Despite all the range and popularity of streaming and VOD services, for some of us here at 4:3 there’s still no substitute for physical media, even as it becomes increasingly niche or mainly a collector’s market. For the adventurous or discerning home viewer there’s no greater pass to the wealth of world cinema than a region-free Blu-ray or DVD player. With a large number of boutique studios and labels putting out tremendous films in incredible packages on the regular, Brad Mariano has the monthly round-up for the best of the best.
Criterion looks to capitalise on the current buzz/infamy of Lars von Trier’s sex epic Nymphomaniac that’s currently in theatres with the release of the long rumoured Blu-ray/DVD of Breaking the Waves, a film which many including this writer believe is one of the Danish provocateur’s finest achievements – a move away from his earlier exercises in style and homage toward his own art, where the constraints of Dogme 95 (though not completely in force here) seemingly opened up new ways of telling stories, and would be his first (and arguably finest) example of what both fans and detractors point out as one of his main tropes – central suffering heroines, here played with an astonishingly vulnerable debut performance by Emily Watson. With extensive interviews with cast members and commentary by von Trier amongst the bountiful extras, this fascinating and challenging film is the pick of Criterion’s April which also sees Dreyer, Siegel and Truffaut (with a re-pressing of The 400 Blows) being represented.
Masters of Cinema is releasing this month Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, one of the most cynical films ever made by a mainstream studio, featuring legendary Kirk Douglas in one of his finest roles. The premise – of a reporter delaying the rescue of a worker trapped in a mine to further ratings – is still alarmingly prescient and worked to perfection. And it wouldn’t be a classic Wilder without a searingly witty screenplay – featuring such incredible gems like “I’ve lied to men who wear belts. I’ve lied to men who wear suspenders. But I’d never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both belt and suspenders.”.
Related to both Masters of Cinema and Wilder, Universal is putting out long awaited US releases of both Double Indemnity and Orson Welles’ great Touch of Evil. Word is the transfer on at least the former is slightly superior than the previous MoC, though for the latter it important to note it doesn’t quite have the variety of viewing options of the UK release – while it offers the three cuts (Reconstruction, Theatrical and Preview) it does not have the dual aspect ratio options – all are available only in 1.85, not in the 1.37 offered on the MoC release. However, both are obviously essential films and likely will be somewhat cheaper.
On the more obscure side, Film Chest is releasing a restored version – DVD only – of Edgar G Ulmer’s The Strange Woman starring Hedy Lamarr as a truly terrifying antiheroine who grows up to be a manipulative femme fatale and the always caddish George Sanders. Ulmer, known as king of the cheapies, is sadly underrepresented on home media in decent forms, partly because so many of the B-movies he helmed fell into public domain, the free availability of which kills much of the financial incentive to do right by so many of these classics. Ulmer, best known for wonderful noir Detour (though I think his masterpiece is the incredible Universal horror The Black Cat), worked on an atypically larger budget here, and he handles some pretty edgy material just dodging the Hays Code in making a pretty subversive with some troubling psychological depth. One of Ulmer’s best, and Lamarr was never (in terms of performance and how Ulmer fetishizes the shots of her) better – this one should be able to be picked up for cheap.
In a quiet month for local distributors, there are a couple of cult offerings – Shock’s constantly ballsy and surprising Cinema Cult line is putting out two classic Vincent Price horrors – the two Doctor Phibes (The Abominable Doctor Phibes and Dr Phibes Rises Again) films on Blu-ray as well as Brian De Palma’s The Fury. And in their Hollywood Gold line, the’ve got a triumvirate of some of the most famous courtroom dramas of all time – a pair of Stanley Kramer films that as far as I can tell are making their global debut on Blu-ray, being Judgment at Nuremberg and Inherit the Wind – the former title is self explanatory, the latter is based on the infamous trials of the school teacher caught teaching evolution. The third film? Sidney Lumet’s debut, 12 Angry Men, which has also seen release by Criterion (which is a good sign, Shock releases tend to lease Criterion transfers for their Blu-rays). And although Madman’s once great Directors Suite line-up seems to be on life support, you can still count on them to put out a truly inspired choice on the regular – this month they’re bringing out the world premiere on home video of both seasons of Ghost & Mrs Muir – a show I hadn’t heard of until recently, a sitcom adaptation of the classic Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison film about a widow who falls in love with the ghost of a cantankerous old sea captain – this is too bizarre a pop culture oddity to ignore!