The DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012

28 critics and producers on the home-cinema releases of the year.

Sight & Sound contributors
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The Passion of Joan of Arc, hailed anew in 2012

The Passion of Joan of Arc, hailed anew in 2012

Note: Editions are UK Region 2 unless otherwise stated. Initial links are to a publisher’s product page; additional text links are to the film’s entry in the BFI’s explore.bfi.org.uk database.

Geoff Andrew

Head of Film, BFI Southbank

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

Die Nibelungen

Fritz Lang, Germany 1924; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray or DVD

RoGoPaG

Ugo Gregoretti, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini, France-Italy 1963; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and DVD

Three of my favourite releases of the year came from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label. The Passion of Joan of Arc boasted a beautifully restored version of Dreyer’s masterpiece, with the original Danish intertitles. The release comes with different cuts, soundtracks and plenty of contextualising extras, but it’s the luminous visual beauty of the restoration that makes it so special.

Die Nibelungen, meanwhile, offered silent filmmaking of a very different kind, but no less impressive; Lang’s epic, like his Mabuse films, is genre filmmaking at its most engrossing: brilliantly paced, truly imaginative and wonderfully spectacular. If only some of today’s practitioners had such a keen understanding of what to include and what to omit, when to speed things up and when to slow them down!

And finally from Eureka, RoGoPaG was for me a revelation. Too often the portmanteau films of the 60s were dismally uneven, but this scabrous look at a world going off the rails succeeds from start to finish. Rossellini, Godard, Pasolini and the now sadly unfamiliar Ugo Gregoretti all contribute fine, provocative episodes.

Nostalgia for the Light

Patricio Guzmán, 2010; New Wave, Blu-ray or DVD

La Morte Rouge

Victor Erice, Spain 2006; Rosebud DVD (Region 2 Spain)

My other two favourites might be categorised as essay films. Nostalgia for the Light, premiered in Cannes a couple of years ago but released by New Wave only this year, is one of the finest non-fiction features of recent years, improbably bringing together astronomy, geology, archaeology, history, politics and personal passions in a magisterial meditation on loss, grief, remembrance and healing.

A similarly diverse tapestry of strands may be found in the equally superb La Morte Rouge, the half-hour partly autobiographical film made by Víctor Erice a few years back for the Erice-Kiarostami Correspondences exhibition. Now finally available (with decent extras) on DVD from Fnac in Spain, the film’s reflections on cinema, memory, childhood, death and time are as entrancing as anything the Spanish master has given us.

Sergio Angelini

Critic, UK

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Robert Aldrich, US 1977; Olive Films (US), Blu-ray

Double Indemnity

Billy Wilder, US 1944; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Lifeboat

Alfred Hitchcock, US 1944; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection

Dracula, 1931; Frankenstein, 1931; The Mummy, 1932; The Invisible Man, 1933; Bride of Frankenstein, 1935; The Wolf Man, 1941; The Phantom of the Opera, 1943; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954; all US; Universal (region-free), Blu-ray

Edgar Wallace Mysteries, volumes 1-7

UK 1960-65; Network, DVD

When it comes to physical media, home-video releases for film and TV titles of archival interest may well be reaching their last hurrah, especially with the announcement that Warner Archive is now also offering Blu-ray titles on-demand.

2012 was none the less a vintage year with bijou companies such as Criterion, Kino and Olive Films in the US putting out some wonderful titles in HD, with the long-rumoured disc debut of Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming ultimately proving to be well worth the wait.

Honour is especially due to Eureka’s still-strong Masters of Cinema label, which this year delivered such prime (UK-only) releases as the Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity and Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

On the other hand the major labels had a mixed year – Universal’s Blu-ray set of Classic Monsters titles mainly from the 1930s (but which also appended a fabulous 3D version of The Creature from the Black Lagoon) was a thing of great high-def beauty, while their 14-disc Hitchcock set was a real mixed bag, beset by some well-publicised technical SNAFUs.

Hammer started well this year with HD versions of The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies but then scored several successive PR own goals when releasing ‘revised’ editions of some of their other classic horror titles to the general dismay of hardcore fans.

From a nostalgia standpoint though, little this year could touch the sheer entertainment value found in the seven volumes of the Edgar Wallace series made by Anglo Amalgamated in the 1960s, delivered by Network in pristine condition in anamorphic widescreen and supplemented by several other crime and mystery films made at around the same time.

