Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:58:57

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Japanese Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Title

Award-winning filmmaker, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is one of the more interesting contributors to the J-Horror cycle (a subgenre for which I admit to having no particular affection), and Pulse (Kairo) might very well be his finest entry of them all. Setting his story in the burgeoning internet and social media scene in Japan, Kurosawa’s dark and apocalyptic film foretells how technology will only serve to isolate us as it grows more important to our lives.

The basic story is relatively simple: A group of young people in Tokyo begin to experience strange phenomena involving missing friends and co-workers and a mysterious website which asks the compelling question, “Do you want to meet a ghost?” After the unexpected suicides of several friends, three strangers set out to explore a city which is growing emptier by the day, and to solve the mystery of what lies within a forbidden room in an abandoned construction site, mysteriously sealed shut with red packing tape.

One wishes that the film had focused on fewer people so that the characters could have been developed in a more intimate manner, but Junichiro Hayashi’s cinematography often provides enough existential dread to sustain our interests even if the characterizations fall short. Those who have seen Hideo Nakata Ring (Ringu) and Dark Water will remember Hayashi’s work on those films and can expect more of the same here as it sets a dark and unsettling tone which lingers long after the movie is over.
Opinion is bound to be split between those who see the film as ahead of its time and those who consider it outdated (which it admittedly is from a technology standpoint), but it is probably worth seeing if only to decide which group you happen to fall into.

SS01

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket and what is presumably the film’s original one sheet artwork. This is one of those occasions when Arrow’s newly commissioned artwork is vastly superior (but this tends to be the case with their releases of Japanese titles). As is their custom, they also include an attractive booklet that features an essay on the film by Chuck Stephens entitled “The Smudge.” It should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film and adds value to the modest package.

[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 reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Dark cinematography is wonderfully effective when it is done correctly (or at least in a certain manner). I’m thinking of such titles as David Fincher’s Seven and the inky blacks that saturate the image thanks to the bleach bypass process. However, the murkiness that swallows so many J-Horror titles is less attractive. Details never seem to be at the level they should be and one sometimes wonders what they are even seeing. This might be intentional, but if this methodology was successful, the viewer wouldn’t be wondering whether or not they were watching an inferior transfer. This particular title is a case in point.

Arrow’s transfer is probably faithful to the original source, but it is difficult to know if this might look better with a new scan of the source materials. The grainy image is dark and murky with limited detail and a narrow range of color, but it is superior to the previous DVD transfers that have been released. Frankly, if the “shot through dirty linen” look is intentional, it was a bad choice on Kurosawa’s part (but I suppose that this is simply one person’s subjective opinion). The booklet claims that the digital source was supplied by Kadokawa Pictures, and one imagines that it could have seen marginal improvement had they taken the time to rescan the film at a higher resolution. Clarity isn’t at all what it should be (nor is it consistent). Contrast is relatively nonexistent and black levels are faded and cloudy. Artifacts are ridiculously apparent as well, and this is especially frustrating.

Having said this, it doesn’t seem worth holding one’s breath until something better comes along.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The Japanese Linear PCM audio transfer won’t give your speaker systems much of a workout, but this is a solid representation of the original source and is relatively flawless.

SS04

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Broken Circuits – (HD) – (43:53)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s interview is more comprehensive in scope than one might expect, and one expects that most cinephiles will agree that it is the strongest supplement on the disc. His career is discussed at length as the production of Pulse. One doesn’t really even have to be a fan of the film or the director to find this conversation interesting.

Creepy Images – (HD) – (25:03)

Junichiro Hayashi’s shorter and slightly less comprehensive interview is nonetheless incredibly informative as the cinematographer reminisces about his collaborative relationship with Kiyoshi Kurosawa (and even briefly discusses Kiju Yoshida). Pulse is given the most in-depth consideration as Hayashi reveals a few interesting anecdotal revelations that should be of special interest to fans of the film.

The Horror of Isolation – (HD) – (17:11)

Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (You’re Next, Blair Witch) discuss their admiration for Kiyoshi Kurosawa and for Pulse in particular as they reveal how the film has had an influence on their work. While their analysis of Kurosawa’s work is interesting enough, one cannot help but think that this featurette would be more interesting if these two filmmakers actually made better films. However, some of their insights do manage to add to one’s appreciation of Pulse, and the interview is worth watching for this reason alone.

The Making of Pulse – (SD) – (41:03)

This is the sort of EPK bundle one expects upon a film’s release, but this manages to be more interesting than anyone has a right to expect due to the included “behind the scenes” footage contained within what is essentially a hodgepodge of cast and crew interviews and trailers for the film. The interviews never really delve past the surface of the material and have obviously been composed to sell the film. However, Kurosawa’s interviews do manage to be rather interesting at times.

Special Effects Breakdown Featurettes:

These short special effects featurettes give fans the opportunity to discover some general information about what went into the special effects included in the following scenes:

The Suicide Jump – (SD) – (06:22)

Harue’s Death Scene – (SD) – (05:02)

Junko’s Death Scene – (SD) – (04:31)

Dark Room Scenes – (SD) – (10:18)

Tokyo Premiere Introduction – (SD) – (07:04)

This is archival footage of Kurosawa and his three primary actors introducing the preview screening in Tokyo. These participants discuss their involvement in a rather general manner, and nothing here really adds to one’s knowledge about (or appreciation of) the film. However, fans will welcome the inclusion of this introduction if only as an artifact from the film’s initial release.

Cannes Film Festival – (SD) – (02:57)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Haruhiko Kato introduce Pulse at the Cannes Film Festival. Their speech is short, sweet, and not at all revealing. However, it is nice to have here as a kind of curiosity (especially if you happen to admire the film or its director).

TV Spots – (SD) – (04:15)

These television spots are really more interesting than effective, but many will find them to be a fun addition to the disc.

NHK Station IDs – (SD) – (00:15)

The principal actors appear in these station IDs, and it is difficult to know exactly what to make of them.

SS05

Final Words:

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse offers a slightly disappointing image transfer that is nonetheless superior to all of the previous home video releases. Their supplemental package sweetens the deal just enough to warrant a recommendation to fans of the J-horror sub-genre.

SS06

Review by: Devon Powell

Spine #856

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

Before Sunrise – 01:41:05

Before Sunset – 01:20:31

Before Midnight – 01:48:57

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

Before Sunrise – 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Sunset – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Midnight – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate:

Before Sunrise – 35.34 Mbps

Before Sunset – 35.20 Mbps

Before Midnight – 34.05 Mbps

Notes: These titles were previously released in various DVD editions, and Before Midnight was previously available on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Classics.

One Sheets

“We’re lucky on these films because the construction of it is going for a certain kind of honesty. So many romantic films—they’re kind of built on an artifice that we have tried never to really abide by too much. We have some mythic audience in our mind that would appreciate the unvarnished honesty of the darker moments of a relationship. I’d say we can do things that another kind of film couldn’t support.” –Richard Linklater (Backstage, December 06, 2013)

That Linklater should use the word “honesty” so often in his interviews discussing this one-of-a-kind trilogy shouldn’t surprise cinephiles. If a single word could be used to describe The Before Trilogy, that word would probably be “honest.” The cornerstone of the career-long exploration of cinematic time by Richard Linklater, this celebrated three-part epic romance chronicles the love of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from their first meeting as idealistic twentysomethings to the disillusionment they face together in middle age. These three films also stand as a document of a boundary-pushing and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke. It is more than evident that these films are very personal documents to all three participants.

