The DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012 pt 2

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

Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

Web exclusive

Part 1  |  Part 3

Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein

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.

The Ferroni Brigade
aka Christoph Huber and Olaf Möller
Critics, Austria/Germany

Angriff auf die Demokratie – Eine Intervention (Attack on Democracy: An Intervention)
Romuald Karmakar, FRG 2012; Absolut Medien (Germany), DVD

Denk ich an Deutschland: Das Wispern im Berg der Dinge (I Think of Germany: The Whispers in the Mountain of Things)
Dominik Graf & Michael Althen, FRG 1996; Absolut Medien (Germany), DVD

Angriff auf die Demokratie – Eine Intervention is a rousing masterpiece of political agitation as well as a disquieting portrayal of the nation’s intellectual elite. One of the year’s finest as well as timeliest works, it was, of course, never released anywhere. The DVD should be used as a community-building tool – meaning, don’t watch it home alone, but together with others, dozens or hundreds, to discuss afterwards what you experienced and learnt. But don’t be over-affirmative about what you see and hear, for the way it presents idea can be quite problematic.

In a somewhat roundabout way this gets us to Das Wispern im Berg der Dinge, an essay about the FRG’s postwar generation as well as the young nation’s aesthetics of choice apropos a portray of Graf’s father, the gone-too-young actor Robert Graf. It’s quite interesting to see the quietly reluctant thoughtfulness of people like literary critic Joachim Kaiser, producer Hans Abich or director Franz Peter Wirth when discussing the 50s, its theatre as well as television of words – the notion of blank spaces impossible to fill. This is an intellectual elite of a very different age and order. Now, how did we get from there to here?

Black Moon
Roy William Neill, USA 1934; Sony Screen Classics (US), DVD

Roy William Neill has a very special place in our heart: We dearly loves this still grossly under-appreciated (pace Jacques Lourcelles) genre master whose frostily sang-froid sense of space and rhythm leaves us dumbstruck each and every time. Maybe, just maybe he’s the greatest of all auteurs who worked at the Hollywood-programmer assembly line. This astonishing voodoo mystery is just one example of his extraordinary talent.

Tagebuch eines Frauenmörders (Diary of a Female Murderer)
Helmut Käutner, FRG 1969; Pidax Film-Klassiker (Germany), DVD

Every release of a work by the FRG’s single-greatest 1940s-60s auteur is a cause for celebration. Yet a release like this, finally making available one of his finest teleplays – a sardonic cautionary tale about a man turned into a serial killer by a true-crime writer and a bunch of people in high places – almost calls for a new national bank holiday: Helmut Käutner-TV-Genius-Veneration-Day.

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Detstvo Gorkogo) [Hyperkino Edition, imported to the UK by MovieMail]
Mark Donskoj, USSR 1938; Ruscico (Russia)

While we’re not too crazy about the Hyperkino-concept – not our style of doing things – that doesn’t mean that it can’t be worthy and useful. As exquisitely operated here by Jeremy Hicks, the release of what’s arguably Mark Donskoj’s greatest film (this side of Raduga/The Rainbow, 1944) in such a nice and thoughtful edition is definitely to be fêted.

La Cuccagna
Luciano Salce, Italy 1962; RaroVideo (Italy), DVD

One of Salce’s finest exercises in commedia all’italiana, a scathing exposé about the boom and what it does to people.

Bonus:

Nightbirds (+ The Body Beneath)
Andy Milligan, UK 1970; BFI, Blu-ray and DVD

We always feel a bit awkward honouring The House’s own releases. Still, what needs praise shall get it, and few DVD releases we encounter year in year out are as deserving of all the praise that can be heaped upon them as those of the BFI’s Flipside collection.

Making a choice was once again an ordeal, as Ian Merrick’s The Black Panther (1977) was a major discovery for us. And yet, it had to be this one: not only did Nightbirds open up some unexpected perspectives on the aesthetics of an auteur more then a little maudit (the sublime bonus feature, 1970’s The Body Beneath, is more on the Milligan-usual side), but it also deepened our admiration for Nicolas Winding Refn, the release’s patron saint. It’s one thing for a director to deliver, big time, again and again, and quite another to properly support film culture and history in a hands-down fashion.

