Archive for the ‘Documentary Films’ Category

Blu-ray Cover - The Great Buster

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: April 02, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:03

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: None

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes: A DVD edition of the film is also available.

The Great Buster - Banner.jpg

“Charles Cohen, whom I’ve known for a while, asked me if I was interested in possibly making documentary films on Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks. I quickly said yes and [suggested] that we start with Keaton.” –Peter Bogdanovich (Press Book, 2018)

It is difficult not to see this documentary as built-in promotional gimmick for the Cohen Media Group’s collection of Buster Keaton films. However, such motivations don’t necessarily make the film unworthy of its viewership. It’s nice to report that The Great Buster: A Celebration works as a primer for those who may be unfamiliar with Buster Keaton’s life and work, and it covers many of the more important points of his life and career. It is fair to say that the film might even inspire new interest in the director’s work (which was very likely Bogdanovich’s intention).

If there is a problem to be found here, it is born out of the fact that it was produced much too late to be truly comprehensive. Many of Keaton’s friends, family, and associates are either deceased or were too old to participate (although we are happy to report the presence of Norman Lloyd). One may recall a three-part documentary series on Keaton’s life entitled Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. This particular production was released in 1987 and was able to include a good number of people who knew and worked with Keaton (including his widow, Eleanor). Better yet, much of the narration was taken from archival television and radio interviews with Keaton himself. It covered the same territory in more intricate detail, and felt more intimate and personal.

One might argue that the two hour and forty minute duration allowed for a more comprehensive approach, but the truth is that one of the weaknesses of that earlier documentary was that it was padded for length and tended to repeat itself at times. The film’s superiority is due to the production’s use of Keaton’s own voice as narration, and the interview subjects that it chose to include.

It goes without saying that Bogdanovich was unable to resurrect these participants for his own feature. Instead, he was forced to interview a variety of comedians, actors, and filmmakers who claim to have been influenced by Keaton. To be fair, these interviewees do a decent job at regurgitating much of the same information that was included in that earlier production, but most of these individuals wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be considered experts on the subject (though there are a few debatable exceptions).

“We tried to get as broad a cross-section as we could with filmmakers, performers, [and] friends. Fans and experts and others who were influenced by Keaton or felt something special about him. There were some people that we tried to get but we couldn’t work it out, like Johnny Depp and Jackie Chan, whose work makes him a kind of modern Buster.” –Peter Bogdanovich (Press Book, 2018)

The result is best described—as the title suggests—as “a celebration” or appreciation of Keaton and his body of work, and there is certainly value in that.

One Sheet.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with insert artwork that features the film’s theatrical one sheet design framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Cohen also includes a small booklet that features credits and film related photography. We are happy to announce that a slipcover that features the one sheet design without the “C” Logo framing has been included with this release. One only wishes that this was their standard practice.

The disc’s menu features footage from the films made by Buster Keaton and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Group’s high definition transfer is a solid one, but it is only as good as the archival material allows. The television footage is pretty weak in just about every respect, but it is as good as one could possibly expect and represents the source elements adequately. Bogdanovich’s freshly produced “talking head” interview segments are all incredibly detailed and completely meet Blu-ray standards. Fine detail is very much in evidence here. Most of the footage taken from Keaton’s oeuvre looks pretty good here, but there are variations between different titles. Some show some pretty significant age related damage, and it seems unlikely that some of these issues can be adequately restored. A clip from one of his shorts (The Boat) shows particularly bad damage during one of the film’s most important moments. However, these variations in texture, grain structure, clarity, contrast, and detail are to be expected. It’s part of the documentary aesthetic. A variety of aspect ratios are on display, but this never becomes distracting since this is what one has come to expect from such a production.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Considering that there are only two primary audio elements utilized for this documentary—namely interview dialogue and music that plays over Keaton’s silent work—the disc’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix goes above and beyond the needs of the film. It’s a great audio transfer, but it is understandably not terribly dynamic.

