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A. S. Potts (London UK)

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Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce strom rajských jíme) [DVD]
Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce strom rajských jíme) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jitka Nováková
Price: Ł11.18

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fruit of Paradise the dish of the day, 18 April 2015
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Fruit of Paradise is the latest Věra Chytilová release from Second Run and many thanks for it. If you have seen the more widely known Daisies you will already have an understanding of Chytilová modus operandi. If you are not aware of her work it is something of a challenge to convey a sense of it. If you are familiar with artist made experimental film or video work then this will give you a context or recognisable reference point, if not it may be a shock to your system. That's a good thing, surely.

If you are only familiar with linear narrative story telling, with what you consider a comprehensible beginning, middle and end, then you have to be prepared to put aside any such notions of 'understanding' the meaning of the images and the text. Text is very minimal in any case and doesn't serve any particular narrative function but rather instigates actions.

Although Chytilová is referred to as a cine-anarchist in the listing I think it simpler to use the term experimental film maker. The work has a clear starting point in the Adam & Eve story and this leads into the relationship between the three main protagonists one female and two males. However, characterisation and indeed any contextualisation is eschewed in favour of an exclusively visual exploration of themes and motifs. Therefore the ensuing scenes are related by their symbolic meaning and relationship to the overarching concept rather than to a specific narrative continuity. The corollary of this is that content is inseparably from form through the use of various experimental and expressive camera and laboratory techniques. Although these techniques are less prevalent than in Daisies the film is no less experimental in intent.

The film is composed of startling, sumptuous and sensual images which have the power to engage the viewer regardless of whether the whole is entirely comprehensible and the images are set to a stunning score by composer Zdeněk Liska. It would be great to have the score on a separate disc.

The film itself looks very good coming as it does from a new HD transfer by Czech National Film Archive. Just a point in passing, I accepted it's not a restoration, but like a number of other Second Run discs the source appears to be a release print so while it's generally in good condition it exhibits end of reel damage, including cue marks.

Great package with essay by Peter Hames.

The White Dove & Josef Kilián [DVD]
The White Dove & Josef Kilián [DVD]
Dvd ~ Katerina Irmanovová
Price: Ł11.56

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good points and bad points, but worth having, 10 Nov. 2013
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Lots of good things going for this latest release from Second Run and one substantial problem but certainly not to be sniffed at.

It's always going to be good accessing more Vláčil and this disc presents his 1960 short feature, The White Dove. Right from the outset it's clear how the images advance the narrative, it's extremely atmospheric, almost mesmeric to which the sound and music contribute greatly. Some powerful visual compositions are a clear precursor of works like Marketa Lazarova . The cinematographer in this case was Jan Čuřik who later shot Valerie and Her Week of Wonders as well the second film in this package.

Sadly the film suffers from some intrusive video tinkering, I believe the damage is caused by edge enhancement, but whatever it is the picture can look pretty bad at times. [Edit 24 11 13. I should correct my comments since Michael Brooke rightly points out - it is not that that the source tape has been manipulated but rather that it is an old analogue transfer of poor quality]. Fortunately the quality of the film making is able to win through in spite of this. One assumes that this was not Second Run's doing and this must have been the only source material available to them.

The second short however, Josef Kilian, looks very good indeed. It is co-directed and written by Pavel Juráček who went on to creature the idea for Daisies with director Vĕra Chytilová.

The booklet essay by Peter Hames concentrates mainly on Vláčil.

So, as I said lots of good things, it's a shame the The white dove doesn't look better but better than not having it at all.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2013 5:13 PM GMT

Nosferatu Ltd. Edition Steelbook [Masters of Cinema] Dual Format [Blu-ray & DVD]
Nosferatu Ltd. Edition Steelbook [Masters of Cinema] Dual Format [Blu-ray & DVD]
Dvd ~ Max Schreck
Offered by bestmediagroup
Price: Ł9.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters of Cinema's brilliant new blu-ray, 7 Nov. 2013
I decided to switch my pre-order for the new MoC Nosferatu blu-ray from Amazon to Eureka where they are already in stock and shipping. So I'm now the very enthusiastic owner of a beautiful new Murnau steelbook. There's something very satisfying about the weight and feel of a well produced steelbook but they do carry a cost premium, however, for the occasional special item I think is well worth it.