“The lack of vanity with Ethan and Julie is important. In the films—we’re all three of us doing this—we’re taking where we are at that moment and whatever life has thrown at us in the past nine years [and] using that as the clay for what we’re sculpting.” –Richard Linklater (Way Too Indie, May 21, 2013)

Attuned to the sweeping grandeur of time’s passage as well as the evanescence of individual moments, the Before films chart the progress of romantic destiny as it navigates the vicissitudes of ordinary life. It might seem extraordinary to imagine that this near-perfect trilogy wasn’t planned as a trilogy at all. Each film is a singular entity that captures two characters at a very specific juncture of their lives. They stand alone as wonderful films in their own right but expand into something even greater when all three films are united as a singular unit.

“They all feel like they’re of one piece. It was wonderful being in Vienna nineteen years ago. It was wonderful being in Paris making a movie, and Greece was just incredible.” –Richard Linklater (Parade, October 23, 2013)

However, even those who prefer to experience all three films as “one piece” will probably agree that it is impossible to discuss Jesse and Celine’s journey as a couple without examining each film individually.

Before Sunrise Cover

BEFORE SUNRISE – Spine #857

“The movie’s about crossing paths with someone who needs the same thing you do. The question is, could this really be something more, something bigger, eternal? I think it’s something they’ll both know at some point in the future.” –Richard Linklater (Interview, February 1995)

On the surface, Before Sunrise seems to be an extension of Richard Linklater’s independent debut effort. Slacker had a unique structure that found a group of marginalized outsiders talking about a variety of subject. However, Slacker finds its characters talking at each other without ever really interacting. In Before Sunrise, both Jesse and Celine give long philosophical monologs that seem to have much in common with Slacker—but these characters are actually connecting. They listen to one another and relate to what the other is saying.

“I was going for a sincere communication. I felt I had bounced around between no communication and an interior monolog communication that arguably doesn’t stick or only communicates to a certain extent, maybe only makes sense later. I think I liked the idea, starting with Before Sunrise, of people who were trying to connect. It was about being understood…” –Richard Linklater (Film Comment, July/August 2006)

It is evident while watching the film that Jesse and Celine understand one another—even as they might disagree. Their conversation is the basis of their romance, and this might be why the film resonates with audiences. The film opens with a chance encounter between two solitary young strangers. After they hit it off on a train bound for Vienna, the Paris university student Celine and the scrappy American tourist Jesse impulsively decide to spend a day together before he returns to the U.S. the next morning. As the pair roam the streets of the stately city, Linklater’s tenderly observant gaze captures the uncertainty and intoxication of young love, from the first awkward stirrings of attraction to the hopeful promise that Celine and Jesse make upon their inevitable parting.

It is a scenario that was actually inspired by a formative experience that Richard Linklater shared with a woman named Amy Lehrhaupt in 1989 (after shooting Slacker). As a matter of fact, Before Midnight was even dedicated to this woman.

“The whole plot for Before Sunrise was inspired by a woman I met in Philadelphia. I was just hanging out with my sister—who used to live near Rittenhouse Square—and I met this woman at a toy store. I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night. We walked around downtown from midnight until six in the morning. It was our own nooks-and-crannies tour of Philadelphia. But all the time I was thinking, `There’s a movie here.'” –Richard Linklater (The Morning Call, May 10, 1997)

Unlike Jesse and Céline, Richard and Amy actually exchanged phone numbers—but the different dynamic of their telephone conversations formed an invisible barrier between them.

“It sort of did the fizzle… So in the first movie that was a thing, the idea that they would intellectually kind of get beyond that and say ‘Well, we’re on different continents. What are the odds that it’s gonna work? Let’s just commit to this night.’” –Richard Linklater (Slate, May 30, 2013)

Linklater later learned that she had died tragically before the film even entered production.

“I just found out a couple years ago that she had died young, in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t know… She wasn’t even alive when we shot in Vienna. She died that Mother’s Day weekend. It’s just so sad.” –Richard Linklater (Moviefone, April 23, 2013)

A script had already been written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan before Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke was signed to the film, but it was reworked after they came onto the project.

“I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really [the] first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.” –Richard Linklater (NPR, May 30, 2013)

This collaborative process between Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy would extend to the film’s two sequels and this is probably what sets these three films apart from other films. There is a sincerity inherent in the trilogy’s very design that most films could never hope to emulate—and this is a direct result of the collaborative nature of these works. The director and actors have each poured part of themselves into these projects, and their passion and sincerity can be felt in every frame.

Before Sunset Cover

BEFORE SUNSET – Spine #858

“We made the first film and no one ever asked ‘is there going to be another film?’ That was not a logical question. When we were making the second film in Paris, every day we looked at one another and asked ‘how are we getting to do this? This is amazing!’ We’re getting to make this very personal film that no one really even cares about except for three people, and you’re in a good spot if you can ever be making a film like that.” –Richard Linklater (We Got This Covered, 2013)

Before Sunset wasn’t expected and raised a few eyebrows upon its release. Before Sunrise was certainly successful, but it wasn’t the sort of success that demanded a follow-up. Perhaps this is the reason why the film actually works. In the words of Richard Linklater, “Jesse and Céline kind of reared their heads and had something to say.” The film wasn’t made to exploit the first film’s success or to make a lot of money. As a matter of fact, Linklater went forward with the project with a healthy dose of anxiety and doubt about its potential.

“Fear is a real obvious emotion. Leave it alone. Yeah, I know. That was the temptation, I think that’s why it took so long. I’m not going to say the first film’s perfect or anything, but to us, it was really special. So you realize, ‘Oh, you could not only screw that up, you’d screw up the film you’re working on, but [also] screw up the first one.’ But, you know, it’s good. If you’re afraid of something and still compelled to do it, in the arts at least, you should probably still do it.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

Before Sunset again benefits from Linklater’s collaboration with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but this project allowed the two actors to work with Linklater on the film’s original script instead of altering an already prepared script as they did on Before Sunrise.

“The three of us wrote it. We all [put the pen to paper]. First, we talked about it for years, and then we took a lot of thought and building there, and then we sat down, the three of us in a room, for like three or four days, and worked on a very, very specific outline. I mean, the beginning, the end, what happens in every scene, all the emotional beats. It was very worked out. And then we kind of went our separate ways for almost a year. Julie would send 20 pages, Ethan would send monologs. I was re-writing and writing stuff. It was all on my laptop ultimately. If you did a word count, they would probably exceed me. At some point, we didn’t, if one of us had an idea we were trying to squeeze in the movie and the other two didn’t want to do it, or didn’t understand it or didn’t get traction in it, then it disappeared.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

This method obviously worked for them, because Before Sunset is actually superior to the original film. The story follows Celine as she tracks down Jesse at the tail end of a book tour in Paris, with only a few hours left before his flight back home to the States. Their chemistry is rekindled by increasingly candid exchanges about professional setbacks, marital disappointments, and the compromises of adulthood. Impelled by an urgent sense of the transience of human connection, Before Sunset remains Linklater’s most seductive experiment with time’s inexorable passage and the way love can seem to stop it in its tracks. The entire film has a nuanced sense of urgency and desperation as we find that both characters are less than content with the current state of their lives. Experience has made both characters more interesting, and there is much more for each character to lose (and gain) by being together.