Tom Huddleston
Time Out London

For the past three years, two wildly different DVD distributors have almost entirely dominated my home viewing: Eureka/Masters of Cinema, offering meaty Criterion-alike editions of often overlooked world cinema masterpieces, and Arrow Film & Video, with their stunningly packaged reissues of global exploitation classics.

The Gospel According to Matthew
Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy 1964; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and DVD

Repo Man
Alex Cox, US 1983; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Punishment Park
Peter Watkins, US 1971; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray and DVD

From the former, 2012 favourites include a gorgeous transfer of Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew, the superior TV cut of Repo Man (“flip you, melonfarmer!”) and Peter Watkins’s furious, exhausting Punishment Park.

The Night Child
Massimo Dallamano, ; Arrow Video, DVD

Christmas Evil
Lewis Jackson, UK-Italy 1975; Arrow Video, DVD

Combat Shock
Buddy Giovinazzo; Arrow Video, DVD

Of the latter, The Night Child is one of the most visually arresting horror movies ever shot, Christmas Evil is an oddball seasonal slasher with a truly magical ending and Combat Shock is perhaps the most ferociously, nauseatingly downbeat movie I’ve ever seen. These are films from that magical hinterland where art and exploitation overlap and intertwine, and both companies are doing an amazing job of returning them to the public sphere.

Pamela Hutchinson
silentlondon.co.uk

A Trip to the Moon
Georges Méliès, France 1902; Flicker Alley (US), Blu-ray

It was for many a controversial year. Voices were raised in protest against a clutch of DVD releases for classic silents with controversial modern scores: A Trip to the Moon, The Lodger and most outlandishly, Giorgio Moroder’s 1980s remix of Metropolis. As it happens, I’m fond of Air’s squelchy, larky soundtrack for the Méliès film – and even if I weren’t, this full-colour restoration was too much of a treat to overlook.

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

As if to forestall such arguments over The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer insisted that his film should be presented without music. His wishes have been brazenly ignored, of course, but Masters of Cinema’s lavish release of the film coolly offers silence as a default – as well as the welcome option to watch at a sedate 20fps with an optional piano score, or with something a little edgier at 24fps.

In 2012, discovering I was a silent film blogger directed a conversation one of two ways. In the first half of the year people asked me about The Artist; in the second half, happily, most wanted to talk about this two-disc set instead.

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

In the US, Criterion took a technological oddity, the part-talkie, part-tinted Lonesome, and packaged it as the gem it really is. That Paul Fejos’ city-symphony romance stars Barbara Kent, who was until late 2011 the last living adult silent film star, makes the care lavished on it all the more poignant.

The Complete Jean Vigo
France 1930-34; Criterion (US), Blu-ray

There was poignancy too in Criterion’s gorgeous Jean Vigo set, just because the four sparkling, brilliant films collected there represent the entirety of the director’s output.

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

Die Nibelungen, part one: Siegfried

Die Nibelungen, part one: Siegfried

I was mesmerised for a long afternoon by Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen, restored and lusciously transferred to Blu-ray, with yes, the original orchestral score.

Pasquale Iannone
Academic and critic, UK

Each new Masters of Cinema release is an essential purchase and while 2011 was the year of eye-popping HD editions of the likes of Epstein’s Cœur fidèle, Welles’ Touch of Evil, Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships and Antonioni’s Le Amiche, 2012 was undoubtedly the year of Pasolini with new MoC editions of Accattone, The Gospel According to Matthew, Hawks and Sparrows, Oedipus Rex and Pigsty, not to mention portmanteau film RoGoPaG which thrillingly pairs Pasolini and Welles. (Disclosure: I contributed essays to four of these).

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

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

Two revelations however, were the MoC Blu-ray editions of two silent masterpieces, Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen and Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc – the latter coming with a 100-page book.

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

2012 also saw the Arrow Academy Dual Format release of The Conformist in a beautiful package with one of the best DVD commentaries of the year, from NYU’s David Forgacs.

I Compagni (The Organizer)
Mario Monicelli, Italy 1963; Criterion (US), Blu-ray

Of Criterion’s many noteworthy releases over the past 12 months, Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate stood out, as did The Trilogy of Life (Pasolini again), but a special mention must go to The Organizer, a 1963 strike drama with Marcello Mastroianni. Very poorly represented on home video in the UK, Monicelli was a master of the ‘Comedy Italian Style’ and his bitingly satirical work is crying out for wider recognition. J. Hoberman, in his superb booklet essay, could be talking about all of Monicelli’s films when he describes it as “popular cinema in the best sense.”

