Tag Archives: Ken Russell

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Blu-ray Review Round-up: Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ken Russell, Robert Altman and more!

WomenWomen in Love (1969)
The Criterion Collection 

Sex and death are an inextricable pair in Ken Russell’s film version of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, adapted by Larry Kramer. The imagery is striking but not subtle: Glenda Jackson reclining on a gravestone while discussing the merits of marriage, or two drowned lovers, entwined together and caked with river mud, their bodies melded like an ancient, discarded statue. But who wants subtlety? Russell, after a few minor entries, directing the first of many masterpieces, injects the film with sensual energy, the spryness of his camerawork working in concert with the physicality of his actors.

And what a cast. Jackson, who won her first Oscar for the role, exudes both free-spirited sanguinity and serious-minded practicality, her enigmatic outlook leavened by her sister’s (Jennie Linden) more straightforward approach. They fall in love with a pair of best friends (Oliver Reed, Alan Bates), whose own relationship is underpinned by significant homoerotic tones. (Again, not subtly; there’s an extended nude wrestling scene.) Everyone wants to fuck in Women in Love, but they also want emotional fulfillment and deep, lasting commitment — but not necessarily in the same way their companions want it, to sometimes tragic ends. Maybe it’s not sex that death is so closely linked to here.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.75:1 Blu-ray transfer, sourced from a new 4K restoration, is glorious. The verdant English countryside, dank underground mines and snow-covered peaks are rendered in exceptional detail in a deeply film-like transfer. Extras are a thorough combination of archival and new material, including audio commentaries from Russell and Kramer, Russell’s 1989 self-biopic, 1972 D.H. Lawrence short-film adaptation Second Best and interviews with Russell, Jackson, Linden, Bates, Kramer, alongside newly shot ones with cinematographer Billy Williams and editor Michael Bradsell. A trailer and an insert with an essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams are also included.

Criterion Collection / 1969 / Color / 1.75:1 / 131 min / $39.95

DaughterDaughter of the Nile (1987)
Cohen Media Group

Not many filmmakers evoke the hazy romanticism of memory of like Hou Hsiao-hsien, one of the most criminally underrepresented contemporary filmmakers on home video. Besides his most recent film, The AssassinDaughter of the Nile is the first Hou Blu-ray release in the US, and it one-ups the UK Masters of Cinema release with a slightly more robust slate of extras.

Though much of the milieu is a burgeoning crime underworld in Taipei, Daughter of the Nile skirts around the edges of gangster-film plotting, its screenplay by Chu T’ien-Wen based on personal experience and its most striking imagery reflecting impressions of urban life (neon-soaked streets, a massive KFC) and domestic life (recurring interior framings reinforce the familiarity of home).

Lin (Lin Hsiao-yang) finds purpose in caring for her family, including her increasingly reckless brother, but she finds herself drifting further and further into a fantasy life, facilitated by a manga series the title of the film refers to. The film itself straddles that line between reality and dreams, chronicling melancholy but mundane everyday living, but also hinting at something more nebulous and mysterious. An actual dream sequence threatens to upend the equilibrium Lin has developed between the disparate parts of her life. The realization that it’s only a dream may be only a small comfort; dreams have a lot of weight in this world.

Cohen’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, sourced from the same 4K restoration as the MoC disc, is exceptional, offering a clear, sharp image that turns ecstatic whenever Hou pivots from naturalistic colors to the almost-unreality of Taipei’s neon. The uncompressed mono audio does have some unpleasant distortion that comes and goes, but is overall fine. An extensive Tony Rayns interview is duplicated from the MoC disc, while an audio commentary from scholar Richard Suchenski is new to this edition.

Cohen Media Group / 1987 / Color / 1.85:1 / 91 min / $30.99

SilenceSilence and Cry (1968)
Second Run

The high-definition upgrades of Miklós Jancsó’s films continue from Second Run, this time with earlier work Silence and Cry (Csend és kiáltás), a slow-burn drama about the poisoning effect of fascism on everyday lives. Consisting mostly of the long takes Jancsó was known for, the film punctuates stretches of uneasiness with sudden acts of horror, like an early murder, carried out perfunctorily. The matter-of-factness only deepens the chilling effect.

