Saturday, 27 December 2014

Blu-ray Review: Rabid Dogs

Mario Bava's 'Rabid Dogs'(1974) had a troubled production history to say the least.
With the lion's share of the film completed, the production company went bankrupt, and Mario Bava never got to see it released. Actress Lean Lander paid off various debts and acquired distribution rights, but things never really got off the ground. Eventually, Alfredo Leone purchased the film and Mario's son, Lamberto, filmed new footage which was married to a re-orchestrated score. The new version was titled 'Kidnapped', and appears alongside 'Rabid Dogs' on Arrow Video's new Blu-ray release.

The films begins with a robbery at the Gaboni Pharmaceutical Company where guns and a knife are used in a bloody heist. When the driver of the getaway car is shot dead, Doc (Maurice Poli) takes the wheel and finds his problems are only just beginning. His accomplices - the lecherous 'Thirty Two' (George Eastman) and psychotic 'Blade' (Don Backy) - are a tough duo to handle, indulging in menance and molestation when they kidnap Maria (Lea Lander) in order to shake off close police attention. A child and a remarkably cool travelling companion (played by Riccardo Cucciolla) are also abducted, with the former seemingly requiring urgent hospital attention. Doc and his teammates share an exceptionally callous attitude towards their captives, constantly humiliating the frightened woman, and also insisting the life of the child means nothing to them. It's a harsh and brutal regime to contend with and as the majority of the running time takes place within the confines of a car, it's also claustrophobic in the extreme. Even exterior scenes when the film moves to outdoor locations bring no relief, for the viewers or for the shell-shocked hostages, delivering carnage and a supremely difficult to watch scene as Doc struggle to control his men.

'Rabid Dogs' - thanks to Bava's considerable talents and the efforts of various parties - is a totally compulsive crime drama that's a world away from resurrected Baron's, ghostly little girls and fashion houses of death, though it ultimately shares one of his recurring themes: that the line between the living and the dead is wafer-thin.
As previously noted, 'Kidnapped' features a new score (which, for me, fails to eclipse the tense 'Rabid Dogs' soundtrack) and new footage, which includes additional heist footage, and introduces a tearful woman who's in telephone contact with the police on several occasions. See which version you prefer, and if you're watching for the first time, you'll enjoy following events right up to the twist ending.
Image quality on Arrow's Blu-ray release is exemplary, with bold colours, strong detail and healthy fleshtones which only depart for several very brief periods when an alternative source had to be used.

The supplementary material begins with a commentary track from Tim Lucas, editor of the essential 'Video Watchdog' magazine, and author of the wonderful Mario Bava book, 'All The Colors Of The Dark'. Tim delivers valuable cast and crew information; discusses the film's production history, and also finds time to clear up a few misconceptions. He also calls 'Rabid Dogs' the film of a young man, and highlights just how much of an accomplishment it was. It's another fine track from a historian who must surely the best in the business when it comes to increasing our enjoyment and understanding of film.
The commentary is followed by 'Bava And Euro Crime' - a 9 minute interview with Umberto Lenzi. Here, the director tells of his admiration for Bava (who he didn't get to know as a friend), and of Ricardo Freda and his influence on Bava. He also discusses the organised crime scene in Italy, and of police and security forces who were behind the times.
It's good to see Lenzi contributing, and his presence brings further authority to this release.
'End Of The Road: Making Rabid Dogs And Kidnapped'runs for just over 16 minutes and features interviews with Alfredo Leone, Lamberto Bava and Lea Lander. Mondadori mystery novels are discussed, and there's further amplification on the film's troubled production history and financial woes. It's a treat to see these important figures discuss past events, and somewhat moving too, when we consider the road to the film's completion outlived its illustrious director.
'Semeaforo Rosso' Alternative Opening Sequence' follows, being a 92 second alternative credits sequence: a nice addition for the completist's amongst us.
The package is rounded off with another of Arrow's excellent booklets, this one featuring writing on the film from Peter Blumenstock, Michael J Carroll and Helen Mullane. Notes on Tim Lucas' translation and the transfer are also included, together with some wonderful stills.

Arrow's Mario Bava collection continues to bestow reverential treatment on one of the most important film director's ever, and I wholeheartedly recommend this latest instalment.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Art Decades: A Very Special Publication

Those of you who frequent movie blogs have encountered Jeremy Richey's work on more than one occasion. Jeremy has lit up the blogosphere with his fabulous 'Moon In The Gutter' projects, and also treated us to 'Harry Moseby Confidential' (taking in films and music from the seventies); a Sylvia Kristel site and 'Fascination' a look at all (and I do mean ALL) things Jean Rollin.
Now, Jeremy, with his winning team of wife Kelley and gifted photographer Whitley Brandenburg, has carefully put together a magazine titled 'Art Decades'. The likes of Tim and Donna Lucas' 'Video Watchdog' and UK film mag 'Sight & Sound' have resulted in many informative and thought-provoking hours for me and thousands of others. Now, we have a new magazine to celebrate, and boy, what a debut!
Jeremy states in his editorial that the magazine escapes clear definition and that's exactly right. I think if you enjoy film, music and outstanding photography and modelling, this one is for you.

The passing of Lou Reed hit Jeremy particularly hard, so it's no surprise to see a Lou Reed theme in this debut issue, with the legendary Maria McKee and The Raveonettes talking about his influence on their lives and careers; gorgeous photo shoots that play out to some of Lou's lyrics, and beautifully observed album reviews from Erich Kuersten. The music theme continues with an interview with ace Brooklyn band Chappo, and Dave Stewart's article on Blondie. Jeremy certainly chose well with his contributors - check out Heather Drain's piece on Walerian Borowczyk's 'La Bete' - and there's a great interview with Andrew Loog Oldham.
Jeremy's introduction to Celia Rowlson-Hall is also richly deserving of your time. Her name is a new one on me, but you can bet I'll be checking out this recommendation very soon. Jeremy rates her 'Prom Night' short film as one of the finest shorts he's seen.

'Art Decades' is beautifully laid out, and a tribute to Jeremy, Kelley, Whitley and the rest of the AD family.
So, head on over to and bag yourself a copy, pronto!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Blu-Ray Review: The Naked City

Jules Dassin's 1948 film became a landmark production for a number of reasons. Written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, the film was one of the first to shoot on location in New York, capturing a city at work and play: a city that never entirely sleeps.
Miss Jean Dexter, 26 years of age, was murdered between 1.00-2.00am, prompting a police investigation and banner headlines labelling this crime 'The Bathtub Murder'. Genial old school cop Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) takes his younger colleague Halloran (Don Taylor) in tow as they interview suspects, sift through clues and study forensic reports in an effort to nail the killer.
The evidence points to more than one assailant in Dexter's perplexing case and before long, a list of suspects has been assembled.
Previously, whodunnit cases were usually the province of lone private eyes who got their man (or woman) with the police very much on the outside looking in. 'The Naked City', however, takes us through a police investigation, highlighting practically every aspect of a murder case.

From scene of crime to morgue, to researching suspects and possible motives, right through to the weary legwork involved, down streets that stretch for miles, populated by people who all have their own stories. Of course, the usual nutters surface: the ones who claim responsibility whenever a major crime is committed, but they are quickly and humorously dismissed by men who already have their own list of likely folks, including inveterate liar Niles (Howard Duff) who reinvents himself every time he's on screen.
It's a complex plot and an absolute joy to follow and observe, with solid characterisation, an impressive documentary feel and a thrilling climax to boot!
'The Naked City' has inspired countless films and television series, and fully deserves this HD release which will doubtless gain it many new admirers.

Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation has strong detail, with a few scratches that add to the documentary feel. Overall, it's a fine incarnation of this film.The extras begin with a Malvin Wald commentary track. Malvin calls the film a revelation for its time, and notes it was shot in 107 different places. He talks about Howard Duff, who had earlier played Sam Spade in a radio show, and reveals how the film was saved from being literally destroyed by studio execs. We also hear about the hidden cameras used to film selected scenes that added a high degree of authenticity to proceedings. It's a fascinating talk, leading us to 'New York And The Naked City', which was recorded in August 2014 and runs for 39 minutes. Here, Amy Taubin talks about the New York underground movie scene, discussing the likes of Shirley Clarke and Kenneth Anger, and takes a look at the early New York film movement. Film schools are also discussed, and the piece offers a rounded view of film in The Big Apple.

