Sunday, 26 July 2015

Blu-ray Review: 3 Women (Arrow Academy)

The film industry is all about dreams, and Robert Altman's "3 Women" has its roots in a dream experienced by the director while his wife lay ill in hospital.
Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) works as a therapist at the Desert Springs senior care centre, helping the aged during their final years. Millie is a word-aholic, endlessly talking to colleagues and neighbours who largely ignore her endless patter.
Enter Pinkie Rose (Sissy Spacek) who starts work at the centre, and is immediately taken with Millie's personality, telling her she's the most perfect person she's ever met.
While Millie spins tales of her male conquests and tries so hard to make them a reality, Pinkie stays in the background, causing Millie to react in an increasingly harsh manner.
The 3rd woman in this triangle is Willie (Janice Rule); the pregnant spouse of Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier) who claims he used to be a stunt double, and who divides most of his time between drinking and cheating on his wife. Willie reveals a talent for painting and it's her work that creates a series of striking murals depicting strange creatures. While she has little dialogue to deliver, Willie cuts an imposing presence whenever she's on screen, and has a major part to play before the credits roll.

Pinkie's character is another interesting one to follow, and undergoes a real sea-change following a fateful incident which also has a profound effect on Millie. Shelley Duvall actually wrote a lot of the dialogue for her character which was basically a magazine creation, following advice and trends in an attempt to become the type of person she'd read about. Her relationship with Pinkie establishes her as the dominant one, barely tolerating the new kid in town who possibly reminds her of the person she used to be before fake trappings took over.

Those of you yet to see this film, and who number Bergman's "Persona" and Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" as firm favourites will find much to stimulate and intrigue with "3 Women". The relationships, the transformations, the use of water and mirrors, even the dream sequence combine to make this an essential film in Robert Altman's illustrious career.
It's also a film that's difficult to get a handle on, though there's a conversation on twins (inspired by sisters who also work at the centre) that's says a lot about the central theme here, and its development en route to the haunting finale.

The Blu-ray presentation emphasises the overexposed, desaturated colours, with stable images and delicately handled grain.
The soundtrack is clear as a bell, with dialogue easy to follow (optional English SDH subtitles are available, but as someone who has hearing problems I didn't need them) and Gerald Busby's eerie atonal score is clear and crisp, greatly adding to the overwhelming sense of foreboding.

The supplementary features begin with a Shelley Duvall interview (5m 45s) in Cannes where she won Best Actress (Spacek won in New York for her performance as Pinkie). She recalls how her acting career began in a most unusal manner, and goes on to discuss her role in "3 Women". She explains how Altman shot in sequence as much as possible and why he got to really know his cast prior to commencing shooting.

'David Thompson On 3 Women' is a 37m 7s video essay by David Thompson, editor of "Altman On Altman" and was recorded in May 2015.
David talks about the director's early industrial films and his television work, prior to gracing the big screen.
We hear about Altman's interest in personality exchange; the dream that inspired "3 Women"; how he saw Spacek as "a lost soul looking for a body to inhabit" and how he saw her in "Welcome To L.A. and decided to cast her.
We also learn why Willie's dialogue was stripped down. It's a bonus feature to savour before settlign down to watch the film again as "3 Women" will richly reward multiple viewings.
A gallery and theatrical trailer draw the curtain on the disc itself, although there is another extra in the form of a booklet containing essays, stills and notes on the transfer.
"Women In The Dunes" by David Jenkins provides background on the film, and explores each of the leading 3 female characters.
There's also an extract from David Thompson's "Altman On Altman", where the director talks about the dream sequence (which he didn't particularly care for); a painting he did that was the genesis of his film; Gerald Busby's score and his admiration for the performances.

"3 Women" is available to buy now. it's locked to Region B, and is highly recommended.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Roberto Rossellini Ingrid Bergman Collection (BFI)

A scandal that outaged polite society and beyond, plus a series of commercially unsuccessful films, largely given the thumbs-down by film critics. Is this how the collaboration between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman will be remembered? We'll learn more about their relationship a little later on, but the films in this BFI box set have, I suggest, grown in stature down the years to emerge as solid rungs in the ladders of both their careers.