Of most importance, though, is the quality and resolution of the HD disc. If like me you remember the first time you watched MoC's previous DVD release back in 2007 and marvelled at the clear crisp images of the FWMS restoration, then seeing the film on BD is like that experience multiplied by a factor of four. Of course the incredible resolution exposes the very few shots that have been sourced from inferior copies and only goes to underlines the colossal reversal of fate this great film has undergone.

Regarding the work itself, it has never been one of my favourite Murnau films, and the fact that, along with Faust, the prints on offer were always the worst of a bad lot probably contributed to me not appreciating it as I should, but that's all changed now. It is poetic and sinister and the impressive use of real locations and landscapes, something lost in Murnau's later studio bound Kammerspielfilm works but gloriously regained in Tabu, is a wonder to behold. I know that there are a lot of fans that are attracted to the film because its subject places it at the genesis of horror films but there's so much more to the film than that. It is a masterful work of early cinema and the cinematography is of the highest order and the editing scheme extremely sophisticated. Those with doubts, and there are those among the reviews who think it's just one for the students of film history, first need to throw out their cheap version [probably Elstree Hill] and invest in the FWMS restoration, either DVD or this perfect blu-ray, and then open their eyes.

Unlike the recent and excellent Dr Mabuse upgrade the Nosferatu extras also get a revamp. In addition to the previous commentary a second has been added by the relentless David Kalat. There's a fluent and knowledgeable video contribution from Kevin Jackson and a somewhat less coherent one, at least up to the point where I turned off, by Abel Ferrara. Perhaps if you know his work, which I do not, you will find him more edifying. All other extras carry over from the previous DVD release. My only problem, which goes for all Blu-ray packages, is that the booklets are too small for my tired eyes and MoC did spoil us with a veritable paperback book in the 2007 release.

As I mentioned in my review of Dr Mabuse, der Spieler, one could not imagine many years ago while watching deplorable prints of these great works of cinema that they would one day be restored to their former glory and come in a small flat box to keep at home.
If I had time I'd look at the film again right now, but I don't, but you should soon, it's a real marvel.

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. [Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler.] [Masters of Cinema] [Blu-ray]
Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. [Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler.] [Masters of Cinema] [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Fritz Lang
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: Ł14.62

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now available in glorious Blu-ray, 6 Nov. 2013
Masters of Cinema bring us yet more Lang on Blu-ray, in this case the mighty Dr Mabuse, der Spieler. The blu-ray upgrade delivers, as one would expect, more detail and more texture than ever before and looks quite astonishing.

My only slight quibble and I'm sure this is simply a matter of personal taste, although I note that the contrast has also been questioned elsewhere, is that the facial skin tone is at times just a tad too bright for my liking. As I say, largely a subjective issue and not a criticism and perhaps requires a tweak of my playback settings.

Also, worth pointing out to those who have not yet experienced a restored silent film on blu-ray is that the significantly higher resolution offered by Blu-ray results in the additional clarity of any damage and which no film of this great age can escape. However, the eye and brain soon filter out such minor distractions as the extraordinary narrative power and plot complexities take hold. I don't need to expand on these matters as they are well reported by others.

So, whether you opted for the standard case or the steelbook what you get is a great package, which admittedly does not expand upon the previous DVD boxset edition in terms of extras but does deliver an almighty visual punch.

I've been obsessed with the great German films of the 1920's all my life and when I used to hire the old BFI 16mm prints for college seminars I never imagined that I would one day some twenty or thirty odd years later be able to sit at home and view them with such clarity and in such complete states as when they were first released. How exciting.

Ikarie XB-1 [DVD]
Ikarie XB-1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Zdenek Stepánek
Price: Ł10.81

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Czech wide screen sci-fi still impressive, 27 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Ikarie XB-1 [DVD] (DVD)
Second Run presents Ikarie XB 1 in its original uncut version and it's excellent. The film was made in 1963 and is set in 2163.

I'm not a sci-fi aficionado so come to Ikarie XB 1 through my interest in eastern european cinema of the 1960's, in the same way I appreciate say, Nosferatu or Metropolis, in the context of German cinema of the 1920's, rather than as a horror or sci-fi fan. Therefore, Kim Newman's video appreciation was much appreciated by me, exploring as it does both the political subtext of such Soviet block sci-fi, as well as this epics obvious and substantial influence on subsequent sci-fi films and TV of the 1960's. It's not a long film clocking in at a rather modest running time of 83 minutes but it's epic in its sense of scale, ambition and the inventiveness of the magnificent production design.