'Jules Dassin At LACMA' runs for 52 minutes, catching the director's appearance at the LA County Museum Of Art in April 2004. There is some sound distortion from the original recording, but this shouldn't impair your enjoyment and appreciation. Dassin was a very funny guy, and repeatedly has the audience in stitches as he holds forth on his career. Work on 'The Naked City' and 'Rififi' is covered, and he talks about producer Mark Hellinger (who also provided narration for the film) and laments his passing. Listen out for a great Jack Lemmon story, too!

'The Hollywood Ten' runs for just shy of 15 minutes, being a 1950 documentary showing why ten producers, writers and directors appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and refused to answer questions relating to supposed communist activities. The men were given prison sentences, and Albert Maltz was one of them. It's a valuable addition to this disc, covering those dark days of 'blacklist'.
The disc is rounded off with a gallery of production stills by the infamous Weegee and a theatrical trailer.
As usual, Arrow has thoughtfully included an informative booklet, with new writing on the film by Sergio Angelini, Barry Salt and Alastair Phillips. It's a satisfying way to end this presentation of a very important film.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Blu-ray Review: Withnail And I (Arrow Video)

"London is a country coming down from its trip. We are 91 days from the end of this decade, and there's going to be a lot of refugees".

It's 1969. The fag-end of a decade forever known as 'The Swinging Sixties'. In Bruce Robinson's feature debut, two out of work actors are living - make that existing - in a small flat in London's vibrant Camden Town. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) stagger through life with booze, lighter fuel and pills playing an important part in their struggle against a system seemingly stacked against them. Worn down by squalid living conditions (self-inflicted, I might add), the pair are granted temporary respite when Withnail's Uncle Monty (the splendid Richard Griffiths) offers them the use of his country retreat. Upon arriving at this haven of solitude, our two would-be thespians find the countryside to be a hostile place, with unfriendly locals and wayward livestock forming a united front of oppression. Add to this the amorous attentions of a rampant Monty, and Withnail's assertion that "We've come on holiday by mistake" proves to be entirely prophetic as the film progresses.

The film itself is partly autobiographical, with Robinson using McGann's character to paint a picture of his own life in London, while Withnail was inspired by Vivian Mackerrell - a close friend of Robinson who died at an absurdly young age. Amazingly, WITHNAIL also marked the feature debut for Richard E. Grant, and is almost certainly the film he'll be remembered for. Grant is superb as the flamboyant Withnail; a cowardly, drunkard who places the arse of his friend in mortal danger in order to further enjoy a class distinction that is fast leaving him behind.
In the supplementary section, Robinson tells how he instructed Grant - a non-drinker - to get rat-arsed drunk so he would know how it felt to be under the influence and boy, did it work! This is probably the finest portrayal of a boozer in British cinema and on a par with Jeremy Irons' sad, inebriated figure in 'Brideshead Revisted' (cf to 'Dead Ringers'), though there's a lot more to this role than simply acting drunk. Witness the final scene where an emotional Withnail gives a magnificent reading of a soliloquy from 'Hamlet' to a pack of wolves in Regents Park Zoo. It's a supremely moving moment, and suggests that perhaps Withnail really does have it in him to progress in his chosen career. Of course, his friend Marwood seemed the more likely to secure gainful employment, but it's Withnail who possesses all the qualities needed if only he would just believe. Wide-eyed Marwood is a perfect foil to his exuberant friend being introverted, inexperienced in the art of life-and-how-to-live-it and capable of the most brilliant cutting humour : "I have just narrowly avoided having a buggering and come in here with the express intention of wishing the same on you". Thank God that Robinson relented and re-instated McGann after firing him.They do make for a marvellous double-act, but strong support is forthcoming from both Griffith and Ralph Brown who plays Danny; a wise fool with a hilarious knack of making utter nonsense seem profound.

Ultimately, I think many of us can identify with the two lead characters; particularly those who once had a dream and gradually realised that, maybe, things would probably not work out as they had hoped. And, there are many who will nod sadly at the moment the pair realise circumstances dictate that a longstanding friendship has come to an end. That golden moments will become memories that can never be repeated.

'Withnail And I' really is a film that improves as it ages, as we age along with it. Initial viewings doubtless set up Withnail and Marwood as drinking heroes for many of us who loved to go out and get hammered at the pub, but subsequent screenings show it's a film with many faces: love story, comedy, a snapshot of the end of an extraordinary decade that was both wonderful and terrible and a film ending with devastating loss. When Marwood walked away from his friend, you just know they will never see each other again; at least not in this life. Sad to say, that Marwood's next and final act in his friend's life will be at Withnail's funeral for he is destined to die an early, alcohol-ravaged death, just like Bruce Robinson's comrade all those years ago. Marwood escaped, as Bruce once did: a hard decision to make, and one that helps make the finale even sadder.
Lines of dialogue will be forever quoted from 'Withnail And I' and that's a major part of its appeal, but ultimately, it's a tale of a man who would never realise his dream but, for a short time, was truly happy. I think we can all raise a glass to that.

Arrow Video's Blu-ray features a wonderfully impressive restoration, courtesy of a 2K scan from the original camera negative. The difference between this and previous home video incarnations really is like night and day.
The contrast, skin tones, the squalor of that abominable kitchen, the different shades of countryside greenery are all captured minus the dirt and scratches of previous editions and there's a lovely layer of grain throughout; a labour of love no less.
The extras begin with two commentary tracks. The first is with director Bruce Robinson, moderated by Carl Daft and recorded in 2009. Robinson recalls tough times in his London abode - "God, how did we live through it?" - and using empty beer bottles as currency (4p per bottle). Bruce mentions Vivian McKerrell on several occasions, and clearly retains much fondness for his late friend: those of you yet to see Stephen Weeks' excellent 'Ghost Story' should remedy this post haste and enjoy Vivian's role in this film. Bruce explains how his film was funded; describes Richard Griffiths as "perfection"; relates how Michael Elphick arrived on set drunk as a Lord and admits he struggles to remember most of the critical reaction to his film. He also talks about the dialogue which has remained with people in a way that film dialogue so rarely does, and of the alternative ending he had in mind that would have been simply too cruel to use.

Kevin Jackson, author of the BFI modern classic 'Withnail And I', takes the microphone for another commentary track which was recorded in May 2014. Kevin reveals he actually had a Withnail in his own life at one point, and delivers an enjoyable, informative track, punctuated by his own laughter during many scenes. He comments on the fact there are few females in the cast (feeling, as Bruce does, that if you were poor, you didn't have a girlfriend back then) and of the director's decision to stick with his original ending. His admiration for the cast shines through on many occasions - labelling Uncle Monty "an immortal creation", and his enthusiasm and insight certainly compel one to seek out his book.

A quartet of television documentaries follow, which were part of Channel 4's 'Withnail And Us' weekend in 1999.
'Withnail And Us' runs for 25 minutes, and includes interviews with Bruce Robinson, Ralph Brown, home video footage featuring Bruce and Vivian, and input from fans and film critics who deliver their own favourite lines.
'The Peculiar Memories Of Bruce Robinson' is a 38 minute documentary, with interviews from Stephen Woolley, Nigel Floyd, David Puttnam, Andy Garcia and Roland Joffe who all pay tribute to Bruce's writing and directorial skills. The man himself is shown at work, chain-smoking and guzzling wine while he types - a process he describes as "hard and ugly" - and his thoughts on the creative process are mixed in with footage from the likes of 'Jennifer 8', 'The Killing Fields' and 'Fat Man And Little Boy'.
'I demand To Have Some Booze' is a 6 minute short where a bunch of students watch the film on video, pausing it during the alcoholic beverage scenes, and attempting to match their heroes, drink for drink. If you're in a benevolent mood, it's worth a view. Once.
'Withnail On The Pier' runs for 4 minutes, showing preparations for an open air seaside screening of 'Withnail And I'. Ralph Brown is on hand, as locals and tourists talk about one of their favourite films.