Disc One
"Stromboli Land Of God" (1950)

Spring 1944, and a 24 year old Lithuanian woman is proposed to through barbed wire. Karin Bjornsen (Ingrid Bergman) escaped to Italy and ended up in a refugee camp where she begins a relationship with Antonio (Mario Vitale). She promises to give Antonio an answer to his offer of marriage the following evening. The pair do indeed get married, and move to his beloved island of Stromboli; a place where people seem to leave and rarely return.
After barely 4 hours in her new home, Karin experiences bitter disappointment at the lifestyle and trappings of a place that was never meant for her kind.
With hostility expressed by all but a few of the islands inhabitants, Karin soon wants to go "far away from this damned place", with the few sparks of humanity nowhere near enough to settle her mind and her spirit.
Bergman's character is a complex one, occasionally taking pleasure at certain aspects of her daily existence, but mostly yearning for a better life. Her relationship with her new husband ebbs and flows, as she throws her hat at a handsome islander and even attempts to get hot and heavy with a priest who only wanted to make her at home in uncomfortable surroundings. Husband Antonio also has a layered character, exhibiting kindness and concern, along with a cruel streak that ensures our sympathies shift between both parties.
In the script, Bergman's character becomes pregnant and that's exactly what happened on the other side of the camera when she fathered Rossellini's child. Bergman's pregnancy was hidden on camera, so as not to add further to the wave of bad publicity which engulfed director and actress.
Add to this a rapidly escalating budget, and a rival film starring Roberto's jilted partner (which was being filmed on a nearby island) and you have an offscreen drama of epic proportions. I think Rossellini succeeded in making a film that stand out from all the controversy surrounding it.

The two leads tug at different emotions, backed by the director's neorealist approach of employing untrained actors who project the pressures of living in the shadow of an active volcano. Indeed, an actual eruption is caught on film, showing the evacuation of people who constantly live with the prospect of having to start over.
It's a hugely rewarding film, with a beautiful spiritual finale that demands reappraisal.

The extras on disc one begin with 'The War Of The Volcano's'; a 53m 59s documentary which begins by telling the story of Bergman's famous letter to Rossellini, expressing her desire to work with him, and how she replaced his partner Anna Magnani who was down to play the lead in "Stromboli".
Bergman was 32 years of age at the time and the hottest ticket in town, having just starred in Hitchcock's "Notorious". What follows in an account of a battle between two film sets as Magnani takes the lead in "Vulcano", while Rossellini fends off RKO inspectors pushing him to wrap. There's also spies attempting to infiltrate the hurly burly of shooting and all the time, a major scandal overshadowing proceedings.
It's a fascinating tale, and one which compels one to wonder where performance ends and life begins; something that can also be applied to the next film in this set.

Ingrid Bergman At The National Film Theatre
A 37m 7s interview, conducted by John Russell Taylor at the famous London venue. Here, Bergman talks about her early Swedish films, admitting she'd always wanted to become a stage actress. She talks about Hitchcock, "Casablanca", George Cukor and Ingmar Bergman. Her affair and marriage to Rossellini are also discussed, and she tells the audience she felt she should have been judged solely on her performances, rather than her private life. The last 13 minutes of the interview are given over to an audience Q&A, where she talks about Bogart, Claude Raines and a particular role she would have liked to play.

Living And Departed
An 18m 45s video essay by film scholar Tag Gallagher who identifies the spirtis in Rossellini's films who struggle to communicate, or simply can't.
Tag talks about a director who liked to keep his actors off balance, and of Roberto's brother Renzo, who composed the music for many of his films. Clips from "Stromboli" and "Journey To Italy" are used to amplify some excellent observations.

Disc Two
Journey To Italy (1954)

"Journey To Italy" was shot between February - April 1953, by which time the relationship between Rossellini and Bergman was beginning to crumble.
The film concerns married couple Katherine and Alexander Joyce (Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders) who arrive in Naples to oversee the eventual sale of their villa. This particular 'Italian Job' marks the first time they've really been away from hoe together and out of the comfort zone provided by other people with whm they feel comfortable; people who keep them from being alone with their thoughts and with each other.
Katherine soon discovers they are like strangers, and finds the hotel bar is a welcome release from their room, taking them to somewhere that has noise and other people.
With two potential buyers to see, the couple move into the villa, expecting to stay for a couple of days until the place is sold. What follows is a portrait of a marriage on the rocks, that is conveyed by realism, dictated by a number of factors. Both Bergman and Sanders were facing marital strife away from the camera, and the absence of a script simply added to the air of unease which surrounds their performances.
While his wife takes in local places of interest, Alexander shows an eye for the ladies in this place of love and relationships.
"Journey To Italy" shows young couples in love, pregnant women and mothers with pushchairs as fleeting glimpses of things that elude the Joyces, cementing their inability to communicate. As a disconcerting account of strangers in a strange environment, it's a different view to Fellini's "Toby Dammit", but just as disconcerting in places.
At the time, "Journey To Italy" was greatly misunderstood by critics and audiences, but fresh viewpoints have emerged, of a film that now stands as a classic from beginning to what is a miraculous finale.

