Immersed in Blu-ray: Masters of Cinema

Eureka’s must-own Masters of Cinema collection of Blu-ray titles from region two continues to impress with an array of American and international classics you can’t get domestically (thanks especially to a licensing deal with Universal). They all look outstanding in HD from the Criterion of the UK.

Hitchcock is hot right now, of course, with the release of Dial M For Murder (in 3-D) and Strangers on a Train (Warner Home Video) and Universal’s Masterpiece Collection (Oct. 30). But Eureka has Lifeboat (1944), the underrated, claustrophobic World War II drama made at Fox (Truffaut called it a “picture of characters”) with a terrific ensemble including Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Hume Cronyn, and Walter Slezak. Hitch delves in moral issues and survival and shades of gray. The set includes high-definition 1080p transfers of Hitch’s little-seen French-language 1944 wartime films, Bon voyage (26 minutes) and Aventure malgache (32 minutes) officially licensed from the British Film Institute.

From Universal, we get Billy Wilder’s great noir masterpiece Double Indemnity (1944) and Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend (1945): murder and alcoholism and Wilder’s unique brand of bittersweet drama. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck were never better but Edward G. Robinson steals the film in this romantic triangle.  Offers Shadows of Suspense — a 2006 documentary featuring film historians, directors, and authors discussing the making of Double Indemnity. Meanwhile,  Ray Milland is utterly convincing as a struggling New York author trying to get clean and sober in a nightmarish journey. Compare with the upcoming Flight. Includes the three-part 1992 BBC Arena program, Billy, How Did You Do It? directed by Gisela Grischow and Volker Schlöndorff, featuring Schlöndorff in conversation with Billy Wilder.

Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) gets better and better with every viewing (screen capture above courtesy of DVD Beaver), as he transformed pulp material into a Shakespearean tragedy of greed and loneliness. We get all the versions to compare in multiple aspect ratios: the 1958 theatrical cut in both 1.37:1 and 1.85:1, the 1958 preview cut in 1.85:1, and the 1998 Reconstruction in 1.37:1 and 1.85:1. We also get four audio commentaries, featuring: restoration producer Rick Schmidlin; actors Charlton Heston & Janet Leigh, with Schmidlin; critic F. X. Feeney; and Welles scholars James Naremore & Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Cecil B. DeMille’s pre-code Cleopatra (1934) is erotic spectacle at its best featuring his two favorite themes: decadence and depravity. Claudette Colbert is a goddess to behold in this psycho-sexual delight that gives The Scarlett Empress a run for its money.

Leo McCarey’s charming Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) offers one of Charles Laughton’s most glorious performances in this  clash of Old World and New World sensibilities in the turn of the century American West. His reciting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address caps a journey filled with love and self-expression. Features an exclusive video interview with Laughton biographer Simon Callow.

One of the all-time Japanese greats, Ugetsu Monogatari  (1953), demonstrates the lyrical grace and powerful seduction of Kenji Mizoguchi. Long takes and a distinctive hybrid of realism and the supernatural underlie this brilliant ghost story of military misadventure. Also includes Mizoguchi’s Oyū-sama on Blu-ray.

Mizoguchi’s Sanshō Dayū (1964) is also available. One of the oldest and most tragic events in Japanese history is conveyed through this 11 century tale of social injustice, family love, and personal sacrifice. His trademark long take and visual elegance reveal a basic sense of humanity amid the tragedy.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) still stands as one of the most poetic and passionate Christ re-tellings. Spare yet emotionally naked, Pasolini uses a cast of non-professionals who voice dialogue drawn directly from scripture.  He shoots in a neo-realistic, documentary style using new techniques (including the use of the zoom) to avoid being too reverential or rhetorical.

Pasolini’s debut feature, Accattone  (1961), and Oedipus Rex (1967) are also available. The former offered a glimpse into the director’s raw style — a new neo-realism conveying the mean streets of Rome through a vision of pimping, poverty, and sex. His first color movie wildly moves from Moroccan landscapes to offer a tender and sensual vision of this collective myth concerning patricide and incest. He exorcises repression in a whole new cinematic way: time “outside of history” using, among other things, kinetic handheld camerawork and strikingly primeval costumes. Accattone also includes Pasolini’s 1965 feature-length documentary Comizi d’amore.

Plus, Eureka offers two contemporary hits: Guilty of Romance (2011), a crime noir from Sion Sono that concludes his popular trilogy with hell-bound love and murder told through vivid color and classical music, and The Yellow Sea, the riveting crime drama from Na Hong-jin about a desperate gambler who  becomes a pursued pursuer when he accepts a contract killing that goes awry. This is the first Korean film to ever receive investment from a major Hollywood studio (Fox International Prods.).

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies

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