The Story of Film
Mark Cousins, UK 2011; Network, DVD

Finally, Mark Cousins’ monumental 15-hour The Story of Film was released on DVD early in the year after making its TV debut in 2011. From the beginner dipping his/her toe into the study of film to the seasoned film academic, there is something for everyone to savour in Cousins’ passionate paean to cinema.

David Jenkins
Little White Lies

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

The only film I’ve seen by Paul Fejös, but on the evidence of Criterion’s scintillating Blu-ray release, he was clearly a director who thought that with cinema, anything was possible. A silent, earnestly romantic NY fantasia from 1928 that’s fashioned in the Sunrise mould (with a few nods to Vidor’s The Crowd), it sees a couple meeting cute en route to Coney Island, locking arms and having a doe-eyed day at the fair. The few dialogue scenes are charmingly inchoate and seem out of place with the rest of the film, and the coincidental denouement is face-palmingly ditzy, but it’s still a film of incredible invention, and a scene in which the pair are split up when riding a defective roller coaster is just sublime.

The Mizoguchi Collection
Osaka Elegy, 1936; Sisters of the Gion, 1936; The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, 1939; Utamaro and His Five Women, 1946, all Japan; Artificial Eye, Blu-ray or DVD

Following Masters of Cinema’s invaluable late-era Mizoguchi restorations, Artificial Eye deliver a five-film package of his seminal 1930s work, plus one from 1946. I think if I’d bothered to re-watch The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939) again before filing my Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time ballot, it would’ve undoubtedly made a hard task even harder.

On the Bowery – The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Volume One
Lionel Rogoson, US 1955-65; Milestone (US), Blu-ray or DVD

Now this may sound archly dismissive, but while watching Lionel Rogosin’s lightly fictionalised, supremely depressing documentary of transient culture in 1950s New York, I couldn’t help but mentally chart its cinematic lineage with ITV2’s highly popular ‘structured reality’ series The Only Way is Essex. Incidentally, it’s John Cassavetes (a big fan of Rogosin) who sits exactly half way between the two. But seriously, this was a beautiful package from Milestone.

Tuesday, After Christmas
Radu Muntean, Romania 2010; Second Run, DVD

A stunning, Bergmany break-up movie from Romania’s Muntean, rescued from obscurity by the great cinephilic safety net that is Second Run DVD. If played first, it would make a great double bill with Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

Two-Lane Blacktop
Monte Hellman, US 1971; Eureka Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Yet another great year from Masters of Cinema, but their release of Monte Hellman’s Zen road movie – a film not just about roads, but about cars too – just pipped DeMille’s Cleopatra, McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap, Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew and Ozu’s Floating Weeds to the post.

Kent Jones
Film Society of Lincoln Center

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey
US 1966-79; Criterion (US), Blu-ray or DVD

Criterion’s Hollis Frampton Odyssey was wholly unexpected, a beautifully produced and carefully curated selection from his vast, haunting, taxonomic cinema.

The Game
David Fincher, US 1997; Criterion (US), Blu-ray

Chinatown
Roman Polanski, US 1974; Paramount (US), Blu-ray

Criterion’s exquisite Blu-ray of The Game was another revelation – a film I had initially disliked and subsequently come to admire now seems to me a genuinely great work.

Speaking of which, Paramount’s Blu-ray of Chinatown features a fascinating commentary discussion between David Fincher and Robert Towne – a rich appreciation of LA and its history and an off-handed primer in the art of moviemaking.

Jean-Luc Godard Politique
France 1967-2010; Gaumont (France), DVD

Gaumont released the enormous Jean-Luc Godard Politique box, which includes the Dziga Vertov Group films, Comment ça va?, the brilliant 1986 domestic video piece Soft and Hard and a few other previously available titles, all with English subtitles.

The Hanging Tree
Delmer Daves, US 1959; Warner Archive (US), DVR

Treasure of the Golden Condor
Delmer Daves, US 1953; Fox Cinema Archives (US), DVR

Twelve O’Clock High
Henry King, US 1949; Fox (US), Blu-ray or DVD

The Grapes of Wrath
John Ford, US 1939; Fox (US), Blu-ray or DVD

There were a number of terrific releases from the multiple DVR ‘classics’ labels that have sprouted up in the last few years – for instance, Delmer Daves’ The Hanging Tree from Warner Archive and his Treasure of the Golden Condor from Fox Cinema Archives.

