Monday, 30 May 2016

The Firm (Alan Clarke) BFI Dual Format Release

Back in the 1970s, football violence in England often consisted of one thousand per side battles between rival fans, either inside the ground or on the way back to the railway station or coach parks.
Bloody confrontations were a weekly occurrence, with police struggling to keep these large groups apart.
As time went by, the police began to tighten their grip on proceedings, becoming wise to when and where these fights would take place. This resulted in the hooligans employing different methods to stay one step ahead of the authorities.
Club colours were discarded; smaller groups set up fights with their rivals miles away from the stadiums and weapons such as stanley knives were used to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Made in 1988, Alan Clarke's "The Firm" remains probably the best film on football violence, highlighting that this disreputable profession was not solely populated by the disenfranchised but often organised by men in respectable, well-paid positions.
The film follows the activities of The ICC - Inter City Crew - a London firm modelled on West Ham's fearsome ICF and led by Clive 'Bex' Bissell (Gary Oldman).
Bex - a 30 year old real estate agent - leads his mob with a rod of iron, and has ambitions to ply his trade on the international circuit.
The forthcoming European Championship tournament is firmly in Bex's sights, with a national firm consisting of England's finest in need of a leader. The ICC make their way to a swish hotel where their rivals top boys are waiting to stake their own claims. The Buccaneers - led by Yeti (Phil Davis) - and a Birmingham firm fronted by Oboe (Andrew Wilde) fail to agree on a leader, resulting in two organised '0ffs' where last man standing gets the gig.
Clarke - a lifelong Everton fan - hated football violence, and shows this bloodsport at its most damaging.
The BFI disc contains the original BBC broadcast which was cut to run at 1 hr 7 mins.
The director's cut is also included, running for 1 hr 8 mins 6 secs.
The additional footage, deemed to controversial to be screened, further amplifies the extreme damage to life and limb, with the revenge attack on Oboe being a strong case in point.
One of the film's sharpest observations is the contrasting effects of football violence on the family unit.
Bex's wife Sue (Lesley Manville) constantly tells her husband that his involvement has to end, fearing for his well being, and there's a particularly upsetting scene when Bex's young son picks up a stanley knife that's lying around like a discarded toy.
Even parents have a role to play here, with a proud dad reminiscing about having it with Millwall back in the day.

On the casting side, there are some very strong performances. Lesley Manville as the long-suffering wife who reveals her liking for rough sex at the culmination of a disturbing scene that began as something entirely different, while Davis and Wilde are both excellent as contenders for the crown. Best of all has to be Gary Oldman who turns in a frighteningly intense performance, keeping his troops toeing the party line by adopting a rule-by-fear persona and accepting casualties as a small price to pay en route to the coveted number one spot.
For my money, "The Firm" remains the father of football violence films, and is every bit as savagely realistic as the day it came out. The activities portrayed may be offensive in the extreme to many, but it also captures the undoubted buzz experienced by members of football's very own fight club.

This BFI dual format release includes two commentary tracks. The first features Gary Oldman flying solo: a difficult task, but he acquits himself admirably. He talks about working for the late director; Clarke's methods; John Ward's photography; acting with Lesley Manville (his wife at the time) and throws in some golden anecdotes, including why cast and crew had to receive a police escort when things got a bit hot during filming.
The second track features Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, author Dave Robinson and TV archivist Dick Fiddy.
Lesley talks about Clarke's censorship battles with the BBC; how they shot the scene with the toddler and the knife and why she elected not to inform Clarke before or during the shoot that she was pregnant.
Al Hunter's research for the film is covered - including a meeting with two members of West Ham's ICF - together with much admiration for Clarke who gave his actors room to breathe. Alternative endings for "The Firm" are also discussed.