Taking place entirely onboard the spacecraft Ikarie XB 1, the film starts with a pre-credit sequence that depicts the psychological meltdown of one of the crew members and is very reminiscent of, and functions like the 'previously on...' synopses so prevalent at the head of most current TV serials. Except in this instance it's a flash forward and is an attention grabbing composite of what is to come.

Thereafter, the narrative is divided into three distinct sections. Firstly, we spend a good half of the film observing the daily work but mainly social life of the crew as the ship travels across the vast empty tract of space. There are many fascinating concepts on offer that are clearly a source of inspiration for later productions and it's all stunningly atmospheric. There's a palpable sense of the enclosing darkness of space and it's impressively photographed in 2.35:1 B & W.

At this point it's worth pointing out a couple of potential weaknesses. I partly concur with Kim Newman's appraisal of the early electronic score, in as much as it does date the piece somewhat. Nevertheless, it's still enjoyable and not too concerning, however, there's a clothing issue that is far more unsatisfactory from the point of view of datedness, or at least it breaks the spell for a moment. While the futuristic work uniforms are well realised and clearly influenced the Star Trek series, when the women dress for a dance party the dresses are straight out of the 1960 spring collection and represent a sudden lack of vision in an otherwise exceptionally well imagined future. On the other hand, the actual dance movements are a genuine attempt to consider how this social activity might have developed over two centuries.

The day to day business finally gives way to the first piece of exterior drama when the Ikarie XB 1 comes across a dead spaceship which contains weapons of mass destruction. Soon after the frightful denouement of this section comes the last and much more mysterious final section. When the crew succumb to a terrible sleeping sickness they ascribe their fatigue to the presence of a 'dark star' but the darkness of the mood at last turns to optimism, even elation as they realise, or at least believe that their deliverance has been gifted to them.

This Second Run package offers a new, beautifully restored anamorphic transfer that looks topnotch, plus the aforementioned video extra plus a booklet with another well researched essay by Michael Brooke.

Well worth a view in my opinion.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2013 2:47 PM BST

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray]
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ F.W. Murnau
Price: Ł11.50

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters of Cinema's new blu-ray is excellent, 28 Jun. 2013
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Tabu, Murnau's last film is the latest up-grade to blu-ray from a previous Masters of Cinema package, the excellent 2007 DVD release. I have so many Eureka releases of Sunrise that I didn't get around to up-grading it to BD, but Tabu has got there in two easier [on the wallet] steps.

So, is the Blu-ray worth it? Yes, the image quality is considerably higher than the DVD but the irony is that the higher resolution also sharpens any damage and there is plenty of surface damage. I'd sooner have it that way rather than use digital tools to clean it all up at the expense of film texture. I'm glad to see that this is the route F W Murnau Stiftung has taken of late, as with the recent photochemical only restoration of Die Nibelungen.

The improvement in image quality in this release is twofold; the obvious improvement that comes with a well produced blu-ray transfer is here complemented by the radical aspect ratio change. MoC's 2007 release was 1.37:1, which it was claimed was he original aspect ratio but this new version is 1.19:1. which again is claimed to be original and this time it would appear to be correct. However well meaning I'd say this calls into question the 'promotional' use of the term original aspect ratio.

So, what does this mean in viewing terms? The first and obvious difference is that 1.19:1 is considerably narrower than 1.37:1, that's two inches narrower when making a rudimentary onscreen measurement of the image width on my TV set. Given this, I set about analysing the same two frames from the two versions. The first was from the second image in the film, the young men standing in the surf with their fishing spears. I found that while the information was the same for the width of the frame there was what I can only describe as a huge amount of additional picture across the bottom of the frame and a good amount at the top. This results in a distinct difference in composition between the two images.

The second frame I selected again corresponded in width but in this case while the framing at the top was also the same it revealed a massive amount of additional picture information at the bottom of the frame. So, over all it appears that the 1.19:1 ratio benefits by revealing considerably more of the original image in frame. This narrower aspect ratio would seem to be consistent with other 'on film sound' productions of the period and is accounted for by the amount of space required for the soundtrack.

