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Fassbinder, De Sica, Roeg and More DVDs


Rainer Werner Fassbinder's newly restored Despair (1978) "was one of the hottest tickets in the Classics sidebar" in Cannes this year, notes Dennis Lim in his Los Angeles Times review of the new DVD out from Olive Films, which has also issued Fassbinder's I Only Want You to Love Me (1976). "The relative obscurity of Despair is surprising given its pedigree. It's based on a Vladimir Nabokov novel, adapted by Tom Stoppard, and starring the English actor Dirk Bogarde. Nabokov's story of a Russian émigré, written in the 30s, takes place in Prague. Fassbinder changed the setting to early-30s Berlin, teetering on the abyss of the Third Reich…. Despair is perhaps the most explicit elaboration of one of Fassbinder's recurring themes: the alienation of someone who not only 'stands outside himself,' as Hermann [Bogarde] puts it, but also wants to escape himself and indeed flee the trap of identity altogether."

R Emmet Sweeney for TCM: "According to Thomas Elsaesser, Despair cost 6 million Deutschmarks, when his previous works averaged 4-500,000. Despair was his bid to become a major European auteur, and to work on a larger palette. For this he received pushback from his growing cult (see Philip Lopate's essay 'A Date With Fassbinder and Despair' for a personal take on it), and it has generally drifted into disrepute… Seen on its own, the film is a mordantly funny black comedy that imperceptibly tips into tragedy…. Reportedly one of Fassbinder’s favorites, it is overdue for re-evaluation."

The above photo comes via Fiction Factory, the production company run by Robert Fischer, who's working on the documentary The Cinema and Its Double: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Despair Revisited. In October, Adrian Curry wrote up Uwe Wandrey's poster for the film.

Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "Where Rossellini, in films like Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946), worked to create a sense (illusory but effective) of raw data dispassionately recorded, De Sica — a brilliant light comedian and longtime showbiz veteran before turning to directing — happily employs all the tricks of his trade in films like Shoeshine (1946) and Bicycle Thieves (1948): likable protagonists who invite audience identification, self-consciously poetic metaphors that pump a lyricism into everyday events, a musical score that constantly cues an emotional response. It's suggestive that Shoeshine, apart from a substandard edition that appeared and quickly vanished from the marketplace in 2002, has never been available on American DVD until now, with Entertainment One's release of a newly restored version…. De Sica gradually fell out of favor with the critics, but he maintained his populist touch. Two of his most popular films, both starring the Italian cinema's mythic couple, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, have recently been released on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage, Italian Style (1964). Also in this batch is De Sica's unfortunate and pompous Sunflower [1970]." Also reviewed is Raro Video's new release of Antonio Pietrangeli's Adua and Her Friends (1960).


Nicolas Roeg's Insignificance (1985), "based on a play by Terry Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, focuses on four characters — Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) and Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis)." Bill Ryan: "Roeg's brand of pop surrealism (is what I guess you'd call it) does give the film some energy, and keeps it from feeling too stagebound, but in the way he seems to barely direct Emil, and overdirects Russell to the point of embarrassment, he manages to undercut most of what might be interesting about these portrayals."

Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "Drawn together out of disillusionment with the public eye, these characters are shadows glimpsed from the cannibalistic collective conscious — the stuff of tabloid endowed with the intelligence to rebel against their falsity. The result is a piquant alternate history of vague social damnation: an a-pop-calypse, a darkly talkative masturbatory fantasy that seems to have sprung from the perspiring forehead of Norman Mailer."

Paul Matwychuk, who posts a longish clip, discusses the film with his friend Tiiu, focussing on Theresa Russell, who "delivers one of the most divisive performances of the 1980s."

Update: In essay for Criterion, Chuck Stephens recalls that…

… as film culture slipped, along with everything else, into new dimensions of reactionary retrenchment as the 1980s unfolded, the movie Roeg thought would be his best hope to finally establish him within the mainstream, the deeply personal 1983 Eureka — a brutalizing journey into the greedy souls of men that follows Gene Hackman's monomaniacal gold prospector from fabulous fortune to ferocious oblivion, anticipating There Will Be Blood as much as it harks back to Citizen Kane — got caught in the unraveling fortunes of United Artists, was never given a proper theatrical release, and was ignored and reviled by all but a few contemporary critics. Gone were the swinging sixties and freewheeling seventies that had nurtured Roeg's consciousness-cracked-wide-open approach to making cinematic sense of the world, replaced by the Star Wars dreams of a new "Morning in America." "It's a very reactionary time," the filmmaker told interviewer Harlan Kennedy in 1983, "socially, politically, and artistically. Especially in the movies. If the grammar of cinema is at all changed or dented, it's resented far more than in other mediums." Roeg turned briefly to rock videos and Coca-Cola commercials to fill the coffers, if not the moment's moral void, until an idle night out at the theater changed the tide. Onstage, the ever astonishing Judy Davis was shape-shifting once again, this time into the buoyant, bubbleheaded role of the Actress in Johnson's much talked-about new play. Roeg may have recognized many of his long-cultivated preoccupations as somehow already resident in Insignificance's crisscrossing currents of celebrity and circumstance, its unavoidable collisions of ineffable beauty and irredeemable terror, of the Now and the Then.

Back to Bill Ryan: "Watching [Kon Ichikawa's] version of The Makioka Sisters the same day I finished reading the novel, I was quite surprised by how freely Ichikawa and co-writer Shinya Hidaka interpreted [Junichiro] Tanizaki's book (which Audie Bock, in her essay on the film in the Criterion DVD booklet, describes as the Japanese Gone With the Wind)…. Ichikawa’s progression is one of gentleness and beauty to melancholy, while Tanizaki begins with sadness and moves towards cruelty." Earlier: Last month's roundup.

Glenn Kenny posts a massive "Blu-ray Consumer Guide" for the month of June. More DVD roundups: Mark Kermode (Observer), Peter Martin (Twitch) and Noel Murray (LAT).

Update: Kathie Smith introduces In Review Online's robust Home Movies roundup for May: "Kino International offers a survey of Italian icon Sophia Loren and mild-mannered documentarian Nicolas Philibert, and so do we. Cinema Guild releases José Luis Guerín's under-the-radar effectual romance In the City of Sylvia. And Blue Underground delivers another Hi-def miracle with Dario Argento's Cat o' Nine Tails. But May Home Movies belongs to Criterion, as we obsess over five swoon-worthy Blu-rays of five diverse must-see films: Solaris, Smiles of a Summer Night, Diabolique, Something Wild, and our Pick of the Month, Pale Flower."

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Philip Lopate’s essay on Fassbinder is one of the best I’ve read on Fassbinder maybe because it kind of ignores the guy. Lapote has since changed his mind on Alexanderplatz btw — he thinks it’s one of the greatest films of all time. And his great line: “Life is the continuation of film by other means.”

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