Fox also released two remarkable Blu-rays. For some reason, I had never seen Twelve O’Clock High, and this immaculately produced edition was a perfect introduction to an extremely unusual movie – like The Bridges at Toko-Ri, less a war movie than a careful study of composure and its limit point under the pressure of command.

For me, the event of the year was Fox’s Blu-ray of The Grapes of Wrath. We all used to look down on this film – inferior to other Ford movies, too official, too pictorial, etc, etc. To see it in this state – the texture of skin, the grain of wood, the weave of a tent are all pulsingly alive, and the quality of light from shot to shot is mind-bending – is to experience one of the American cinema’s greatest visual poems.

Philip Kemp
Critic, UK

Silent Naruse
Naruse Mikio, Japan, 1931-34; Criterion Eclipse (USA), DVD

Of Naruse Mikio’s two dozen or so silent features only four, plus a short, are known to survive. And here they all are in one of Criterion’s invaluable Eclipse collections – budget-priced near-vanilla sets, simply packaged in a slip-case with insert notes.

All five films – the earliest of them dating from 1931, only a year after Naruse’s directorial debut – show his prevailing mode was present from the start: downbeat fatalism shot through with compassion, often centring on female protagonists trapped by family and financial circumstances. Visual blips and glitches scarcely detract from the opportunity of discovering one of Japanese cinema’s great humanists at the very outset of his career.

Henry K. Miller
Critic and academic, UK

Bill Brand: The Complete Series
UK 1976; Network, DVD

I enjoyed Borgen and can recite all four seasons of The West Wing backwards, but Trevor Griffith’s Bill Brand, broadcast in primetime by ITV in the summer of 1976, is a truly political drama, inspired by, among other things, Ralph Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism. A study of the Labour Party from the point of view of a young left-wing MP – though it’s part of Griffith’s technique that other points of view are shown – it’s extraordinarily prescient about the political consequences of the 1970s slump; and, at the same time, not. The series culminates in an auto-critique involving a feminist agitprop theatre troupe (featuring Jonathan Pryce) singing Chilean revolutionary songs in a Manchester terrace.

Park Row
Samuel Fuller, US 1952; Eureka Masters of Cinema, DVD

The Lacey Rituals
Bruce Lacey, UK 1951-2012; BFI, DVD

Sam Fuller’s Park Row probably isn’t the best film revived on DVD this year, but it might be the best DVD revival by dint of timing (and MoC’s package is typically great). It’s the right year for a film idealising the free press, and, more forlornly, the old ways of producing it.

The Lacey Rituals, meanwhile, is an exemplary revival of a different kind, comprising the film work of Britain’s leading robot-making, trad-jazz playing, neo-Edwardo-Victorian satire boomer, helpfully introduced in Nick Abrahams and Jeremy Deller’s excellent new film – part of the six-hour package – The Bruce Lacey Experience.

The Soviet Influence: Battleship Potemkin + Drifters
BFI, Blu-ray and DVD

This second release in the BFI’s ‘Soviet Influence’ series, with Len Lye’s masterpiece Trade Tattoo for the first time in HD – and a full complement of booklet essays [Editor’s note: including one by Henry K. Miller] – fits easily into most stockings.

Kim Newman
Critic and author, UK

I’ve already enthused about Universal’s luxurious, revelatory Blu-ray Monsters Collection in the pages of S&S, so I’m ranging further afield here.

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

One thing that S&S’s ten-yearly Greatest Films of All Time poll does is highlight those greats that have somehow passed me by – in the 2012 top ten is one film that I’d not seen when the poll was taken. Asking around, it seems I’m not the only one whose cinema knowledge has this particular blind spot, so it’s providential that Eureka’s always-interesting, often-outstanding Masters of Cinema series should issue Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc to fill that gap. Of this distributor’s imaginative catalogue, I’d also select Sam Fuller’s Park Row and Fritz Lang’s Testament of Dr Mabuse.

