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Parade

Jacques Tati's Parade (1972) available on BFI DVD, 22 June 2009

Rarely seen, this is a welcome release of master French comic Jacques Tati’s final film as both director and performer. Made for television, Parade is a live compendium of circus, music hall and magic acts hosted by Tati himself. With opening scenes of audience members taking their seats, the film appears at its outset to be a recording of a 1970s Tati-on-tour live show, a final attempt to sell tickets as a comic giant’s career wanes. But although we may witness a mid-show interval and genuine audience reactions, it becomes apparent that the film is a playful and imaginative take on the experience of seeing a show. Sketches play out in the corridors, in the theatre bar and indeed after the show has ended.

In a similar vein to Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, in which he revisits his music hall past, Parade is a return to Tati’s own music hall experiences during the 1930s. Tati’s key performances during the film revolve around the miming acts that gave him early success. He is transformed into a goalie, a boxer and a tennis player, and even at one point becoming an English policeman. While at first these may appear as comic ideas too antiquated to still remain humorous, Tati infuses them with an accuracy that is indeed very funny – in particular watch for his recreation of a tennis match in slow motion.

The film is filled with surrealistic touches, with cardboard cut-outs planted amongst the audience and a set that is constantly being painted even as the show is playing out. During the interval the bartender bursts open a soft drink only to find his own head springing a leak. With the audience playing a key role in the film’s focus, the space between audience and performers become blurred, especially when members of the audience cross onto the stage and participate in the action. One enthusiastic bald spectator finds himself compelled to jump into the ring and ride a wild pony, while a conspicuously bored blonde boy wanders in and out of the action. As these participations occur, the character of the audience shifts from innocence to complicity, yet throughout the film the audience’s reactions are so convincingly spontaneous that they are clearly fulfilling their role as genuine spectators by having a good time.

Other acts performed by the troupe include juggling, acrobatics, sword swallowing, singing and clowning. Even when performed to the 1970s audience, these acts appear as though from another time, each one evoking a lost circus and music hall tradition. As such Parade acts as a kind of final record of long-forgotten acts and entertainments. Traditions such as mimesis, which Tati himself excelled in, have long since been ridiculed as the cliché of outdated entertainment but what Parade does is show us how it is meant to be done. This results in unexpected reactions; a miming showjumper forces us to imagine a galloping horse, only for that very animal to then stride into the ring for real and put flesh to our fantasies.

Parade is the latest in a range of Jacques Tati films that the British Film Institute have strived to make available on DVD, and they have done so in this case with a pristine transfer. The film was originally produced on a combination of video, 16mm and 35mm, and has undergone a digital restoration which has resulted in Parade looking and sounding as good as it possibly can on DVD.

Special features
Previously unseen interview with Jacques Tati, filmed in London in 1977 (19 mins)
Illustrated booklet with essays by Philip Kemp and Jonathan Rosenbaum; director biography and credits

Available At
Amazon.co.uk
BFI Filmstore

Release date: 22 June 2009
RRP: £19.99 / cat. no. BFIVD808 / cert U
France / 1974 / colour / French language with English subtitles / 84 mins /
Ratio 1.33:1


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The Criterion Collection have just announced that they have opened up their collection online. For $5 you can rent a film for an entire week, the fee of which will actually go towards the purchase of the actual disc when you want to buy it.

For now there is a small selection including Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987), Cléo From 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962), Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini, 1965), Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983), The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) and The Thief of Baghdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, 1940). Every week more titles will be published.

Perhaps even more exciting is that they have partnered with The Auteurs where you can stream movies for free. Right now. These include a selection of modern quality world cinema, including one of my very favourites, After Life (Japan, 1998, dir: Hirokazu Kore-Eda). Other titles currently available include Le Vent de La Nuit starring Catherine Deneuve, Midnight directed by Walter Salles and another Kore-Eda film, Maborosi.

There are huge possibilities here for serious filmgoers and for films that are costly to publish to DVD and to export. 