'An Appreciation By Sam Bain, co-creator of 'Peepshow' and 'Fresh Meat', is an 8 minute appreciation of the film which he calls a masterpiece and of Bruce Robinson's screenplay, "one of the best pieces of screenwriting ever". The extras are rounded off with a 21 minute interview with Michael Pickwoad, production designer, recorded in August 2014. Michael recalls going to the Lake District in his search for Bruce's vision of the cottage, and scouting for London locations. Fond memories of a production on which the Movie Gods smiled, resulting in a film where cast, crew and script reached perfection.

Those who purchase this release will surely be delighted by the inclusion of a very special extra feature: a Blu-ray incarnation of Bruce Roninson's 'How To Get Ahead In Advertising'. Richard E. Grant returns to play Dennis Bagley; a brilliant advertising exec who delivers an opening speech to his colleagues, expressing concern that the British public are slowly turning against commodities that are bad for them. With a stressful deadline looming, Bagley's brainstorming sessions concerning a pitch for spot removal cream are rudely thrown off course by the appearance of a large boil on his shoulder. When this distressing ailment spouts a face and starts talking, Bagley's life turns upside down, with madness and mayhem seriously affecting his wife Julia (Rachel Ward), and friends and business associates.

Just when you think things couldn't get any more chaotic, the surgeon's knife instigates a real sea change in Dennis' behaviour, resulting a another round of laugh-out-loud scenes. This really is an massively under-appreciated gem, with so many quotable lines of dialogue that it almost, but not quite, matches 'Withnail'. Grant is wonderful as the schizoid Bagley, with solid support from Rachel Ward, and Richard Wilson as the dry Sullivan Bristol. Highlights are many, but do look out for the scene where a demented Bagley clears a railway carriage, and a slow dance floor clinch where an outraged female flees from Bagley's clutches. following an obscene outburst from the boil: "The shagging starts in 30 minutes". Image quality is first-rate, with no blemishes (apart from the boil) and crisp detail.

The main feature is followed by a 10 minute Michael Pickwoad interview. Michael chats about the locations and remarks it was a much more straightforward production than 'Withnail'. The set is rounded off with a theatrical trailer.

Arrow's Blu-ray release is locked to Region B, and available to buy now, though I respectfully suggest you hurry to avoid the 'sold out' signs. Those of you who got in quickly may well have opted for the limited edition (2,000 copies) hardback book which contains new writing on the film and key articles/reviews, across 200 pages.
A very nice accompaniment to a film that at last enjoys the reverential treatment it deserves.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Incredible Melting Man (Arrow Video)

First seen in the UK on a dobule-bill with 'The Savage Bees', William Sachs' 'The Incredible Melting Man' has been labelled a bad movie by many critics and consumers. Happily, this film also has its fair share of supporters, of which I am one. Every film has a story behind it regarding production or location issues, finance or cast and crew difficulties. 'The Incredible Melting Man' encountered hard-headed producers who disagreed with Sachs' vision of a comic book tongue-in-cheek affair, and instead wanted a atraight-edged, serious horror movie.

The film begins with a voyage to Saturn going terribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two crew members and the transformation of a third into a gelatinous incarnation of his former self. Now, astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) roams Planet Earth looking like a cross between Hellraiser's Frank and one of Lucio Fulci's zombie outcasts, oozing fluid from his body and leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. The melting Man needs human cells to live on, resulting in a line of victims including authoritarian figures hot on his tail, and civilians who offer no threat. Dr Ted Nelson (Burr De Benning), General Perry (Myron Healey) and Sheriff Blake (Michael Alldredge) represent the hunters who use gieger counters to track the radioactive trail of a good man who has turned into a life-threatening force.

On the debit side, dialogue and performances leave a great deal to be desired, though some of this can be put down to the director's desire for a more comic approach which does sneak in on quite a few occasions. Despite the producers intentions, this is not a film to take seriously, but there are a couple of suspenseful scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat, plus a spectacular death on wires and the unveiling of Rainbeaux Smith's prize assets. If you're in an undemanding mood, 'The Incredible Melting Man' is an oddly compulsive watch, and a reminder that B-Movie double-bills often delivered quite a kick.

Arrow's Blu-ray disc contains a director's commentary track where William Sachs flies solo, providing cast and crew info, chronicling his disagreements with producers and highlighting footage that had nothing to do with him.It's an informative and enjoyable track, displaying real warmth for some of the participants - including effects wizard Rick Baker - and real regret that his original vision never achieved lift-off.
A 7 minute Super 8 Digest version of the film is also included on this disc. Super 8 was the first Home Video distribution format, and it's nice to experience a little bit of history as this condensed version briskly unfolds. Interviews with the director and Rick Baker follow, running for just over 19 minutes. Sachs reveals George A. Romero's 'Night Of The Living Dead' was the main inspiration for his film, while Baker explains he asked for what he thought was an outrageous amount of money for his services in the hope he'd be turned down. While he doesn't rate the performances, Baker acknowledges the film certainly has a fan base, and it's good to hear both men airing their views.
A 3 minute interview follows with Greg Cannom who filled the role of special make up effects. Greg recalls 'The Incredible Melting Man' was his first gig, and tells how he first met Rick Baker.
A 4 minute promotional gallery - which includes some nifty design work - and a theatrical trailer round off the package.

Arrow's Blu-ray presentation scores highly on image quality, looking clean and sharp, with strong colours.
Another of Arrow's excellent booklets comes with the disc,featuring Mike White's excellent 'Going Crackers' essay which talks about the film's staying power, the novelisation and the role of food in the film.
'It Came From The Super 8!' A Potted History Of The First Home Video Distribution Format is written by Douglas Weir, is an invaluable short history of the format, looking at the beginning and the end of what was cutting edge technology back in the day. The booklet is illustrated with some terrific colour and b/w stills, and add the finishing touches to an excellent package.

'The Incredible Melting Man' certainly has its shortcomings, but in many ways, they add to its charm. The Blu-ray represents plenty of bang for your buck, and will certainly add to its cult following.

Friday, 3 October 2014

DVD Review: Glengarry Glen Ross

"And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favour. I said the real favour, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser"

And there we have the tail-end of a savage wake-up call from a character named Blake, sent in by the heads of real estate firm Mitch and Murray to give their sales force the bollocking of a lifetime. In fact, this is a bollocking royale and, as Blake, Alec Baldwin has probably never been better. Here, Blake marches out from the office of "company man" Williamson (Kevin Spacey) and delivers a shattering assault on the senses of three v-e-r-y tired men. We have Sheldon Levene (Jack Lemmon); a veteran salesman whose better days are behind him and the double act of Dave & George (Ed Harris, Alan Arkin); a pair of inveterate whiners who are destined to perform the bar sketch, mimed by Blake, in the not-too distant future. Missing in action is one Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is attempting to persuade James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) to buy some land, with his other 'office' (a nearby bar), ensuring Lingk literally enters into the spirit of things. 6 0r 7 doubles later and Roma has his man, seducing him into signing on the line that is dotted with a bewitching combination of hooch, personal anecdotes and philosophies. This really is prime time Pacino: one moment calm, laidback and persuasive, the next raging at colleagues and even the police who are called in to investigate the theft of some gold-plated leads. Pacino becomes the epitome of a smooth-talking salesman who really does have a gift, coupled with an outrageous line in bullshit. Indeed, it's clear that in another 4 or 5 years, his character will mutate into Blake with fancy cars and extreme pep talks on the horizon. On the surface, Roma seems a caring guy, praising Sheldon when he finally closes the Nyborg sit, but take a closer look at his face and you'll see he's really not interested in Levene's 'war stories'. In short, he's ultimately an unlikeable individual and the same can be said of the rest of this cast. The fact that Glengarry is totally absorbing and entertaining from start to finish with no sympathetic characters, is a tribute to director and cast who help fashion a production that gets better with each viewing. Hard-nosed Williamson; living-in-the-past Levene with a sick daughter in hospital, and who still makes me squirm with his old school mentality; Dave and George borrowing Al's megaphone to amplify their incompetence and anger at themselves. Hell, even Lingk fails to command any respect, allowing himself to be sucked in and painfully building up to a half-hearted stand-off during a hilariously bogus partnership between Sheldon and Ricky.
This really is a masterclass in acting and the script - penned by David Mamet - must have been a real joy to deliver. There are other 'characters' in this film that we never get to see: the Nyborg's whose signatures briefly put Shel back in the big time ("Put me on the Cadillac board!"), and Jerry Gross: the latter being mentioned by every member of the sales force, coming over like some bogeyman who would be only to willing to employ this motley crew of cheats, spivs and, yes, losers should they care to simply walk across the street. Foley's film really does take the lid off the precarious world of sales where, for every high flyer, there's a dozen poor souls who don't cut it. Lies, petty actions, intense rivalry and the worst kind of jealousy rule this world of pain but, for the odd few like Roma, the rewards are massive.

