In this Blu-ray review round-up, the spotlight is cast on films crafted by esteemed directors, including the likes of Shirley Clarke, Miklós Jancsó, and the legendary Akira Kurosawa.
This collection promises a captivating journey through the diverse realms of cinema, where each director’s unique artistic vision is showcased with unparalleled brilliance.
Shirley Clarke’s cinematic prowess is celebrated alongside the impactful contributions of Miklós Jancsó, providing viewers with a rich tapestry of storytelling and visual innovation.
The inclusion of Akira Kurosawa’s iconic films adds a layer of cinematic mastery, allowing audiences to delve into the profound impact of the legendary Japanese director.
As cinephiles explore this Blu-ray compilation, they are treated to an immersive experience that transcends time and borders, celebrating the enduring legacy of these visionary filmmakers.
The Magic Box: The Films of Shirley Clarke (1929-1987) Milestone Films
Milestone’s dedication to releasing Shirley Clarke’s works on Blu-ray is a significant undertaking in home video projects.
The fourth volume, which assembles experimental shorts, documentaries, home movies, and rare material not seen for decades, almost completes Clarke’s filmography on Blu-ray.
The only notable absence is Frederick Wiseman’s The Cool World (1963), needing a commercial release from Wiseman’s Zipporah Films.
Similar to Clarke’s groundbreaking films like The Connection (1961), Portrait of Jason (1967), and Ornette: Made in America (1985).
Milestone’s fourth volume highlights a filmmaker comfortable straddling different worlds, embracing the elasticity of documentary and filming other artistic disciplines, such as theater and dance, in ways that complement their strengths while remaining cinematic.
The compelling three-disc Blu-ray set commences with Clarke’s experimental work, featuring city-symphony riffs from the ’50s and mind-bending dispatches from the early video era.
Notable pieces include Brussels Loops, a showcase of American architectural beauty, and the avant-garde architecture film Bridges-Go-Round.
The surreal Butterfly, a primal scream against the Vietnam War, is a newly rediscovered gem.
The second disc focuses on Clarke’s first passion: dance, showcasing her early forays into filmmaking and experiments with narrative through dance, as seen in Bullfight and The Rose and the Players.
The final disc, considered bonus material, features silent home video footage and films like Christopher and Me and Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World.
Milestone’s Blu-ray set, a monumental effort in film scholarship and curation, is visually impressive with 1080p and 1.33:1 transfers.
The non-video footage is sourced from various materials and maintains a convincingly film-like quality with solid detail and clarity.
Highlights include vibrant colors in Brussels Loops and the Paris films and excellent grayscale reproduction in Robert Frost, restored by UCLA and the Academy Film Archive.
The set includes a booklet with contextual notes about the films.
Milestone Films / 1929-1987 / Color and black and white / 1.33:1 / 480 min / $119.99
Dreams (1990) The Criterion Collection
Given the abundance of significant works in Akira Kurosawa’s filmography, Dreams might be perceived as a relatively minor one, a common characteristic of anthology films.
Nevertheless, this compilation of eight stories, drawing inspiration from Kurosawa’s dreams and the folk legends of his upbringing, provides a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience.
Especially when viewed on Criterion’s new Blu-ray, the film truly allows the vibrant tableaux to shine in their captivating and colorful glory.
Despite occasional segments delving into clichéd sentiment or explicit polemics, Dreams remains consistently intriguing.
Exploring themes of humanity’s relationship with nature, the ephemeral nature of joy, the solitude inherent in creating art, and the profound capacities for both regret and destruction, Dreams unveils an artist immersed in a contemplative mode.
Rooted in melancholy and occasionally tipping into outright pessimism, the film concludes with Kurosawa finding peace through retrospective reflection.
The film’s early segments possess an otherworldly quality that lends them a particularly dreamlike essence.
In one instance, a young boy named Toshihiko Nakano disobeys his mother to clandestinely observe a fox wedding processional, where the figures emerge from the mist in a deliberate, controlled line.