Next up is "Elephant" (37m 39s)
This controversial short film was screened by BBC2 on 25th January 1989, and turned the spotlight on chilling executions carried out by the IRA.
Almost completely bereft of dialogue, "Elephant" comprises of a series of murders where one, sometimes two hitmen turn up at petrol stations, swimming pools, football fields and houses to kill those who have incurred the wrath of the Irish Republican Army.
Sometimes there is recognition shown by the victims who seem to know the man with the gun, while others stare blankly at the intruder, but the end result is always the same.
Ward's camera lingers on the various death poses, driving home the obscenity of these acts that take place in a world of emptiness where there are no cars, passers-by or shoppers to witness the slaughter.
It's a tough watch to be sure, but it did educate the public over here in England and make them aware of what was happening in Northern Ireland on a daily basis.
Mark Kermode and producer Danny Boyle offer a thought provoking commentary track where Boyle begins by explaining how he came to work with Alan Clarke. He talks of a man who treated everyone the same; explains why Clarke chose to tackle the subject of civilian murders in Northern Ireland and his reasons for not wanting the film to be shown over there.
Kermode makes some excellent points during the conversation, regarding the settings; the fact that those who got away were not witnesses and declares the murders were un-cinematic.

Open Air Discussion of Elephant BBC1 (21 min)
Screnned on the evening after Elephant's BBC2 airing, Susan Rae presents a phone-in with Alan Clarke taking calls from a largely critical audience. The director was in LA at the time, but close enough to feel the heat from aggrieved callers; some of whom felt his film to be an insult to the people of Northern Ireland.
Clarke defends his work admirably, as does Danny Boyle who appears in the studio for the second half of the programme to take more calls.

Alan Clarke: Out Of His Own Light part 12 (36m 20s)
A fascinating documentary segment, covering "Elephant" and "The Firm", with valuable input from Brian Cox, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Clarke's daughter Molly, John Ward and other key figures in this story.
Itr's frequently moving to witness the love and respect they had for this much-missed director and a nice way to end one of the finest releases of 2016 thus far.

"The Firm" Blu-ray/DVD combo is available now as a separate release, or as part of the BFI boxset:
"Dissent & Disruption Alan Clarke at the BBC 1969-1989".
Take a look at the contents listed below

lthough probably best remembered for the controversial and groundbreaking dramas Scum, Made in Britain and The Firm, the breadth of Alan Clarke’s radical, political, innovative, inspirational work, along with his influence on generations of filmmakers, such as Gus Van Sant, Paul Greengrass, Andrea Arnold, Harmony Korine, Clio Barnard, Shane Meadows, should see him rightly regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever filmmaking talents.

This long-overdue collection finally brings together all twenty-three of the surviving stand-alone BBC TV dramas that Alan Clarke directed between 1969 and 1989, including such neglected classics as To Encourage the Others, Horace, Penda’s Fen, Diane, Contact, Christine and Elephant, and also includes Scum and the first ever presentation of Clarke’s original Director’s Cut of The Firm, assembled from his personal answer print, discovered in 2015.

Among the extensive extras, which include David Leland introductions, extracts from BBC discussion shows Open Air and Tonight and newly-produced documentaries and audio commentaries, this Limited Edition 13-Disc Box Set also includes a bonus DVD of Clarke’s Half Hour Story episodes, made for Associated Rediffusion during the late-60s.

The Last Train through Harecastle Tunnel (1969)
Sovereign’s Company (1970)
The Hallelujah Handshake (1970)
To Encourage the Others (1972)
Under the Age (1972)
Horace (1972)
The Love Girl and the Innocent (1973)
Penda’s Fen (1974)
A Follower for Emily (1974)
Diane (1975)
Funny Farm (1975)
Scum (1977)
Nina (1978)
Danton’s Death (1978)
Beloved Enemy (1981)
Psy-Warriors (1981)
Baal (1982)
Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984)
Contact (1985)
Christine (1987)
Road (1987)
The Firm: Director’s Cut (1989, previously unreleased)
The Firm: Broadcast Version (1989)
Elephant (1989)
Bonus Disc (DVD only)
The Gentleman Caller (1967)
Goodnight Albert (1968)
Stella (1968)
The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (1968)
Thief (1968)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Blu-ray Review: Beat Girl (BFI)

Newly weds Paul and Nichole Linden (David Farrar, Noelle Adam) arrive at their Kensington home to encounter a resentful teen still troubled by her parents breakup.
Jennifer (Gillian Hills) is hostile towards her stepmother from the word go, while her relationship with father Paul is a classic case of parental neglect as his City 2000 project holds centre stage: a revolutionary housing plan which fails to understand the people who will dwell there.
Jennifer is part of a rebellious group who congregate in clubs, coffee bars and, at one memorable rave, Chislehurst Caves,and adopt an anti-authority stance which their elders can never understand.
Her friends - who include the coolest of Beatniks Dave (Adam Faith), gorgeous singer Dodo (Shirley-Ann Field) and Peter McEnery's Tony who constantly brings up his military father, "weighed down by medals."