Before Midnight Cover

BEFORE MIDNIGHT – Spine #859

“We didn’t know if we were making a mistake there or not, but we were just compelled to do it. We created these characters, Jessie and Celine, they seemed to be living this parallel life with us but the fact that we did a second film and the way it ended, that ending kind of begs the question. So the three of us, everywhere we’ve gone in the last nine years it’s always that last question on the interview. ‘Oh, one more, do you think Jessie and Celine will ever get together?’ It’s a question that we all lived with. No one wanted the second film or asked about it really. But this one they wanted.” –Richard Linklater (SBS, June 12, 2013)

This bittersweet third entry in Linklater’s Before Trilogy finds Celine and Jesse several years into a relationship and in the midst of a sun-dappled Greek retreat with their twin daughters and a group of friends. The couple soon finds their vacation upended, however, by the aggravations of committed monogamy, which have long since supplanted the initial jolt of their mutual seduction. Marked by the emotional depth, piercing wit, and conversational exuberance that Linklater and his actors had honed over two decades of abiding with these characters, Before Midnight, grapples with the complexities of long-term intimacy and asks what becomes of love when it no longer has recourse to past illusions. There are moments when the film feels like an Edward Albee play, but these darker elements never feel at odds with the earlier films in the series.

“It’s harder to express something interesting and cinematic about being 41. And that territory that we were getting into was just a deeper, touchier subject matter that didn’t lend itself to what the other two films had, which was this kind of connection. This wasn’t about that; it was something else.” –Richard Linklater (The Star, June 06, 2013)

Jesse and Celine spend the majority of the film trying to avoid the ultimate confrontation that serves as the film’s climax—or perhaps they are merely attempting to prolong the inevitable.

“The whole movie builds to that moment. That fight’s been coming the whole movie, and, probably, for nine years. If you really go back, the fault line in their relationship leads to that. But I always call it the ‘hotel-room scene,’ because it doesn’t start off a fight. It’s quite the opposite; it starts off as a love scene, a sex scene. And the pace of the fight was very important. You know, people don’t just start to fight. They try not to fight. They try to resolve it. But they both want to be heard. Jesse and Celine are two master manipulators, and I often make the analogy that they’re two prizefighters; they’re very evenly matched. Slightly different styles, but ultimately, they’re gonna go all 15 rounds. So many times that fight could have ended—if one person would just eat a little crow and end it. But they have to keep going. They have to say one more thing. That’s the difference between courting someone and spending the rest of your life with someone. You can dig in on a subject that’s bugging you, and it can escalate into a fight, or you have to negotiate that space that you’re occupying together. That’s the challenge, and that’s what the movie [is] really about.” –Richard Linklater (Slant Magazine, May 22, 2013)

Before Midnight is the strongest entry in the series—not despite the film’s darker tone but because of it. It is ultimately very rewarding to discover that each film in the trilogy is better and more nuanced than the last. What’s more, the films seem to enrich one another other in a very honest and organic manner. This might be the best character-based trilogy ever produced.

Art

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection includes three different Digi-packs for each of the three films in the trilogy, and each film is given its own respective artwork that is simple but attractive. These Digi-packs are held in a sturdy box with its own artwork. An attractive booklet with an essay about the trilogy by Dennis Lim is also included and can be placed in the Digi-pack for Before Sunrise (the first film in the series). This essay is entitled “Time Regained” and it is an interesting read. The overall effect isn’t unlike the films themselves as the package appears to be quite simple and modestly designed, but the combined effect is surprisingly beautiful.

Menus

The menus for the three discs utilize footage from their respective film with music and sound clips from that particular film. Most will agree that all three of them are simple but attractive.

SS01

Picture Quality:

BEFORE SUNRISE & BEFORE SUNSET

4.5 of 5 Stars

According to the included booklet, the transfer of Before Sunrise and was “created from 35mm interpositives and scanned in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner. Thousands of instances of dirt and debris were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.” Criterion makes the most out of their painstaking work by utilizing a maxed out bitrate and the results are impressive. This is especially true of the daytime exteriors which exhibit a respectable level of clarity and a reasonable level of sharpness. There are no unsightly DNA issues and there is a healthy level of grain that remains stable throughout the duration of both features.

There is a significant increase in visual information at the left and right edges of the frame when one compares the transfer to the previous DVD releases. The level of fine detail is also dramatically increased, and the look of the nighttime scenes in Before Sunrise are dramatically improved upon.  There is no noticeable dirt or film damage to distract the viewer either. Density is improved as well and colors are well rendered and stable (although there might be some slight fluctuation that never becomes distracting). These are solid representations of the original film elements and the shortcomings of this transfer merely reflect those inherent in the source materials.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s booklet tells us that Before Midnight was “shot in 2K resolution on an Arri Alexa camera.” Criterion’s transfer looks to be sourced from the same elements that was used for Sony’s 2013 Blu-ray release (which was apparently supervised by Richard Linklater). Frankly, every aspect of that disc was incredibly satisfying and it is nice to see that Criterion represents it here with an even higher bitrate. Clarity is outstanding and the image looks great in motion. Fine detail is remarkable as well and the image displays strong depth. The picture is stable and has a crispness that should please fans of the trilogy (even those of us who miss the more organic look of the film). If the transfer has a weak point, it is the shifting shadow detail. However, few are likely to notice of be bothered by this as it isn’t at all distracting. This is simply a result of the production elements and should not be blamed on Criterion.

SS02

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

While Before Sunrise (2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio) and Before Sunset (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) are sourced from their original 35mm magnetic tracks and were cleaned of any anomalies such as hiss, hum, crackle, and etcetera, the audio for Before Midnight (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) was recorded digitally and mastered from the original audio master files using Pro Tools HD. Despite the discrepancies in the nature of their sources, each track seems to accurately represent the respective film in the matter that Linklater intended without any technical issues to mar one’s listening enjoyment.

SS03

Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has spread nearly four and a half hours of supplemental features across the three discs (and this doesn’t even take into account the commentary track provided for Before Midnight).

Before Sunrise Title

DISC 1: BEFORE SUNRISE

The Space In Between – (43:39)

The highlight of the first disc is without a doubt this discussion between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy. The conversation is moderated by Kent Jones, who does an excellent job of focusing the conversation while remaining invisible. When Kent contributes to the conversation, it is always interesting and pertinent to the conversation. The conversation was recorded in New York in 2016, with Julie Delpy participating via satellite from Los Angeles. Linklater discusses the encounter with Amy Lehrhaupt that planted the seed for the original film, and they all discuss the collaborative nature of the three films in an extremely relaxed and informal manner. These 44 minutes simply fly by in what seems like an instant. Time is, after all, relative.

3×2 – (39:49)

Dave Johnson (author of Richard Linklater: Contemporary Film Directors) and Rob Stone (author of The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run) have a contagious enthusiasm for their subject that carries the viewer through this scholarly discussion about the three Before films. Even those who disagree with some (or most) of their theoretical insights are bound to find a newfound appreciation for Linklater’s work.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (05:57)

While the brief glimpses of “behind the scenes” footage is nice to see, this is really just EPK material built from on location interview footage of Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy delivering the typical general navel-gazing statements about the film. It’s nice to have this included here, but it isn’t particularly insightful or entertaining.