Now the entire image is on display the vertical composition is improved hugely and the quality is beautiful, [unless you are of the school of thought that believes digital technology should be employed to remove every visual imperfection]. This 1.19:1 ratio results in a much squarer frame and apparently it was not so popular with audiences at the time.

Two extras carry over from the 2007 release: they are the commentary and the Berriatua film. In addition to these we have a UFA produced short about fishing made from unused footage and most interesting is a short film about the out takes footage which amongst other things compares footage shot by Flaherty and Crosby and discusses which of Flaherty's shots were used.

The revised booklet on the other hand pales when compared to the substantial book that came with the original DVD release.

Over all for image quality this is a must, however many previous version you may have!

Theorem (DVD + Blu-ray)
Theorem (DVD + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Terence Stamp
Price: Ł7.10

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New BFI Blu-ray, 12 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Theorem (DVD + Blu-ray) (Blu-ray)
This is the latest Pasolini package from the BFI - containing a new Blu-ray transfer and a DVD disc. The decision not to include the Terence Stamp interview on the Blu-ray disc is irritating, but par for the course for the BFI. Eureka manage to duplicate the entire content on both discs and I would have thought that having the content on both discs was the purpose of a dual format set. Nevertheless, a very worth while release.

Although there are still signs of source material damage the restoration has reduced it to the extent that it does not impinge upon the viewing experience too much - unless you are very pernickety. What is very apparent is the film's rich visual texture, from monochrome through grainy sepia to sumptuous colour. The overall impression is one of a very dense almost over saturated world, a world that is superficially recognisable but which is in fact deeply disturbing. The film is composed of a series of moments with little regard to conventional narrative development or continuity.

I understand that Italy's roman catholic authorities prosecuted Pasolini for obscenity in respect of Theorem, I wonder if they would have preferred to get him for blasphemy but realised that they would have fallen into the trap of acknowledging that the film was an allusion to Jesus.

The varied visual textures are echoed by Pasolini's use of a number of pictorial techniques particularly during the film's unusual [even by Pasolini standards] opening sequences. A much loved motif, the volcanic ashes of Mt Etna, features here and did so in many films from Matthew to Medea. There's some quasi news footage in monochrome and another visual device, much favoured by Pasolini, the direct referencing, perhaps parodying of silent film. After this the major part of film settles down to some stunning colour cinematography which results in some truly beautiful images.

The sound track, which is almost absent in places, is subtle and haunting and is enhanced sometimes with jangly guitar rifts by Ennio Morricone and at other times with a very melancholy jazz motif. I think the sound track along with the pacing, the narrative settings and the cinematography are all powerful examples of Pasolini at work during his most productive film-making period. During this period, 1966 to 1969, he made five films, Uccellacci e uccellini, Edipo re, Teorema, Porcile and Medea.

A mesmerising and absorbing experience.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 30, 2013 3:21 AM GMT

The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) [DVD]
The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Andrea Drahota
Price: Ł10.71

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jancsó's first musical?, 30 Jan. 2013
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This is another astonishing film from the Hungarian master but the English title is really a rendering of the films narrative because the actual title I think, is something like sparkling winds. This is a phrase taken from one of the many revolutionary songs that are sung during the confrontation.

This new release from Second Run brings to five the number of Miklós Jancsó films in their catalogue, and lets hope there are many more. It is by far the best in terms of image quality, exhibiting strikingly vibrant colours and extremely crisp and clear sharpness and contrast. It does however suffer from the presents of sparkle, this being those white impressions of dust, due to its presence on the negative at the time of printing. This is very noticeable at the head of the film and also to a lesser extent at other points throughout.

Also, there are end of reel cue marks that are rather intrusive and appear throughout but are particularly dominant at the end of what must be the first reel. These marks are generally associated with prints prepared for projection so I'm not entirely sure what this means in respect of the source material. Other than these small, if noticeable defects, the film does look spectacularly good compared to earlier Second Run Jancsó releases.

The confrontation consists of an 'invasion' of a seminary by a group of Marxist students, who positively radiate revolutionary zeal, and their attempts to engage the clergy and students with their new ideology. This confrontation inevitably leads to conflict and power struggles within the revolutionary group itself and with the state police and ultimately with the communist organising officials.