Special Features:

0.5 of 5 Stars

Conversations from the Quad with Peter Bogdanovich – (28:49)

This is essentially a post-screening Q&A with Peter Bogdanovich (moderated by Richard Pena). It includes a pre-screening introduction by both Charles Cohen and Bogdanovich. Usually, this sort of feature would be quite welcome and an enjoyable addition to any disc. Unfortunately, this particular footage is marred by terrible sound that is nearly indistinguishable throughout most of the duration, and the image isn’t much better as it is shot from the very back of the room. Someone occasionally jerks the camera back and forth as they try to reframe on a cheap tri-pod. There are moments of interest throughout the Q&A, but it is very hard to hear what is being discussed. Honestly, it may have been better to leave this off of the disc as it doesn’t leave a very good impression.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:50)

The film’s theatrical trailer is included here as well.

Final Words:

The Great Buster will engage cinephiles who are new to the subject as it serves as a very good primer on the subject of his life and work. However, Keaton devotees may find themselves wishing for more. Either way, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 26th, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:31:13

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3552 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 448 kbps)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 22.99 Mbps

Full Title.jpg

When it comes to the subject of Orson Welles, cineastes can be divided into two distinct categories: the apologists and the critics. The apologists believe that everything he touched is, at the very least, a flawed masterpiece that could’ve been a perfect film if it hadn’t been for meddling producers and studios or a lack of funds. The critics seem to view him as a man who couldn’t get out of his own way and play the game. Obviously, either one of these views makes for an incredibly interesting subject for a documentary, but it probably won’t surprise most people to learn that Chuck Workman’s Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles falls on the side of the apologists.

The documentary’s original release fell on the eve of his centenary and takes the viewer on a journey through his life and career—but with the exception of the earlier portions of the film, it is really devoted almost entirely to his work in film (both in Hollywood and as an independent filmmaker). It has obviously been produced with love and includes many interviewees who offer their memories, knowledge, or general appreciation for his work. What’s more, there is plenty of archival interview footage with the always articulate director, and one can see scenes from nearly every film that Welles directed (both finished and unfinished).

One imagines that it will be shown often in classrooms and by anyone who appreciates his work, because it offers a rather thorough general overview of his film work. However, his struggles making each individual film was given short shrift, and the production for each of these creative ventures could (and probably should) be the focus of their own feature-length documentary. Magician is also nearly void of any real analysis when it comes to his output. How do these films fit into the filmmaker’s worldview? Are there any camouflaged autobiographical elements in his films? What were they? We never learn, and these subjects are never even raised. There is also no effort to examine his personal life or his interpersonal relationships. All of this seems a shame, but it is also understandable. Chuck Workman cast an extremely wide net, and it was inevitable that the result is simply an incredibly interesting primer.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by a clear Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring the film’s one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo on the exterior and still a still of Orson Welles behind a large film camera on the interior. Inside the case is a small booklet that features chapter stops and film credits. These pages are illustrated with photographs of Welles.

Menu

The disc’s menu features footage from the film and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Transfers of documentaries are sometimes much more difficult to evaluate, because they usually rely on a wealth of varying sources of varying resolution and quality. Therefore, when this reviewer reports on the disparity between these sources, it would be extremely unfair to hold this against the transfer. On the other hand, one doesn’t wish to give the reader an inaccurate impression of what to expect.

The fresh footage shot by Workman for this particular film looks quite nice as it showcases quite a bit of fine detail and a respectable level of clarity. Most of the clips from the various films in Welles’ filmography also look reasonably attractive, although an amateur short that was shot long before his debut as a proper filmmaker have seen better days. Archival material is (and was always going to be) all over the place, but this adds a quality that some will argue add to the overall experience. Television video dances with old filmed television, damaged behind the scenes footage, and other such sources. It adds personality.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s difficult to imagine anyone expecting a truly dynamic sonic experience from such a film, and those who are will be likely to complain. However, the more reasonable among us will likely agree that Cohen’s 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio option more than pulls its weight in support of this documentary feature as it offers nice fidelity for the most part (again, sources were always going to vary in this and every other regard).