Before Sunset Title

DISK 2: BEFORE SUNSET

Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny – (01:29:52)

What a gift this is for anyone who appreciates Richard Linklater’s cinema! It can be said without any reservations that this feature length documentary about Linklater’s career (up to this point) is the star attraction of this set’s supplemental package. The film was directed by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein as part of the PBS series American Masters. New exclusive interviews with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Sandra Adair, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Chuck Linklater (Linklater’s Father), Tricia Linklater (Linklater’s Sister), and a number of other participants mingle with archival interviews and footage to paint a more interesting portrait of the director than one expects from such programs. Especially interesting is a glimpse into some of Linklater’s journals, writings, and even financial logs. Less interesting is input from other filmmakers such as Kevin Smith—but this may be due to my innate dislike of this particular filmmaker.

Linklater // On Cinema & Time – (08:28)

This video essay by :: kogonada is certain to divide viewers as to its value. It is certainly enjoyable as a kind of tonal montage of visuals and sound with Linklater’s use of time as its main concern. A telephone interview with Linklater serves as the guiding vehicle, but at no point does it feel as if this essay is intended to inform the viewer or propose any theoretical rhetoric. This telephone audio plays over footage from various Linklater films and other cinema classics from around the globe. Examples include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (as well as other films in the Antoine Doinel cycle), and several others (we remember spotting some Godard and Ozu thrown in for good measure). The fact that Linklater’s voice has been filtered through the telephone adds to the aesthetic in interesting ways. It works as a celebration of Linklater’s special brand of cinema, but it is bound to disappoint anyone hoping for a scholarly examination of this particular theme.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (09:44)

This “behind the scenes” featurette is essentially EPK material, but it does provide more sustenance for information hungry cinephiles than the one provided for the first film. Here, we see glimpses of the cast and crew working behind the scenes mingled with the standard publicity interviews, but these interviews actually manage to be genuinely interesting. This shouldn’t imply that they delve any deeper than is usual, but they do manage to hide the fact that their commentary never really reveals anything terribly worthwhile.

Before Midnight Title

DISK 3: BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Commentary with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

This 2013 commentary track was recorded for the Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray release of Before Midnight—and it was the disc’s most significant supplement. Criterion has wisely carried it over to their release, and fans will agree that it was well worth their effort. The relaxed conversational nature of the conversation makes the information related therein more digestible (despite the fact that much of what we learn here is related elsewhere on the disc). The strength of the track lies in its ability to zero in on specific scenes and details in the film.

After Before – (30:41)

Athina Rachel Tsangari’s After Before is the set’s second best supplement (after Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny) as it provides viewers with a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the actors as Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke develop their scenes. It really is an invaluable documentary despite its relatively brief duration. One can listen endlessly as these collaborators discuss their creative approach to the three films in this set, but to actually see this work in action is much more revelatory. The “behind the scenes” production footage also adds to the experience. As a side note, Linklater seems to have suffered some sort of foot injury, and one wonders what might have happened to him to cause such an injury.

Love Darkens and Deepens – (39:37)

This lengthy radio interview is actually an episode of a Philadelphia-based radio program known as Fresh Air with host Terry Gross. It is presented with a single still image and so is basically an audio-only presentation. However, it manages to be extremely entertaining and somewhat informative (even if certain information revealed here was discussed in other features in this same set). Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy are all on hand to discuss the trilogy, but the conversation really zeros in on Before Midnight more than either of the other two films.

SS04

Final Words:

This is an essential release for Linklater fans! The Before Trilogy is required viewing for serious cinephiles and Criterion has finally given them the Blu-ray release that they deserve.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: June 13, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:33:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps / (48 kHz, 1536 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3151 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 34.89 Mbps

Notes: This package contains a DVD copy of the film in addition to the Blu-ray.

Title

Helmed by legendary producer/director Ovidio Assonitis (the man behind cult genre entries such as The Visitor and Piranha II: The Spawning), Madhouse is a crimson-soaked tale of sibling rivalry taken to a terrifying and bloody extreme.

Julia has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary, but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping the mental hospital that protects the outside world from her unusual brand of psychosis, Julia’s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling this year—promising a birthday surprise that she’ll never forget.

The film is an Italian production shot entirely in Savannah, Georgia and has been released under a plethora of titles (including And When She Was Bad and There Was a Little Girl). It fuses the slasher genre with the over-the-top excess of ‘80s Italian terror—resulting in a cinematic bloodbath that the British authorities outlawed as another in a line of “video nasties.”

Seen today, however, it is difficult to understand why the British censors felt the need to ban the film. It seems quaint by contemporary standards. Audiences can see more horrifying gore in a number of more recent films and the film isn’t particularly suspenseful when one compares it with the likes of better entries into the genre (such as John Carpenter’s Halloween). Those with a fondness for the genre will find it enjoyable enough (if only for the film’s many camp elements), but it probably won’t register with most audiences.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach and what is presumably the film’s original one sheet artwork (which is marginally superior to Schoenbach’s artwork for this release. As is their custom, they also include an attractive booklet that features an essay by John Martin entitled “The Occult, Octopi, and Ovidio Nasties – The Amazing Exploitation Career of Ovidio G. Assonitis” (the subject of which is more than a little self-explanatory). It should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film or at least provide the viewer with a contextual background.

[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 reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

According to Arrow’s packaging, this is a “brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative.” We will simply have to take their word for it, because it isn’t a particularly strong image. This might very well be a result of less than stellar production elements instead of any deficiencies in the transfer and restoration. After all, Arrow Video has a solid track record with their restorations, and utilize a maxed out bitrate to make the most of their work. In any case, Madhouse exhibits warm but natural colors and a fair amount of detail and healthy gradation in dark areas of the frame. Depth is also reasonably strong during most of the exterior sequences. It is also pretty clean despite a few anomalies such as specks of dust or the occasional scratch that never become distracting. It is clear that the restoration team has done a decent job keeping such blemishes at bay. The film has a relatively soft aesthetic that isn’t helped by the fine layer of grain. The grain is fairly natural but does occasionally fluctuate and is sometimes heavier than it is throughout the majority of the film. The image sometimes goes out of focus, but this is obviously the result of the original photography. When compared to earlier DVD editions of the film, it becomes clear that this new transfer contains a bit at the top and left side of the frame. This is certainly good news as it seems closer to the original theatrical presentation.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes both the film’s original 2.0 mix as a track and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix for fans who prefer a slightly more dynamic sonic experience. The latter option spreads some of the ambient sounds and some of the music across the channels. It isn’t an overwhelming difference, but some viewers will likely prefer this option. Purists will gravitate towards the 2.0 Linear PCM Audio option, which is every bit as solid and represents the original theatrical experience. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and intelligible and the score is given adequate breathing room.

SS04

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with ‘The Hysteria Continues’

Some readers are bound to be asking themselves, “Who or what is ‘The Hysteria Continues’?” The Hysteria Continues is a podcast dedicated to slasher movies and the Italian Giallo genres. The four genre fanatics responsible offer a discussion (and sometimes debate) about such subjects as the film’s video nasty status, comparisons to other genre films, production design, and other such pertinent topics. Frankly, I could live without the track. The participants are really just fan boys with no connection to and little knowledge about the film’s production. They can’t even pronounce the director’s name properly.