A former Communist soldier is trying to avoid that same fate, so he hides out from the Hungarian nationalists on a quiet farm. But this is hardly a refuge, as the farm owner has already drawn the attention of the casually cruel gendarmes, who force him to stand out in a field every day as punishment.

There’s a distancing effect to Jancsó’s approach, with the camerawork consistently more expressive than the performances, which feel boiled down to only the most elemental gestures. The overwhelming feeling here is not one of paranoia, but of resignation to an eventual terrible fate. As always, the virtuosity of Jancsó’s fluid camera movements makes this mostly riveting viewing.

Second Run’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, sourced from a new HD remaster, is excellent, offering healthy levels of fine detail, beautiful grayscale separation and a mostly clean image, with only minor flecks here and there. There’s a clarity to the long shots here that’s essential to enjoying the film. Who wants to puzzle over a fuzzy speck in the distance? Extras are also worthwhile: A trilogy of Jancsó shorts (Presence I, II and III) are included in HD, along with a booklet essay from Tony Rayns, as perceptive about Hungarian cinema as he is about Asian filmmaking.

Second Run / 1968 / Black and white / 2.35:1 / 77 min / £19.99

OldestThe Oldest Profession (1967)
Kino Lorber

Like most Euro-anthologies, The Oldest Profession offers a highly variable collection of shorts, with the duds dragging down the experience enough that you find yourself wishing you were watching one of the better ideas expanded to a feature.

Consisting of takes on prostitution through the ages, most of these films rely heavily on gender stereotypes and corny humor. Mostly all of it is way too toothless to even approach offensiveness. Three of the shorts come from filmmakers whose most notable credits are in other omnibus films (Franco Indovina, Mauro Bognini, Michael Pfleghar), and maybe it’s not a coincidence that these are the weakest three, with Indovina’s prehistoric tale of men being fooled by makeup and Bolognini’s rather chaste idea of the Roman empire serving as two wrong steps right off the bat. Pfleghar at least has a charming Raquel Welch in his film about a prostitute mistaken for a socialite.

Philippe De Broca’s French Revolution tale would be more fun if it didn’t turn Jeanne Moreau’s character into an utter fool, though it’s idea is novel enough. Claude Autant-Lara’s “Paris Today” is the most obvious candidate for full-length treatment, as its story about two women using an ambulance to hide their prostitution business only starts getting ramped up before the film ends. Given that he’s easily the best filmmaker here, it’s no surprise that Jean-Luc Godard’s “Anticipation” is the film’s standout, even though it feels totally tossed off. For fans of Alphaville, it’s fun to see Godard working again in sci-fi mode, as Jacques Charrier attempts to understand love in a dystopian future, with the help (or maybe not so much) of Marilù Tolo and Anna Karina.

The Kino Blu-ray features a 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer that’s quite clean, detailed and stable, though some shots exhibit that teal-ish pallor that seems to afflict a number of recent Gaumont restorations. This is hardly the most overwhelming example though. Extras include the shorter English dub of the film and a trailer.

Kino Lorber / 1967 / Color and black and white / 1.66:1 / 115 min / $29.95

ImagesImages (1972)
Arrow Video

Though there are numerous films that might be cited as counterexamples, I think Robert Altman always brings something interesting to the table. And even if you want to outright dismiss, I don’t know, Dr. T and the Women (I like it), it’s harder to dispute the relevance of his 1970s output, which is jam-packed with masterpieces and endearing oddities.

Images, rescued by Arrow Video after the MGM DVD spent a long stretch in OOP-land, is probably more the latter, though it’s compelling enough I wouldn’t scoff at an assertion of the former.

While Altman would more thoroughly evoke an atmosphere of mental instability with 3 Women, Images is kind of a looser — much looser — take. There’s not a scene that can be definitively labeled as reality or hallucination, which ultimately works to blunt the film’s impact, but should we really be complaining about a great Susannah York performance, filmed by Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in full-on roving camera excess mode?

York stars as a children’s book author whose shaky grasp on reality becomes shakier when she learns that her husband (Rene Auberjonois) is cheating on her. Or is he? A retreat to a cottage in Ireland should be just the thing to patch this all up, right?

