A round-up of recent viewing, as usual heavy on horror and exploitation.
A pair of Blu-rays from England showcase the final works of major artists who were considered at the time to be in decline: Laurel and Hardy’s last feature, Atoll K (dir. Leo Joannon, 1951) is a bittersweet mess which captures the Boys’ enduring charm while making their mortality all too clear, while Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) comes full circle by reviving his Weimar criminal mastermind in a Cold War context which paved the way for James Bond’s high-tech thrills.
Jörg Buttgereit’s transgressive films are notorious for their gore and disturbing subject matter – murder, suicide, necrophilia – yet for all their graphic exploitation imagery, they display genuine artistry and a serious perspective on life, death and the emotional and psychological ties which bind being and non-being.
Wim Wenders’ most ambitious film, Until the End of the World (1991) was a huge commercial failure when released in 1991 in a severely truncated version; the almost five-hour director’s cut gets a stunning restoration on Criterion’s two-disk Blu-ray release – visually gorgeous, fascinating and frustrating, this sci-fi epic now looks prescient in its depiction of our solipsistic attachment to out personal electronic devices.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s early television series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (1972-73) is a real discovery, a warm, funny, richly layered melodrama depicting the lives of a working class family navigating personal relationships in the context of economic and political constraints in post-war capitalist Germany.
Remarkably, despite the fame of Fassbinder’s adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), author Alfred Döblin remains little known among English-speaking readers, with few of his monumental novels translated. My brother Chris has made it his mission to change that situation with the launch of Beyond Alexanderplatz, a website devoted to his own on-going translation project.
A critical, but long-suppressed film from the New German Cinema, Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s first play Baal (1970) gets an impressive release on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. This aggressively unsettling film is packaged with an excellent selection of contextual supplements.