Another segment features an adolescent boy, Mitsunori Isaki, who mourns the loss of his family’s chopped-down peach tree orchard and encounters dozens of life-size dolls.
In yet another, a man portrayed by Akira Terao, the protagonist in the remaining segments, finds himself almost paralyzed by a blizzard and receives a visit from the mythical Yuki-onna, played by Mieko Harada.
The early vignettes’ dreamlike logic and ethereal atmosphere gradually wane as the film shifts toward overtly political segments.
While still surreal, these sections lack the dreamlike quality. One haunting and heart-wrenching segment involves a soldier’s encounter with a zombie platoon, reflecting a biting perspective on the enduring impact of war.
Additionally, the two stories focus on nuclear war and its aftermath, adopting a comparatively heavy-handed approach.
Notable personalities appear in various other stories, such as Martin Scorsese’s portrayal of Vincent van Gogh, framed alongside Terao’s painter amid brilliant fields of color.
Chishu Ryu, infrequently collaborating with Kurosawa, appears as a voice of serenity in the film’s charming closing segment.
Criterion’s edition of Dreams offers numerous commendable features even for those with a lukewarm reception of the film.
It starts with the 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, derived from a recent 4K restoration. The transfer showcases lush and vibrant colors, particularly the eye-catching reds and yellows.
While adhering to a recent trend, blue colors tend towards the teal side, though not overwhelmingly.
The grain rendering is exquisite, maintaining vital image clarity and sharpness, resulting in an impressively film-like appearance. The 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is both crisp and dynamically rich.
The extras on the disc are substantial, commencing with a newly recorded audio commentary by Stephen Prince, brimming with information.
Prince’s commentary is continuously informative, with pauses only to allow the audience to hear a line of dialogue in the van Gogh sequence.
He delves into Kurosawa’s approach, the film’s indebtedness to Noh and Kabuki theater, the cultural and political climate during its creation, and the film’s significance in Kurosawa’s career.
Additional content on the comprehensive disc includes a 150-minute making-of feature with abundant on-set footage from director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi (in SD).
The 2011 documentary Kurosawa’s Way, where longtime translator Catherine Cadou interviews renowned filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Theo Angelopoulos, Clint Eastwood, and Hayao Miyazaki, discusses Kurosawa’s legacy.
Moreover, new interviews with production manager Teruyo Nogami and assistant director Takashi Koizumi; and a trailer.
The package is completed with a substantial booklet containing an essay by Bilge Ebiri and the script for an unfilmed ninth segment, “A Wonderful Dream.”
The Criterion Collection / 1990 / Color / 1.85:1 / 120 min / $39.95
Electra, My Love (Szerelmem, Elektra, 1974) Second Run
Renowned Hungarian filmmaker Miklós Jancsó, whose extensive work is well-represented by the Second Run label, is acclaimed for his distinctive use of long takes.
This characteristic is particularly evident in Electra, My Love, a reinterpretation of the Greek myth, unfolding through a mere dozen shots across 74 minutes.
This mesmerizing film challenges conventional boundaries, emerging as an interdisciplinary creation that draws heavily from experimental theater and dance alongside its primary cinematic essence.
The film’s captivating camera movements, including swoops and crane shots, underscore its cinematic nature.
Adapting the enduring Electra myth from Greek mythology, Jancsó remains faithful to fundamental details, portraying Electra (Mari Törőcsik), daughter of the deposed and murdered king Agamemnon, subjected to harassment by usurper Aegisthus (József Madaras).
The arrival of her seemingly deceased brother Orestes (György Cserhalmi) introduces a potential for revolution.
Jancsó’s fluid storytelling takes a pointedly political and anachronistic turn, reshaping the familiar narrative from a broader perspective, downplaying narrative coherence and personal identification with characters.
Utilizing hundreds of extras in meticulously choreographed movements, Jancsó employs masses of humans to portray the impact of oppression on a population.