Independent distributor Odyssey DVD have just re-launched in the UK and returned with a release roster of cult and classic movies. The first 6 films are: 'Grey Owl''Drums Across The Mohawk', 'Electra Glide In Blue', 'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry', 'Julia' and 'Glengarry Glen Ross'. The DVD's are out now, and Glengarry offers a handsome transfer.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: Salvatore Giuliano

For my money, Francesco Rosi's 'Salvatore Giuliano' is a film rather than a documentary, but many would perhaps consider it to be a mixture of both. Whatever, it's an engrossing account of the legendary outlaw, with the real truth still tantalisingly out of reach.
Giuliano was 23 years of age when he was offered the role of Colonel by separatist group EVIS during the battle for Sicily's independence. By this age, Giuliano had already been an outlaw for two years, and had been forced to retreat to the mountains after killing a member of the cabinieri. Rosi's film begins with a shot of Giuliano's bloodstained body just before the media circus are beckoned in, and then switches back and forth in time with the actual figure of the outlaw taking a back seat for most of the running time. A trial to determine those responsible for the massacre of communists at Portella della Ginestri is impressively presided over by Salvo Randone's judge, merging with events leading up to Giuliano's death.
Rosi's film score highly in many departments, not least authenticity. with locals who actually lived through these events not only appearing in the film, but also getting involved with the script.
There's so much to take in here, as eye witness accounts conflict with the 'official version', making this an utterly compelling viewing experience. Giuliano's Robin Hood persona is but one topic open to debate with murder, kidnap and blackmail rearing their ugly heads amongst Salvatore's work for the poor, and the role of Pisciotta adds its own chapter to the story and it's quite a story!

Arrow Academy's Blu-ray (a dual format release also containing a DVD) features much to enthuse over regarding image quality and contributions from the director, academics, a relative of Giuliano and many more influential figures.
The film was restored by Cineteca di Bologna with the original camera negative scanned at 4K resolution. Digital grading was executed with particular care using a vintage copy as reference. As a result, 'Salvatore Giuilano' looks absolutely stunning, with Gianni di Venanzo's monochrome photography rich and full bodied. The level of detail here really is something to behold, with healthy skintones, nice inky blacks(check out the scenes shot during darkness) and the baking hot countryside a treat for the eyes. Reference quality, no less.

The extras begin with 'The Filmmaker And The Labyrinth'; a 55 minute documentary directed by Roberto Ando in 2002. This is a virtual treasure trove for those of us wishing to learn more about Rosi's work, covering his formative years; his association with Luchino Visconti; his approach to filmmaking and his thoughts on death which he terms "a rendering of accounts." 'Labyrinth' is punctuated by contributions from the likes of Tonino Guerra, Martin Scorsese, John Turturro and Giuseppe Tornatore, together with clips from some of the director's films, and there's an emotional return to Portella del Ginestri some 40 years on.

'Francesco Rosi On Salvatore Giuliano' comes next, being a 12 minute interview where the director talks about the reasons why the figure of Giuliano was absent for most of the film; how he directed the residents of Montalepre, and praises the work of DOP Gianni di Venanzo and Slavo Randone.

'The Sicilian Robin Hood' is a 14 minute featurette which focuses on Giuliano from the viewpoint of his nephew Giuseppe Sciortino. Giuseppe comments that his relative was a hero for the people of Sicily, comparing him to Che Guevara. He remarks that the fight to exercise the statute continues, and explains why Giuliano and his men could not have been responsible for the massacre whose victims included children. We also learn of the existence of top secret files in Rome, and why we'll have to wait until 2016 for another strand of the truth to emerge.
'Giuliano And The Mafia' runs for 10 minutes, featuring the participation of Attilio Belzoni; a writer and journalist who has written extensively on The Mafia. According to him, Salvatore was a Mafia hitman, responsible for the deaths of union leaders and policemen amongst others. It certainly livens the debate to seek out Belzoni's thoughts, and he does give his thumbs-up to the film during this interview.The 2014 extras were produced by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke, whose expertise continues to enrich our understanding and appreciation of key works in cinema. The extras conclude with a trailer, and there's also another of Arrow's informative booklets included in this package, featuring writing on the film from Pasquale lannone, an annotated synopsis by Ben Lawton and a selection of reviews.

Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B and available to buy now. 2014 has indeed been a productive year for UK Home Video releases, and 'Salvatore Giuliano' with its superb restoration and valuable supplementary material is a serious contender for your Best Of The Year list.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Blu-ray Review: The 'Burbs. Arrow Video

A dark comedy with horror movie overtones might be one way of describing Joe Dante's 1989 feature, which received an overall lukewarm critical reception upon its release. Fast forward to the present day, and 'The 'Burbs' is all set to build on its slowburning acceptance as a genuine cult classic with the release of Arrow's Blu-ray.
Dante's film takes us into the Mayfield Place neighbourhood, courtesy of a bravura opening shot, after which, Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) witnesses strange sounds and lights coming from a newly occupied house where the residents have been sight unseen since their arrival one month earlier. Peterson spies a figure at a window, and is told by his friend Art (Rick Ducommun) that his new neighbours are the Klopeks whose last house burned to the ground. Paranoia and distrust soon kick in as Rick tries to persuade his sceptical buddy that the Klopek's spell trouble for anyone in the vicinity of what he believes will turn out to be a house of horrors.
Ex 'Nam vet Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) adds an outrageous combative streak to the group, while the ladies (Carrie Fisher, Wendy Schaal) try in vain to keep their partners on the leash and out of the melting pot. When all else fails, a belated 'welcoming' expedition sees the group go through the doors of the Klopek's abode, who number Hans (Courtney Gains), Uncle Rueben (Brother Theodore) and Dr Werner Klopek, played by the wonderful Henry Gibson. With a missing neighbour amplifying Art's suspicions of foul play, the bumbling team explore garbage trucks they believe will yield dismembered body parts and when that line of enquiry falls flat on the road, indulge in a spot of breaking and entering in an effort to find the grisly truth.

It's a crying shame 'The 'Burbs' didn't receive widespread acclaim some 25 years back, but the passage of time has seen it grow in stature to emerge as one of Joe Dante's very best films. Bolstered by a fine ensemble cast, 'The 'Burbs is rich in visual and thematic content, and it's no surprise that so many people hail it as a personal favourite; not least for nostalgic reasons. It re-kindles memories of long, hot summers where evenings slowly turned from daylight to dusk: a magic hour when anything could happen and reminds us of times, of situations where our childhood came knocking on the door transporting us back to the days when certain people and places represented mysteries to be solved.
In 2014, Dante's film is more relevant than ever, in a time when new kids on the block are often treated with suspicion and mistrust, for merely keeping a low profile and wanting to be left alone. Just check out Dr Klopek's rant in the alternative ending (included on this disc) and you may well feel a tinge of sympathy for families hounded from place to place for daring to be a little different from the norm. The film also raises the question of how we define the term 'normal', and does so with a combination of humour and social comment.

