Holiday Blu-ray Gift Guide: Part One

Here are my gift guide recommendations from Criterion and Eureka: Masters of Cinema (for those who can play UK discs).


Nashville: Robert Altman’s magnum opus from 1975 is his greatest achievement in exploring the crazy quilt tapestry of American dreamers and losers as seen through the cultural/political prism of the nation’s musical capital. What a cast: Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Barbara Harris, Karen Black, Ned Beatty, Jeff Goldblum, Shelly Duvall, Scott Glenn, Michael Murphy. It’s Altman’s Rules of the Game and the Blu-ray boats a new digital transfer from a 35 mm interpositive and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Featuring a new doc and audio commentary by the late director.

3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman: Stromboli, Europe ’51, Journey to Italy: Rossellini found the perfect harmony between neo-realism and melodrama with Ingrid Bergman in the early ’50s. Stripped of Hollywood glam, Bergman experiences a woman adrift in post-war loneliness and despair in this trio of films about crumbling marriage made in Italy, while Rossellini achieves a new kind of metaphysical transcendence. Stromboli (1950) commences this “drama of reconstruction” with the struggle between “Creator and creature”; Europe ’51 (1952) reveals the struggle to transform selfish love into an all-encompassing love for humanity; and Journey to Italy (1954), in which George Sanders was never better, offers a sense of the miraculous and eternal found in Naples for a couple that has stopped loving one another. Enjoy these new digital restorations.

Shoah: There is still nothing as brilliant and provoking as Claude Lanzman’s nine-hour investigation in 1985 of the Jewish Holocaust. Using first-person interviews of survivors in a circular structure of free association, Lanzman reveals the past is always present. But it’s not about why: it’s about the act of transmission in this emotional and intellectual excavation of the dark side of human nature. Shoah has probably never looked better than in this 4K digital transfer from the 16 mm camera negative.

City Lights:  There’s probably no better example of laughter and tears than in  Chaplin’s luminous masterpiece from 1931, which looks stunning in this 4K digital transfer from a duplicate 35 mm negative. It was two years in the making, as the director had to contend not only with the death of his mother (institutionalized for insanity throughout her adult life) and a stifling writer’s block that halted production for a few weeks but also the emergence of sound. Yet the director triumphed magnificently with this comedy romance in pantomime. The ending alone remains transfixed in memory: The flower girl, with her sight recovered, discovers that the Tramp is her benefactor and true love. Critic James Agee wrote: “It is enough to shrivel a heart to see, and it is the highest moment in movies.”

Wild Strawberries: My favorite Ingmar Bergman is this memory movie from 1957 starring director Victor Sjostrom as a professor confronted with his past and mortality on his way to accept an honorary degree. Flashbacks, fantasies, and dreams intersect in a narrative filled with beauty, longing, and regret from a filmmaker who felt like an unwanted child, “growing out of a cold womb.” From a newly restored 2K digital transfer from the original 35 mm camera negative.

The Uninvited: This urbane haunted house story, which goes against the genre grain, also received praise from Agee in 1944, who wrote that he received 35 jolts and minor frissons. Directed by Lewis Allen and starring Ray Milland, there is abundant humor in this ghost tale along with flickering light from Oscar nominated cinematographer Charles Lang and a sprightly score by Victor Young. Looks gorgeous in this 2K digital transfer from a duplicate negative.



Eureka: Masters of Cinema

Red River: A year before John Ford’s elegiac She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Howard Hawks first aged John Wayne for this brilliant father/son, cattle drive drama from 1948. Wayne’s performance was a revelation (particularly for Ford), and set him on a path that would eventually lead to The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Duke paired off well with Montgomery Clift as his adopted son. In fact, the young Method actor learned a lot about commanding presence and scene stealing. It’s a Mutiny on the Bounty Western about masculinity, love, betrayal, and forgiveness, visually striking in the way it straddles epic and intimate moments. Exclusive lengthy video conversation with Hawks by filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt. It’s the only Red River on Blu and looks very good, if not pristine.

The Birth of a Nation: With 12 Years a Slave in release, it’s an opportune time to revisit D.W. Griffith’s divisive landmark from 1915. Like Triumph of the Will, it’s hard to separate content from aesthetics from cinema’s first masterpiece, of course, but despite Griffith’s inadvertent racism (which he tried to correct with Intolerance) he either invented or refined film grammar (dramatic cross-cutting, the intimacy of the iris, night photography, color tinting), which should not be ignored.  As Roger Ebert pointed out, Agee probably captured best the essence of the film in describing the riveting battle charge: “It seems to me to be a realization of a collective dream of what the Civil War was like…” The indispensable set also includes seven of Griffith’s Civil War shorts: In the Border States (1910); The House with Closed Shutters (1910); The Fugitive (1910); His Trust (1911); His Trust Fulfilled (1911); Swords and Hearts (1911); and The Battle (1911).

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas: F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty collaborated on this indigenous, mythic island tale of desire and loss in 1931 — ” the apogee of the art of the silent film,” according to critic Lotte Eisner. Extraordinarily shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby with a combination of authenticity and exoticism, Tabu established a new kind of hybrid narrative. Features a new 1080p HD transfer of the Murnau-Stiftung / Luciano Berriatúa 75th anniversary restoration of the pre-Paramount, longer Murnau-approved version of the film, with uncensored scenes and titlecards, appearing in its original 1.19:1 aspect ratio .

Tarnished Angels: My favorite Douglas Sirk movie is this black-and-white CinemaScope gem from 1957 starring Rock Hudson in one of his most sensitive roles as a melancholy journo. Based on William Faulkner’s Pylon, Tarnished Angels reunites Hudson with the core Written on the Wind team of Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone (with the loyal Jack Carson along as the third wheel). It’s a magnificent obsession about dreamers and losers, romantic longing, and unrequited love. It’s the only Blu-ray version available and features Infernal Circle, a video interview with critic Bill Krohn.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers

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