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DVDs. "The African Queen," "Bigger Than Life," "Dillinger Is Dead"

The Auteurs Daily

The African Queen

"For all of its enduring popularity The African Queen has not been available on American home video since the distant days of the laserdisc, apparently because the source material was in badly degraded condition," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "But now Paramount, the current owner of this independent production first released by United Artists, has released a Blu-ray (as well as a standard definition) DVD created from a digital revival of the British negative. For the first time in decades the movie looks magnificent, with deep, burnished browns and yellows and a level of detail that picks out every drop of sweat on Bogart's brow."

"The pedigree is impeccable," writes Sean Axmaker. "Sam Spiegel, a headstrong independent producer, bought the rights to CS Forester's novel (it had been kicking around Hollywood for ten years) and John Huston, arguably the greatest Hollywood writer/director of literary adaptations, brought on James Agee (the most celebrated film critic of his age) as his screenwriting partner. The fears that audiences wouldn't be interested in a romance between a pair of middle-aged characters was allayed when Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn were cast (and in hindsight, they seem like the only actors for these parts).... It's a magnificent adventure, much of shot on location in Africa, which Huston and Jack Cardiff, one of the all-time greats of color cinematography, use to its fullest."

"It's one of those movies that is always re-watchable on television, and it really does resist criticism, in a way," sighs Dan Callahan in Slant. "Frankly, judging this particular movie is like deciding that your best friend from second grade isn't maybe all that smart, or something along those lines, and I really don't have the heart for that."

Gary Tooze admires the Blu-ray release.

Bigger Than Life

"Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) laid down the template for teenage rebellion in the 1950s, but the rebel in Ray's Bigger Than Life, released the following year and out on DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection this week, is in a distinctly less romantic vein," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "Ray's trademark was his focus on doomed outsiders: Rebel's James Dean; Farley Granger's soft-spoken outlaw in They Live by Night; rodeo bum Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men; Robert Ryan's exiled detective in On Dangerous Ground. But there's no romance to [James] Mason's departure from the norm. His bottled-up individuality comes rushing out like a toxic gas, poisoning the air and even the objects around him. There's a sickly quality to the movie's hues, impressively rendered in Criterion's high-definition transfer, which serves as reminder that Ray was, along with Vincente Minnelli, one of the great American colorists of his time."

"Conceptually, Bigger Than Life is a bit of a leaky time capsule," writes Eric Henderson in Slant, "but Ray's dynamic showmanship and his unerring knack for mapping out psychological stress points against the four incredibly distant corners of his Cinemascopic frames are in full form (the gravity of nearly every shot feels subliminally off). It emerges as one of the key Hollywood horror movies of the 1950s."

"André Bazin, with bemused affection, dubbed his junior colleagues the Hitchcocko-Hawksians, but as far as personal identification went, les fils de Nick may have been closer to the truth," writes B Kite for Criterion's Current. "For the future directors of the New Wave, Hawks, Ford, Hitchcock, Preminger, et al., were figures to venerate, but Ray was someone to love, both precursor and peer."

"In some ways, Bigger Than Life seems like Ray's last fully realized film." Dave Kehr: "Although he would continue to work until 1979 (collaborating with Wim Wenders on Lightning Over Water, a painful, vividly imagined account of his own death), most of his subsequent films feel sick or wounded, compromised by outside interference or Ray's insistent personal demons. But even as it dissolved, Ray's art remained true to its own inner logic, devoured by the forces he depicted so vividly and knew too well."

More from Sean Axmaker and Gary Tooze.

Dillinger Is Dead

"Marco Ferreri, who died in 1997, was something of an odd man out among the Italian auteurs who made a global impression during the golden age of art cinema," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "Like Federico Fellini, he had a penchant for the absurd. Like Pier Paolo Pasolini, he reveled in transgression. Like Michelangelo Antonioni, he was compelled to address the creeping alienation of modern life. The problem, it would seem, is that he often did all those things at once, in films that could be abrasive and confrontational.... Present-day viewers of Dillinger Is Dead are likely to respond less to its overly literal satire than to its riot of colors, its Pop Art flair, its modernist design. In other words, a furious attack on capitalist society lives on, ironically, as a consumer fetish object."

"As unhesitatingly aggressive in his attacks on left-wing complacency as on right-wing repression, Ferreri pushed and challenged his audience instead of conforming to what was stylistically palatable or ideologically trendy." Michael Joshua Rowin for Current: "But times often catch up with forward-thinking artists ignored or misunderstood in their own eras, and the long-overdue appearance in the United States of Ferreri's 1969 masterpiece Dillinger Is Dead — finally released, to great acclaim, in 2009 — seems to have marked that moment for one of postwar Italian cinema's great subversives.

More from Sean Axmaker and Gary Tooze.



"The Portuguese director Pedro Costa filmed Letters from Fontainhas, a trilogy of feature films plus a batch of shorts, in a poor and insular Lisbon neighborhood of grim alleys and crude, dark homes," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "These works (now on DVD in a boxed set from Criterion) join an unsparing yet tender look at residents of this ghetto with a boldly aestheticized, nearly Faulknerian arc of history." Out on March 30.

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