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

A Conversation with Chuck Workman – (08:59)

Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) interviews Chuck Workman in this short promotional EPK featurette. The experience feels almost like a short appreciation of the director’s overall career in much the same way that DVDs and Blu-rays sometimes include short appreciations of individual films by various filmmakers or scholars in lieu of a proper “making of” documentary or analysis of the feature. It’s nothing more nor less than this, but somehow it seems more worthwhile than many of those that focus on an individual film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc and does a nice job of introducing the overall tone and method of presentation that the film employs.

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Final Words:

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles is an easy recommendation for anyone who is even remotely interested in the work of this incredibly polarizing filmmaker. It might not offer anything new for anyone who is familiar with the life and legend of Orson Welles, but it somehow still manages to hold ones attention. Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray offers the best way to see the film in the home environment, and it therefore easily earns a recommendation for anyone whose interest has been piqued. It’s also a pretty good way to prepare one’s self for the upcoming release of The Other Side of the Wind.

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Alfred Hitchcock Master

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Shout Factory

Release Date: February 27, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:31:46

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Note:This release comes with a DVD disc that is housed in the same case.

Poster

“Of course, you can’t talk about the shower scene without talking about PSYCHO, and you can’t talk about Psycho without talking about Hitchcock, and you can’t talk about Hitchcock without talking about other films that influenced him, or films that he influenced, and so on. But everything in 78/52 was very carefully designed to be always, always, always about the shower scene.” -Alexandre O. Philippe (Michael Gingold, Rue-Morgue.com, October 18, 2017)

A lot of people may be asking themselves why anyone would devote a ninety-minute documentary to a single scene, but ninety minutes wasn’t nearly enough to do a proper…

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: February 06, 2018

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:39:48

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 French Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 27.99 Mbps

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First of all, a few readers that aren’t well-versed in their French-cinema history should be told up front that this is not a fictional narrative film classic that has somehow escaped your radar. It is a documentary about a notoriously troubled film production that ended in near tragedy. In 1964, Henri-Georges Clouzot, the acclaimed director of thriller masterpieces Les Diaboliques and Wages of Fear, began work on his most ambitious film yet. It was to be titled L’Enfer (Inferno) and was to star Serge Reggiani as a controlling hotel manager who begins to suspect that his beautiful wife (Romy Schneider) is fooling around on him. There is little indication that his suspicions have merit, but even meritless jealousy can soon turn into obsession. If Clouzot’s project sounds familiar, this might very well be because Claude Chabrol turned the script into his own film entitled L’Enfer in 1994.

Clouzot

Henri-Georges Clouzot

The Chabrol film would have never been made had Clouzot’s vision reached the screen. Unfortunately, this was never to be the case. Despite huge expectations, major studio backing, and an unlimited budget, the production collapsed under the weight of arguments, technical complications, and illness after only three weeks. The details of these three weeks—particularly the trouble that plagued the filmmakers during the shoot—is what this film is really about.

Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea utilize Clouzot’s incredible expressionistic original rushes, screen tests, and on-location footage whilst also attempting to reconstruct his original vision. Interviews, dramatizations of un-filmed scenes, and Clouzot’s own notes are also used in order to create an incredibly informative document. The parallel between Henri-Georges Clouzot’s behavior on the set and the hotel manager’s obsession with his wife is driven home throughout the duration. The result is not only a document of one of cinema’s lost treasures but an examination of a master director’s creative drive that may have crossed the line into obsession.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray disc in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. Surprisingly, the new artwork is more impressive. There is also an attractive 22-page booklet that features a 5 page essay (6 if you count the footnotes) written by Ginette Vincendeau entitled “Welcome to Hell” which is illustrated with several stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

Menu

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are enticing attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s high bitrate encode offers a better image than the previous Flicker Alley release—but the improvements are decidedly marginal. Since M2K Films was responsible for delivering the master, one wonders if this isn’t simply a superior disc encode of the same master utilized on the earlier release. The quality of the footage is entirely dependent upon the source, although it must be said that Clouzot’s footage is in surprisingly good condition here. There are flaws throughout the transfer but nothing that should distract anyone. Actually, one imagines that few will even notice them.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy has happily upgraded the sound options available on this release as the Flicker Alley version only offered a lossy Dolby Digital option on their release of the film. This particular disc contains two high definition tracks: a 5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio option and a 2.0 French Linear PCM Audio mix. Both of these choices are clearly superior even if neither track is likely to impress those looking for a truly dynamic sonic experience. It would be ridiculous to expect such a mix considering the documentary nature of the film. Dialogue and music drive the film and this results in a track that highlights Bruno Alexiu’s score with clearly rendered dialogue. Both tracks are perfectly acceptable options.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