As with so many other Jancsó films the leitmotif of this power struggle is movement - not only the manner in which the camera endlessly seeks out the action but also the constant ebb and flow of groups of figures - often on the great plains but in this case within the confines of the seminary's cobbled courtyards. Here again, this movement of people, the constant assembling and reassembling, the forming of lines, the forming of blocks, the separating out of individuals, followed by their immediate re-inclusion into the group poses many questions and exerts a disquieting influence over the viewer. This disquiet prevails in spite of the apparently uplifting presence of much singing and dancing of revolutionary songs, which are a constant feature of the film, and leads to a somewhat disturbing and ambiguous ending shot.

Regardless of what you think about the ideological content of the work, it is without doubt that the actual method of film making is truly revolutionary.

The disc has no extras but comes with Second Run's usual booklet. I haven't read it yet, but it contains a lengthy essay by Graham Petrie, and there's a nice photo of Jancsó directing.

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc [La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc]-  Masters Of Cinema - Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD) - Steelbook [1928]
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc [La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc]- Masters Of Cinema - Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD) - Steelbook [1928]
Dvd ~ Renée Maria Falconetti
Offered by bestmediagroup
Price: Ł14.99

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jeanne d'Arc's suffering and death, 22 Nov. 2012
This is a really beautiful and chunky steelbook package from MoC. Housed in an extremely stout card slip case, printed in colour, is the steelbook case, adorned only with black and white images of Joan. Along side the disc comes a beautifully produced book that's heaving with photos, illustrations and articles of analysis and appreciations by other artists.

Of the restoration itself, a short sequence of before and after images provides ample evidence of the deplorable condition of the original material and the astonishing detail and clarity that has been revealed by the restoration process. While there remains a considerable amount of surface scratching [which is not intrusive during viewing] most of the damage associated with age and neglect has been successfully and sympathetically eradicated. There are only a few images not up to the standard of the majority; these largely appearing in the final 'riot' sequence.

This end sequence I find strangely incongruous coming at the end of a film renowned for its exceptional composition of continuous close-up shots. While providing a rabble rousing climax leading to the burning at the stake, the sequence is rather disappointing in its conception by comparison with what has gone before.

Of the disc; the viewing options are very generous: of the 24fps and the 20fps versions I certainly find that viewing at 20fps is more satisfactory. Human motion does appear to be rendered accurately at this speed and it certainly wouldn't have been shot at 24fps.

It is thought that Dreyer's intention was that the film be unaccompanied and a silent presentation is the default option at both speeds. However, the 20fps version is also offered with a piano score, which I favour, while the 24fps version can be viewed with an avant-garde score that I found too assertive and unsympathetic and found silence preferable to its insistent attention grabbing.

As for the Lo Duca; I had not seen it before, I've only ever seen the original in a sad state in the late 1970's. It's of academic interest since it includes alternative Dreyer takes, but the attempt to rework the original concept with additional material is contemptible.

All this is packed on to one Blu-ray disc. The DVD version which I have not looked at is presented over two discs.

Magnificent: both the film and the package.

Oedipus Rex [Edipo Re] [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray] [1967]
Oedipus Rex [Edipo Re] [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray] [1967]
Dvd ~ Pier Paolo PASOLINI
Price: Ł11.50

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning new blu-ray from Masters of Cinema, 6 Oct. 2012
I've just finished watching the film for the first time in twenty odd years and if anything it's better than I remember. It looks wonderfully filmy on this excellent new HD transfer from MoC. The imagery is quite stunning, although the hand-held widescreen camerawork may come as a surprise to those not familiar with Pasolini's production techniques. There's plenty of good filmic texture and I'd love to see it on a much larger screen.

So, a very worth while package form MoC. The booklet is packed with essays and interviews with the director but there's only a trailer extra on disc [which has been the case with their recent Pasolini DVD releases].

I've neither read nor seen the play, but we all have a sense of the general gist. However, Pasolini applies his own twist to the narrative by book-ending it with modern-day sequences. The birth of the child in the 1920's being an accepted allusion to Pasolini's own birth. I find the modern sequences both cinematically astonishing and very moving, but not everyone would agree judging by some of the old reviews. One calls it a B movie, what an idiot. Neither is the film ponderous.

With the book-ending device Pasolini is able to draw together the beginning and the end, closing the circle, which has been visibly describe by the panning shots of the tree tops as observed by the baby at the beginning. A fascinating personal approach to the story, with extraordinary costumes and North African landscapes, makes this a classic of auteur 60's cinema.

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