Archive for ‘1960s’

May 17, 2012

Chimes At Midnight (1965 – DVD)

“I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers… how ill white hairs become a fool and jester”

It’s been a long while since I started my mission to view all of Orson Welles feature films, after watching half of them I ran out of the more easily available DVDs but now I’ve finally acquired them all. So over the coming days and weeks I’ll be giving you my thoughts on 1952’s ‘Othello’, 1955’s ‘Mr. Arkadin’ and 1962’s ‘The Trial’. I already owned Orson’s 1965 Shakespeare adaptation ‘Chimes At Midnight’ aka ‘Falstaff’ on a DVD from Cornerstone Media but the image and sound quality were so bad that I decided to not even watch it, lest my first impression of this renowned masterpiece be mired. But the other day I saw the new DVD from Mr Bongo and thought I’d give it a punt. So back at home I pressed play while uttering a few prayers to the gods of cinema under my breath and was relieved to be greeted by this beautifully restored presentation.

‘Chimes At Midnight’ was Welles’ own personal favourite and although he died a full twenty years after it was released, it would sadly be his last completed full length narrative film. The script was based on a stage production that Welles had mounted in 1939 focusing on the story of Sir John Falstaff, the peripheral roguish character from a number of Shakespeare’s history plays. Welles himself plays the rotund Falstaff with all the growling, drunken corruption that he brought to his portrayal of Captain Quinlan in 1958’s ‘Touch Of Evil’ although Sir John is an entirely loveable, lecherous and boisterous character (Unlike the wicked Quinlan). Keith Baxter plays the young Prince Hal with a wonderfully cheeky air but also displays a mercilessly regal power as he gains the throne at the end. The coronation scene between a towering Baxter and a weeping Welles is one of the most powerful of all his films. The great Sir John Gielgud plays Henry IV and bestrides the screen like the seasoned RSC peacock he is, delivering several passionate monologues.

The composition of Welles’ shot are as immaculate as ever, ranging from intimate closeups capturing every nuance of his actors performance to huge scenes at the palace drenched in ominous shadow and angelic shafts of sunlight. The groundbreaking battle scene employs bewildering fast cuts and documentary camera techniques to convey the mud splattered confusion and animal savagery of medieval warfare, clearly inspiring films like Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’. I implore you to go get a copy of Mr Bongo’s release of ‘Chimes At Midnight’ and I urge the authorities to destroy all other available editions. Welles said of ‘Chimes At Midnight’, “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I’d offer up”.

Here is an image of the Mr Bongo DVD… be warned, avoid all other editions!:

April 15, 2012

Kes (1969 – Blu-Ray)

“I saw ‘er flyin’, she came like a bomb, about a yard off floor, like lightning”

A few weeks ago, I viewed Ken Loach’s powerful 1969 polemic ‘Kes’ for the first time on a DVD from MGM.  I loved the story but the image quality was like that of a battered old VHS that had been dropped into a puddle and the sound would’ve been captured better on a wax cylinder.  Knowing that my new Sony-Vaio laptop with Blu-Ray drive was in the post, I was aware that I could now view imported American Blu-Rays.  So I decided to make my first purchase a copy of the Criterion Collection’s restored HD version of ‘Kes’ and hold back writing my review until after I’d watched it.

I can now say that the US Blu-Ray is a revelation, a totally different film experience from the UK DVD.  The cinematography now has the autumnal colour palette and romantic feel of a Rembrandt painting and you can bask in the splendour of the image clarity.  The sound is also improved to the point were you can detect the merest rustle of leaves and the clink of milk bottles in the restored original production audio track.  The final surprise was noticing that a massive chunk of the image was actually missing all around on the DVD I viewed!  To think that a film this good (Ranked the BFI’s seventh best Brit flick ever no less!) is only viewable to its native audience in the shoddy version I first saw, it is a crime against Cinema!

Here is a comparison I made of the picture quality.  Notice the huge missing sections of the image above and to the left (Click to enlarge):

The best thing about ‘Kes’ is the earthy poetry of the Barnsley dialect used by Loach’s cast of local unknown’s. Lines like “For another, they wouldn’t ‘ave a weedy little twat like thee” are almost akin the baudy prose of Shakespeare.  Acting wise, the late Brian Glover almost steals the show in one scene, with his gruff P.E. teacher character, cheating so he win over his pupils, imagining himself to be Bobby Charlton.  I said almost, because young David Bradley‘s lead performance as little Billy Casper is heartbreakingly real, a gifted boy ready to soar like his Kestrel named Kes if his spirit isn’t crushed by the deprivation of the world around him.  Loach shows Billy’s talents for ornithology, gymnastics and even lecturing but they go almost unnoticed by his family, his teachers and the education system in general.  ‘Kes’ deserves its place in the BFI’s top ten but it deserves better care from the studio that made it.

April 10, 2012

Play Time (1967 – Blu-Ray)

“A film that comes from another planet, where they make films differently”

Jacques Tati is often declared a genius, with his blend of French mime and Chaplin-esque silent comedy. However when I tried watching 1953’s ‘Mr. Hulot’s Holiday’ I found it tedious in the extreme with only one gag involving his car towards the end eliciting anything beyond the merest smile. So after a few months I decided to give him another go with his celebrated 1967 colour film ‘Play Time’, but sadly I only found this slightly funnier. Maybe you just have to be French to find an extended sequence about sitting on chairs funny.