Alternate Opening Titles – (03:01)

Aternate Title

The only real difference between this alternate title sequence and the one used in the body of this film transfer is that this sequence utilizes one of the film’s alternate titles (There Was a Little Girl).

Running the Madhouse – (12:40)

Edith Ivey’s interview is somewhat short, but the actress does recall some interesting tidbits of information about the production. Ivey portrayed Amantha Beauregard in Madhouse and doesn’t seem to have any real affection for the film. In fact, she seems genuinely shocked that anyone would even be interested in hearing about it. She talks about Ovidio Assonitis and his demand for histrionics (our words not hers).

Framing Fear – (19:32)

Roberto D. Ettorre Piazzoli discusses his working relationship with Ovidio Assonitis and his cinematography in the film. He makes a few comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Many will agree that this is the best of the three included interviews do to its scope. One simply feels that it covers the most territory.

Ovidio Nasty – (07: 44)

Ovidio Assonitis (producer/director) reveals the classic films that influenced Madhouse. It is nice to hear from Ovidio himself, but one feels his interview is slightly anemic compared to the other two interviews (neither of which was particularly comprehensive).

Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

The theatrical trailer has been rarely seen in recent years before Arrow decided to include it on this disc, and fans should be thrilled to have it here (even if it isn’t particularly unique).

SS05

Final Words:

Madhouse was a made-to-order slasher knock-off with over the top performances and questionable logic that should appeal to viewers looking for a campy romp through typical 1980s slasher schlock. It is one of those “so bad that it is good” movies. Arrow Video has provided genre fans with a decent upgrade to the previous DVD editions and has included some interesting supplemental material to sweeten the deal. However, it certainly isn’t for everyone.

SS06

 

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: May 30, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:32:34

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: French Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1536 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 26.86 Mbps

Notes: Arrow Video also includes a DVD copy of the film in this package.

Title

“What pleases is what is terrible, gentle, and poetic.” -Georges Franju

While Spotlight Without a Murder isn’t Georges Franju’s most pleasing film, it is essential viewing for anyone who admires any of the director’s more popular efforts. The story isn’t particularly unique but it captures and holds the viewers interest with confident simplicity. When the terminally ill Count Hervé de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur, Goto, Isle of Love) vanishes without trace, his heirs are told that they have to wait five years before he can be declared legally dead, forcing them to devise ways of paying for the upkeep of the vast family château in the meantime.  While they set about transforming the place into an elaborate son et lumière tourist attraction, they are beset by a series of tragic accidents—if they are really accidents.

This was Franju’s third feature length effort after having already made Head Against the Wall and Eyes Without a Face and is a generally playful romp through Agatha Christie territory. Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac—who had penned the source novels for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—returned to pen the screenplay for the director after the success of their previous collaboration on Eyes Without a Face. Boileau and Narcejac were obviously well versed in murder-mystery clichés and they gleefully exploit as many of them as possible while also blending Gothic elements into the film’s expertly woven fabric. To be honest, the Boileau-Narcejac connection should be enough reason for serious film buffs to experience this somewhat obscure film—even if opinion will be divided between those who see it as a hidden gem and those who see it as a hidden curiosity.

SS01

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. In this instance, it should be said that Strain’s new artwork is gorgeous and certainly superior to the alternative. There is also an attractive booklet that features a few essays that enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film.

[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 reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The included collector’s booklet contains very little information about the work that went into the film’s transfer, but does claim that “‘Spotlight on a Murderer’ was digitally restored by Gaumont from original film elements.” Happily, this vague information doesn’t seem to reflect any deficiencies in the quality of the film’s image. The image quality is always solid and often beautiful. It exhibits rich blacks and natural gradients between the various shades of grey. Contrast is also well handled and there is a natural and well resolved layer of grain that lends a filmic texture to the proceedings. Clarity isn’t particularly consistent, but this seems to be a direct result of the production elements. There aren’t many age relate artifacts, but the ravages of time does occasionally mar what is an otherwise gorgeous image. However, these rare anomalies never become distracting.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 Linear PCM mono audio supports the film’s visuals admirably. The various elements are all given enough room to flourish. Fidelity is commendable and there isn’t any noticeable distortion. Some viewers might lament the lack of a more dynamic sound mix, but purists will be thrilled to have the original audio reproduced so faithfully in high definition.

SS04

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Le Courrier du Cinema – (27:14)

This excellent 1960 episode of a French television program documents the film’s production. The show is obviously geared towards promoting the film’s release, but it is rare to see “behind the scenes” documentary footage of films as old as this one. Obviously, this makes the viewing experience a fascinating one (especially if one is a fan of French cinema or Georges Franju). The program includes interviews with Georges Franju, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Pierre Brasseur, and Dany Saval. It is a shame that the footage isn’t more probing, but it is nonetheless a fascinating and instructive pleasure to watch.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (03:33)

The film’s theatrical trailer is another happy addition to Arrow Academy’s small but satisfying supplemental package.

SS05

Final Words:

This release is essential for admirers of French cinema, Georges Franju, or the old-school mystery genre.

SS06.jpg

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: May 23, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Noroit02:14:40

Duelle 02:00:41

Merry-Go-Round02:40:20

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

NoroitFrench Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Duelle French Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Merry-Go-RoundEnglish & French Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio:

Noroit1.85:1

Duelle 1.85:1

Merry-Go-Round1.37:1

Bitrate:

Noroit37.31 Mbps

Duelle 37.17 Mbps

Merry-Go-Round 32.98 Mbps

Note: This package includes DVD editions of all three titles.

Jacques Rivette

“[Noroît and Merry-Go-Round] might very well have been released; but it so happened that Gaumont, in its capacity as distribution house, didn’t think they would bring in a large audience. Maybe they’re right, from their point of view… But in a sense—and this is a very selfish point of view—I didn’t really do anything to ensure their release. Because the release for instance of Duelle, which was not an easy film to release, was done so clumsily that I would almost have preferred if the film had stayed in its boxes … I was more handicapped, personally, even purely egoistically, by the failure of Duelle than I was by the non-release of Noroît and Merry-Go-Round. It gives one a stronger sense of rejection, of error of course too. No, what’s really bothersome is that nearly all directors are at the mercy of such things…” –Jacques Rivette (Cahiers du Cinema, May-June, 1981)

When considering the illustrious filmmakers that came out of the French New Wave, it is easy for one to overlook Jacques Rivette’s name on a list that includes François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Éric Rohmer—but the movement might not even exist without Rivette. Production on Paris Belongs to Us began well before Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol began shooting their films (even if it wasn’t released until 1961).

As a matter of fact, Rivette would often have trouble with the release of his films (as is evidenced by the three films included in this set. In 1975, Jacques Rivette reunited with Out 1 producer, Stéphane Tchal Gadjieff, with the idea of a four-film cycle. He would create a quartet of interconnected films, Scènes de la vie parallèle. Each film would be in a different genre and revolve around two different female characters. Unfortunately, Rivette had a nervous breakdown and succumbed to exhaustion after completing only two of the four films. The second and the third entries of the intended tetralogy were the only films completed: Duelle (une quarantine) sees Rivette in fantasy territory, cross-pollinating Val Lewton, Jean Cocteau, and film noir as the Queen of the Sun (Bulle Ogier) and the Queen of the Night (Juliet Berto) battle over a magical diamond that will allow them to continue their existence in present-day Paris.. Its parallel film, Noroît (une vengeance) is a pirate tale about revenge—and a loose adaptation of The Revenger’s Tragedy. It stars Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont.