Set entirely outdoors in the Hungarian steppe, Electra, My Love features striking frames with often nude bodies arranged in various intriguing configurations.
Jancsó’s camera maneuvers through these scenes, each long take serving as a remarkable feat of cinematic architecture. Experiencing these images results in 74 minutes of cinematic ecstasy.
Presented by Second Run in a 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer sourced from the Hungarian Digital Archive and Film Institute’s new 2K restoration, Electra, My Love boasts a clean image with stable albeit slightly muted colors.
While fine detail is not exceptional due to persistent softness, the quality surpasses previous home video versions. The 1.0 uncompressed mono soundtrack effectively handles the post-dubbed sound.
The sole on-disc extra is a new interview with cinematographer János Kende, a collaborator on several of Jancsó’s films, discussing their working experience, the process of shooting long takes, and Jancsó’s legacy.
The included booklet contains an essay by Peter Hames.
Second Run / 1974 / Color / 1.66:1 / 74 min / £19.99
Children of Divorce (1927) Flicker Alley
Crisscrossing love lives of the wealthy and beautiful are on display in Children of Divorce, almost a perfectly pure confection of silent-film melodrama starring Clara Bow at the height of her powers.
Made directly after It (1927), which features Bow’s signature role as an irresistible flapper girl, Children of Divorce is a near-shameless combination of sex appeal and lifestyle porn, hung on an impressively overwrought framework that doesn’t just tug the heartstrings; it threatens to siphon the tears out of your eyes itself.
Lest that sound like a pan, let’s be clear: Children of Divorce is an utter delight.
Especially if you enjoy ogling the preternaturally attractive visages of Bow and a young Gary Cooper, which come through in stunning clarity in Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray release.
Only the second Bow film to get a US Blu-ray (the other being Wings), this disc makes it incontrovertibly clear that Bow knew precisely how to deploy her impish charm for maximum appeal.
Directed by Frank Lloyd, with uncredited reshoots by Josef von Sternberg, Children of Divorce amps up the emotion with a frame story about American children sent to live in a Paris “divorce colony,”.
A sort of orphanage/summer camp hybrid that allowed newly single parents to go live it up for a while.
Adorable moppets with quivering lips make up at least five percent of this film, and Joyce Coad, who played Pearl in Victor Sjöström’s The Scarlet Letter stars as the younger version of Bow’s character.
It looks like she’s trying to crush your heart between her tiny fingers as the camera holds steady on her face.
Flash forward, and Kitty Flanders (Bow), wealthy heiress and best friend Jean Waddington (Esther Ralston), and wealthy playboy Teddy Larrabee (Cooper) reunite for the first time as a trio since they were kids.
Jean and Teddy have a residual mutual attraction that starts to regain steam. Still, Kitty, egged on by her serially married mom (Hedda Hopper in a brief cameo), is determined to make Teddy her first husband.
The film veers quickly from an animated comedy of flirtation to heart-rending drama as Kitty’s selfish choices have a ripple effect through the years.
On hand to assist the heart-rending: toddler cutie Mary Louise Miller, who played the baby in Mary Pickford’s Sparrows, as Kitty’s daughter.
Because of its short length and Bow’s ineffable screen appeal, the film never crumbles beneath its piled-on emotions. In the von Sternberg-shot ending, it becomes immensely moving.
Sourced from Paramount’s 4K scan of a Library of Congress restoration, the 1080p, 1.33:1 transfer on Flicker Alley’s disc is solid, especially considering the problematic history of poorly preserved source elements.
Image clarity and high levels of fine detail are pronounced immediately, with damage largely relegated to fine scratches that don’t overwhelm the image.
There are softer moments later in the film, and an insert shot of a written letter displays extreme nitrate decomposition — a clue to how badly the film was preserved — but all in all, the film looks great.
A newly recorded Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra score is presented in LPCM 2.0 stereo and sounds fantastic.