Now to see if I can rent Criterion from outside the U.S…

After Life:

afterlife

I have just had word of an upcoming box set from Fox. It contains 12 discs and features two F.W. Murnau films (including City Girl) and ten by Frank Borzage, four of which are silents. This seems to be in the spirit of the monumental Ford at Fox box from last year. The box contains:

Silents
 
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927) 
City Girl (Murnau, 1930) 

Lazybones (Borzage, 1925)
Seventh Heaven (Borzage, 1928)
Street Angel (Borzage, 1928) 
Lucky Star (Borzage, 1929) 

Talkies:

They Had to See Paris (Borzage, 1929) 
Liliom (Borzage, 1930)
Song O’ My Heart (Borzage, 1930)
Bad Girl (Borzage, 1931) 
After Tomorrow (Borzage, 1932) 
Young America (Borzage, 1932)


Warner Bros. continue their exceptional series of gangster box sets with the Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection vol. 4. This release contains 4 Edward G. Robinson titles: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, The Little Giant, Larceny, Inc., Kid Galahad, as well as the George Raft vehicle Invisible Stripes. Bogart, as always, features as a welcomed supporting player.

The box features the high standard of extra features we have come to expect: commentaries, documentaries, newsreels and cartoons, as well as an all-new feature-length documentary, Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film.

This really is film history in a box!

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)
Dr. Clitterhouse (Edward G. Robinson) is fascinated by the study of the physical and mental states of lawbreakers, so he joins a gang of jewel thieves for a closer look in this often amusing crime drama. Claire Trevor co-stars as a savvy crime queen, and Humphrey Bogart plays Rocks Valentine, whom Dr. C. calls “a magnificent specimen of pure viciousness.” The movie also marks the start of one of film’s most noteworthy collaborations. John Huston, who was to later direct Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, co-wrote the screenplay of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse.

Special Features:
Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper and Richard Jewell
Racket Busters theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB short: Night Intruder
WB cartoons:
Cinderella Meets a Fella
Count Me Out
1941 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (audio only)
1944 Gulf Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (audio only)
Theatrical trailer

The Little Giant (1933)
The era of the bootlegger is past but liquor runner Bugs Ahearn (Edward G. Robinson) has a plan for what he’ll do now that Prohibition is history. He decides to head for California’s posh, polo-playing Santa Barbara to become part of the high society. What he finds there — swindlers, gold diggers, great fun – makes first class entertainment in this pre-Code gem. Edward G. Robinson shows his comedic chops for the first time, paving the way for such subsequent films as A Slight Case of Murder, Brother Orchid, Larceny, Inc. and more persona-skewering frolics.

Special Features:
Commentary by Daniel Bubbeo and John McCarty
Vintage newsreel
WB short: Just Around the Corner
WB cartoon: The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
Theatrical trailer

Larceny, Inc. (1942)
Edward G. Robinson once more turns his gangster image on its head in a gleeful romp based on the Broadway farce penned by Laura Perelman and S.J. Perelman. Robinson plays Pressure Maxwell, who emerges from Sing Sing planning to run a dog track with cronies Jug (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy (Edward Brophy). But the plan needs funding, so the group (assisted by Jane Wyman) opens a luggage shop as a front while attempting to tunnel into the bank next door. Now add the store’s unexpected success, a gabby traveling valise salesman (Jack Carson) and the arrival of a sour con (Anthony Quinn) who wants in on the action, and the laughs are thick as thieves.

Special Features:
Commentary by Haden Guest and Dana Polan
Vintage newsreel
The Big Shot theatrical trailer
WB short: Winning Your Wings
WB cartoons:
Porky’s Pastry Pirates
The Wabbit Who Came to Supper
Theatrical trailer

Invisible Stripes (1939)
Parolee Chuck Martin is going straight when he gets out of jail – straight back to a life of crime. In lockup or out in the civilian world, he knows he’ll forever wear a con’s ‘Invisible Stripes.’ As Martin, Humphrey Bogart continues to battle and sneer his way to career stardom in this volatile social-conscience crime saga adapted from a book by warden Lewis E. Lawes. Top-billed George Raft plays Martin’s ex-Sing Sing yard mate Cliff Taylor, who vows to walk away from crime and be a role model for his kid brother (William Holden). But what awaits Taylor are suspicion, public disdain and joblessness. So he turns to a fellow con for help. Then, as now, he finds crime doesn’t pay.