Rivette was three days into the filming of Marie et Julien—the first film in the series (they were not produced in order)—when he collapsed and the production was shut down. It took a long time for the director to recover and when he was finally able to return to filmmaking, he was able to secure financing to make one of the two remaining films in his series. He decided that if he couldn’t make both films, he wouldn’t make either one of them. Instead, Rivette borrowed some of the elements of Duelle and Noroît and came up with Merry-Go-Round. Joe Dallesandro (The Climber, Trash, Flesh for Frankenstein) and Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris, The Passenger) are summoned to Paris, which leads to one of the most surreal and mysterious tales in a career that was dominated by surrealism and mystery.

In his essay about Jacques Rivette, Saul Austerlitz speaks despairingly about this period in the director’s career:

“The next period of Rivette’s career, between Celine and Julie and the renewed triumphs of La Bande des quatre and La Belle Noiseuse (1991), is for the most part disappointing. Duelle (1976) was pictorially lovely, and La Pont du nord (1982) and L’Amour par terre (1984) featured continued reflections on the relationship [between] art and reality, but in comparison to the peaks of Rivette’s filmmaking, these films (and also Noroit [1976], Merry Go Round [1980], and Hurlevent [1985]) are mere footnotes.” -Saul Austerlitz (Senses of Cinema)

Considering that Noroit and Merry Go Round never received a proper release and that Duelle’s release was given extremely problematic and limited distribution, one can understand how a surface level analysis might lead Austerlitz to discount these films. However, he never gives any evidence to support his claims that these films are mere footnotes—and it is our privilege to dispute his claims. These films were perhaps financially unsuccessful, but they are rich and rewarding cinematic experiences that experiment with form, content, and improvisation.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s packaging for this release is simple but attractive. Four items are held in a very sturdy box featuring attractive cartoon-like drawings by Ignatius Fitzpatrick. Three of these items are clear cases which hold the Blu-ray and DVD discs. Each case features its own reversible decorative sleeve. The first case houses the discs featuring Duelle (une quarantaine), the second features Noroît (une vengeance), and the third features Merry-Go-Round. The fourth item included in the box is a small perfect-bound book featuring three essays: “Moving Backstage” by Mary M. Wiles, “Rivette x 4” by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Gilbert Adair, and Michael Graham, as well as “Vagabond Charm” by Nick Pinkerton. Each of the essays offers instructive information and analysis that should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the films in this set.

All of these discs contain menus that are somewhat different than those on most Arrow releases, but they are all attractive and easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

All three transfers in this set are the result of digital restoration work which was detailed in liner notes included in the back of the collector’s booklet:

“The original camera negatives were scanned, graded, and restored at 2K resolution. The majority of the picture restoration work was conducted on Diamant Film Restoration systems, with Phoenix and Flame software used on selected sequences.

Picture issues such as dirt, debris, and scratches, torn frames, damaged splices, instability, and mold were all corrected or minimized.

Color grading was carried out using a P3 DCI color space. 35mm original prints were used as a visual reference throughout by the colorist.” –Collector’s Booklet

The result is an extremely strong image that reflects the filmmaker’s intention admirably. Colors are beautifully rendered and almost always impressive while black levels are deep and attractive. There might be some very slight crushing, but it is impossible to determine whether this is the result of the original photography or if this is a minor flaw in the restoration. Either way, this is never distracting to the viewer. Fine detail often impressive and the picture is incredibly crisp. One feels that any softness is a result of the filmmaker’s original footage and this usually suits the aesthetic needs of the film. The high bitrate ensures that each film is presented in the best possible manner and fans of the director will be very appreciative.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The mono sound mixes are perhaps less impressive than the image transfers, but they were given the same loving treatment.

“The original magnetic reels were too damaged for use, so the soundtracks were sourced from the original optical sound negatives and, in some cases, digital Betacam tapes produced in the 1990s. The majority of this work was carried out by L.E. Diapason in Paris.” –Collector’s Booklet

Duelle and Noroit are French language tracks and Merry Go Round was made with a mixture of English and French. It is difficult to determine the clarity of the French language elements because English speaking ears are likely to miss nuances in the language. However, it certainly seems like the dialogue is clearly represented in these three audio tracks. The jazz-style music in the three films also sounds fantastic, although Merry Go Round is marred somewhat by anomalies such as the occasional dropout and hiss. The track seems to be slightly muffled at times making this the least impressive of the three tracks. Having said this, these issues never distract the viewer or inhibit their enjoyment of the film.

SS04

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers – (51:43)  

Scenes from a Parallel Life is without question the most significant supplement included in this package. The first segment was completed on May 4th, 1990 in Paris by Karlheinz Oplustil while the second segment was completed in 2004 by Wilfried Reichart. These two archival interviews with Jacques Rivette find the director discussing his unfinished Scènes de la vie parallèle tetralogy (including the completed Duelle and Noroît) and Merry-Go-Round. It is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in the director’s work.

Remembering Duelle – (11:00)

Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz talk about the production of Duelle (1976) and their work on the project. Of the two participants, Bulle Ogier takes the prize for providing the most information. Hermine Karagheuz seems to have fewer memories but discusses Rivette’s vague approach to directing her in the role. It is a relatively short piece, but it does provide some interesting information that should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film.

Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum – (22:25)

Rosenbaum reported from the sets of both Duelle (une quarantaine) and Noroît (une vengeance) and his recollections provide the viewer with some incredible information about the production and some general analysis. This is well worth the viewer’s time.

SS05

Final Words:

This is an important release that showcases three underappreciated film’s by a too-often overlooked voice in the French New Wave. Arrow Academy should be commended for their efforts.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover (2)

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: May 09, 2017

Region: Region Free (A & B)

Length: 86 mins

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: Arrow Video also includes a DVD copy of the film in this package.

Title

The name, Frank Henenlotter, carries a bit of weight in certain circles. He is the man behind such cult horror favorites as Basket Case, Frankenhooker, and Brain Damage, which is making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Arrow Video. Elmer is your friendly neighborhood parasite that has the ability to induce euphoric hallucinations in his hosts. But these LSD-like trips come with a hefty price tag. When young Brian comes under Elmer’s addictive spell, it’s not long before he finds himself scouring the city streets in search of his parasite’s preferred food source—brains! Brain Damage boasts some of the most astonishing bad taste gore-gags ever realized, including the notorious ‘brain-pulling’ sequence and a blowjob that ends with a distinctly unconventional climax.

In case the above description doesn’t make it abundantly clear, it should be said that this darkly comic horror confection will divide audiences. It certainly makes a distinct impression on the viewer, but whether this impression is positive or negative will depend on the viewers personal viewing tastes. Just don’t try watching this one with dear old grandma. That would just be awkward.

SS02.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray and DVD discs in their usual sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck and the original Manson International one sheet design. This case and its artwork are further protected by an O-Card (or slipcover) with additional artwork that sweetens an already attractive presentation.