A Soho cafe called 'The Off Beat' is their haven and also marks the spot where Nichole's troubles multiply when she bumps into an old friend named Greta (Delphi Lawrence), known as 'The Duchess' at 'Les Girls' strip club.
Jennifer discovers her stepmother and Greta go back to a life in Paris where "it's not easy to stay respectable on an empty stomach", and decides to build on this knowledge to wreck a marriage.
Events take a sinister turn when Jennifer, under age, meets 'Les Girls' owner Kenny King (Christopher Lee) who immediately senses another conquest may be on the horizon.
Of course, Lee had appeared as Count Dracula two years earlier, and here, his character in Terrence Fisher's film possesses him in a chilling scene.
Witness King grooming his prey, offering her an exciting alternative to her current situation, into a life as one of the 'undead' who enjoy brief riches before losing their position as the next victim rolls up.
Here, there's no glamour, save for a quick honeymoon period, just as the vampire brides promise of immortality is a hollow one.
Rebellion and her juvenile delinquent persona evaporate in the face of true evil.

Jennifer and her crew were survivors: war babies who emerged from the rubble after The Blitz.It was a perilous situation brought home when Dave recalls his first home was a London underground station.
In "Beat Girl", attitudes and memories of these experiences fuelled a swinging generation, and director Edmond T Grenville's direction guides the impressive cast through a moment in time where squares did not fit into their circle.
Hills, Faith, Field, Lee and co all make their mark a memorable one, and watch out for Oliver Reed - Plaid Shirt in the credits - who moves, grooves and smoulders with the best of them as The John Barry Seven kick up a storm, amalgamating Swing and Jazz to great effect.

This BFI Blu-ray presentation was newly remastered in 2K, with a glossy monochrome look beautifully rendered.
The disc includes 3 versions of the film, with the main cut running for 1 Hr 27M 42s.
The alternative version was released to certain countries overseas and runs for 1Hr 32M 9s.
An additional scene with Paul And Nichole on a London-bound train; Jennifer showing a book on jazz to Nichole and a softer version of a striptease make up the extra minutes.
The extended version runs for 1Hr 32M 38s and is basically the same as the alternative cut. According to the booklet accompanying this release, it's a hybrid version, assembled from different elements.

The extras begin with an interview with Gillian Hills, running for 25m 26s.
Gillian - who looks stunning - talks about "Beat Girl" being a Godsend for her, and displays excellent recall as she talks about her director and a cast that contained some extraordinary talent.
It must have been quite an experience to appear in this film at such a tender age, and Gillian's fine performance has lost none of its vitality down the years.
This interview is a valuable account of a film where everything came together, a time Gillian recounts with real warmth.

Next up is "Cross-Roads"; a 1955 supernatural short which runs for 19m 17s.
Christopher Lee headlines as Benson, who is on his way to the London offices of Bernard J Maskell (Ferdy Mayne); an unscrupulous impresario soon to meet his match.
This is a wonderfully engrossing 'quickie', directed by John Fitchen, and boasting one scene in particular that will strike a chord with Hammer buffs, as the camera settles on Lee's eyes which display every ounce of the rage and savagery of a Dracula that was still 3 years away.

"Beauty In Brief" (3m 50s)
A 1955 striptease short, where full-on nudity is avoided as a young woman anticipates her wedding with attire that her intended would surely approve of.