Arrow’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, sourced from a 4K restoration, includes some dupe shots, and the drop-off in quality can be noticeable, particularly in a film that tends toward the grainy side. But for the most part, this is an excellent transfer, with well-resolved grain and solid clarity despite the film’s intentionally hazy look. Extras include a new commentary track by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger along with an archival Altman selected-scene commentary. A making-of from the previous DVD release, an interview with supporting actress Cathryn Harrison and an appreciation by Stephen Thrower are also included.

Arrow Video / 1972 / Color / 2.35:1 / 104 min / $39.95

BaalBaal (1970) 
The Criterion Collection

Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s first play, largely unseen for decades since its release, isn’t exactly a diamond in the rough. It’s more like rough on top of rough. Abrasive, disjointed and shot in a variety of locations that seem to be competing amongst each other for an ugliness trophy, Schlöndorff’s 16mm primal scream isn’t Brechtian in the traditional sense, but it has its own aesthetic distancing effects that are a good fit with the material.

Just as his directing career was getting started, Rainer Werner Fassbinder stars as the titular poet, a monstrously egotistic artist who flouts polite society before they can reject him, bedding every woman he can along the way. Fassbinder is perfectly cast as the freewheeling degenerate — he has the right amount of grimy charm to earn both the loving and loathing he receives in his crusade against bourgeois society. (Which again, mostly involves copious amounts of drinking, sex and leaving the broken husks of the people he encounters in his wake.)

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer, sourced from a 2K restoration, isn’t as rough as Baal, but it’s close, with some ragged and/or Vaseline-smeared edges and some instances of dirt and debris that haven’t been cleaned up. Much of this is keeping with the aesthetic goals of the film, and the underlying image shows off some of the detail and depth one would expect from a 16mm-sourced image. Extras include two interviews with Schlöndorff, a newly filmed interview with co-star (and Schlöndorff’s collaborator and ex-wife) Margarethe von Trotta, an interview with historian Eric Rentschler and a conversation between Ethan Hawke and playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, who recently collaborated on a Baal adaptation. Dennis Lim contributes an insert essay.

Criterion Collection / 1970 / Color / 1.37:1 / 84 min / $39.95

 

 

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based writer and editor who splits his critical ambitions between writing Blu-ray & DVD reviews and theater criticism. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.

Dusty Featured

Blu-ray and DVD Review: Films by Alain Resnais, Jia Zhangke, Ken Russell & more!

MurielMuriel, or The Time of Return (1963)
Criterion Collection

The third feature film from Alain Resnais often feels like a continuation of the concerns of his previous two (1959’s Hiroshima mon amour and 1961’sLast Year at Marienbad), dealing with the oppressive and disorienting power of memory. Though the ambiguous elisions of Marienbad are legendary, Muriel is the more challenging (and rewarding) film, despite a narrative that’s ostensibly far more straightforward.

Resnais again employs the talents of Delphine Seyrig, who acts as an emotional anchor in a film that deliberately alienates over and over again. Seyrig stars as Hélène, a widow who’s paid a visit by Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kerien), her lover more than 20 years ago. Alphonse is accompanied by a woman he calls his niece, Françoise (Nita Klein), while Hélène lives with her stepson Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée), who she doesn’t see much after his return from fighting in the Algerian War.

An antique dealer whose showroom is her apartment, Hélène lives among countless objects that aren’t really her own, and the state of her living quarters seems to represent her own mind, cluttered with detritus from other eras. In Resnais’ audacious opening, he prepares us to be challenged, rapidly cutting between many of the objects in a dizzying barrage that spatially disorients while giving us some sense of Hélène’s state of mind.

From that point on, the film’s editing isn’t as obviously aggressive, but after lulling us somewhat with a measured dinner scene with the four principals, the film suddenly slips into a much more elusive form, darting from scene to scene in an order that seems chronological, but with events that feel completely disconnected. (The script by Jean Cayrol specifies the film’s events take place over a two-week period, but the film doesn’t obviously let on to that.)