Special Features:
Commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini
You Can’t Get Away with Murder Theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB short The Monroe Doctrine and Quiet, Please
WB cartoons:
Bars and Stripes Forever
Hare-um Scare-um
Theatrical trailer
Kid Galahad (1937)
This influential ring saga dramatically links professional boxing to criminal gambling. Edward G. Robinson is racketeer/fight promoter Nick Donati and tightly coiled Humphrey Bogart is Turkey Morgan. They’re rival promoters who, like fighters flinging kidney punches, end up swapping close-range bullets. Bette Davis plays the moll who has a soft spot for the bellhop (Wayne Morris) that Nick is grooming for the heavyweight title. And prolific Michael Curtiz directs this first of his six collaborations with Bogart that would include the romantic masterwork Casablanca and the sly comedy We’re No Angels.

Special Features:
Commentary by Art Simon and Robert Sklar
It’s Love I’m After theatrical trailer
Vintage newsreel
WB Shorts: Alibi Mark and Postal Union
WB Cartoons:
Egghead Rides Again
I Wanna Be a Sailor
Porky’s Super Service
Theatrical trailer

Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film — Warner Home Video Documentary
As popular as these films were in their heyday, seminal giants like Little Caesar and Public Enemy as well as post-war gems like Key Largo and White Heat still hold power over their audiences today. Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film will explore the invention and development of the crime genre; the rise of Warner stars like Cagney, Bogart and Robinson; as well as directors like Walsh, Wellman and Curtiz. It will cover the films themselves and the influence they had on filmmakers all over the world; and the artistic merit that these defining classic films still warrant. Finally, the documentary will celebrate the impact that Warner Bros. Studios had in establishing the iconic Hollywood Gangster, often imitated but never equaled.

Special Features:
Four WB Cartoons: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit and Bugs and Thugs

ealing studios

The Classic Film Show isn’t only about Hollywood. It’s probably fair to say that we do not watch as many British films as we should so it’s great to see three obscure Ealing Studios titles being resurrected on DVD. Of the four I have only seen Pink String and Sealing Wax which I remember being enjoyably melodramatic and set in a very Victorian England.

I have a particular fondness for Ealing movies. Partly because that is where I come from – indeed the studios are ten minutes from here – but have always loved films such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit and especially The Ladykillers. 

Here is some info on the movies from the Optimum website:

San Demetrio, London (1943)

San Demetrio, London (1943)

San Demetrio, London follows the compelling true story of a crew of British seaman who in 1940 were forced to abandon ship after being torpedoed by German forces. Having been set adrift in their lifeboat for twenty four hours the crew of the San Demetrio must come to a fateful decision: to either withstand the harsh, deadly and fatal conditions of an unrelenting November Atlantic or risk re-boarding the hazardous, flaming decks of the San Demetrio with it’s highly explosive cargo of 12,000 tonnes of aviation fuel in an attempt to sail it back home to safety of the British coast.

Directed by Charles Frend (The Cruel Sea, Scott Of The Antarctic and TV shows The Man In A Suitcase and Dangerman) and written by Robert Hamer (School For Scoundrels, Kind Hearts And Coronets), San Demetrio, London is brimming with dramatic tension and is a gripping, inspiring testament to the rarely acknowledged bravery of the merchant navy during the second world war.

 

Johnny Frenchman (1945)

Johnny Frenchman (1945)

From the director of Scott Of The Antarctic, The Cruel Sea and San Demetrio, London (Charles Frend) comes the whimsical, heart warming comedy Johnny Frenchman.

Veteran theatre comedian Tom Walls plays the Harbour Master in a small Cornish fishing village whose constant run ins with a French fish poacher, played by Francoise Rosay, often leave him outwitted and sworn to revenge. To make matters worse the French poacher’s son, played by Paul Dupuis, is starting to make romantic advances towards the harbour master’s young, impressionable, beautiful blonde daughter, played by Patricia Roc. But as the threat of Nazi Germany rears its ugly head, common adversaries suddenly realise that the future of the village depends on them putting their differences aside and joining forces to fight the good fight.

Johnny Frenchman follows in the comedic traditions of the ever reliable Ealing Studios and includes a cast that features genuine Cornish villagers and actual members of The French Resistance.