"Goodnight With Sabrina" (3m50s)
Sabrina (Norma Sykes) entertains us from her own apartment, swapping evening gown for bath and bed, before bidding us goodnight.
As Arthur Askey would have said, "I Thank You".
The BFI have also included a 20 page booklet which includes Gillian remembering "Beat Girl"; Vic Pratt's essay on the film; Johnny Trunk's essay on John Barry's score, and Jo Botting's look at Edmond T Greville's work.
It all makes for required reading.
As an historical document of times gone by and a hugely enteraining film to boot, "Beat Girl" thoroughly deserves its chance to take another bow. A jewel in the BFI 'Flipside' crown, no less.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

DVD Review: Symptoms (BFI)

A good number of you may be familiar with Jose Larraz via his ex and blood romp "Vampyres", which featured Marianne Morris and Anulka as creatures of the night roaming the countryside in search of their prey.
"Symptoms" is a different story, being largely unseen in the UK during the four plus decades since its release.
Now, the British Film Institute has made this Euro Horror gem available for home viewing after finding the original negatives.
Larraz's film was chosen as the British entry for the Palme d'or for the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, ruffling a few feathers along the way, due to popular support for Ken Russell's "Mahler".
The reception in Cannes was largely positive, but "Symptoms" sank without trace, becoming a sleeping giant waiting to be re-born.

The film is set on an English country estate where Helen Ramsey (Angela Pleasence) has returned following a period of convalescence in Switzerland. Helen invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to stay; the latter hoping for a peaceful holiday amidst beautiful surroundings.
Anne's first night is largely undisturbed, save for the sound of laughter which Helen claims not to have heard.
A photograph of a dark haired beauty who Helen identifies as Cora, and the sinister presence of odd job man Brady (Peter Vaughan)combine with a past tragedy and a future where "something is about to happen".
As a fierce storm and driving rain take hold, "Symptoms" becomes ever more disturbing, with apparitions appearing in mirrors and footsteps patrolling the attic, setting nerves on edge in fearful expectation.
As an exercise in psychological terror, "Symptoms" scores highly, charting a descent into madness and beyond to a most disconcerting degree.

There's much to enthuse over here, from both sides of the camera: a trio of fine central performances, with Pleasence and Heilbron playing well off each others chalk-and-cheese characters, while Vaughan recalls the lecherous locals of Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" with eyes that strip the very souls of his neighbours.
John Scott's eerie score is perfectly in tune with on-screen events, intensifying when the numerous slayings occur, with Herrmann-esque flourishes, while DOP Trevor Wrenn's photography - presided over by Larraz himself - captures haunted woods and gloomy interiors while showing the countryside in all its autumnal glory.
It's a team effort that pays rich dividends, taking up the baton from Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", to fashion a compelling account of what can happen when the red signs of madness take an icy grip.
"Symptoms" is fully deserving of the reverential treatment bestowed by this BFI release.

Image quality on my DVD screener will be a revelation to those who discovered the film via beat-up home video incarnations, while newcomers will be pleased by this restoration which delivers deliberately muted colours and strong detail.
The supplementary material begins with the 70s 37s documentary, "On Vampyres and Other Symptoms".
Recorded in 2011, this absorbing documentary looks at the director's formative years - his father told him the best lessons are learnt on the street - his talent for drawing comic books, and his late start in the world of filmmaking, which began after a meeting with Josef von Sternberg.
Larraz talks about his literary influences; his thoughts on life, death and life after death and gives his forthright opinion on the Cannes festival.
There's also a lovely scene where Marianne Morris and Anulka take to the stage to present Larraz with an award at a festival screening.

"From Barcelona To Tumbridge Wells: The Films of Jose Larraz".
A 24m 11s episode from the essential 'Eurotika' series.
Here, Larraz talks about his fascination with ancient legends; Thomas Owen's books and some of his own previous work.
Marianne Morris remembers her work in "Vampyres" and her initial reaction to the film, while Brian Smedley-Aston chats about his relationship with Larraz and some of the films they made together.
Some very strong clips from "Vampyres" are included, which should see you reaching for your own copy, or palcing an order.

An Interview with Angela Pleasence (9m 11s)
Angela recalls how she got the lead role in "Symptoms", going on to describe Larraz as a remarkable talent but someone she didn't always agree with.
We hear about an accident which occurred on the set; 19 hour shoots and her opinion on "Symptoms" which she saw just 3 days before doing this interview earlier in 2016.