Muriel is a film that necessitates multiple viewings — not so much to comprehend, as to appreciate the nuances Resnais brings to his depiction of the crushing effect of suddenly dredged-up memories. It doesn’t take multiple viewings to feel the weight of the film’s title, and its central, most horrific memory, when we discover that Muriel isn’t one of Bernard’s girlfriends, but his connection to the trauma of war. Here, a trauma that one perpetrates has a stinging clarity that a trauma one merely experienced does not.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release presents Muriel in a 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer that markedly improves over the Masters of Cinema DVD release in terms of clarity and detail. There has been some grumbling online about the color timing, and there is a slightly sickly, greenish-tealish-yellowish tinge to the image. How far this diverts from the original color timing, I can’t say; at this point, the clear upgrade in image quality makes this the best home video option available, color issues notwithstanding. The uncompressed mono soundtrack is fairly flat, but doesn’t exhibit any prominent noise issues.

The supplements here are mostly of the archival variety. There are three brief excerpts: Pieces of a 1980 TV documentary on Resnais with contributions from Cayrol, a 1969 TV interview with Seyrig, where she contrasts her characters in Marienbad and Muriel, and a 1963 TV interview with composer Hans Werner Henze, who explains why Resnais helped him feel comfortable composing for film. Newly recorded, and more substantial, is an interview with scholar François Thomas, who discusses the film’s themes and the cultural environment in which it was released. Perhaps most essential is the insert essay by scholar James Quandt, whose efficient yet dense unpacking of a number of the film’s ideas is superb.

Criterion Collection / 1963 / Color / 1.66:1 / 116 min / $39.95

MountainsMountains May Depart (2016)
Kino Lorber

The great Jia Zhangke continues to chronicle the state of contemporary China, and in his latest feature, Mountains May Depart, he does so by looking both backward and forward. A time-hopping triptych that chronicles the breakdown of a family, Mountains May Depart is a moving melodrama that occasionally feels strained as it seeks to correlate the intensely personal with a larger societal malaise.

Jia’s bewitching images, in which the extraordinary can suddenly overtake the mundane, and a richly interior performance from wife and longtime collaborator Zhao Tao help to overcome any feelings that the film’s observations about capitalism are too on-the-nose.

As the film progresses, slick materialism becomes more ubiquitous and more alienating, and the film’s color scheme shifts into cooler and paler tones. The aspect ratios get wider too; Jia uses 1.33:1 for the segment in 1999, 1.85:1 for 2014 and 2.35:1 for 2025.

Mountains May Depart isn’t exactly a paean to the past, but there’s an unmistakable sense of nostalgia that blankets the first segment, if only in the luxuriousness of the imagery. Interspersed with documentary footage Jia shot during roughly the same timeframe, the opening act details a love triangle between Shen Tao (Zhao) and her two suitors, coal miner Liangzi (Liang Jing Dong) and the wealthy, callous industrialist Zhang (Zhang Yi).

Shen Tao cares deeply for Liangzi, but she also longs for change (a New Year’s dance to the Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West” reinforcing her yearning) and understands that Zhang offers a much better chance at it. Zhang, who could nearly twirl his mustache despite being clean-shaven, is not a subtly written or performed character, but Zhao’s conflicted performance makes her choices believable. Throughout the film, Zhao’s performance is situated on heartbreak, whether she’s currently experiencing it or merely anticipating it.

As time progresses, the film shifts its attention to Shen Tao’s son, whose anglicized moniker is the not-so-understated Dollar (Dong Zijian), and the film’s final sequence suffers for the relative absence of Zhao. Fortunately, the wonderful Sylvia Chang appears as Dollar’s college professor, and later, his unlikely companion as he faces disillusionment with school and his distant relationships with his parents. Set in a gleaming, sterile Melbourne, this final segment is the least emotionally acute, but the most effective at communicating Jia’s apprehension about unrelenting modernization.

Kino’s Mountains May Depart Blu-ray offers a largely excellent transfer, though the 1.33:1 segment is slightly pictureboxed. Jia’s archival footage, blocky and flat, is readily apparent, but the rest of the film is crisp and detailed, with particularly vibrant colors in the first segment. A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is mostly subdued, but shows off some dynamic range during a few key moments. Optional English subtitles accompany the first two segments’ Mandarin, but not the largely English dialogue in the final part.