Arrow Video's Blu-ray features a 2K scan of the original fine grain positive and was graded to Joe Dante's specifications, with the restoration overseen by Arrow's James White and approved by Mr Dante himself. The result is a top-notch transfer where colours frequently pop, and night-time scenes display depth and detail. Fans of this film will surely be delighted with the image quality, while Jerry Goldsmith's score was mastered from the original audio elements and sounds great.
The supplementary material begins with 'There Goes The Neighbourhood': a 66 min documentary on the making of this film, courtesy of High Rising Productions. Here, Wendy Schaal, production designer James H. Spencer, DOP Robert M. Stevens, Corey Feldman and Joe Dante remember a film that touched them all. Amongst the topics discussed are the presence and performance of Tom Hanks who had just become a major draw with 'Big'; early critical reaction to the film and it's gradual emergence as a cult classic and why Dante had to licence some music from Ennio Morricone for the homage to the western scene. It's nice to see the aforementioned members of the team, years after the fact and Corey Feldman in particular comes over as an enthusiastic guy who still loves his work on the film as the young punk revelling in his neighbour's antics. He also takes pride in the fact that some of his lines have turned into catchphrases that will stand for all time.

'A Tale Of Two Burbs' runs for 23 min and uses split screen and optional director's commentary to outline the differences between the theatrical and workprint versions. The workprint runs for approximately 5 minutes longer, and is included on this disc, courtesy of Dante's VHS copy. Additional footage includes a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, who plays Ray's boss during the dream sequence; extra dialogue and additional footage during the hilarious garbage truck scene and a different take when the residents break into the Klopek's scary abode. Of course, the workprint is a must-see for die-hard fans and also newcomers, being a fascinating version of Dante's initial vision.
Arrow's disc also presents the alternative ending for the first time in HD, running for 6 min 38 sec. Watch out for the part where Dr Klopek rants about being an outsider and hounded from town to town for simply being different, with some delicious gallows humour thrown in.

Admirers of this film will also be delighted with the inclusion of a commentary track with writer Dana Olsen, which is moderated so very well by Calum Waddell. Olsen explains 'The 'Burbs' was a personal landmark, being his first big studio picture, and chats about the multi-talented Tom Hanks with great admiration. We also learn his views on the decision to change the film's ending; why the script wasn't intended to make any social or political comment and an amazing scene in his neighbours' backyard which inspired a night-time shoot on this film.
The disc comes with another of Arrow's excellent booklets, this one featuring an article looking at the collaborations between Joe Dante and Jerry Goldsmith, and an essay on the film by Kenneth J. Souza, author of Scared Silly: The Films Of Joe Dante.

Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B, and is available to buy now. It's an endearing, at times scary movie, populated in part by overgrown kids whose childhood fails to relinquish its grip, and nor should it. Just an ordinary American suburb that became something extraordinary for a brief period.
God, I love this street!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TheShack Of The Swamp Witch: Check Out This New Blog.

Make sure you check out Jenny Spencer's new blog, The Shack Of The Swamp Witch, which promises Entertainment reviews, spooky travel, and a dash of Louisiana hot sauce.

Jenny's debut post is a review of 'Redneck Zombies'.

Just click HERE

I've encountered Jenny's work before. She's an excellent writer and her new project will be well worth following.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Blu-ray Review: Blanche

Walerian Borowczyk's 1972 film saw his wife, Ligia Branice, play the role of a young woman whose innocence and beauty captivate the men around her. Her older husband (Michel Simon) is a Baron whose estate has become a virtual prison for his beloved; a barren desert where his lonely rose withers, devoid of the life she once hoped for. The Baron's son, Nicolas (Lawrence Trimble), has just returned from Egypt and exhibits strong feelings for his stepmother. The arrival of the King (Geroges Wilson) and his page Bartolomeo (Jacques Perrin) lengthens the line of would-be suitors, leading to jealousy, betrayal, violence and death amongst the four men in her life.
Heavily influenced by medieval paintings and by a 19th century play named 'Mazepo', 'Blanche' is a feast for the eyes, with Guy Durban's camera capturing the sumptuous sets and intricate lighting, while his inventive framing also adds much to the film. Performance-wise, Michel Simon gains in stature with his emotional-charged turn as a man whose world has been torn asunder by family and strangers, while Wilson and Perrin play against each other beautifully, each trying to best the other on the rocky road to acceptance.
'Blanche' really is a film to savour, even amidst the tragic elements of the story, and an important part of Arrow Academy's Borowczyk collection.

Image quality is outstanding, courtesy of the restoration taken from original 35mm elements, and provides us with painterly detail in every scene. Realism is an important part of this film, even down to the soundtrack which features period instruments and adapts the 'Cormona Burara' songbook. Viewers can opt to listen to a 5 minute introduction from director Leslie Megahey, who explains how 'Blanche' inspired him and showed him that everything is possible.
The supplementary material is of great value, beginning with Ballad Of Imprisonment: Making Blanche. This is a 28 minute documentary, beginning with a contribution from Patrice Leconte (second assistant director) who explains how two of his reviews for Cahiers du Cinema lead to him meeting Borowczyk and working on 'Blanche'. Andre Heinrich - first assistant director - and Noel Very - camera assistant to Guy Durban - also contribute, discussing storyboards and the challenges posed by their director's requirements. We also learn about the opposition to casting Branice in the lead role, and Dominique Duvage talks about the production and Borowczyk's methods for lighting and framing.

Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait Of Walerian Borowczyk
A 63 minute interview, where the director holds forth on animation vs film, art, sex and the freedom to make his kind of film. He explains he wasn't imbued with Polish art, and goes onto highlight various influences on his own extraordinary art.

Gunpoint 1972
Peter Graham's 11 minute short takes place on a vast estate where the aimless rich gather to indulge in a pheasant shoot. Here, 'beaters' are employed to drive the pheasants towards the guns, doubtless adding to the sense of accomplishment for these vacuous people. The sight of the group tucking in to dinner after a hard days work will be offensive to many, which was probably Graham's intention, and shows up this 'sport' for exactly what it is. Graham's short also briefly records the lifespan of these birds, from fledglings to full-grown prey.

Behind Enemy Lines: Making Gunpoint
Here, Peter Graham explains how Borowczyk helped him make this film; of a disagreement they had over the ending and the fact that 'Gunpoint' was not well received by the hutning party when they viewed it. 'Behind Enemy Lines' is an apt title.

'Blanche' can also be found on Camera Obscura:The Walerian Borowczyk Collection, which includes key films from a 25 year period, stretching from 1959 - 1984. This dual format release also includes a book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke, which includes newly commissioned essays on the director's films and art, and an account of the restoration process involved.

'Blanche' is accompanied by the following individual releases which are also included in the box set:

Goto, Isle Of Love
Walerian Borowczyk's second feature was just as original as his first. Almost entirely live action this time, it is situated on the archipelago of Goto, which has been cut off from the rest of human civilisation by a massive earthquake and has consequently developed its own arcane rules. Melancholic dictator Goto III (Pierre Brasseur) is married to the beautiful Glossia (Ligia Branice), who in turn is lusted after by the petty thief Gozo (Guy Saint-Jean) as he works his way up the hierarchy.

Its thinly veiled critique of totalitarianism saw it banned in both Communist Poland and Fascist Spain (to Borowczyk's delight), but the film is most notable for its uniquely original atmosphere, in which bizarre props and sets (designed by Borowczyk himself) are given as much weight as the human actors. Its grave beauty is underscored to perfection by one of Handel's organ concertos.

This brand new high-definition restoration from the original 35mm interpositive includes the haunting colour sequences that were sometimes omitted from earlier releases.

Introduction by artist and Turner Prize nominee Craigie Horsfield
The Concentration Universe: Goto, Isle of Love – A new interview programme featuring actor Jean-Pierre Andréani, cameraman Noël Véry and camera assistant Jean-Pierre Platel
The Profligate Door – A new documentary about Borowczyk's sound sculptures featuring curator Maurice Corbet
Original theatrical trailer

Immoral Tales
Although it has much in common with Walerian Borowczyk's earlier work, Immoral Tales marks the point where his reputation as an arty pornographer began, and was sexually explicit enough to have caused problems with the censors on its original UK release.

It tells four stories revolving around particular taboos (virginity, female masturbation, bloodlust, incest), each delving further back in time, as if to suggest that the same issues recur constantly throughout human history and in all walks of life, whether it's Lucrezia Borgia (Florence Bellamy) or Erzsébet Báthory (Paloma Picasso in her only screen role) or the anonymous teenagers of the earlier episodes.