Thankfully this Blu-Ray of ‘Play Time’ has much more to recommend it. The fascinating commentary track tells the story of the long and troubled production and makes watching the film rather enjoyable. Clearly Tati went a little mad in his pursuit of perfection as he ended up shooting for three years, bankrupting himself, his family and his studio resulting in the French President becoming involved.

The idea was to have his Mr. Magoo like character Mr. Hulot stubble through a machine-like modernist city disrupting it’s ordered inhumane flow. Most directors would have got a location scout to find a suitable office complex to shoot in. But not Tati, he decided to build his own city with its own tarmaced roads, office buildings, working traffic lights, real escalators and even its own power plant along with a population of hundreds of office workers, tourists and pedestrians. The resulting effect is a grey minimalist fantasy world of glass walls, shiny metal design and infuriating electronics. It’s the kind of maniacal vision that is usually only the preserve of perhaps my favourite director Francis Ford Coppola. Tati further ramped up costs by shooting on expensive 70mm stock, which half a century later on Blu-ray translates into a glorious level of detail. Watch ‘Play Time’ to marvel at the sheer ambition… if not for the laughs.

April 8, 2012

The Ipcress File (1965 – Blu-Ray)

“Insubordinate, insolent, a trickster, perhaps with criminal tendencies… yes, that’s a pretty fair appraisal sir”

I’ve got a bit of a blind spot as far as Michael Caine 60’s classics go but I’m gonna put it right starting with 1965’s ‘The Ipcress File’. It’s fantastic and in spy film terms it’s like the missing link between the suave, fun, yet ludicrous Bond fair of the 60’s and Tomas Alfredson’s sober office bound masterpiece ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’.  Director Sidney J. Furie ramps up the tension with odd Wellsian angles or having the camera leer at the characters from voyeuristic vantage points.  This and John Barry’s slinky score and the creepy sound design all combine to disorient the viewer.  Caine is marvellous as the cheeky working class Spy Harry Palmer but Nigel Green as Harry’s stern mustachioed spy-chief is my highlight.  I’m maybe gonna check out the sequels including the outlandish looking Ken Russell helmed third film ‘Billion Dollar Brain’.

March 4, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962 – Blu-Ray)

“Some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us… your father is one of them”

Legendary classic though it is, I’d never seen 1962’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ although it did feel like I had.  Scenes, lines, music, characters and story elements are so ubiquitous in popular culture that I already felt familiar with it through sheer osmosis.  When I saw the new 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray in HMV I had to have it. The Blu-Ray disc comes within a thick hardbound scrap-book full of ephemera related to the film including reproductions of; the shooting schedule, Peck’s own script notes, stamps, storyboards, posters, press clippings and congratulatory even telegrams. It’s one of the most beautifully packaged presentations I’ve seen or owned (‘Apocalypse Now’ is still the best though), the kind of tactile experience that you just don’t get with a download.

Now onto what you get on the disc itself; most impressively you get two feature-length documentaries (So that’s three films for the price of one folks!), a Producer/Director commentary, an assortment of clips and featurettes and best of all (For film-geeks like me anyway) a documentary on the meticulous frame-by-frame restoration of the film undertaken by Universal Studios.  Which brings me onto the staggering image quality which maybe the best preserved black and white film I’ve yet seen on Blu-Ray.  In short, go out and buy it now!

Of course the film itself is incredible too, starting with the gorgeously shot opening credits.  As towering, brave and decent as Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning presence is it’s the naturalistic performances from the children that steal the show.  Director Robert Mulligan’s decision to shoot the film entirely from a child’s-eye perspective is inspired.  This allows us the viewer to intimately see their seemingly idyllic Southern town existence slowly being eroded by the dark underbelly of racism.

Universal have lavished the same Blu-Ray treatment on to a number of other films as part of their Centenary, including 1930’s ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ so I’ve already put that on my shopping list.

February 14, 2012

The Battle Of Algiers (1966 – DVD)

Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer yes, then you must accept all the necessary consequences”

Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ still has a visceral immediacy nearly 50 years later, in part due to it being filmed and released less than 4 years after Algeria gained independence from French colonialists in 1962.  Pontecorvo shot the film based on Resistance leader Saadi Yacef’s memoirs and then actually cast Yacef himself in the film.  ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ is directed and edited in a compelling documentary style leading some distributors at the time to boast “Not one foot of newsreel or documentary film has been used”.  As you watch shocking footage of buildings being bombed, large crowds rioting and tanks rolling down confined streets, you do need to hold on to that thought.

The film chronicles the decent of both sides into nothing more than murder.  But the most shocking scenes concern the slide towards what are sometimes called “Enhanced interrogation techniques”.  The closeup of the broken, tear-stricken face of the unnamed torture victim in the opening scene is one of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen.  The parallels with the recent violent occupation of Iraq are depressingly obvious.  I was also entranced by the incessant heartbeat like drumming and chilling beauty of the musical score.  It was only after the credits rolled that I saw it was by Ennio Morricone, whose music always has a profound effect on me.

Watching this admittedly marvelous looking print on DVD is yet another reason why I’m thinking of getting a region-free Blu-Ray player so I can start importing Criterion Blu-Rays.  I’m sure this would look even better in HD.