Extras include a lengthy and somewhat dry, but informative Q&A with Jia at the New York Film Festival moderated by Dennis Lim, a trailer and a booklet with an essay by programmer and critic Aliza Ma, who offers a helpful synopsis of Jia’s career and the way his early work dovetails with his recent output.

Kino Lorber / 2016 / Color / 1.33:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 / 126 min / $34.95

StuffStuff and Dough (2001)
Second Run

Though his cachet among cinephiles in the US might be slightly less than Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) or Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective), Cristi Puiu is still a major figure in the Romanian New Wave, and he beat both of them to the feature-film punch, releasing Stuff and Dough in 2001. Considered by some to be the first major entry in Romania’s then-fledgling movement, the film is now getting some wider exposure thanks to Second Run, whose DVD release represents the first time Stuff and Dough has been available on English-friendly home video.

Stuff and Dough is not an outlier when it comes to much of modern Romanian film. Its narrative is spare, its camerawork straightforward and its tone is dryly, darkly comic before veering into nervy, if low-key, suspense mode. It’s a road movie that takes the road seriously; the majority of the running time is spent with three characters in a van, trekking to Bucharest from their small town on a trip that seems deadly dull.

It’s not, of course; the boredom is sharply punctuated by flurries of violence as it becomes clear the trio is being pursued by some nasty characters. This might come as a shock to them, but it’s deeply expected for the audience, who’s witnessed the none-too-bright Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol) agree to transport “medical supplies” for the almost comically shady Ivanov (Razvan Vasilescu) at the beginning of the film.

Ovidiu would like to get out from underneath his parents’ roof, and the money from Ivanov would go a long way toward that goal, but he’s not exactly the most ambitious guy. Puiu’s best scene is an early one in which Ivanov grills Ovidiu about the planned trip, the steps he will take and even his bathroom habits, but no matter how stern Ivanov’s commands get, Ovidiu remains blissfully disconnected from the conversation.

That humor doesn’t really carry over, and the story doesn’t get sketched out much beyond the opening act, so there are few surprises on the drive, though it stays engaging thanks to the naturalistic performances from Papadopol and Dragos Bucur and Ioana Flora as Ovidiu’s friend Vali and Vali’s girlfriend Bety. The film’s ultimate observations about aimless youth scraping by in a depressed economy aren’t earth-shattering, but the film does resonate as a truthful portrait of a particular point in the country’s history.

Second Run’s DVD features a sharp new high-def transfer, approved by Puiu, in 1.85:1. Extras include his 2004 short Cigarettes and Coffee, a seemingly low-stakes naturalistic two-hander that won the Berlin Film Festival’s Best Short award, and a newly filmed interview with Puiu, who discusses his entry into the world of cinema and some of his influences. A booklet with an essay by critic Carmen Gray is also included.

Second Run / 2001 / Color / 1.85:1 / 90 min / £12.99

CrimesCrimes of Passion (1984)
Arrow Video

For many filmmakers, the garish, sleazy and unhinged Crimes of Passion could be the kind of baffling cult item that forever sticks out in their filmography. For Ken Russell, it’s just another movie.

The brilliant British director continually pushed his films to the limits of good taste and beyond, so there’s nothing particularly shocking about the film’s luridness, even if it’s notably more explicit than his string of outrageous period pieces in the 1970s. Barry Sandler’s script whiplashes from campy sex crime thriller to leaden suburban satire, but Russell’s steady directorial hand balances the tonal jackknifing. There’s no question that the film’s domestic subplot compares poorly to the film’s main thrust, but Russell credibly ties it all together.

The second Hollywood film Russell made after the contentious Altered States (1980), Crimes of Passion stars then-megastar Kathleen Turner as China Blue, a prostitute with a flair for the theatrical who lives a double life as a prominent fashion designer by day. In the film’s opening scene, China Blue’s encounter with a john is filmed as if she’s performing for the film’s viewers, her boudoir an invisible proscenium, and that performative, exaggerated style continues throughout her fascinating, completely exposed turn.

