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.

World Cinema Project 4: Criterion Blu-ray review

Servant Kanizak (Shohreh Aghdashlou) schemes for power in Mohammad Reza Aslani’s Chess of the Wind (1979)

With their fourth set of World Cinema Project restorations, Criterion again present a fascinating collection of films from different periods and different cultures: two features from post-colonial Africa which illuminate the complex effects of tradition distorted by colonial influences; a South American movie which also deals with colonialism and the exploitation of labour; a pre-war Hungarian feature about two women struggling to survive in a city towards the end of the Depression; an Indian film exploring myth and the politics of Independence and partition through music and dance; and a pre-revolutionary film from Iran which uses melodrama as a metaphor for the nation’s transition from feudalism to modernity.

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.

Summer grab-bag, part one

An attempted robbery becomes a bloodbath in Javier Elorrieta's Night of Rage (1985)

As usual, there’s no coherent pattern to what I spend my time watching. In the past few months, I given my overtaxed attention to quite a few movies from the ’70s and ’80s – British sex comedies and cop movies, Italian gialli, French and Spanish thrillers, Chinese martial arts movies and an Australian superhero musical – plus a pair of recent Korean action movies and two ultra-low-budget do-it-yourself movies from the ’90s.

D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Stephen Sondheim coaches a singer on pronouncing a single syllable in D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970)

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.

Year End 2018

Boriska (Nikolay Burlyaev) oversees the firing of the bell in Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) ...

Despite continuing rumblings about the demise of movies-on-disk, numerous companies continue to produce excellent editions on disk of a vast range of movies covering the entire history of cinema. Once again in 2018 there were far more releases than even an obsessive viewer could keep up with.

I love a deal …

Richard O'Brien plays Dr. Cosmo McKinley on TV in Jim Sharman's Shock Treatment (1981)

I’m a sucker for sales and recently spent a lot on-line buying stacks of Blu-rays from Arrow Films and Severin at discount prices, adding a lot of titles to my backlog. In recent weeks, I’ve started making my way through the new Arrow titles, which include an assortment of genre offerings, some completely unknown, others old favourites.

Blasts from the past

One-Shot Wonders: samurai slaughter and zombies

World Cinema Project 4: Criterion Blu-ray review

A bear, a detective and the big city

More genre viewing – late Fall 2018

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