An Interview with Lorna Heilbron (17m 11s)
Lorna talks about her time at drama school; her memories of Larraz (an intense and also charming man), and how she had to develop an inner stillness for her role.
Peter Cushing, "The Creeping Flesh" and her life after acting also figure in this interview.

An Interview with Brian Smedley-Aston (16m 20s)
Brian's early career in the cutting room; his contribution to Cammell and Roeg's "Performance"; his work with David Greene and his recollection of the 1974 Cannes Festival with its strong line-up round off this fascinating trio of interviews.
There's also an illustrated booklet with this dual format release, which features a beautifully written essay by Vanity Celis who delivers a persuasive overview of this film.
"Symptoms" is available to buy now, and destined to be on many best of 2016 home video lists.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Blu-Ray Review: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Based on Fassbinder's own play, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" is set entirely in the bedroom of a Bremen apartment where Petra (Margit Carstensen) busies herself with a successful career as a fashion designer.
We see the cruel side of Petra early on with her callous treatment of servant Marlene (Irm Hermann), and go on to witness a draining downwards spiral as friends, family and a new lover are introduced to us via the all-female cast.
Petra's previous relationships are discussed with Sidonie (Katrin Schaake) while Marlene stands in the background, listening intently as silent witness to stories which contain fabrications, judging by the servant's facial expressions.
Another visitor to Petra's centre of her universe is Karin Thimm (Hanna Schygulla); a 23 year-old beauty who casts a spell over her host, and becomes her lover following Petra's promise to help turn her into a top model.
Before long, their relationship turns sour, with Karin's treatment of Petra becoming similar to the verbal abuse suffered by Marlene, and the introduction of Petra's mother (Gisela Fackeldey) and daughter Gabriele (Eva Mattes) further increases the harsh words and actions that pour out of Petra.

Overall, this is an emotionally draining film, driven by beautifully tuned performances and Michael Ballhaus' photography and lighting.
The bedroom features a reproduction of a painting - 'Midas and Bacchus' by Nicolas Poussin - which, along with Petra's bed, becomes another character in the film, sometimes dominating and always acting as a jury, deliberating on the events with eyes that watch from hundreds of years ago.
Towards the end of the film, life really does imitate art as the occupants of Petra's bedroom practically mirroring the imposing artwork.
The room itself is, by turn, claustrophobic, and sometimes really opens up to characters and their audience, while remaining within the wing of Fassbinder's theatrical direction.
The performances, too, are sympathetic to the story, conveying a multitude of emotions as real despair kicks in.
While Carstensen and Schygulla both excel in their roles, Irm Hermann deserves much praise for her portrayal of Marlene, who sometimes takes the guise of one of Petra's paintings, adopting still-life poses as real life turmoil surrounds her.Whether it's sketching designs for Petra, acting as nurse or simply through the clickety-clack of her typewriter keys, she's always there, right up to the finale which sheds some light on her tolerance of Petra's behaviour.

This is top-tier Fassbinder, and ripe for the kind of re-appraisal found in Diane Charleson's excellent commentary track found on Arrow Aacadmey's Blu-ray.
Diane looks at Fassbinder's turbulent family life; influences drawn from American melodrama and Bergman's "Persona"; points out the triangular relationships reflected in the framing; discusses the absence of men in the film and also praises Michael Ballhaus for the fluidity he brought to this production.
It's a stimulating, highly informative track and one that you should return to.

Next up is 'Life Stories: A Conversation With R.W. Fassbinder'. Made for German television in 1978 and moderated by Peter W. Jensen, the interview runs for 48m 29s.
Fassbinder talks about his childhood, his marriage; the reduction of freedom in Germany at the time and of his second home in Paris, declaring he felt more at home there.
"Berlin Alexanderplatz" is also mentioned, and he addresses why his films were not widely known at the time.
It's an enlightening piece, tinged with sadness that Fassbinder died at such a young age.

