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.

George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park (1975)

Neglect, contempt, hostility and violence breed paranoia in George A. Romero's The Amusement Park (1975)

The rediscovery of a film commissioned by Lutheran Services from Pittsburgh’s The Latent Image company in 1975 shines a light on a transitional stage of George A. Romero’s career. The Amusement Park transforms a PSA about neglect of the elderly into a bleak nightmare of abuse and paranoia as Lincoln Maazel (Tata Cuda in Martin [1976]) is subjected to disdain, neglect and outright violence at a rundown amusement park.

The Pemini Organisation on Blu-ray from Indicator

John Drummond (Edward Woodward) expresses his grief through violence in Peter Crane's Hunted (1972)

Indicator unearth an obscure corner of ’70s British cinema with a box set of the three movies made by recent filmschool graduates who formed a production company called The Pemini Organisation. Despite extremely low budgets, director Peter Crane and writer Michael Sloan benefited from skilled technicians and high-profile casts who give the films professional polish; but the vagaries of commercial distribution made them disappear until this revival on disk fifty years later.

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.

Early Mexican horror from Indicator

Cristina (Marta Roel) tries to overcome Alfonso (Enrique del Campo)'s reticence about betraying Eduardo (Carlos Villatoro) in Fernando de Fuentes’ The Phantom of the Monastery (1934)

Two new releases from Indicator illuminate the origins of Mexican horror (best known from the work of filmmakers like Chano Urueta, Fernando Mendez and Rafael Baladon in the 1950s and ’60s) in the early days of sound in the 1930s when filmmakers first strove to create an indigenous industry rooted in Mexican history and culture. Ramon Peon’s La llorona (1933), rooted in a local folk legend, was the country’s first sound horror movie, while Fernando de Fuentes’ The Phantom of the Monastery (1934) uses a Twilight Zone-like narrative to teach three characters a moral lesson. Both films have been impressively restored on disks which include a commentary and informative featurettes which illuminate their position and influenbce in Mexican cinema.

Blasts from the past

Stanley Kubrick 5B: Science Fiction – A Clockwork Orange

Alain Resnais 1922-2014

Post-Op, week one

The exploitation art of Frederick R. Friedel

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