Michael Atkinson

Critic, US

Pearls of the Czech New Wave

Pearls of the Deep, 1966; Daisies, 1966; A Report on the Party and the Guests, 1966; Return of the Prodigal Son, 1967; Capricious Summer, 1968; The Joke, 1969, all Czechoslavakia; Criterion Eclipse (US), DVD

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey

US 1966-79; Criterion (US), Blu-ray or DVD

Sokurov: Early Masterworks

Save and Protect, 1990; Stone, 1992; Whispering Pages, 1994, all Russia; The Cinema Guild (US), Blu-ray/DVD mix

Letter from an Unknown Woman

Max Ophuls, France 1948; Olive Films (US), Blu-ray

Increasingly, one’s moviehead sanity is saved from contemporary filmmaking’s toxic blundering only by the sanctity of archivals, and this year the packages that made a difference were Criterion’s Czech New Wave set, within which the defiance of the late 60s still blooms like lithium fireworks, and A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, a generous benediction in the legacy of the hard-to-sell avant-garde we can only hope will shine its light on Gregory Markopoulos, Michael Snow and Bruce Conner, just for starters.

Likewise, The Cinema Guild’s magnificent mid-career Aleksandr Sokurov box finally puts those rare and crepuscular mushrooms on my shelf for forever and a day. But all told, I’m perhaps most thankful for Olive Films’ modest, unadorned, straight-from-the-vault release of Letter from an Unknown Woman, which may, I think, outlive us all, now that anyone can buy a perfect copy for the price of a steak, and have it become a lovely gargoyle permanently affixed to their lives.

James Bell

Sight & Sound

Lonesome


Paul Fejos, 1928, US; Criterion (Region 1 US), Blu-ray or DVD

Lonesome

Lonesome

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection


Dracula, 1931; Frankenstein, 1931; The Mummy, 1932; The Invisible Man, 1933; Bride of Frankenstein, 1935; The Wolf Man, 1941; The Phantom of the Opera, 1943; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954; all US; Universal (region-free), Blu-ray

The Passion of Joan of Arc


Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

Ghost Stories for Christmas: The Definitive Collection


Lawrence Gordon Clark and others, UK 1968-2010; BFI, DVD

Ruggles of Red Gap


Leo McCary, US 1935; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray or DVD

James Blackford

BFI DVD

Bond 50: Celebrating Five Decades of Bond 007

UK-US 1964-2008; MGM, Blu-ray

This boxset is simply incredible value at less than £100. Although a bit lacking in newly filmed HD extras, the transfers look spectacular and all of the extras (over 130 hours’ worth!) have been ported from the previous DVD editions. The perfect-bound hardback-book packaging is also suitably luxurious.

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Lucio Fulci, Italy 1979; Arrow Video, Blu-ray (or DVD)

A stunning new 2K transfer struck from the original negative revealing more picture area, more detail and a less-saturated, naturalistic look; a wealth of extras and an informative glossy booklet all help make this the essential edition of a much-loved gory classic.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

A consummate edition of this long unavailable, silent masterwork. Presented in a beautifully restored new transfer, with an unbelievable array of extras and a 100-page perfect-bound book. I’d been wondering how Masters of Cinema could possibly top last year’s release of Touch of Evil… Does it get any better than this?

Lips of Blood

Jean Rollin, France 1975; Redemption Films/Kino Lorber, Blu-ray

With their bold selection of obscure European horror releases and distinctive black-and-white sleeves, Redemption was a pioneering video label back in the 90s. Their renaissance this year with a slate of high-quality Blu-ray premieres from directors such as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin has been nothing short of a revelation. Lips of Blood, which boasts a filmed introduction, interviews, trailers and a 20-page booklet by Tim Lucas, is particularly impressive.

Husbands 3-disc Collectors’ Edition

John Cassavetes, US 1970; Wild Side (France), DVD

This comprehensive release of one of Cassavetes’ most rewarding films came out quietly this year in France. The film is presented in both the original theatrical cut and an extended version; the transfer is solid, and the package includes a feature-length documentary and interviews with Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk and Al Ruban filmed shortly after Cassavetes’ death. The only draw back was that you can’t turn off the French subtitles!

Michael Brooke

Critic, UK

For me, 2012’s most important home video event was the publication of Nick Wrigley’s ‘Crimes Against the Grain’ in the December S&S, with its detailed and damning exposé of how and why certain digital ‘restorations’ end up more like the notorious amateur retouching of Elias Garcia Martinez’ fresco ‘Ecce Homo’ than anything the films’ directors or cinematographers would recognise. This is cultural vandalism akin to panning and scanning, and needs to be just as vigorously opposed.

On a happier note, 2012 saw some superb DVD and Blu-ray releases, and coming up with just five was no small task. But, in alphabetical order:

Confidence

István Szabó, Hungary 1980; Second Run, DVD

Britain’s most adventurous indie label had another stellar year, but this was the standout: unbelievably, the world video premiere of Szabó’s riveting study of loneliness and paranoia in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

The Conformist

Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy-France 1970; Arrow Academy, Dual format

Given what Arrow wrung from the original camera negative of Zombie Flesh Eaters, it’s a shame they weren’t given the opportunity to work similar magic here, but this is still a fine edition, not least for David Forgacs’ exhaustive commentary.

