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
July in Blu-ray – where to start? In a month designed to inflict serious harm on your wallets, perhaps the most notable releases are the comprehensive Werner Herzog sets – and note the plural; the most difficult task is determining which is the best choice out of the UK set from BFI or the US from Shout that sadly aren’t ports from one to the other but significantly different in content and presentation – the Shout edition has 16 films and the BFI 18 (though essentially even, considering more of BFI’s are shorts) and with only ten in common, its worth having a look at both lineups that on films alone will likely come down to individual preference. Thankfully the main attractions – his five films with Klaus Kinski such as Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo and the fascinating Nosferatu the Vampyre as well as Stroszek and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser – are among those in common. I only wish the BFI set – which is the one I elected – could include the absurd, anarchic Even Dwarfs Started Small, though as an interesting trivia tidbit, the 1937 Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act in UK strictly prohibits its distribution due to sequences of animal cruelty. Also worth considering is of course price (the US set currently retails at a significantly higher price) and transfer – it’s by no means settled across the board, but released editions of Nosferatu vary wildly in picture quality, with Shout’s seemingly a victim of excessive Digital Noise Reduction leading to a less textured or film-like look than the BFI equivalent, but it’s worth noting the transfers used are approved by Herzog himself, so take that with a (film) grain of salt – in any case, it is worth doing more research on the sets upon release. For those without region-unlocked privileges of course it is less of a choice, with the BFI Region B being of course playable on Australian players. Though of course if you’re a completist with money burning a hole in your pocket, ¿por qué no los dos?
So for once Criterion isn’t in the marquee spot of this column, but don’t think for one second that they’re having the month off – rather, they’re releasing what will still likely be a contender for home video release of the year with their The Essential Jacques Demy of six of the French master’s most essential films. Demy’s incredible use of colour makes him a director made for Blu-ray and the set includes the gorgeous The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort alongside Lola, Donkey Skin, Bay of Angels and Une Chambre En Ville, all in new transfers overseen and approved by cinema great and Demy’s widow, Agnès Varda, and among the treasure trove of extras there are two documentaries directed by Varda on Demy’s work. Make no mistake, this could be the best release they put out all year. Also in July is an Blu-ray upgrade of Robert Bresson’s terrific, existential Pickpocket and the long-rumoured edition of David Cronenberg’s Scanners, which in high definition should be quite literally mind-blowing. So a very strong month from Criterion – now if only there was some sale that would allow one to buy these at half price…
So comprehensive director box sets are definitely the flavor of the month, and there is also a release of Jacques Tati’s works from StudioCanal which I’m skipping over; quite excitingly Tati is also getting the full Blu treatment in August locally from Madman, a release we will hopefully cover in-depth.
That show you like is going to come back in style. Distributed here locally by Paramount is the arrival on Blu-ray of legendary television series Twin Peaks from the minds of David Lynch and Mark Frost, a show we here at at 4:3 are very passionate about. Titles as Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, included also is the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me which is either a dark, twisted work of genius or a flawed betrayal of the original series, depending on your perspective or even on the day of the week. In either case, we can’t warn you stingily enough – do NOT watch the film before the series, even as a prequel it contains major spoilers for one of the most gripping shows of all time. So while luscious red curtains and mysterious owls will look stunning in HD, there’s one other crucial aspect to the new box set to note – the deleted scenes from the film. Long-rumoured, and held up in all sorts of red tape for years, these scenes have finally been released, some 90 minutes of many of the town’s beloved characters who didn’t end up in the finale product of the film (one of the major gripes among fans) and the first and almost certainly last new and unseen material from the show that we’ll ever see. It’s locally released in limited editions exclusively by JB Hi-Fi, with only 1700 sets available before you’ll have to look at importing from the UK or US so that is worth keeping in mind.
Other notable releases are a trio of brazen, controversial classics from the UK. BFI are releasing George Franju’s horror classic, Eyes Without A Face, on Blu-ray with a bevy of special features topping even the Criterion edition from last year. Poetic and beautiful as well as harrowing (and for a film over fifty years old, surprisingly gruesome), Eyes Without A Face is a film that once seen, is never forgotten. Arrow is currently working on their Kickstarter-funded box-set of Walerian Borowczyk Collection, pushed back until August, but many of the films are receiving individual releases, and this month such is the case for The Beast, one of Borowczyk’s most known and scandalous films which is probably the most notorious film about bestiality ever made. I haven’t actually seen this film (or any of the director’s films, I must say) and I mention that not as a disclaimer for any future potential employer who may stumble upon this page, but as testament to the fact that his work has been difficult to find, and Arrow’s commitment to the cause of having these restorations done and distributed is very worthy of praise. Lastly, at least a few of our writers here are huge fans of Japanese maverick Seijun Suzuki whose wacky magnum opus Branded to Kill is also receiving the Arrow treatment – including a curiosity-provoking supplementary feature, a roman porno remake/reimaging of the film by one of the films original screenwriters called Trapped in Lust. Branded isn’t exactly tame, so together that should make one hell of an outrageous double bill.
Locally, Madman is releasing Denis Villenueve’s Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which we will be reviewing soon – the follow up to the great Prisoners and a film that is already garnering a lot of great word of mouth attention. Also on their tantalising slate is an inspired collection called Alfred Hitchcock Directs, compiling all the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (which expanded to the hour-long The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962) that Hitch himself actually directed, showcasing the Master of Suspense’s unparalleled technical ability that translated so well to the small screen. Hitchcock was one of the first superstar, household name directors and his image and name bolstered the show’s ten year run. Interestingly, of the show’s 361 episodes, Hitchcock only directed 18 of them so to have them all together makes for a very special product indeed. Kudos needs to go to Madman for their attention to detail and commitment, which has them go an extra step further – they’ve also managed to pull up Alfred Hitchcock’s 60 minute 1960 episode of anthology series Ford Startime, “Incident at a Corner”, starring Vera Miles and shot just after Psycho. Rarely seen, it’s a great complementary feature to an already impressive collection.