An audio commentary from filmmaker and academic Laura Mulvey reveals this to be one of her favourite films, and goes on to explain the director's urge to move into new territory. Laura examines scene construction and camera movements; the turmoil in the lives of both leads; the presence of Naples itself in the cast and why the director was not taking sides with Bergman's character. It's an enlightening track that will increase understanding and appreciation of this film. The very same can be said about film scholar Adrian Martin's commentary. The alternative Italian cut "Viaggio In Italia" has been included as an extra on this disc, and can be viewed with Adrian's commentary. He talks about what made Rossellini such an important filmmaker; examines Neopolitan culture; analyses characters and scenes and makes some great observations. We hear the cast worked through an itinerary rather than a script, and how the director designed his film for a world audience.
The surname of the Joyces is also explored here; something which Laura also looks at during her track. Excellent work from both of these film scholars.

"My Dad Is 100 Years Old"
Directed by Guy Maddin, this is a playful and affectionate tribute, featuring Rosellini's daughter Isabella who declares her father saved all his energy for thinking. This is beautifully directed, with famous cinematic figures (all portrayed by Isabella) making an appearance, including Fellini, Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin, as Rossellini's large belly wobbles away. There's footage of "Rome Open City" during the 18m short, but this is not an account of her father's films, but rather a glimpse at their relationship. Powerful and entirely memorable.

Disc Three
Fear (1954)

Rossellini shot two versions of "La Paura": one in German ("Angst") and an international version. The two cuts differ in terms of shots and editing, and it's the latter that's presented here.
Based on the novel "Die Angst" by Stefan Zweig, this is a tale of marital infidelity which affects the lives of four people. Ingrid Bergman plays Irene Wagner, the wife of a German scientist who is romantically involved with Erich (Kurt Kreuger). Irene had managed to conduct this affair in secrecy until Erich's ex-girlfriend Johanna (Renate Mannhardt) turns up. Now, their clandestine meetings may well be exposed as the jealous Johanna engages in blackmail to fund her expensive tastes. With her husband beginning to suspect something is badly wrong, Irene faces the prospect of emptying her bank account to buy continued silence.
It's a classic blackmail situation, but there is a twist in this story that begins with a stolen ring and ends up ....
This really is a gripping account of marital indiscretion, with film noir flourishes and several Hitchcockian moments that will surely keep you on the edge of your seat.
While it's true the quartet of central characters are a pretty unsympathetic bunch,their presence in each others lives and the implications and results of their actions do help us see various points of view and care about the outcome.

The Machine That Kills Bad People (1952)

This is a rare Rossellini feature that was scanned at 2K from a lavender print.
"Good people must kill bad people" is the message here, as a photographer is given the power to kill evil folks by using his camera. This involves procuring an existing photo of the intended victim and photographing the image which results in immediate death. There's plenty of likely candidates, too, as self-serving businessmen and councillors argue over who will benfit from an 11 million lire government grant.
The man behind the camera - Celestino (Gerrano Pisano) - is quite a character in his own right, and contributes greatly to some sublime examples of that wonderful Italian humour, aided and abetted by several hilarious individuals who make hay with the dialogue: "As soon as the Lord takes one, two more appear". Watch out, too, for the American involvement - "Nothing but steps in this town" - and the involvement of a horned minion from hell who has the power to reverse Celestino's handiwork. It's a thoroughly engaging feature, with ingenious special effects from the brilliant Eugenio Bava.

The image quality on all the features is solid , with good contrast and an abundance of detail. The source materials obviously needed a great deal of work but it's difficult to imagine these films looking any better than they do here. The sound also underwent painstaking restoration, being digitally cleaned and coming over as crisp and clear.

The final extra here is a booklet, containing writing from Tag Gallagher, Laura Mulvey, Adriano Apra, Peter Bondanella and Paul Fairclough. Background on all the features and very special insight makes this a fascinating and stimulating read.
This BFI set is available to buy now, and carries a solid recommendation for all lovers of world cinema.