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)

In 1890’s Brighton the young son of a puritanical chemist longs to escape the repressive environment of his family life and the overbearing restraints of his cruel, pious father. Eventually finding refuge in a local tavern he his immediately attracted to the sordid glamour of the drinking classes and the gritty world that they inhabit. He also finds himself becoming infatuated with the tavern’s landlady, which will inadvertently lead to him being drawn into a plot to kill her abusive husband.

Directed by Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts And Coronets, San Demetrio, London and School For Scoundrels) , Pink String And Sealing Wax stars Googie Withers (The Lady Vanishes), Mervyn Johns (Dead Of Night) and Gordon Jackson (Whisky Galore, The Quatermass Experiment) in a film that cleverly entwines the dynamics of a thriller with biting social commentary and a multi-layered plot structure that contrasts the parallels of the British class system.

The Square Ring (1953)

The Square Ring (1953)

Richly comic, tensely dramatic, romantically moving – THE SQUARE RING looks beyond the stadium lights of 1950s boxing and into the lives of the men who fight for fame and fortune – and the women who fight to hold them.

Featuring an enviable British cast including Carry On stalwerts Bill Owen and Sid James (Carry On Sargeant, Carry on Nurse), and a touching performance from a young Joan Collins (Dynasty, Fear in the Night), THE SQUARE RING is an Ealing classic not to be missed.

 


Criterion Blu-Ray

Some very exciting news. I just received a message from Criterion announcing that they will be releasing titles in Blu-Ray, and that we will see them on shelves in October.

Criterion have revealed that, ‘These new editions will feature glorious high-definition picture and sound, all the supplemental content of the DVD releases, and they will be priced to match our standard-def editions.’

And here are their first titles:

The Third Man
Bottle Rocket
Chungking Express
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Last Emperor
El Norte
The 400 Blows
Gimme Shelter
The Complete Monterey Pop
Contempt
Walkabout
For All Mankind
The Wages of Fear

It will be interesting to discover how far these Blu-Ray editions from Criterion, who are of course known for their high standards in image quality, enhance the viewing experience of films of varying ages. I am optimistic that the result may very well be worth the wait.

There is currently no information on their site here, but I will keep you posted on any further developments.

la-roue-amazon

A very exciting 2-disc DVD has just been released: La Roue (1927), a monumental silent directed by Abel Gance. I saw this film on the big screen and at that time it ran at four hours, but this new restoration seems to come in even longer at four and a half. 

It revolves around a steam train engineer and the infant girl he saves from a train wreck, evolving into a complex and delicate drama. While containing some devastating and kinetic imagery, particularly around steam engines, it ultimately is one of the most memorable silent film experiences out there. Finally I get to see it again.

Directed by Abel Gance whose Napoleon (1927) is legendary, this is highly recommended. It is published by Flicker Alley, who has emerged as a great new distributor of rare silents on DVD. Check it out at their website.

How the West Was Won (1962)

Although Cinemascope was the first of the new widescreen processes to hit the screen with the high-profile The Robe in 1953, a rival technology called Cinerama was premiered in September 1952. By using three adjacent 35mm cameras, an extremely wide image could be created. It actually required five projectionists operating three projectors to view these films. Uniquely the image was projected onto large screens that was literally curved. This would provide the viewers with a spectacular, almost three dimensional, image.

How Cinerama Is Projected

Outside of exotic travelogues intended to exploit the Cinerama experience (much like many IMAX films today), only two fiction films were shot in genuine Cinerama: How the West Was Won (1962) and The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm (1962). Later films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were filmed in Super Panavision 70 and then presented in a 70mm Cinerama image rather than the 3-Strip image of the original films.

Well now you can view this fascinating process from the comfort of your own home. How the West Was Won, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart (above), will be released in a new Blu-Ray edition in August. This will include a special feature known as ‘SmileBox’ which will recreate the curved Cinerama image. This seems to be a simple distortion of the image designed to create the illusion of Cinerama, as in this frame from the SmileBox website:

SmileBox

It will be interesting to see how effective this new stab at old technology is, but it sounds like an admirable attempt to present How the West Was Won as it was originally meant to be seen. Until then you can find more information on Cinerama, including some great stills of film frames, at the highly recommended Widescreen Museum.

Contact Me

Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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