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by Michael Barrett

8 Sep 2016

The Spiders (1919)

As part of their ongoing Blu-ray upgrade of their silent film DVD collection, Kino has released two more German classics from Fritz Lang. One is identical to its previous DVD, and the other adds something substantial.

The unchanged item is The Spiders, a two-part adventure from 1919 written and directed by Lang in direct emulation of Louis Feuillade’s French serials, from a plot full of senseless running around and hair’s breadth escapes to the manipulations of a beautiful villainess—an anti-heroine admired for her strength and intelligence as much as her glamour. Feuillade cast Musidora in these roles, while Lang uses the exotically named Ressel Orla as the equally exotically named Lio Sha.

by Michael Barrett

7 Sep 2016

Daniel Auteuil in On Guard

This Blu-ray offers two gorgeously remastered films directed by Philippe De Broca from more than 35 years apart. While they don’t make much sense as a double-feature, each is an aesthetic pleasure on its own.

De Broca was associated with the French New Wave because he worked with Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut, and the former produced his first feature. Unlike that movement, however, De Broca quickly established his interest in classical aesthetics and unabashed mass entertainment that drew on French tradition, often with great success. Indeed, as PopMatters pointed out in a previous review, the international splash of That Man From Rio (1964) directly influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and all it spawned. Such vulgar success likely prevented him from being taken as seriously as he might have been.

by Michael Barrett

12 Jul 2016

King Hu is among the most important and idiosyncratic creators of the modern martial arts film, but his films have been tough to see in the digital era. In Region 1, the only one to receive an official subtitled release on DVD is his 1966 debut for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, Come Drink With Me, a milestone for its motifs of the drunken hero, a swordswoman, and an inn.

Thanks to the restoration efforts of its star, Hsu Feng, Hu’s three-hour epic A Touch of Zen  is now available on Criterion, and we hope it presages more of the same.

by Michael Barrett

8 Jul 2016

Miracles are still happening on the silent film front. In 2004, a private detective notified the Oklahoma City Museum of Art that he’d received a film print in payment for a job. The museum was astounded to realize he was talking about a long-lost 1920 feature, shot in Oklahoma with a cast entirely of Kiowa and Comanche Indians. When the museum acquired the film, it turned out to be complete and in excellent shape, though in need of restoration. Several years later, the six-reel feature has been selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

So how’s the movie? This independent production tells a very simple story in a genre once called “Indian romances”. It’s prettily photographed in medium shots at natural locations, and now accompanied by an original score from David Yeagley. Not in itself a masterpiece of cinema, it’s a creditable, professional effort that’s most fascinating for its preservation of artifacts provided by the actors. We see tipis (tee-pees), clothes, weapons, dances, gestures, and bareback riding, along with herds of buffalo and various vistas amid the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, still unspoiled today.

by Michael Barrett

7 Jul 2016

Little in this collection is new, as the films have previously been on Blu-ray in various permutations. So what’s the big deal here? It’s the sheer convenience of finally having all 32 existing shorts made by Buster Keaton, in 2K restorations, in one shiny package.

That includes 13 “apprentice” shorts he made under the mentorship of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and that in turn includes “The Cook”, which had been rediscovered and issued separately from the previous Arbuckle/Keaton discs. Let nobody assume these early works are too minor or primitive, or even—perish the thought—unfunny. They’re often ingenious and for some reason rely frequently on cross-dressing. Not yet established as “the great stone face”, Keaton adopts a variety of attitudes.

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