Compared to Turner, no one is going to really match up, though Anthony Perkins’ nitrate-sniffing, sexually frenzied priest — like a less religious Hazel Motes — certainly comes close. Less up to the task is John Laughlin as Bobby Grady, a milquetoast stuck in a sexless marriage who becomes tangled up in China Blue’s world of fantasy when he’s hired to tail her real-world alter ego.

The film tends to grind to a halt whenever Bobby and his wife Amy (Annie Potts) are onscreen, the script’s obvious broadsides against the emptiness of middle-class values not livened by their whiny performances. (A more potent barb is the music video the couple watches on TV of Rick Wakeman’s “It’s a Lovely Life,” the lyrics not so much sung as shrieked by Maggie Bell.)

Arrow Video’s excellent Blu-ray release presents the film in a 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer sourced from a new 2K restoration. Both the uncut theatrical release and a slightly extended director’s cut are included; the extended cut features additional scenes from a lesser source, though the quality drop-off is less drastic than expected. Arrow’s transfer is a knockout, perfectly showcasing the film’s electric blues and pinks and displaying exceptional clarity, sharpness and damage clean-up. Audio is a reasonably dynamic uncompressed mono track.

On-disc extras include newly filmed interviews with screenwriter Sandler and composer Wakeman, both of whom enthusiastically recount their participation, along with an archival commentary track with Russell and Sandler, 20 minutes of rough-looking deleted and extended scenes with optional Sandler commentary, an MTV music video of “It’s a Lovely Life” and the theatrical trailer.

Arrow Video / 1984 / Color / 1.85:1 / 107 min / $39.95

CemeteryCemetery of Splendor (2016)
Strand Releasing

In the latest film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the characters are stuck between the past and the present, between sleeping and waking and between a higher plane and one stubbornly still of this mortal coil. So no, it’s not a major departure for the Thai filmmaker, but it’s still a welcome return from Joe, who hadn’t released a proper feature since 2010’s hallucinatory Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. (The hour-long doodle Mekong Hotel [2012] doesn’t quite count, though it’s a welcome bonus feature on Strand’s well-appointed Blu-ray.)

Cemetery of Splendor rarely shifts out of that gently dreamlike mode that Weerasethakul has perfected, ambling through patient shots of his hometown Khon Kaen and its many green spaces, canopies of trees stretching out across the frame.

There’s a thin membrane here between the real and the extra-real, as is quickly discovered by Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner) when she goes to tend to soldiers afflicted with a mysterious sleeping sickness. Set up in hospital beds in the building that used to be Jen’s school as a child, the seemingly comatose soldiers are being treated with color therapy. The film’s first scene showing tubes of colored light being activated is the closest Weerasethakul gets to dramatically flipping the switch between worlds, the greenery and natural light of the village being suddenly shut out and replaced with glowing, otherworldly cylinders.

Most of the transitions are more casual; Jen watches over Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), who occasionally wakes from his dead-to-the-world sleep with little fuss. Jen learns more about the soldiers’ condition from Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), who claims to be a medium, and a pair of goddesses who’ve shed their heavenly accouterments. It becomes apparent that the school turned hospital is built on an ancient burial ground; time has somehow compressed and associated the soldiers’ fates with that of long-passed kings.

Naturally, Cemetery of Splendor is a beguiling film, but one of its chief pleasures is the way its characters embrace simple delights. The film’s trappings are heady, but its pleasures feel earthly, whether it’s the straightforward humor of a dick joke (sleeping sickness doesn’t prevent erections, apparently) or the way Jen justifies her love for fried bananas or Itt savors a meal from a market food stand.

Strand Releasing doesn’t put out very many of its releases on Blu-ray, but when it does, it tends to do it right. Cemetery of Splendor is granted a luminous 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer that nicely renders the film’s naturalistic color palette. Images are detailed and crisp, with no apparent digital tampering issues to speak of. The 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack is subtly immersive, and cleanly presents dialogue and music.