This high-definition restoration by Argos Films is being released on Blu-ray with English subtitles for the first time. The film is presented in two versions: the familiar four-part edition, and the original five-part conception, including the short film The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan that was later expanded into Borowczyk's later feature The Beast. The disc also includes both cuts of A Private Collection (1973), the short film that scandalised film festival audiences with its witty and often graphic study of vintage erotica.

Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird
Immoral Tales: L'Age d'Or Cut – featuring a fifth episode, The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan
Love Reveals Itself: Immoral Tales – A new interview programme featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry
Boro Brunch: A reunion meal recorded in February 2014 re-uniting members of Borowczyk's crew, featuring Philippe D'Argila, Florence Dauman, Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, Dominique Ruspoli, Noël Véry and Zoe Zurstrassen
A Private Collection
A Private Collection: Oberhausen Cut
Original theatrical trailer

The Beast
Originally turned down flat by the British Board of Film Censors and initially released exclusively in London in a version heavily cut by its nervous distributor, The Beast is Walerian Borowczyk's most notorious film, although it's much wittier and more playful than its subject matter might suggest.

Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) is due to inherit a substantial fortune, but on condition that she marries the son of her late father's best friend. But Mathurin de l'Espérance (Pierre Benedetti) seems more interested in his horses than in his bride-to-be, and when Lucy finds out about the story of his 18th-century ancestor Romilda (Sirpa Lane) and brings her to life in one of the most outrageous dream sequences in cinema history, we begin to realise just how bizarre Mathurin's bloodline truly is.

Receiving its Blu-ray world premiere, this new high-definition restoration by Argos Films is supported by the original short-film version of The Beast, and Venus on the Half-Shell (1975), Borowczyk's portrait of the painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis and her erotic fusions of men, women and molluscs.

Introduction by critic Peter Bradshaw
The Making of The Beast: Camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the making of The Beast
Frenzy of Ecstasy – A new visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk's beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
Venus on the Half Shell
Original theatrical trailer

The Short Films & Theatre Of Mr and Mrs Kabal
For the first decade of his career, Walerian Borowczyk exclusively made short films, initially in his native Poland, but then mostly in France, where he settled permanently in the late 1950s. This disc includes the vast majority of the shorts that he made between 1959 and 1984, apart from ones that were originally intended to accompany specific features.

Far from being prentice work or optional extras, the shorts include many of his greatest films, such as the cut-out Astronauts, the reverse-motion Renaissance and the extraordinary Angels' Games, a one-off masterpiece of the macabre that would alone establish Borowczyk as one of the cinema's most innovative artists.

In 1967, Borowczyk made his feature debut, a grotesque and surreal fantasy about the physically and temperamentally mismatched couple Mr & Mrs Kabal. Made with a tiny production team at a time when animated feature films were far scarcer than they are now, it's almost the polar opposite of a Disney film, with angular, mainly monochrome graphics bringing the Kabals' universe to startlingly vivid life. Both this and all the short films are presented in brand new high-definition restorations from original 35mm elements.

Introduction by filmmaker Terry Gilliam
Film is not a Sausage: Borowczyk's Short Films – A new interview programme featuring Borowczyk, producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant André Heinrich and composer Bernard Parmegiani
Blow Ups – A new visual essay by Daniel Bird concerning Borowczyk's works on paper
Borowczyk's commercials

The above titles will be released by Arrow Academy on 8th September, and stack up as important releases for students of world cinema.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Werner Herzog Collection BFI

Announced in February 2014, The BFI's Werner Herzog Collection has been the subject of great anticipation from those who hold his work in high regard. This maverick German director, actor and writer has been responsible for some of the most challenging and provocative features of the last 50 years since his first short film 'Herakies' in 1962, and has also directed operas and written books.
This BFI collection is an essential purchase for anyone with a passion for his films, and includes valuable supplementary material which serve to make his accomplishments all the more astounding.
Owing to high demand for these titles, my review discs include DVD versions for the 'Nosferatu, The Vampyre' and 'Aguirre, Wrath Of God' discs which offer visually splendid versions of the films. The other discs in my review are all Blu-ray.

Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog has long held Murnau's 'Nosferatu' to be the greatest German film, and pitched his 1979 film as a re-imagining of a timeless classic. Here, Bruno Ganz is cast as Jonathan Harker who is presented with a task by his boss Renfield (Roland Topor). Count Dracula is actively seeking a property in Germany, and Harker is assigned to assist. Part of this particular brief involves Harker travelling to Transylvania, delivering the necessary paperwork for the Count to sign. Harker is immediately despatched to begin his long journey, leaving wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) to fear for his well being.
Harker's journey to a land of shadows and phantoms is beautifully shot, allowing time for the eerie scenery and the magnitude of his mission to settle like dust on a coffin and unfolds to a terrific score from Popul Vuh. Harker's arrival at the castle and experiences within its imposing structure leads him to the world of the undead, presided over by Klaus Kinski's striking Count Dracula, who infects his guest and departs for Wismar leaving a greatly weakened Harker to make his return journey in a bid to save Lucy.
Herzog's film remains a beautifully constructed fever dream, with twists and turns on Stoker's novel and finely tuned performances from the cast. Van Helsing (Walter Lindengast) approaching the crisis from the angle of disbelief; Adjani's resourceful Lucy, determined to end the Count's reign of terror come what may; Topor's Renfield who goes from cackling realtor to a strait-jacketed insane disciple of 'The Master', and Kinski who is a revelation as a centuries-old slave who grows tired of a never-ending succession of futile days and nights. Stand-out scenes are many here, including a shell-shocked Lucy wandering through a town square amidst plague-ridden revellers bent on making the most of their remaining time, and an amazing encounter between the Count and Lucy that chillingly plays out via a mirror.
This film is fully discussed in Herzog's commentary track - moderated by Norman Hill - revealing the director has never seen the Lugosi version, and declaring his only sources of reference were Murnau's film and Polanski's 'Dance Of The Vampires'. This track is full of fascinating info on the 7 week shoot and various cast members, with Herzog demonstrating excellent recall of the events. Listen out for the funny story regarding 11,000 rats and a customs officer! Viewers also have access to a 12 minute featurette where Herzog declares he regards filmmaking as an athletic pursuit, and establishes a link between German Expressionist cinema and the movement in his country at the time. There's also on-set footage to peruse, including Herzog directing Kinski in German and Topor in English. Both the German and English language versions are included here, with some slightly different camera angles in certain scenes. The German language version is particularly recommended as it draws more confident performances from the cast.

Disc Two

The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser
Based on a true story, 'The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser' features a compelling performance from Bruno S as the titular character who spent years locked in a cellar, devoid of human contact. His meals were left for him by night while he slept, with 4 grey walls his only companions. Eventually, Kasper was taken from his prison, shown how to walk and deposited in a German town, clutching an anonymous letter. Right from the word go, Herzog's use of imagery shows us the world through Kasper's eyes, viewing nature and the lives of fellow man which were previously unknown. Following observation, Kasper is locked in a tower reserved for criminals and vagabonds, before he is rescued to become a house guest by a supportive family who teach him how to eat at a table, speak, play the piano and attempt to embrace his new world.
There are times when Enigma is uplifting and humerous - witness the wonderful village of truth and lies scene - but there's also a great spiritual sadness that's rarely absent from proceedings. When asked what is was like inside his dark cell, Kasper replies "better than outside"; one of many lines that stay with you long after the closing credits. The film comes with the option of listening to a Herzog commentary track, moderated by Norman Hill. Here, Herzog scotches the rumour that the original character was descended from German royalty; reveals how and why Bruno S was chosen for the role; explains his techniques and choices and comments his films often reflect his own inability to dream. It's a stimulating, informative track, and essential listening.

Land Of Silence And Darkness. 1971
"If there were another world war, I wouldn't even notice it".