'Role-Play" Women On Fassbinder' (58m 41s)
Here, Carstensen, Schygulla, Hermann and Rosel Zech paint a picture of what is was like working with a genius who tore of the masks of those he was with.
Hermann talks about their marriage, and why she broke up with him while Schgulla declares his actresses were like "figures on a chess board".
A temperamental, highly focused individual was was a real genius emerges from the memories of some of the ladies who knew him best.
A valuable disc extra indeed.

Once again, this 4K restoration from original camera negatives yields impressive results with a beautiful film-like presentation.
"The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is available to buy now. Another great addition to Arrow Academy's catalogue.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Blu-ray Review: The Merchant Of Four Seasons/Beware Of A Holy Whore (Arrow Academy)

Arrow Academy has just released a boxset devoted to the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, containing 7 Blu-ray discs which cover 10 of his films.

Limited edition box set (1,000 copies) containing Love is Colder Than Death, Katzelmacher, Beware of a Holy Whore, The Merchant of Four Seasons, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Fear Eats the Soul, Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, Chinese Roulette and The Marriage of Maria Braun
Brand new 4K restorations of the films from original camera negatives
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations
Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
Optional English subtitles on all films
Six audio commentaries: Adrian Martin on Beware of a Holy Whore, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Christian McCrea on The Merchant of Four Seasons, Diane Charleson on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Mark Freeman on Fear Eats the Soul, Ken Moulden on Effi Briest and Hamish Ford on Fox and His Friends
Two early short films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder from 1966, The Little Chaos and The City Tramp
My Name is Not Ali, Viola Shafik’s 2011 feature-length documentary on the life and death of El Hedi ben Salem, star of Fear Eats the Soul
Newly-filmed interview with actor Lou Castel on Beware of a Holy Whore
Newly-filmed interviews with actor Ulli Lommel on Love is Colder Than Death, Effi Briest and Chinese Roulette
Newly-filmed interviews with director of photography Jürgen Jürges on Fear Eats the Soul and Effi Briest
The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Family, an all-new featurette detailing the actors who worked with Fassbinder time and again throughout his career
Life Stories: A Conversation with R.W. Fassbinder, a 50-minute interview with the director conducted for German television in 1978
End of the Commune, Joachim von Mengershausen’s 1970 documentary portrait of Fassbinder and his troupe including rare footage of his actors rehearsing and Love is Colder Than Death’s premiere at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival
Role-Play: Women on Fassbinder, a 1992 documentary containing interviews with four of the director’s leading ladies, Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla and Rosel Zech
Life, Love & Celluloid, a 1998 feature-length documentary on Fassbinder, written and directed by his regular editor, Juliane Lorenz
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1977, a candid 30-minute interview with the director
Original theatrical trailers for Katzelmacher, Beware of a Holy Whore, Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends and Chinese Roulette
200-page hardback book, exclusive to this limited edition box set, containing all-new writing by Tony Rayns, Gertrud Koch, Michael Pattison, Nick Pinkerton, Ashley Clark, Erica Carter, Alex Davidson, Glenn Kenny and Margaret Deriaz

The films are also being released individually throughout 2016.

Although he passed away at the absurdly young age of 37, Fassbinder had an astonishingly prolific career and these releases are essential for followers of world cinema.
During the next few weeks, I'll be taking a look at five of these films.

The Merchant Of Four Seasons

"The good die young and people like you come back."

When Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) returns from a year away in the Foreign Legion, his mother (Gusti Kreissi) with the hostility of a bitter woman whose son has fallen well short of expectations.
Hans peddles fruit through the streets of Munich, aided by his wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) who is determined to make ends meet for their young daughter and also for their marriage.
Hans has an alcohol problem, and we first see his real devotion to the demon drink when Irmgard interrupts a heavy session with his cronies, only to have a chair thrown at her, followed by a beating when he eventually gets home.
One heart attack later, and Hans' drinking and heavy lifting at work are curtailed by a Doctor's warning that drink and physical exertion will be fatal.
So, Hans and his wife hire a labourer to work the rounds. Before long, the money is rolling in but further unhappiness lies just around the corner.