Stromboli Land Of God
Italy, USA / 1950 / 1.33:1 / b&w / Italian language with English subtitles / 96 mins /
Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / PAL / Dolby Digital mono 2.0 audio (320kbps)

Journey To Italy
Italy, France / 1954 / black and white / English language, with optional hard-of hearing
subtitles / 83 mins / Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / PAL / Dolby Digital
mono 2.0 audio (320kbp

Germany, Italy / 1954 / b&w / English language, with optional hard-of-hearing
subtitles / 80 mins / Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / PAL / Dolby Digital mono
2.0 audio (320kbps)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Next Up On Wonderland

In 1950, one of Italy’s most celebrated filmmakers, Roberto Rossellini, and one of Hollywood’s greatest screen stars, Ingrid Bergman, came together to make the classic Stromboli, Land of God. On the production of that film they embarked, not only on an extraordinary artistic collaboration, but also on an affair which would send shockwaves throughout the film world. By 1954, their real-life relationship was crumbling, and films such as Journey to Italy seemed to echo this change.

This numbered, limited edition brings together three of Rossellini and Bergman’s greatest collaborations –Stromboli, Land of God, Journey to Italy, and Fear – in new digital restorations, and presents extensive extra features, including Rossellini’s rare 1952 feature film The Machine That Kills Bad People, Francesco Patierno’s 2012 documentary The War of the Volcanoes, and Isabella Rossellini’s and personal My Dad is 100 Years Old (2005, dir. Guy Maddin).

Stromboli Land of God Italy, USA | 1950 | 1.33:1 | black and white | Italian language with English subtitles | 100 mins

Journey to Italy Italy, France | 1954 | 1.33:1 | black and white | English language | 86 mins

Fear Germany, Italy | 1954 | 1.33:1 | black and white | English language | 83 mins

Special features
• Newly restored presentations
• Bergman & Magnani: The War of the Volcanoes (Francesco Patierno, 2012, 54 mins): documentary charting the scandal of the Magnani-Rossellini-Bergman love triangle
• Ingrid Bergman at the National Film Theatre (Chris Mohr, 1981, 37 mins): archival Guardian interview
• Living & Departed (Tag Gallagher, 2013, 19 mins): a visual essay by film scholar Tag Gallagher
• Viaggio in Italia (Roberto Rossellini, 1954, 83 mins): the alternative, Italian cut of Journey to Italy
• Journey to Italy audio commentary with filmmaker and academic Laura Mulvey (2003)
• Alternative Journey to Italy audio commentary with film scholar Adrian Martin (2007)
• My Dad is 100 Years Old (Guy Maddin, 2005, 18 mins): Isabella Rossellini's playful tribute to her father
• The Machine That Kills Bad People (Roberto Rossellini, 1952, 85 mins): a fascinating film that reflects Rossellini's transition from neo-realism to the more poetic films he made with Bergman
• Fully illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Tag Gallagher, Adriano Aprà, Laura Mulvey, Peter Bondanella and Paul Fairclough, and full film credits

Blu-ray Review: Contamination (Arrow Video)

Following a campaign by Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers and Listeners Association, the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of 72 films the office believed were in violation of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.
Amongst the titles to be banned from video stores were "Tenebrae", "Zombie Flesh Eaters" and "SS Experiment Camp". The term 'Video Nasties' would go on to inspire banner headlines on the front pages of newspapers in the early 1980s.
Well, non-one was going to tell us what we could and couldn't see, so an underground movement came into being where fanzine editors, writers and readers began to record and swap tapes. Soon, it was possible to access not only the nasties which had been taken off shelves of video stores nationwide, but also a wide range of genre fare that had never seen light of day in the UK. 3rd gen video bootlegs were how I first encountered the likes of Jess Franco's "Venus In Furs", Bava's "Kill, Baby...Kill!" and such disreputable fare as "The Beast In Heat".
Luigi Cozzi aka Lewis Coates' "Contamination" was one of the titles to draw attention from the authorities, and was released in a trimmed version. Now, Arrow Video have just released the film on Blu-ray with an uncut 15 certificate.