Blu-ray Cover

Arrow’s Limited Edition Slip Cover

There is also an attractively illustrated booklet that includes an essay entitled A Mind and a Terrible Thing: The Story of Brain Damage” by Michael Gingold. The essay gives the reader a glimpse into the film’s production as well as an affectionate appreciation of the film that should add to the viewer’s experience (though we suggest watching the film before reading this essay or watching any of Arrow’s supplemental material). Transfer information and production credits are also included amongst a generous helping of production photographs and marketing artwork.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet and O-Card are only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

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

SS03

Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s included transfer and restoration information is less detailed than is usual, but it is suggested that some effort was put into this new presentation:

Brain Damage is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono sound. The High Definition master was supplied for this release by Mark Holdom/Mackinac. Additional picture restoration was completed by Deluxe, London.” –Collector’s Booklet

The resulting image is an undeniable improvement over previous releases with the film’s vivid colors well realized and a layer of grain that is reasonably well resolved most of the time but can occasionally look a bit awkward. There is a reasonable level of fine detail on display throughout the duration of the film. If there is a deficiency in the level of detail in some of the scenes, this is the result of the lighting design and doesn’t seem to be an issue with the transfer. Unfortunately, clarity isn’t always one of the transfer’s stronger attributes. The darkness inherent in many of the film’s scenes is served well by attractive and inky black levels. The overall result is probably the best that one can reasonably expect from the source material—even if it isn’t as solid as viewers might expect from the Blu-ray format.

SS05

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes two different audio mixes: the original mono mix is presented as a Linear PCM Audio track and a new 5.1 stereo mix is available in the DTS-HD Master Audio format. The independent nature of the film’s production makes for a sometimes flawed audio presentation, but these tracks certainly aren’t responsible for these deficiencies. Both tracks are reasonably solid, though it is unreasonable to expect the 5.1 mix to be as dynamic as one expects from more recent films. The score does seem to benefit from the subtle separations on display in this mix and effects are sometimes well served by this mix as well. However, purists will probably opt for the Mono track.

SS05

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Frank Henenlotter (Writer and Director)

While the commentary originally available on the previous Synapse release of the film hasn’t been carried over to Arrow’s superior new Blu-ray release, they have made up for this fact by providing this brand new commentary track by Frank Henenlotter that is moderated by Mike Hunchback. The result is a humorously engaging conversation that covers a variety of pertinent topics without ever becoming too dry and pretentious. The track is informative about the production without ever becoming too precious about the film itself.

Isolated Score

Arrow gives fans the opportunity to watch the film with the score highlighted without distraction from the other sound elements. The track is presented in a 2.0 Linear PCM audio transfer.

Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage – (1080P) – (54:13)

The disc’s greatest supplemental attribute is this excellent retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Rick Herbst (actor), Edgar Ievins (producer), Al Magliochetti (visual effects supervisor), James Kwei (editor), Dan Frye (makeup supervisor), and Gregory Lamberson (assistant director). The unfortunate absence of Frank Henenlotter is undeniably awkward, but those who participated in this program do a good job of providing the viewer with an abundance of interesting background information on the film’s production. The interviews are illustrated with footage from the film, video footage from ‘behind the scenes’ of the production, and production stills. Fans will be very pleased!

Q&A with Frank Henenlotter – (1080P) – (20:36)

Arrow makes up for Frank Henenlotter’s absence in Listen to the Light with the inclusion of this informative question-and-answer session recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival. It covers some of the same information included in his commentary track, but there is plenty of new information revealed here to make it well worth the viewer’s time (especially if they are a fan of the film).

The Effects of Brain Damage – (1080P) – (10:00)

Gabe Bartalos—the man responsible for bringing “Elmer” to life—discusses his excellent effects work on the film in a reasonably in-depth fashion. His interview reveals some interesting revelations about how various Elmers were employed to perform different specific functions throughout the film. The discussion is illustrated with some interesting “behind the scenes” footage.

Animating Elmer – (1080P) (06:40)

Al Magliochetti discusses his contributions to Brain Damage as the film’s visual effects supervisor. His memories of working on the film’s stop motion effects for a few of the shots are especially interesting as is the revelation that he included some subliminal messages throughout the film.

Karen Ogle: A Look Back – (1080P) (04:29)

Slightly less essential is this short interview with Karen Ogle—the film’s stills photographer, script supervisor, and assistant editor. Ogle’s memories of the production were obviously happy ones—even if her multiple jobs created a challenge. She also seems to have a particular fondness for Frank Henenlotter.

Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of “Brain Damage – (1080P) (08:48)

This featurette features Michael Gingold and Frank Henenlotter as they revisit some of the film’s shooting locations. Fans will be grateful to have this included here (even if it isn’t particularly revelatory).

Tasty Memories: A “Brain Damage” Obsession – (1080P) (10:00)

One wonders why Arrow even bothered with this somewhat unusual interview with Adam Skinner—a Brain Damage “superfan” that doesn’t have any real connection with the film’s production. It is somewhat interesting to see his collection of posters, videos, and other oddities—and the interview does reinforce the film’s undeniable cult status. We simply grow weary as he shamelessly hypes his band (The Statutory Apes)—and while we understand its inclusion here, their music video is just too much.

Bygone Behemoth(1080P) (05:08)

Harry Chaskin’s animated short features an appearance by John Zacherle that ended up being his final onscreen credit. Fans of stop-motion will enjoy this short tale about an old dinosaur living in a contemporary urban setting.

Aylmer: The Brain, The Voice, The Worm – (03:40)

This is a silly puppet show performed on a trash can that features Aylmer jamming out to music. Fans will find it entertaining, but it won’t quench one’s thirst for production information or analysis.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) (01:15)

The very eighties theatrical trailer doesn’t really do proper justice to the film. It focuses more on the silly tonal qualities of the film without hinting at its darker thematic elements that elevate the material and make it interesting.

Image Galleries:

This collection of photographs and marketing art is divided into three separate categories:

Stills – (1080P) (04:18)

Behind the Scenes – (1080P) (01:35)

Ephemera – (1080P) (00:52)

The photographs are a nice way to round out the disc, but one wonders if they wouldn’t have been more enjoyable if they had been included as part of the included collector’s booklet.

SS06

Final Words

Arrows Blu-ray upgrade earns an easy recommendation for the film’s many fans. However, those who haven’t seen the film might want to do some preliminary research before making a blind purchase.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: May 09, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 02:45:15

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 03:36:25

Heroic Purgatory – 01:58:07

Coup D’Etat 01:49:51

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Heroic Purgatory – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Coup D’Etat Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 2.35:1

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 2.35:1

Heroic Purgatory – 1.33:1

Coup D’Etat 1.33:1

Bitrate:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 31.88 Mbps

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 25.99 Mbps

Heroic Purgatory – 23.49 Mbps

Coup D’Etat 24.49 Mbps

Notes: This release includes DVD editions of each film. In total, there are seven discs included in this package (three Blu-rays and four DVDs).

SS01

“One could say that in this film there are two times, chronologically speaking: ours and that of fifty years ago—Osugi’s time.  In this sense, one could say that it deals with the problem of time, but for me what’s important is the present. Reflecting on the present is also reflecting on the future: it is at the same time wanting to change the present and seizing a hold of that which will become the future. This is the subject of the film and not Osugi as a historical character per se. The fundamental theme is: how to change the world, and what is it that needs to be changed?  Reflecting on the present situation through the medium of an era already past, I came to believe that Osugi’s problems continue to be ours.