It's grim subject matter to be sure, but compulsive vewing thanks to the excellent cast who represent family and a band of outsiders who all have a part to play in this sad story.
Hirschmuller is very good as the ticking clock that is Hans, earning both sympathy and disgust for the choices he makes.
His family - Heide Simon as his married sister, brother-in-law Kurt played by Kurt Raab and sister Anna, the brutally honest one (Hanna Schygulla) - are dysfunctional in the extreme, while the hired help enter the picture with cold, calculating parts to play.
Top billing, for me, has to be Irm Hermann wo delivers a beautifully multi-layered performance, packing in all the emotions as she fights to keep the family unit together. Joy, pain, despair and a very real fear are all present and conveyed so very well.
Praise, too, for Ingrid Caven as Hans' great love. Her screen time may be limited but she leaves her mark like a stash of old letters that silently chronicle a love that could never be.
All of these actors are well served by the photography of Dietrich Lohmann whose exquisite framing helps make this a true work of art.
Highlights are many, but my own choice for the most affecting is the shot that follows a distraught Irmgard as she heads home through darkened streets past a variety of shops; one of which sells bridal gowns that should mark the beginning of a joyous union. Unbearably sad.
Those of you yet to experience a Fassbinder film, and who have perhaps been alerted by Arrow's deluxe treatment of other important director figures, may well find this a good place to begin.

"The Merchant Of Four Seasons" is accompanied by a commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Christian McCrae.
The pair combine well to deliver a track that will stimulate and inform newcomers and seasoned Fassbinder buffs alike.
We hear about the core issues Fassbinder brought to the table; the discomfort created by certain scenes in this film;
a funny story concerning the director's 8 month hiatus prior to shooting Merchant and analysis of when the films moves from cinematic to theatrical.
There's also praise for Hermann's performance; exploration of Fassbinder's attitude towards women - the director's own words being quoted on several occasions which adds to the wealth of information complied - and critical reaction to the film, which is sometimes challenged.
This serves for a lively, informative track that manages to fit in cast and crew information, and director's Fassbinder inuluenced and was influenced by, including Michael Mann and Douglas Sirk. Listen out, too, for Alexandra's wonderful description "a parody of mourning". A job well done.

Beware Of A Holy Whore

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's tenth film - an engrossing study of a film shoot from hell - was set in Spain and shot in Italy, and that's a consideration when one studies the sense of dislocation that's prevalent in this picture.
Lou Castel plays Jeff, director of this film-within-a-film and one of the few people to have a identifiable role in proceedings.
Jeff arrives on the set to find a motley collection of cast and crew - some interchangeable - who congregate around of bar area of the hotel lobby where they consume copious quantities of alcohol, while lust, jealousy and violence hang heavy in the air.
We have Fassbinder himself playing what appears to be the producer; Hanna Schygulla as a Monroe-esque Goddess clad in white; Eddie Constantine playing himself, effortlessly conveying real star quality; Uli Lommel's wanna-be director and a cast of supporting players who mostly become infected by the creeping moral malaise which covers this film.
Jeff's project is pitched as being against a certain kind of brutality that's sanctioned by the state, and includes two brutal murders which involve Constantine who initially draws the line at performing his characters deadly work.

The first half of "Beware Of A Holy Whore" is composed of long takes, while the second half contains a multitude of shorter scenes that jump about to such an extent, it's often confusing to get a handle on what's happening and when it occurred. For all that, it's a stimulating piece of work that presents the madness of a film set where missing materials, bouncing cheques and various warring factions combine to push the director towards the edge.
Once again, Fassbinder moves between the cinematic and the theatrical with beautifully composed framing shots from the director and his DOP Michael Ballhaus.
In many ways, "Beware Of A Holy Whore" would make for a compelling double bill with Abel Ferrara's "Snake Eyes" (aka "Dangerous Game") with the human wreckage of an ugly shoot ready to explode at any moment.

The excellent Adrian Martin takes the microphone for a commentary track that begins by examining a story from Werner Schroeter at the beginning of the film, and Adrian also notes how many of the cast were already film directors (including Schroeter) or would eventually move into this field.
Adrian talks about Fassbinder's early career; the connection between Beware and "Whity"; the director's use of music in this film; points out the influence of Sirk, Ray, Godard and Warhol in a commentary that takes in everything from the fragmented approach of the second half Of Beware to individual performances.
Listen to this and you'll immediately want to watch the film again.