Extras include the aforementioned Mekong Hotel in 1080p, a making-of featurette with interviews with Weerasethakul and Widner, a handful of deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Strand Releasing / 2016 / Color / 1.78:1 / 122 min / $32.99

 

 

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based writer and editor who splits his critical ambitions between writing Blu-ray & DVD reviews and theater criticism. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.

 

Ken Russell, 2005

Ken Russell: Two Visits

Making odd or even wrong choices in life, as in art, becomes an aesthetic. – R.B. Kitaj

One makes room in Heaven for all sorts of souls … who are not confidently expected to be there by many excellent people – Stephen Crane

Ken Russell, 2005

Ken Russell, 2005

Los Angeles, May 1995 – Dinner tonight with Ken Russell at Mexico City restaurant in Los Feliz, around the corner from home. Chatted genially about his recent projects:  the unbelievably dire Yuri Geller TV biopic Mindbender (not one of Ken’s favorites, sucked into it because of an old connection from Robert Stigwood and Tommy days); plus his upcoming version of Treasure Island, to be shot with a camcorder and starring his new wife Hetty Baynes as Long Jane Silver. Wandered onto various topics:  Old Master paintings sunk on the Lusitania (apparently works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and Monet went down with the ship) the great civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the Great Eastern and the Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge in Bristol … the explosion of tourists in the Lake District which ironically he helped to popularize in The Devils, Women In Love and Tommy. Talked about a project he’s trying to set up with The South Bank Show on the English composer Albert Ketèlbey (1875 – 1959), whose works were tremendously popular in Ken’s youth in the 1930s and 1940s, especially Oriental-themed mini-epics like “In A Persian Market” and “In A Monastery Garden” and the local favorite “ ‘Appy ‘Amstead.”

On the way back to Ken’s hotel we raced through Hollywood in my beat-up Triumph Spitfire with the top down and Ken’s white hair whipping in the night air. He suddenly burst into song, warbling the vocal chorus to “In A Persian Market” at the top of his lungs, for his own delight. God knows what people on the street thought of this mad Englishman, madly chanting “baksheesh … baksheesh!!”  Truly this is why I love Ken.

In the Desert, even more than upon the ocean, there is present death:  hardship is there, and piracies, and shipwreck, solitary, not in crowds, where, as the Persians say, ‘Death is a festival’; — and this sense of danger, never absent, invests the scene of travel with an interest not its own.

The sons of Great Britain are model barbarians – Sir Richard Francis Burton

South Downs, England, May 1995 – Climbed to the top of Chanctonbury Ring this morning; I’m in nearby Findon for the wedding of my high school friend Vincent to his English sweetheart Fiona. Chanctonbury and nearby Cissbury Rings are remains of Iron Age hilltop fortresses:  both command overpowering views of the rolling West Sussex countryside, although Cissbury is slightly more spectacular because of its sheer size, enclosing nearly 65 acres. I tore my pants unnecessarily climbing over a barbed wire fence to get inside Cissbury, without realizing there was an access gate just around the curve of the hill. The massive size of the double ramparts at the top had me confused into thinking they were natural earthenworks, not man made. I spent most of my walk searching for “Roman era ruins” that I’d heard were near the Ring. Finally bumped into a local redheaded girl having a smoke and exercising her large dogs and asked her where the ruins were. “You’re standing on them,” she replied and then trotted off with her hounds, leaving me to my Yankee stupidity. Chanctonbury is accessible only by a brutally steep climb through the wood:  the area inside the ramparts is now off-limits and overgrown, although supposedly still used by a local witches’ coven according to a waitress at the inn I’m staying at. Cissbury, on the other hand, is still open to the winds and the joggers and the dog-walkers and the local cattle which graze along the slopes. On a clear day, I’m told, you can see to the Isle of Wight.

Overheard in a second-hand bookshop in nearby Chichester:  the young owner and his mates arguing passionately about censorship in England of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and commenting about the scene in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain where Andy Garcia loses his head as “a beautiful piece of editing.” “It couldn’t happen to a better man,” someone chimed in sarcastically. English second-hand booksellers appear not to be Andy Garcia fans.

