April 2, 2012
“It’s a great thing to have a lady aboard with clean habits. It sets the man a good example. A man alone, he gets to living like a hog”
Next in my run through of Bogey classics is 1951’s ‘The African Queen’ which sits in the AFI’s top hundred films of all time. It’s kinda like an anti ‘Apocalypse Now’, in this sweet tale two lonely souls fall in love as they traverse the dangers of a Jungle river, where as in the similarly Jungle river bound ‘Apocalypse Now’ the characters just go insane and start chopping of people’s heads! So a tip for tourists; African river trip = romance / Cambodian river trip = plunge into nether regions of hell.
Unusually for the period, half of the film was shot on location in African and it was really worth the poisonous water, hornet attacks, illness and plagues of soldier ants that beset the crew. As the Jungle scenery is gorgeously shot by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who gives the film a lushly colourful, painterly quality. Humphrey Bogart’s performance as curmudgeonly riverboat Captain Charlie Allnut rightly won him the Oscar but Katharine Hepburn should’ve also received a gong for her portrayal of closeted Missionary Rose Sayer. The Blu-Ray transfer is awe-inspiring and ranks alongside ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’ as the best presentations I’ve seen on the format. You can almost reach out and touch the African foliage, bare the searing heat and feel the bristles of Bogey’s stubble.
March 4, 2012
“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 19, 2012
“That is no arrow… we just imagine the arrows because we fear them”
1972’s ‘Aguirre, The Wrath Of God’ is the fictionalised story of the Spanish Conquistador expedition deep into the Amazon to find the legendary city of El Dorado. Klaus Kinski plays the title role Aguirre who instigates a mutiny and is ultimately driven insane by the oppressive darkness of the Jungle.
I was expecting great things from ‘Aguirre, The Wrath Of God’ for a number of reasons. Namely, I’ve recently watched a fascinating documentary chronicling its turbulent production, people often cite it as one of the greatest films ever, it’s the primary influence on one of my favourite films ‘Apocalypse Now’ and I’ve loved everything else by the director Werner Herzog. So I was surprised to find the film slow-paced, unengaging and actually aching boring. Klaus Kinski’s deranged performance is electric but it felt like he was only in it for about 15 mins and he’s the title character! Most of the running time consisted of obviously first-time actors sitting in silence looking bored. Portraying a descent in to madness is hampered by the fact that Kinski looks insane from the outset (The same problem that Jack Nicholson has in ‘The Shining’). I am reserving some judgement as the DVD I watched was an appallingly bad transfer bringing back memories of VHS quality! When the film is given a proper Blu-Ray based restoration I will definitely give it another go.