As a child, Fini Straubinger could see and hear perfectly well, but an accident caused gradual deterioration of sight and sound, leaving her deaf-blind before she reached 20. Fini's tragic condition resulted in her retreating to her bed for almost 30 years, with the world passing by unheard, unseen. This is not so much a documentary as snapshots of Fini's life which includes helping people with the same extreme afflictions and exploring everyday life by touch. It's humbling to share her joy - and that of her companions - during a trip in an aeroplane, and to witness her can-do attitude when it comes to teaching others how to cope with the challenges they face every day and every night. Part of 'Land' also captures the plight of young children who were born with this condition, making it an even tougher watch, though undoubtedly 80 minutes that everyone should experience.

How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck 1976

A 46 minute documentary which takes us into the rapid-fire world of Livestock auctioneers, where the men who can conduct cattle auctions at breakneck speed. Herzog was present at the world championhip in the village of New Holland, Pennsylvania, and his cameras capture many of the 53 competitors (including, for the first time, a woman) who vye for the title with a new kind of language which Herzog finds both frightening and fascinating. I know just what he means, and would also reflect on the audience who need trained ears to follow the frantic speed-talking. Viewers can choose between German or English language versions here.

Disc 3

Stroszek 1977

Bruno Stroszek's (Bruno S) last few hours in jail contain good wishes from his fellow inmates and warnings from the authorities about the dangers of reverting back to alcohol and his bad old ways. The feeling is strong that Bruno would rather stay where he is than re-encounter a world that has never done him any favours, but an old friend named Eve (Eva Mattes) seems to offer him a shot at salvation. Soon, Bruno and Eve are sharing a flat, though the violent attentions of a couple of local heavies threaten to end any hope of happiness. The pair are inspired by the plans of a friend (the wonderful Clemens Scheitz) who elects to move to America and grasp the many opportunities to be found in the land of the free. As events grow ever more violent, Eve raises the cash through prostitution, and the trio emabark for America and a new life.
At first, things appear to be going well: Eve finding work in a diner, Bruno gaining employment at a garage and the arrival of a mobile home seems to signal good times ahead. Sadly, the pair find the grass is no greener on the other side, with escalating debt and Bruno's language barrier driving a wedge between the couple as the walls come closing in. As a portrait of a man who has lost the will to defend himself, Stroszek excels through another fine performance from Bruno S as the good natured man who can only watch as his world crumbles and his possessions are gradually taken away, leaving a barren land that can't and won't understand. Stroszek was viewed - via a BBC transmission - by the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis on the night he committed suicide, and there are certain similarities between the lives of the two men. This is one of the jewels in this BFI collection, and I certainly recommend listening to the Herzog/Hill commentary track where Herzog discusses his feelings for and experiences in America; the reaction to his film in Germany and the USA and his admiration for the acting ability of Bruno S.

Heart Of Glass 1976

A very strange film set in Bavaria, where the death of a glassmaker named Muhlbeck takes with him the secret of how the valuable ruby glass is made. The townsfolk are already living with the prophecies of the prophet Hias, and are gripped by madness as the hunt for written instructions on how to make the percious glass reaches a frenzy, resulting in violent death. With the exception of the prophet, every member of the cast performed in states of hypnosis, which gives the film an eerie trance-like quality that is slow-moving and utterly absorbing.
Once again, Herzog delivers a commentary track moderated by Norman Hill, and this one is very personal.
We learn about the director's formative years; how and why he hypnotised his cast after dispensing with the services of an expert and his despise of storyboards. He refers to himself as " a good soldier of cinema", and 'Heart Of Glass' is solid endorsement of that description.

Disc 4

Aguirre, The Wrath Of God 1972

Aguirre was loosely based on the diary of a monk named Gaspar de Carvajal, and dates back to the year 1560 when a group of conquistadores and their native helpers journeyed down the Amazon river in search of the fabled El Dorado. The expedition is led by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repalles) who makes the decision to send a party of men to replenish their dwindling supplies, and establish the exact whereabouts of hostile natives. This elite group is under the command of Ursua (Ray Guerra) with Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as his lieutenant. Soon, the party encounter a largely unseen enemy who pick off the group one-by-one, resulting in the decision to abandon their search and return to base. Aguirre, however, has other ideas, using his imposing character to spark a mutiny, which leads to further death amongst a group who are clearly terrified of their new leader.
Herzog was 28 years old when he made Aguirre and it remains an astonishing piece of work, even if you disregard his young age. The escalating paranoia and descent into madness of the shellshocked men, coupled with the unforgiving terrain make this an unforgettable watch, but always absorbing as one wonders just how far Aguirre will push his men in pursuit of power and wealth. The answer is all the way and then some, creating one of cinema's great meglomaniacs, and doubtless proving an inspiration for Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' shoot.
Herzog and Hill return for another commentary track that discusses the arduous 5 week shoot - altitude sickness and all - the fact that most of the story was fabrication, and the challenges posed by the low $370,000 budget; a third of which paid for Kinski's salary. There are also anecdotes to savour, including memories of Kinski, his Winchester rifle and a tent full of drunken extras.

The Unprecedented Defence Of The Fortress Deutschkreutz 1967
A 15 minute b/w short, which unfolds as a satire on the state of war and peace. The fortress used to be a psychiatric hospital, and was occupied by Russian soldiers during the war. Herzog takes a group of local youths who dress up in discarded uniforms, arm themselves with rifles and don gasmasks to stage an eerie re-enactment of life during wartime. It's an interesting little piece, with the homeguard defending against an imaginary enemy, and further eveidence of a fertile imagination at work.

Last Words 1969
A curious short concerning the last man to leave an abandoned island that was formerly a leper colony. Shot in 2 days, Herzog's film uses several characters who tell the man's story, constantly flitting back to footage of the subject declaring he'll say nothing and next appearing in a bar playing the lyre. This is a wholly experimental piece and well worth a look for the eccentric central character.

Precautions Against Fanatics 1969

Herzog's first project was filmed at a harness racing track near Munich, and features a man who claims he protects horses against over enthusiastic racing fans. We also encounter a 'doper' who feeds horses three pounds of garlic before races, and watches them go like lightning and another strange individual who seems to spend most of his time telling all and sundry they have to leave. It's a brisk outing to be sure, but eminently watchable and absurdly funny.

Fata Morgana 1971

Originally pitched as a sci-fi movie, 'Fata Morgana' uses long tracking shots and handheld camera to explore the visually desolate splendour of a world most of us have never experienced. From the Sahara Desert to Algeria and Kenya, lands of mirages, sandstorms and barren plains are explored with narration by Lotte Eisner and music from Popol Vuh. There's the harsh beauty of the desert - look out for the amazing sight of a 3 decades-old plane wreck - the introduction of human beings who populate some of these far-flung locations and structures that seem to serve no apparent purpose. "It's not the way a Hollywood film would do it, but so what!" says a defiant Herzog.
There are times when that original sci-fi concept comes into play, with the surroundings looking like shots from an alien planet, and that's just part of the spell Herzog weaves. A commentary track is available here, as Herzog and Hill are joined by Crispin Glover. It's a stimulating chat as Herzog talks about his film's religious subtext, the feminine landscapes on view, and photographer Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein who was arrested when his name was confused with that of a German mercenary on the run from the police.

Disc 5

Woyzeck 1979

Franz Woyzeck's (Klaus Kinski) view of the world is one of nature turned upside down. He's a man ruled by others, whether it be his contradictory army captain; his doctor who enforces a 3 month diet consisting solely of peas, or wife Maria (Eva Mattes) with her roving eye for a man in a uniform who better fulfils her idea of someone who can elevate her from a self-imposed 'poor girl' status.
For my money, Kinski's portrayal of Woyzeck is bordering on his very best work for Herzog, delivering a physical, at times poetic turn that demands several viewings to fully appreciate. Mattes, too, catches the eye with another role as unfaithful partner, dissatisfied with the way her life is and the direction it's heading. 'Woyzeck is a prime example of Herzog's affiliation with the lone voyager, here watching his life unravel and powerless to halt a painful march to the end fate has in store. The finale is brutal, yet strangely beautiful to wtach and further evidence of Herzog's extraordinary eye for what moves us.