Osugi is very well known in Japan—one could say almost legendary: he is someone who spoke of free love.  He was assassinated in 1923 by an official of the state, massacred by the power of the state. This is what all Japanese historians believe, but this historical estimation only enlightens the past and not the future. In making this film, I wanted to transform the legend of Osugi by means of the imaginary. Sure enough, Osugi was oppressed by the power of the state in his political activities. But most of all, he spoke of free love, which has the power to destroy the monogamous structure, then the family, and finally the state. And it was this very escalation that the state could not allow. It was because of this crime of the imaginary (or ‘imaginary crime’) that the state massacred Osugi. Osugi was someone who envisioned a future…

… I would like to remind you of the murder attempt [during] the second part of the film—the knife penetrating Osugi’s neck, filmed in a realistic manner: this is the plain and simple representation of the narrative.  In filming this attempt a second time, my intention was to destroy this narrative, to deform the actual event, in order to enter into Osugi: I thought that maybe Osugi preferred to be killed—in contrast to what the first version of the attempt showed. It comes right after he starts to consider the destruction of the revolution he desired; it was after this destruction that he began to speak of free love, in other words, of an imaginary crime. In this version of the attempt, then, it should not come about because of jealousy, not due to a psychological element, but from a political cause.  Thus I had Osugi say: ‘Revolution is only the renunciation of the self,’ or ‘in love and terror, there is ecstasy.’ In having Osugi say this, I wanted the spectator to feel the absence of revolution in the present situation. For the third version of the attempt, I tried to show the contrary view, namely Noe, the attacker. In opposition to Kurosawa, it is always the renunciation of the self that is important for me: it is only this way that communication with Noe and Itsuko is possible, and only by means of it that one is able to think the future.” –Yoshishige (“Kiju”) Yoshida (Cahiers du Cinéma, October 1970)

As the above quote about Eros + Massacre—undoubtedly the strongest entry in the director’s trilogy of Japanese radicalism—suggests, Yoshida’s trilogy is both innately political and extremely sexual (not that either of these traits is mutually exclusive).

A contemporary of Nagisa Oshima (Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses) and Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower, Assassination), Kiju Yoshida started out as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita before making his directorial debut at age 27. In the decades that followed he produced more than 20 features and documentaries, yet each and every one has proven difficult to see in the English-speaking world.

Perhaps this is because one must have at least a general contextual knowledge of Japan’s socio-political landscape during the nineteen sixties and seventies to fully appreciate his work. Eros + Massacre, Heroic Purgatory, and Coup D’Etat form a loose trilogy united by their radical politics and an even more radical shooting style. Eros + Massacre (presented here in two different versions) tells the parallel stories of early 20th-century anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists. Their stories interact and intertwine—resulting in a complex work that is arguably Yoshida’s masterpiece. Heroic Purgatory pushes the dazzling cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak but dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in early seventies Japan. Coup d’état returns to the past for a biopic of Ikki Kita, the right-wing extremist who sought to overthrow the government in 1936. Yoshida considered the film to be the culmination of his work and temporarily retired from feature filmmaking following its completion—though he would return to the director’s chair over a decade later to make A Promise in 1986.

SS02

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s packaging for this release will no doubt impress anyone with a fondness for classic Japanese cinema. Four items are held in a very sturdy box featuring an attractive design. Three of these items are clear cases which hold the Blu-ray and DVD discs. Each case features its own reversible decorative sleeve. The first case houses the Blu-ray and DVD Editions of the Director’s Cut for Eros + Massacre, the second holds that same film’s Theatrical Version, and the third actually includes a Blu-ray disc featuring both Heroic Purgatory and Coup d’Etat and two DVD discs (one for each of these two films).

The fourth item included in the box is a small limited edition softbound book featuring essays about Yoshishige Yoshida and the films included in the set. Contributors include David Desser (co-editor of the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema), Isolde Standish (author of Politics, Porn, and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s) and Dick Stegewerns (author of Kiju Yoshida: 50 Years of Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Post-War Japan). Each of the essays offers instructive information and analysis that should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of these films.

Disc 1 - Menu

Disc 2 - Menu

Disc 3 - Main Menu

Disc 3 - Heroic Purgatory Menu

Disc 3 - Coup D'Etat

All of these discs contain menus that are somewhat different than those on most Arrow releases, but they are all attractive and easy to navigate.

SS03

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

With the exception of the director’s cut of Eros + Massacre, each of these transfers offers equally solid transfers. The director’s cut is more than three and a half hours in length resulting in a slightly lower bitrate than was used for the theatrical version (which was only two hours and forty-five minutes in length). However, we feel that the significant decrease in picture quality is the result of an inferior source print. The longer director’s cut is noticeably too bright and blown out—which reduces fine detail significantly.

The rest of the three transfers are much better with Heroic Purgatory being marginally superior to the others. All feature strong contrast with nice black levels and showcase a fair amount of fine detail. The image isn’t as razor sharp as contemporary films, but one feels that these represent the originals rather faithfully. Coup D’Etat features a few moments of disappointing clarity but it really isn’t anything to complain about.

SS04

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Each film features a solid lossless mono track—with the theatrical version of Eros + Massacre given a slightly more technically robust transfer. Each track represents its respective film nicely and the sound design featured in each of the films is often quite interesting. Some will no doubt lament the lack of a more dynamic mix of these films, but all that matters to this reviewer is that each track is a reasonably flawless reflection of the original source, and these tracks certainly fall in line with those expectations.

SS05

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

8 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version) by David Desser

9 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut) by David Desser

10 Scene Commentary Tracks for Heroic Purgatory by David Desser

7 Scene Commentary Tracks for Coup d’etat by David Desser

These scene commentaries by David Desser will fascinate anyone with an interest in Japanese cinema (especially if they also happen to have a fondness for scholarly analysis). Each is highly informative and make valuable contributions to one’s understanding and appreciation of these films.

Yoshida …or: The Explosion of the Story – (30:10)

It is nice to find a documentary about Eros + Massacre included on this set—especially one that features Yoshishige Yoshida himself! This French production also includes contributions from Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet. It is a very strong addition to the disc.

Introduction to Heroic Purgatory by Yoshida – (06:08)

Introduction to Coup d Etat by Yoshida – (05:22)

Yoshida offers slightly more substantial introductions to Heroic Purgatory and Coup d Etat than one might expect. Introductions usually don’t provide much in the way of valuable information or analysis, but these are actually worth the viewer’s time and the disc space that they occupy.

Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version): Discussion with David Desser – (11:21)

Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut): Discussion with David Desser – (09:08)

Heroic Purgatory: Discussion with David Desser – (09:14)

Coup d’etat: Discussion with David Desser – (08:51)

David Desser’s exclusive discussions are also well worth the time that it takes to watch them. Desser is the author of Eros + Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave and obviously has a passion for Japanese cinema (even if he can come off as a bit dry). Much like his scene commentaries, the information that he reveals along with some analysis adds to one’s appreciation of these films.

Eros + Massacre Theatrical Trailer – (03:30)

Heroic Purgatory Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

Coup d Etat Theatrical Trailer – (02:58)

One always hopes that the original trailers will be included in a Blu-ray package—especially when the films are as obscure and unusual as these happen to be.

SS06

Final Words:

Devotees of Japanese cinema should certainly see this interesting trilogy and Arrow’s wonderful boxed set is currently the only way to make this happen

Review by: Devon Powell