They Saw Inferno – (59:43)

This hour long examination of the production is the disc’s strongest supplement and (as the case boldly announces) “provides further insight into the production of Inferno.” The program features a wealth of unseen material from Clouzot’s failed production that is unique to this piece and unused interview footage from Bromberg’s documentary production of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is utilized in this hour long companion piece to the feature. Many will find it just as fascinating as the main documentary as it delves a bit deeper into the film’s production—or it at east gives a more straightforward account. It is almost like an alternative documentary about the exact same subject but with a radically different approach.

Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot – (21:48)

Lucy Mazdon is the disc’s resident scholar and expert on the subject of the French cinema. She discusses the career and filmography of Henri-Georges Clouzot and where he fit in the cinematic landscape at the time of the infamously famous troubled production of L’Enfer. She diplomatically questions Bromberg’s documentary and claims that it might be a little “one-sided” in its depiction of the director and that he was perhaps not quite as obsessive as he comes across in the film. However, her admiration for the documentary seems authentic and this is presented more as an unanswerable question about the true nature of that production than an actual criticism.

Interview with Serge Bromberg – (18:09)

More substantial is this English language interview with Bromberg about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s production of L’Enfer, his approach to his documentary about the production, the magnificence of Clouzot’s original footage, and more. It adds a good deal of information to the disc and is well worth watching if you are a fan of Clouzot, French cinema, or Bromberg’s excellent documentary.

Filmed Introduction by Serge Bromberg – (08:57)

Bromberg’s introduction is delivered in French and seems to be carried over from some other home video release of the film. Introductions such as these usually offer the viewer very little and seem to be included simply so that they can list yet another supplement on the back of a film’s Blu-ray (or DVD) case. However, this particular introduction does offer a bit of background information about the genesis of the project and the challenge of convincing Henri-Georges Clouzot to allow him access to the footage and is well worth watching for this reason.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:44)
The film’s original trailer is included and does an admirable job at capturing the interest of anyone who even remotely loves world cinema.

Stills Gallery

Arrow’s stills gallery holds 42 production stills from Clouzot’s failed production. Many (if not most) can be seen within the film itself and the various video based supplements, but it is nice to have them here in order to give the images a more focused contemplation.

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Final Words:

It is impossible to say whether or not L’Enfer might have been Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece—especially in a filmography that includes Le Corbeau, Wages of Fear, and Les Diabolique—but it would’ve been absolutely fascinating as is this excellent documentary. Arrow Academy has given fans of French cinema an incredible gift with this release.
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Alfred Hitchcock Master

blu-ray-cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: December 20, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 80 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: 2.0 English Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes:A DVD edition of this title is also available.

Cannes One Sheet Cannes Film Festival’s One Sheet

“It’s a film that I was very excited about making because it’s a book that has meant a great deal to me for – I mean I’m fifty-five – so for the last forty-three years of my life. Hitchcock’s work, and Truffaut’s work to a certain extent as well – but Hitchcock’s work has for me a deeper connection because I started looking at his films right around the same time as I read the book, and I’ve been re-watching them over and over since then. I’ve never even started to count how many times I’ve seen

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Alfred Hitchcock Master

Blu-ray Cover

Spine #828

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

 Release Date: August 16, 2016

 Region: Region A

Length: 1:54:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Multi-Language (Swedish, English, Italian, and French) DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 32.33 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition

Title

“Some years ago I had a chance meeting with Isabella Rossellini, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, and she presented me with a most direct proposition: ‘Shall we make a film about Mama?’ I saw this as a most challenging project, and when I later got access to her rich posthumous work – diaries, letters, photographs, amateur movies – my appreciation of Ingrid Bergman as a strong and most determined artist grew even bigger. With Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag är Ingrid) I’ve tried to make a rich and multi-colored portrait of this extraordinary…

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