Drove out to have lunch with Ken Russell at his country house, Old Tinsley, in the New Forest – so-called “new” because it was planted only a thousand years ago by William the Conqueror, according to Ken. I found him sitting in the greenhouse wearing a straw hat and working on the script for Treasure Island; he writes everything out longhand. Old Tinsley is a 16th century thatched house:  Ken bought it in 1972 and says he’s done all of his screenwriting there since. While he was in the kitchen boiling up spaghetti, he explained to me the difficulties of having an old house in England:  when he wanted to add the greenhouse on beside the kitchen, to give the place more light and space, he contacted the local council – who sent an “unbearable woman” out to see him. After poking into too much of Ken’s business for his liking, she finally gave him clearance to build the greenhouse – but, some time later, a second, even more odious woman, came to visit him from the council. In the course of conversation, Ken mentioned the house wasn’t “listed” – i.e., historically protected under British law. “Well, it should be,” she promptly replied. By the time Ken received the notice of listing – which meant absolutely no changes could be made to the house from a historical preservation point of view – he’d already poured the foundation and paid the non-refundable balance for the greenhouse. He quickly phoned the local supervisor and explained that unless he was allowed to continue, he’d sue the council for the 17,000-pound balance. After a short pause, the supervisor noted the listing papers had been signed by “the wrong person” and so were not legally in effect. Said supervisor quietly asked how long it would take to get the greenhouse up. “About a week,” Ken replied. “Then I’ll get you the correct listing papers in a week,” the supervisor said, and hung up. The papers never actually arrived as it turned out – and now we sit in Ken’s magnificent little greenhouse with two wooden church angels in the corner, and an ultra high tech sound system that he has to cover with a cloth to keep the sun from melting.

During lunch, Ken quizzed me about the American Civil War, asking if it still meant anything to most Americans. He observed that the radicals responsible for the recent bombing in Oklahoma City seemed to share a common motive with the Confederate States – both objected to being told what to do by the Federal government – and he wondered out loud if America would have another civil war. He also mentioned that the British, in his opinion, seemed to have little sympathy for America over the Oklahoma City tragedy since they’d been experiencing IRA attacks for decades while most Americans seemed to side with the IRA.

After lunch, we took a short walk around the garden. The sundial in back was a gift when he married his most recent wife Hetty. He read the time for me, which turned out to be an hour early because sundials don’t correct for daylight savings time.

That afternoon:  climbed up to Cissbury Ring again for a late afternoon farewell to the green English hills and ran into an agitated cow and her calf, apparently separated from the small herd that grazes there. Followed after them until the cow charged up onto the embankment and confronted me. After a minute we both went our separate peaceful ways.

And they led the most pleasurable of lives and the most delectable, till there came to them the Destroyer of delights and the Sunderer of societies and they became as they had never been. – Sir Richard Francis Burton, The Arabian Nights

Los Angeles, late 2006 – It’s several months since Ken and I worked together on his “The Girl With The Golden Breasts” episode of the anthology film Trapped Ashes, which he directed and I wrote & produced. At the end of the episode, to everyone’s surprise, Ken appeared as one of the mad scientists who flash their vampiric female breasts to the camera; he kept the fact that he was playing one of the doctors a secret until we actually shot. During editing he took to calling me “Dennis Scissorhands” for cutting his segment down (the full-length cut was eventually released on the DVD, to Ken’s grudging satisfaction.)

I received word that Ken had suddenly been left homeless: a fire had gutted his beautiful thatched cottage, Old Tinsley, nearly killing his lovely fourth wife, Elize, who managed to escape at the last moment. Later I learn he decided not to rebuild.

Nay, more annoying than the fear which they inspired was the odious extravagance of their equipment, with their gilded sails, and purple awnings, and silvered oars – Plutarch describing the Cilician Pirates

Los Angeles, late November 2011 – I just received word that Ken has passed away. We’d been in touch recently when I helped attach him to direct a planned remake of the 1976 film Alice In Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy, which he was quite excited about.

Although my Triumph Spitfire is long gone, sometimes driving through Hollywood at night with the windows down, when I pass a certain point I can still hear echoes of a mad Englishman chanting “baksheesh … baksheesh!!” for his own wild pleasure.

 

Dennis Bartok is a writer-producer and former programmer at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. 

 

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