The significant extra in Flicker Alley’s package is the 1999 TCM documentary on Bow’s tumultuous personal and professional life, which provides an excellent overview in an hour.
Despite the legion of online complaints, Courtney Love’s narration is fine.
The doc is presented in standard def. Also included is a booklet with an excerpt from David Stenn’s biography (which is not kind to Children of Divorce) and notes on the restoration, score, and the TCM doc.
A DVD copy is also included in this combo pack.
Flicker Alley / 1927 / Black and white / 1.33:1 / 71 min / $39.95
Private Property (1960) Cinelicious Pics
Private Property exudes suburban unease in this recently recovered film by director Leslie Stevens, a slow-burn anti-thriller where underlying nastiness simmers beneath the surface.
Rediscovered and restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the film is notable as Warren Oates’ first starring role, portraying a timid character far removed from the bold or subdued antiheroes he later embodied in iconic ’70s American films.
Corey Allen takes on the role of Duke, a manic drifter accompanied by Oates’ Boots, searching for lodging in Los Angeles and female companionship for Boots.
They swiftly escalate to stalking the alluring Ann Carlyle (Kate Manx), sharing a Hollywood Hills home with her frequently absent executive husband.
After squatting in a neighboring vacant house, Duke infiltrates Ann’s life under the guise of a handyman, leaving Boots as a helpless observer.
Both characters are relentless voyeurs, but only one possesses agency.
Allen’s veneer of charm thinly veils his menacing performance, enticing Ann.
At the same time, Manx delivers a poignant portrayal of longing, both sexually and emotionally, constrained by societal norms and the confines of her home.
Private Property, while not a groundbreaking rediscovery, offers an acrid depiction of domestic horrors.
Cinelicious’ 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer, sourced from UCLA’s 4K restoration, is visually stunning, presenting a detailed, sharp image with well-resolved grain.
Despite the film’s noirish elements and dark scenes, shadow detail remains robust, and damage is minimal. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack is clear and defect-free.
Supplementary features include a newly filmed interview with set photographer Alexander Singer, known for his extensive career directing television and films after starting on the sets of early Stanley Kubrick films.
His insights provide a valuable addition. Film notes from historian Don Malcolm are included in the insert, along with a DVD copy in the combo pack.
Cinelicious Pics / 1960 / Black and white / 1.66:1 / 79 min / $34.99
Man Facing Southeast (Hombre mirando al sudeste, 1986) Kino Lorber
Eliseo Subiela’s Man Facing Southeast, an understated Argentinian science fiction film with a niche cult following, may not be a Blu-ray upgrade high on many wish lists.
However, Kino’s release is a welcome addition, especially considering the film’s lack of a Region 1 DVD.
The plot, reminiscent of K-PAX, revolves around two men whose lives become intertwined.
Dr. Julio Denis (Lorenzo Quinteros), a respected psychiatrist, encounters Rantés (Hugo Soto), a mysterious man claiming to be a messenger from another planet sent to save humanity.
Rantés’ solemn performance and the film’s quiet exploration of his claims take precedence over exploiting dramatic elements, focusing on philosophical conversations and observing his peculiar behavior.
Despite Rantés’ proclamations, his actions for the betterment of humanity, such as psychokinetically moving food in a diner, lead to risible scenes.
The film’s enigmas, including Rantés’ relationship with Beatriz (Inés Vernengo), lack compelling depth, making it a less visually and narratively experimental version of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Kino’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, while an improvement over VHS copies, has issues, including pronounced telecine wobble and significant color density fluctuations in one chapter, turning the image into a messy blob.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track features intermittent hiss and a high-pitched background tone.
The disc includes three substantial interviews with Subiela, Soto, and DP Ricardo De Angelis.
The interviews with Soto and De Angelis appear to be newly produced. The extras also feature a booklet with a brief director’s statement and an essay by historian Nancy J. Membrez.
Kino Lorber / 1986 / Color / 1.85:1 / 108 min / $34.95