Immersed in Blu: Polanski, Friedkin, Allen, Roeg

Tess, Sorcerer, Performance, Broadway Danny Rose, and Violent Saturday get the must-own Blu-ray treatment.

Tess (The Criterion Collection, dual format)

Roman Polanski’s exquisite adaptation of the 19th century hard-luck heroine (Natassja Kinski) in Thomas Hardy’s Tess will forever be associated with his notorious sexual assault charges. Made in 1979, it was his first film after fleeing the U.S. in 1977. However, James Greenberg argues in Roman Polanski: A Retrospective (Abrams) that rather than being attracted to Hardy’s story about a young peasant girl raped by an older man (Leigh Lawson), he was exorcising demons related to the notorious murder of wife Sharon Tate by the followers of cult leader Charles Manson. “For Polanski, who is not given to introspection, Tess probably had more to do with the malevolent fate that had befallen Tate, and the film is dedicated ‘to Sharon.’”

Thus, Tess is gorgeously shot by Geoffrey Unsworth (who died during shooting) and Ghislain Cloquet and contains a pastoral beauty that is brought out in this 4K digital restoration supervised by the director from the original camera negative. The Criterion edition also boasts DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and such bonus features as a 2006 doc about the film and three pieces about the making of the film with noteworthy interviews.

Sorcerer (Warner Home Video)

Billy Friedkin’s notorious re-imagining of Wages of Fear can now be enjoyed at home in all its gritty glory, thanks to Ned Price’s talented team at Warner MPI and colorist Bryan McMahan. Friedkin considers the follow-up to The Exorcist his masterpiece, a “down and dirty…existential thriller” that explores the duality of human nature and served as  ”a metaphor for the warring nations of the world” in the turbulent ’70s.

The basic premise is the same: four desperate men (led by Roy Scheider) drive two cargo  trucks filled with nitro to extinguish an oil-well fire when all hell breaks loose. Color, contrast, and clarity are marvelous but without compromising the intensity and messiness of this dark and dangerous movie. It’s well worth the wait after all the trouble that has plagued this underrated gem.

Performance (Warner Archive Collection)

Another maligned masterpiece finally gets rehabilitated by Warner Bros. via the online MOD program. Cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, a legendary genre bender, blended gangsters and rock’n'roll in surreal fashion in his directorial debut with co-director Donald Cammell. James Fox is on the lam and seeks refuge down Mick Jagger’s dangerous rabbit hole. It’s an unsettling trip in excess. Plus we get the original version looking and sounding better than ever, with the “Here’s to old England!” line restored to the “Memo from Turner” sequence.

Broadway Danny Rose (Twilight Time)

Speaking of gangsters, Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose (1984) shines in its black-and-white glory from Gordon Willis. It’s a hilarious throwback to Take the Money and Run while at the same time offering up Allen at his most poignant, playing a mensch of a talent manager who will do anything for his down and out vaudevillian clients, including dodging the Mob and looking after the feisty Mia Farrow.  It’s a different valentine to New York– less serious but no less loving. Allen and Farrow were never better together and it’s one of his personal favorites. The Twilight Time transfer is up to its usual high standards.

Violent Saturday (Eureka, Masters of Cinema, dual format)

On a more serious note comes Violent Saturday, Richard Fleischer’s heist film from 1955 with Victor Mature, Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and J. Carrol Naish.  Shot in color and the panorama of CinemaScope by Charles Clarke, the small Arizona mining town has a baking hot quality that runs counter to the more traditional noir. But rather than concentrating on the mechanics of the bank robbery, Fleischer goes for lacerating social commentary. It’s a post-war Americana full of disappointment and anxiety. The HD transfer from UK’s Eureka (Region B-locked) is quite colorful and vivid (with DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0) and it’s only fitting that Friedkin appear in a video piece about the storytelling virtues of director Fleischer.

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

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