The Devils

Ken Russell, UK 1971; BFI DVD

Despite upfront hobbling by contractual compromises (no Blu-ray, no “rape of Christ” footage), this magnificent double-disc set finally brought Russell’s much-maligned masterpiece back into circulation in a decent (or sufficiently indecent) edition.

Letter Never Sent

Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR 1959; Criterion, Blu-ray or DVD

A demonstration-quality transfer of Kalatozov’s undeservedly neglected Siberian adventure. The only rational response to cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky’s impossibly elaborate camera choreography is slack-jawed astonishment.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

An obvious labour of love, and also a major contribution to film scholarship, presenting the ‘Oslo’ print of the original Danish premiere version at two frame-rates, alongside the horribly compromised but historically essential ‘Lo Duca’ version.

Tom Charity

CNN.com, Lovefilm and VanCity Film Festival

Too Late Blues

John Cassavetes, US 1961; Olive Films (US), Blu-ray

Thrilled and (frankly) surprised that several John Cassavetes movies have made it to Blu-ray this year – including a trio from the BFI that I contributed some notes to. But I’m not voting for myself and had nothing to do with Olive Film’s R1 release of Too Late Blues.

This is by no means a perfect film but it is fascinating. it was Cassavetes’ first stab at directing a movie in the Hollywood studio system, and this story of an idealistic jazz musician (Bobby Darin) is fuelled with his conflicted feelings about the nexus of art and commerce. It’s also notable for a strikingly vulnerable performance from Stella Stevens that anticipates Gena Rowlands’ tragic heroines in A Woman under the Influence.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Robert Aldrich, US 1977; Olive Films (US), Blu-ray

Another Olive Films release – also on Blu-ray. Aldrich’s gripping political thriller about a rogue US military general threatening to launch a nuclear war unless the President releases evidence that the rationale behind the Vietnam War was a lie. The film has been hard to see, but it’s a stunner, worthy of comparison with Dr Strangelove and Seven Days in May. The use of split screen here is about as good as it gets. The Blu-ray comes with a 70 min making of documentary that is also valuable.

also:

Lonesome

Paul Fejos, 1928, US; Criterion (Region 1 US), Blu-ray or DVD

Jean Grémillon During the Occupation

Remorques, 1941; Lumière d’Été, 1943; Le Ciel est a vous, 1944, all France; Criterion/Eclipse (US), DVD

Die Nibelungen

Fritz Lang, Germany 1924; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray or DVD

Sam Dunn

BFI DVD

Another year, another unbelievable selection of DVDs and Blu-rays to choose from. Here goes:

The Opening of Misty Beethoven

Radley Metzger (as Henry Paris), USA, 1976; Distribpix, Blu-ray or DVD

Release of the year in my opinion. Distribpix went the whole hog with their beautiful transfer of this ‘Henry Paris’ classic, and their Project Misty fundraising campaign made it possible to bring it to Blu-ray. It’s sad to think that it takes a funding campaign for companies such as this to be able to afford to release on Blu-ray, but it’s heartening to know there are so many people out there who care enough to make it happen.

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Lucio Fulci, Italy 1979; Arrow Video, Blu-ray (or DVD)

It’s great when perennial titles such as this get a new lease of life, and this latest addition to Arrow Video’s ever-expanding catalogue of great Blu-ray titles looks absolutely stunning. Picture area is maximised, and the palette now has a more naturalistic look. And as if that wasn’t enough, it’s absolutely loaded with extras too. Companies like Arrow make it an absolute pleasure to be a DVD and Blu-ray consumer.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer, France 1928; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and/or DVD

No DVD/Blu-ray end-of-year poll would be complete without at least one MoC title, and there are – as ever – a number to choose from this year. Let’s face it, though, Joan truly is a revelation, newly remastered from rare film elements and packaged with incredible extra features. I for one am exceedingly grateful to all involved for such sterling work.

Countess Perverse

Jesús Franco, France 1973; Mondo Macabro (US), DVD

The latest of three Jess Franco offerings from Mondo Macabro, all of which have been treated to exemplary transfers. This one’s full of beautiful locations and features some lovely camerawork, the net result leaving me greedily wishing the costs of Blu-ray releasing weren’t so prohibitive as to relegate this to DVD only. Project Perverse, anyone?

Born for Hell

Denis Héroux, Canada-France-Italy 1975; Vidiots, limited edition DVD

Also known as Naked Massacre, Denis (The Uncanny) Héroux’s grimly brutal film will, I suspect, be somewhat beyond the pale for some viewers, but it’s a film I’ve never been able to forget since I first saw it on a ropey-looking VHS many years ago. Compiled from a great transfer of a censored version plus low-quality inserts taken from VHS, this most welcome release is by far the best way to see the uncut version of this extraordinary, controversial film.

Also: Redemption/Kino Lorber’s The Cinema of Jean Rollin Blu-rays; StudioCanal’s Ealing and Hammer Blu-rays; Odeon’s DVD editions of essential British titles (e.g. The Mark, The Third Secret, Girl on Approval).

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