Handicapped Future 1970

A moving documentary examining the lives of handicapped children, and their thoughts on life and the challenges they face. We meet Dagmar: a little girl unable to walk who imagines what life would be like if she could. We also spend time with the families who try to shield their children from the cruel reactions of able-bodied folk; the teachers who talk of the learning process designed to culminate in a career, rather than a life of pity, and the fit and well children who mostly display positive attitudes towards their disabled friends. A thought-provoking work that everyone should see.

The Great Ecstasy Of Woodcarver Steiner 1975
Walter Steiner: Woodcarver in his leisure time, and an amazing exponent of Ski Flying who shows respect but not fear for the hazardous conditions he participates in.
Herzog's cameras record some beautiful footage of Steiner in flight, and also captures his sheer mental fatigue as event organisers at Planica use the competition to push contestants to the limit, risking life and limb in the process. With 50,000 spectators eager to witness record breaking jumps, Steiner overcomes injury and memory loss to emerge as very much his own man. An extraordinary documentary, and another example of Herzog's attraction to people who dream big.

Huie's Sermon 1981

Huie's Sermon was made for television in 1981, and for most of its 43 minute running time, focuses on a sermon delivered in a Brooklyn church. Huie Rogers - backed by a gospel choir - is quite exhausting to watch as he takes a big stick and proceeds to whack us around the head with a verbal onslaught that will leave you reeling just a few minutes in. Herzog was clearly attracted in part by the physical performance on view, and Rogers in full flow is a sight to behold, though perhaps not an experience you'll wish to repeat any time soon.

Disc 6 Fitzcarraldo 1982

"It's only the dreamers who ever move mountains"

Presented here with the option of viewing either the English or German language versions, I plumped for the latter, which Herzog in his accompanying commentary track states is the most authentic in his opinion. Klaus Kinski turns in another stunning performance, this time as the titular character who switches his entreprenurial energies to the Amazon jungle where he intends to bring opera to the human inhabitants. Inspired by his hero, Enrico Caruso - who he rowed a boat for 2 days and nights to see - Fitz raises the finance for the expedition from the income earned by his partner's brothel (Claudia Cardinale). The purchase of a steam ship takes him a step closer to his dream, but the intervention of local natives and the gargantuan task of hauling the ship up and over a steep hill in order to evade an unfriendly stretch of river threaten to put a premature end to his journey.
With Thomas Mauch providing sterling, highly skilled work behind the camera, and fine performances from the supporting cast, 'Fitzcarraldo' remains an astonishing piece of cinema, and a landmark for all time.

Herzog's commentary track reveals he had trouble "keeping the flock together" during numerous weather-related shutdowns. He talks about his determination to enable the audience to trust their own eyes, with no special effects trickery going on, and gives cast and crew background info. He also has much to say about Kinski whose behaviour was "unspeakably terrible", adding to the many problems Herzog faced. As the splendidly moving finale plays out, the director expresses his sadness that Kinski is no longer with us, and remarks he lives forever in those films. it's a lovely note to end on.

Disc 7

Burden Of Dreams 1982

Being Les Blank's documentary on the making of 'Fitzcarraldo'. We get to see footage of Jason Robard's and Mick Jagger; the former being replaced by Kinski, while the latter had to leave for Rolling Stones duties, and on-set footage that reveals in visual terms exactly how much of a struggle it was to shoot this picture. There's some amazing footage of the 300 ton ship and it's journey up and over the hill, coupled with attempts to negotiate the fierce Peruvian rapids, and the growing sense of sheer frustration as delays meant the rainy season necessary to move the boat had passed them by. In fact, Herzog and his cast and crew could do nothing but sit back during the longest dry spell in recorded history when their boat became stuck.
'Burden Of Dreams' also records the politics involved during this arduous shoot, along with the attempts to discredit Herzog by certain outside parties. It's quite a journey, delivering a warts-and-all account of one man's vision and his determination to see it through.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe 1980

Directed by Les Blank, 'Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe' is a fine dining experience as Werner dons his apron and cooks footware for 5 hours, using salad dressing and sauces to transform the flavour. Herzog had previously told fellow director Errol Morris that he would eat his shoe if Morris' 'Gates Of Heaven' film reached completion.
Herzog wished to help his friend and inspire the audience, and he succeeded on both counts. It's a weird and wonderful sight to see Werner tuck in and, in many ways, utterly sole destroying.

South Bank Show: Werner Herzog 1982

A 55 minute documentary focusing on the great man and his attitudes and approach to filmmaking and also to life.
There are so many highlights here, it's perhaps a little unfair to highlight anything in particular but the contributions of the late Lotte Eisner and Herzog's wife at the time, Martje, are moving in the extreme. Picturesque locations and memories from the director's childhood are included - hidden war weapons and all - along with his views on German cinema; his inability to make a film about a central character he didn't like, and the fact that he has no target audience, sometimes feeling it may take 20 years for a particular film to be accepted.
It's a genuine pleasure to take in this episode from the long-running arts show, and it's inclusion makes this boxset even more valuable.

Disc 8

Cobra Verde 1987

Once again, German and English language versions are available. I chose the German option.
Based on Bruce Chatwin's novel 'The Viceroy Of Ouidah', 'Cobra Verde' marked Klaus Kinski's final collaboration with Herzog. Kinski plays a dishevelled barefoot bandit, whose appearance causes people to flee, and who becomes a major player in the slave trade when he becomes overseer on a sugar plantation. His employer decides to despatch him to Africa where no white man has returned alive in the last 10 years.
'Cobra Verde' opened a new debate on slavery in the wake of its release and never denounces the trade but rather works within it. Authenticity is everything in this film, and it remains a colourful, beautifully choreographed account of one of history's dark periods. Do look out for the scene where Kinski meets a bar owner who quickly becomes his only friend after recounting his dream of seeing snow. It's one of the best in the film, containing great poetic beauty.
Herzog and Hill again team up for a commentary track, in which the director talks about Kinski's behaviour - "completely bonkers and out of control" - and recalls his lead actor "brought something to the film I didn't much like". He admits his film is not politically correct, and that he has no problem with that, and of his time spent with Kinski: "I don't regret a single moment. Not one."

God's Angry Man 1981

Dr Gene Scott, resident of Glendale LA, and a Televangelist. This controversial figure was usually involved in up to 70 lawsuits at any one time, including tax evasion and embezzlement of funds. Perhaps not the sort of person to be running a trio of television stations, and spending up to 10 hours a day on camera in front of a largely susceptible audience. Scott's verbal onslaughts are incredible to watch, whipping up his viewers before moving in for the kill when the subject of financial donations rears its ugly head. Scott is fine when the cash comes rolling in - it's purpose to maintain the running of his church - but one night in particular, funds are less than forthcoming, and the host puts on an entirely different mask which is not at all pleasant. You can make up your own mind about this "lonely" man who travels with bodyguards doing God's work. it's a riveting documentary, giving the audience a glimpse into a life less ordinary.

Guardian Lecture: Werner Herzog In Conversation With Neil Norman

And so this collection comes to an end with a 82 minute audio conversation recorded at London's National Film Theatre on 7th September 1988. Norman begins by asking Herzog about his tempestuous relationship with Klaus Kinski, and the director inevitably covers some ground we're already familiar with. Hollywood's "panic solution" is discussed, together with some of the challenges he faced with his unconventional methods of filmmaking. After half an hour, Norman invites the audience to ask their own questions and, as is often the case with this type of event, it's sometimes hard to make out individual questions. Hypnosis, opera and filmmaking aesthetics are just a few of the topics covered, making this a satisfying end to an extraordinary collection.

Herzog fans will be delighted with this boxset, and for those who have only caught a couple of his films, it represents the chance to undertake a voyage of discovery with all manner of visual and thematic delights to savour. Picture quality is outstanding with the encoding duties reaching the highest possible standards, and the extras providing great insight into Herzog's world of wonder. Name such as Kinski, Bruno S, Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz, cinematographers Thomas Mauch and Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein, editor Walter Saxer and Les Blank are just a few individuals who re-appear on and off-camera, forming patterns within the films. Stills galleries and theatrical trailers are available to peruse for selected titles and the boxset also comes with a booklet that includes stills, full credits and an excellent essay by Laurie Johnson.
As far as UK home video releases are concerned, this release will occupy top slot in countless 'Best Of The Year' slots, and with good reason.