A 2m 41s theatrical trailer is followed by "Castel As Fassbinder". This 9m 53s interview includes the story of how Lou eventually got tthe role of Jeff; his thoughts on working with the late director and his verdict on the film.
It's a nice way to end a disc that provides beautiful 4K restorations of both films.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Blu-ray Review: Five Dolls For An August Moon (Arrow Video)

Mario Bava's "Five Dolls For An August Moon" (1970) was deemed to be his worst film by none other than the great man himself.
I respectfully disagree with this brutally frank opinion, as Dolls is a showcase for Bava's artistry and ingenuity.
Mario became involved with the project as a 'gun for hire', replacing the original helmsman, and was immediately confronted with a script he labelled as a joke.
The screenplay was loosely based on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" and though it's the weakest aspect of the film, what it does do well is to help generate some tense scenes.
The story concerns the formula for a new type of industrial resin, pioneered by Professor Gerry Farrell (William Berger).
The inhabitants of a remote island retreat anticipate a weekend of relaxation with some hard-nosed business at the top of the agenda. The Professor's formula attracts very lucrative offers from a trio of likely lads who seek possession of this valuable information.
Farrell's wife Trudy (Ira Furstenberg); sex kitten Marie (Edwige Feneche); wife-slapping, womanising George (Teodoro Corra) and Jack (Howard Ross) are all part of a group whose chances of survival grow slimmer by the minute, amidst the greed and deception.

Following a hoax stabbing, the real slayings begin, with a series of murders committed off-camera: presumably a directorial protest against the material he was given to work with.
This one really is a dry run for "A Bay Of Blood", with a large dose of the experimental at play, amidst amazing glass matte paintings and other ingenious compositions to give your 'pause' button a real workout.
Check out the crystal balls tumbling down a staircase, straight into a bathroom that plays host to another dead body; the scenes where the recently departed hang in a freezer beside real slabs of meat; the camera setting up the cast by zooming into their eyes, only to find an emptiness that matches their very souls, and a shot involving a scarf that demands repeated views.
While Bava couldn't fix the screenplay, he could push himself to create and solve visual problems which ensured Dolls is a stimulating affair, with Piero Ulmiliani's score matching the director's vision and innovative style.
Antonio Rinaldi's cinematography - shot under the watchful eye of his director - captures and contrasts cold interior beauty with the picturesque outdoor setting, with colours that really pop in Arrow Video's strong Blu-ray presentation.

Dolls is a worthy addition to Arrow's Mario Bava Collection; middle-tier Bava at best, but fascinating nonetheless.
The film is accompanied by a Tim Lucas commentary track, which begins with the assertion that "Five Dolls For An August Moon" was misunderstood by its own director.
Tim tlaks about the use of paintings in the film; the soundtrack -"one of the greatest scores Bava ever worked with" - and he discusses the director's craftmanship. Tim also compares certain scenes to other Bava films, such as "Kill, Baby...Kill!", "Danger:Diabolik" and "Planet Of The Vampires".
Those of us pondering the identity of the original director of this film will be intrigued by Tim's theory.
Another top-notch commentary from - for my money- the best in the business.

Fans of the excellent score will be pleased by the inclusion of a music and effects track, and there's also a documentary to savour.
While seasoned Bava buffs will undoubtedly have already seen "Mario Bava: Maestro Of The Macabre", it's easily worth repeat viewings, and newcomers will find it essential.
Here, we get input from the likes of Alfredo Leone, Sam Arkoff, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, John Carpenter, Carlo Rambaldi and Tim Lucas, while Mario's family are represented by son Lamberto, grandson Roy and granddaughter Georgia.
There are clips from "Baron Blood", "Black Sabbath" and "Black Sunday" to name but a few, and an abundance of insight and anecdote covering the great man's career.
There's also a collectors booklet featuring new writing by Glenn Kenny, and a new essay by Adrian Smith on the Fancey family and their efforts to deliver foreign exploitation titles to the UK during a three decade period.
"Five Dolls For An August Moon" is a Region B release, and available to buy now.