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Noir, Powell and Pressburger and More DVDs

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on the fifth volume of Warner's Film Noir Classic Collection and the second volume of Sony's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics: "What you do get from these combined 13 titles is a sense of how many different subjects, sensibilities and styles could huddle under the noir umbrella. If, as many writers have observed, noir was not so much a genre (like the western) as an attitude, these two collections demonstrate the breadth and depth of the depressive tradition in American film, a tradition just as central to our national cinema as the relentless optimism of the musical and the romantic comedy."

Simon Abrams (Slant), Sean Axmaker and the Los Angeles Times' Susan King have more on the Warner collection.

"Just as the stoic, skeletal holy man both defies and presides over the feverishly ecclesiastical business of the Palace of Mopu as an intransigent, blood-locked ghost, Black Narcissus [1947] impishly keeps watch over the Archers' canon with a sunken, rabidly prismatic eye," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Now rather ironically viewed as perhaps the filmmakers' most supernal visual achievement, Black Narcissus is nothing if not anomalous among the incomparable string of 1940s British masterpieces produced, written, and directed by collaborators Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger." As for Criterion's re-releases, "it's doubtful that film can look or feel any more sensitively accomplished. I have the same doubts about Blu-ray." Gary W Tooze: "The Criterion Blu-ray seems to advance the film-like appearance to it's highest digital rendering yet — possibly ever." More from the Boston Globe's Ty Burr and Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. Update, 7/21: "With great force, Black Narcissus addresses an enduring misconception: the longing, indeed fervent, belief that reality can be reconfigured to conform to an ideal image," writes Kent Jones for Criterion's Current. "Black Narcissus is a film about people who try and fail to remake the world to their specifications, and it was paradoxically made by people who control every square inch of the environment being represented — every sliver of light, every quavering breeze — 'in order to render its effect on frozen consciousness as vividly and dramatically as possible."

Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes "was restored from scratch and the print premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival," notes Sean Axmaker. "This is what Criterion used for their new, freshly remastered edition, on DVD and making its debut on Blu-ray. It's "a film of dark fantasy, romantic passion and an infectious love of dance, music and cinema."

"It's hard to overstate what a breakthrough the actual 'Ballet of the Red Shoes' scene is in this film," argues Christian Blauvelt in Slant. "After years of musical numbers — usually involving Fred Astaire — that consisted of little more than statically pointing the camera at a dancer in long shot, and subtly reframing only when necessary, Powell and Pressburger completely subjectivize dance in their titular ballet."

Gary W Tooze: "Film very rarely reaches this level of beauty and timelessness. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if this was the Blu-ray of the Year 2010. It is totally deserving." And let me recommend revisiting the Self-Styled Siren's piece on The Red Shoes from two summers ago. Update, 7/21: David Ehrenstein for Criterion's Current: "Perhaps the key to its power lies in the fact that it was created at a crucial juncture in history, and embodies that moment. As Powell says in his memoir A Life in Movies: 'We had all been told for ten years to go out and die for freedom and democracy..., and now the war was over, The Red Shoes told us to go out and die for art.' In taking artistic expression through dance so seriously, The Red Shoes goes well beyond the confines of a 'backstage musical' into areas richer, deeper, and darker than any such film had ventured toward before — or would after."

Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times on Magnolia's Bong Joon-ho Collection: "The model of a mainstream artist who's unafraid of risk, Bong could teach his American counterparts a lesson or two. His films fulfill some of the most basic mandates of commercial cinema — they tell satisfyingly dramatic stories with flair and intensity — but their particular genius lies in their sneaky intelligence, their subversive eccentricity, their capacity for surprise and even anarchy."

Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard (2009), released theatrically in the UK just last week, "feels as lean and efficient at 80 minutes as its predecessor The Last Mistress (07) unfurled luxuriously at 115," writes Josef Braun. "Breillat's films possess an unusual balance of incendiary subject matter and elegantly cool and controlled mise en scène. It's intriguing that the sequencing of her output seems equally calculated for maximum effect. That being said, this effect only functions if people can actually see Breillat's films. Bluebeard, which is itself another diptych, balancing one narrative within a framing device that proves to be a parallel narrative, arrives on DVD via Strand Home Video without having ever enjoyed a theatrical release in Canada. (It will actually have its Canadian premiere at this week as part of the Cinematheque Ontario's Breillat retrospective.)" And this, just as it's been announced that Breillat's next, Sleeping Beauty, will be opening the new Orizzonti Section of the 67th Venice International Film Festival (September 1 through 11).

DVD roundups. Allen Gardner (Hollywood Interview) and Slant.



"From the French President to the Culture Minister, in France reactions and tributes have been pouring in since the announcement on Saturday, July 17 of the death of actor-director-writer Bernard Giraudeau, aged 63," reports Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. Giraudeau appeared in "almost 50 features (two of which he directed). He was nominated four times for the Best Supporting Actor Cesar for Pierre Granier-Deferre's The Medic in 1980, Patrice Leconte's Ridicule in 1995, Nicole Garcia's The Favourite Son in 1997 and Bernard Rapp's A Matter of Taste in 2001."

"James Gammon, a character actor whose gravelly voice and craggy face made indelible memories in Sam Shepard plays, a spate of western TV shows and films, plus a comic turn in the baseball movie Major League, has died," reports Claire Noland in the Los Angeles Times. "He was 70."

Australian film critic Benjamin McKay has passed away. Tilman Baumgärtel: "The reasons of his death are not confirmed yet, but apparently he had an accident in his apartment in Kuala Lumpur where he was a lecturer at the Malaysian campus of the Australian Monash University. McKay was an important critic of Southeast Asian cinema who has written extensively on Malaysian cinema." And Tilman refers us to this 2008 interview.

Image: Richard Quine's Pushover (1954).

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