reveal a filmmaker with a bleak view of the world tempered by a deep empathy for broken people.

Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers on Blu-ray from Criterion

Alonzo (Lon Chaney) realizes that his romantic feelings for Nanon (Joan Crawford) will never be returned in Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927)

Criterion’s two-disk Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers showcases three of the director’s best movies, including the peak of his long collaboration with Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927) and Browning’s masterpiece Freaks (1932) along with the lesser-known The Mystic (1925). Fine 2K transfers and some illuminating extras leave you hoping that more of Tod Browning’s work will turn up on disk in restored versions.

Winter 2024 viewing, part three: Other labels

You don't have to be crazy to do this job, but it helps: Grant Page in Brian Trenchard-Smith's Stunt Rock (1978)

More recent viewing, with excellent restorations of classic fantasies by Arrow – Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) and John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982); a pair of impressive German film school projects – Tilman Singer’s Luz (2018) and Lukas Feigelfeld’s Hagazussa (2017); a couple of entertaining Australian features which mix fiction and documentary in interesting ways – Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Stunt Rock (1978) and Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce’s Top Knot Detective (2017): and Shredder Orpheus (1990), a low-budget indie version of the Orpheus myth made by Seattle musicians and skateboarders.

Blasts from the past

John Dies At the End … and that’s not a bad thing

Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers on Blu-ray from Criterion

Listmania redux:
The Greatest Documentaries of All Time, part one

Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

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