This science fiction/horror film begins with a crew-less freighter named 'The Caribbean Lady' which soon draws the attention of New York port authorities. A search of the vessel reveals dead bodies that look like they'd exploded from the inside.Lieutenant Aras (Marino Mase) finds huge green egg-like objects which have been concealed in what initially appeared to be a cargo of imported coffee.After two fellow investigators fall victim to substance sprayed from the eggs, Aras teams up with Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) to identify the centre of operations for this threat to humanity, and stop those involved.
An earlier flight to Mars involving two men with vastly differing accounts of their time on the Red Planet is thrown into the mix, presenting genre favourite Ian McCulloch as Commander Hubbard, with his opposite number, Hamilton, played by Siegfried Rauch.
At times, "Contamination" moves into the realms of the ridiculous, and a monster (named 'Cyclops) is far from being one of Italian cinema's finest creations. And yet, this film entertains , moving through a snappy 95 minutes which, overall, reward the time invested, as Goblins score works its magic in the background. The film is quite bloody in places, with good special effects, but should never have been caught up in all the hysteria back in the day.
It's a pleasing slice of nostalgia for those of us who first caught the film on VHS, and should also win new converts to the Cozzi fold.

Arrow's Blu-ray presentation is a 2K restoration and looks excellent in HD, with stable colours and good depth.
The extras begin with 'Luigi Cozzi On Contamination'. This is a 22m 55s archive documentary, where the director explains why Science Fiction cinema is generally unloved in Italy, and how he tailored the film to gain international success. He talks about the films influences (amongst them, "Alien" and the 2nd "Quatermass" film); the difficulties caused by special effects requirements and there's also footage of Cozzi directing some of his cast.

Contamination Q&A (41m 5s)
This was filmed at the Abertoir Horror Festival in Aberystwyth on 15th November 2014, and hosted by Arrow's Ewan Cant.
Cozzi talks about the tight 5 week shoot which took place in 3 different locations, and why he agreed to a title change for his film. We hear about an encounter with a dwarf thief (Cozzi still bears the scars) and his reaction to the films 'Video Nasty' reputation. Ian McCulloch is always entertaining, and here he declares he found the eggs ridiculous, but admits he was surprised to learn 'Contamination' was a low budget production. He also records that the end of his Italian film career was a great sorrow. The final 10 minutes of this Q&A are given over to the audience, prompting questions about dubbing and the Goblin score. Ian admits he thought the film had no future at all, and brings the event to a close by talking about horror conventions. It's a hugely enjoyable session, and listen out for Ian's story about his wife's uncle and those banned films - it's a tale I never tire of hearing.

'Sound Of The Cyclops' (11m 31s)
Here, Goblin keyboard player Maurizio Guorini discusses the score and his own career; chats about joining the band; the line-up changes and why they weren't well promoted.

'Luigi Cozzi vs Lewis Coates' (42m 53s)
This is a brand new interview with the director, covering his love of Sci-Fi; his early career as a writer; meeting Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Antonio Margheriti, and there's also a clip from "Blood On Melies Moon" - his first film in 25 years and one to look out for in 2016.

'Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery' (17m 26s)
A featurette concerning Italian movies cashing in on Hollywood blockbusters. Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali take a look at the likes of "Great White" (which got into deep water with Universal); the Post Nuke movies and the stars involved, including John Saxon and Fred Williamson.
The original theatrical trailer follows (3m 14s) and there's a chance to view the graphic novel based on the original screenplay, with artwork by Sergio Muratori. Look out for the shower scene which shows considerably more than the film!

The final extra on the disc is an audio commentary with Fangoria and Gorezone editor Chris Alexander, who is a huge fan of this film. In fact, he labels his chat a "fan commentary", going on to call "Contamination" the "ugly duckling of Italian genre cinema". He notes the opening scenes similarity with Lucio Fulci's "Zombie Flesh Eaters"; holds forth on the cast including Marleau, explaining Cozzi would have preferred Caroline Munro, and the turbulent relationships in Goblin. He also talks about that 'Beatles moment' in the film and his opinion on remakes. Chris makes some excellent observations throughout, including his comparison on the underlighting in the Cyclops' lair with Fulci's "City Of The Living Dead".
It's well worth a listen, and may well prompt some viewers to change their opinion on the film.

The extras are concluded in the shape of a booklet, containing new writing on the film. Chris Alexander returns with a piece titled "35 Years Of Contamination", which includes his own observations and those of Luigi Cozzi who explains that Fulci and himself never had the freedom enjoyed by Dario Argento, and that "Contamination" would have been a different film if he'd managed to get Munro the part.
There are also notes on the transfer, and some solid colour stills.

For fans of this film, Arrow's Blu-ray is an essential purchase, with a great presentation of the film and some meaty extras, and newcomers are also recommended to take a look at this entertaining sci-fi romp, warts and all.
"Contamination" is a Region B+A release and is available to buy now.