Black Moon
Louis Malle, France 1974; Criterion (US), Blu-ray or DVD

When Horror Came to Shochiku
The X from Outer Space, 1967; Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, 1968; The Living Skeleton, 1968; Genocide, 1968, all Japan; Criterion Eclipse (US), DVD

The Criterion Collection release that most excited me was Louis Malle’s seldom-seen surreal/apocalyptic Black Moon, with the mesmerising presence of Cathryn Harrison as a wanderer between the lines of a literal war between men and women, but Criterion offshoot Eclipse assembles a treasure trove of unfamiliar Japanese genre titles in the four-film When Horror Came to Shochiku set (the most familiar film included is the science fiction vampire/plane crash film Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell).

Public Eye: The ABC Years
UK 1965-68; Network, DVD

Ghost Stories for Christmas: The Definitive Collection
Lawrence Gordon Clark and others, UK 1968-2010; BFI, DVD

Among archive television releases, I’d highlight Network’s assemblage (including a book) of the outstanding ITV kitchen sink noir show Public Eye – the run dealing with ex-PI Alfred Burke’s experiences after coming out of prison is one of the first and best arc seasons in television – and the BFI’s collection of the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas.

Edgar Wallace Mysteries, volumes 1-7
UK 1960-65; Network, DVD

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

I hesitate to commend releases I’ve been involved with, but Network’s seven volumes of Edgar Wallace Mysteries – 50-odd British B pictures from the early 1960s – and Arrow’s lavish Blu-ray of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh-Eaters are, in different ways, outstanding.

Anthony Nield
Critic, UK

The five selections below may not represent the most obvious choices for a 2012 round-up, but each comes with a genuine sense of discovery. These are films which have effectively lurked in the shadows, either available outside of the usual distribution channels or nestled within documentary compilations, or simply sat, barely noticed, among the special features. Whilst this year has treated us to its fair share of essential box sets, silent masterpieces and long-awaited classics, it’s the following choices which have really gotten the juices flowing…

Die Oberhausener
Austria / West Germany 1958-68; Edition Filmmuseum, Austria

Anmeldung, a ten-minute documentary on Dutch nursing homes made in 1964, provided the year’s most haunted image: a disquieting shot of numerous residents, all silently and simultaneously staring into the camera out of their individual windows. In doing they revealed the film’s true purpose as a stark, heartbreaking portrait of loneliness.

This was one of 19 shorts to feature on Die Oberhausener, an invaluable release which sought to represent all 26 signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto over the course of two discs.

Idol on Parade
John Gilling, UK 1959; Sony via MovieMail (UK), DVD

Last year saw Anthony Newley’s The Strange World of Gurney Slade come to DVD – an alternately hip, surreal and subversive sitcom from 1960 that would prefigure much of that decade’s comic landscape. Those of us suffering withdrawal symptoms could find solace in Idol on Parade, his 1959 starring vehicle which a major label brought to disc, albeit solely through MovieMail.

West Highland
UK 1939-80; Panamint Cinema, DVD

The West Highland line, which runs from Glasgow to Scotland’s west coast, is considered one of the most scenic in the world. The Line for All Seasons, a stunningly beautiful travelogue shot and directed by Eddie McConnell in 1981, fully justified that claim with its gorgeous cinematography. (Part of the four-film compilation West Highland.)

This Our Still Life
Andrew Kötting, UK 2011; BFI, DVD

A Portrait of Eden (2011), included here as an extra, was just as beautiful, yet made for entirely different means. Gideon Koppel, director of sleep furiously, followed Eden Kötting (daughter of filmmaker Andrew) with his camera for a single week in October 2010 so that her doctors could better assess her needs as a young adult with Joubert syndrome. On paper this sounds quite straightforward, yet Koppel invites us into Eden’s world through the simple visual poetry he almost instinctively creates.

Roll Out the Barrel
UK 1944-82; BFI, DVD

Were it not for Die Oberhausener (above), Roll Out the Barrel would be the compilation of the year. Encompassing a half-century of the British boozer on film, its highpoint was Ship Hotel – Tyne Main, a 1967 documentary from Philip Trevelyan. Best known for his superb portrait of British eccentricity The Moon and the Sledgehammer, this earlier short was just as strong: an evocative, black and white record of a single day in the life of a pub and all that entails. Dominos, impromptu singsongs, even a hint of romance – all captured with the utmost intimacy and delicacy by Trevelyan.

Part 1  |  Part 3

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