In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).
Francesco Rosi’s most emotionally resonant film, a four-part adaptation of the memoir of painter Carlo Levi, who was exiled by the Fascist government in 1935 to a remote corner of Italy, is a rich, contemplative study of a Leftist intellectual who comes to empathize with the harsh lives of peasants left behind by the modernization of Italy. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition serves the striking imagery well and provides substantial supportive supplements which provide historical context and situate the film in Rosi’s politically informed filmography.
To mark our emergence from the Covid lockdown, my friend Steve and I ate barbecued bratwurst and watched a couple of movies which emerged from his big 3D TV screen: Owen Crump’s Korean war docudrama Cease Fire (1953) and John Brahm’s B-movie horror The Mad Magician (1954), Vincent Price’s threadbare follow-up to the hit House of Wax.
Ashley Thorpe’s Borley Rectory (2017) is an eccentric, hand-crafted “animated documentary” about the notorious “most haunted house in England”, using a small cast shot against green screen who are embedded in richly layered images reconstructed from old photographs. Calling up memories of silent film and spirit photography, Borley Rectory is a uniquely immersive spectral experience.
In the past few years Kino Lorber has become one of the most prolific disk producers with a remarkably varied catalogue representing every imaginable genre. Here, I look at a half dozen KL releases by a range of interesting directors – Robert Fuest, Ken Russell, Alain Robak, Harold Becker, Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah.
More random viewing: two obscure independent films from the BFI, Margaret Tait’s poetic Blue Black Permanent (1992) and Maurice Hatton’s gritty fake-umentary about the film business, Long Shot (1977); and three from Twilight Time – George Sluizer’s interesting Americanization of his existential thriller The Vanishing (1993), Terrence Young’s straightforward fact-based crime saga The Valachi Papers (1972), and D.W. Griffith’s monumental but deeply troubling Birth of a Nation (1915).
Abbas Kiarostami’s multi-layered triptych of films dubbed The Koker Trilogy begins with a neorealist depiction of childhood in a small Iranian village and continues with an increasingly complex blend of documentary and fiction in which the director interrogates the nature of cinema itself through the impact of a devastating earthquake on the lives of the people who appeared in the first film. Criterion’s Blu-ray set showcases this masterpiece with excellent transfers and a substantial array of supplements.