THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD EUREKA EKA70424
‘How big does a cause have to be before you kill your friends?’ The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an ice-cold, calculating espionage thriller from 1965 based on the acclaimed novel by John le Carré, published two years earlier. Richard Burton gives one of his finest performances as the troubled Alec Leamas, whose relationship with a beautiful communist librarian Nan (Claire Bloom) puts his assignment in jeopardy as he takes on one final dangerous mission in East Germany. Impeccably directed by the underrated Martin Ritt, the film is every bit as precise and ruthless as the book and is superby shot in downbeat black and white by Oswald Morris. The film’s altmospheric music is by Hollywood blacklisted Sol Kaplan and the totally convincing sets were created by Tambi Larsen and Hal Pereira. Burton and Bloom have great personal and cinematic chemistry and there are excellent performances too by Oskar Werner as the Jewish interrogator Fiedler, Sam Wanamaker, veteran George Voskovec as a defence attorney, Rupert Davies (the first ever screen incarnation of George Smiley), Cyril Cusack as the deceptively sly Control, Peter van Eyck as evil Hans-Dieter Mundt, Michael Hordern as the homosexual Ashe (‘bird-watching’s one of my hobbies’) and Robert Hardy as Dick Carlton. This hard-edged, tragic thriller won 4 BAFTA Awards (including Best British Film) and is suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career. It’s now available restored on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Series. Extras include an audio commentary with film scholar Adrian Martin; A video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns; A 48 page collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Richard Combs plus archival imagery. ‘The film makes you believe it could have happened. And that’s the remarkable thing.’ – New York Times. Watch the trailer
PAGLIACCI / CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA NAXOS NBD0117V
Italian composer Pietro Mascagni was born in Livorno, Tuscany, in 1863. He enjoyed immense success both as a composer and conductor of his own and other people’s music and created a variety of styles in his operas: the exotic flavor of Iris, the idylls of L’amico Fritz and Lodoletta, the steely power of Il piccolo Marat, and the post-romanticism of the lush Parisina. Despite this versatility, he is easily best known for the Sicilian passion and warmth of his 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana, which caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. Like Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo has also sometimes been called a ‘one-opera man’, although he produced numerous operas and other songs throughout his career (‘Mattinata’ was popularised by Enrico Caruso), as well as the symphonic poem La nuit de mai. His most lasting contribution to the operatic repertoire is undoubtedly his short two-act work Pagliacci, written in 1892 and still one of the most-performed operas worldwide. Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, both set in a poverty stricken village, are often performed together as a double bill. Canadian Robert Carsen’s widely acclaimed 2019 production for the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam plays a masterful game of theatre-in-theatre, avoiding clichés and calling into question the nature of reality.
Cavalleria rusticana is usually placed first, but Carsen opens with Pagliacci, and this is by no means the only feature of this brilliantly sung and acted production that makes it stand out from the crowd. Lorenzo Viotti conducts the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Dutch National Opera Chorus, with an outstanding cast that includes ‘the word’s best mezzo-soprano’ Anita Rachvelishvili as peasant girl Santuzza, dynamic American tenor Brian Jagde (Turiddu), Brandon Jovanovich’s powerful Canio, Ailyn Pérez (a charming Nedda), the great Italian acting soprano Elena Zilio (Mamma Lucia), and dashing baritone Roman Burdenko (Alfio and Tonio). Watch the video
STRAIGHT SHOOTING & HELL BENT EUREKA EKA70419
Straight Shooting is landmark in the history of the Western. The impressive first feature directed by multi Oscar Award-Winning John Ford, it revived the career of Harry Carey who gives a rough and tumble performance as a hired gun who turns on his employers to defend an innocent farmer and his family. In Hell Bent, ‘Cheyenne Harry’ (charismatic Harry Carey playing the same character from Straight Shooting) flees the law after a poker game shootout. He arrives in the town of Rawhide, where he becomes friendly with local cowboy Cimarron Bill (Duke Lee) and dance hall girl Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber). When gang leader Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) kidnaps Bess, Harry goes to desperate lengths travelling across the deadly desert in order to free Bess from the hard-bitten Ross. Western superstar Carey appeared in many films as laid-back ‘Cheyenne Harry’ (‘a rolling stone with many notches on his gun’) and as usual gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance that stands the test of time. There is good work too from other Ford regulars such as likeable Hoot Gibson, Vester Pegg and wisome Molly Malone. Eureka Entertainment has now released these two early silent films (credited to Jack Ford) from the great Western director as part of its Masters of Cinema Series, on Blu-ray here for the first time in the UK in immaculate 4K restorations with a Limited-Edition O-Card Slipcase (First Print Run of 2000 copies) and reversible sleeve artwork. The films come with suitably Fordian music scores by Michael Gatt (Straight Shooting) and Zachary Marsh (Hell Bent). Extras include audio commentaries by film historian Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford; An interview with colourful film critic and author Kim Newman; Bull Scores a Touchdown & A Horse or a Mary? – impressionistic video essays by Tag Gallagher; An archival audio interview from 1970 with a prickly John Ford by Joseph McBride; A short fragment of the lost film Hitchin’ Posts (John Ford, 1920) preserved by the Library of Congress; A collector’s booklet featuring writing by Richard Combs, Phil Hoad and Tag Gallagher. Watch the trailer
MOZART – LE NOZZE DI FIGARO CMAJOR 803804
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1756. He began composing minuets by the age of five and was already writing symphonies by the time he was nine, as well as being a virtuoso keyboard player and violinist. He went on to excel at every type of music in which he composed, helping to perfect the grand forms of symphony, opera, string quartet and concerto during the classical period in music. Mozart’s operas in particular contain remarkable psychological insights and were central to the composer’s creative life, representing the peak of his genius. In the 1780s, he wrote three unsurpassed operas with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte that deal with love in its many forms, from the humanely comic (The Marriage of Figaro) and mythically resonant (Don Giovanni) to the elegantly cynical (Così fan tutte). ‘In my opinion, each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.’ – Johannes Brahms. This Blu-ray recording features an acclaimed performance of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) recorded at the Theater an der Wien in 2014. The Concentus Musicus Wien is conducted by master of period performance and ‘Mozart rebel’ Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the ‘original-sound orchestra’ is joined by his personal choice of singers. These include Danish baritone star Bo Skovhus as a dashing Conte di Almaviva, German soprano Christine Schäfer as the Contessa, the pure-voiced soprano Mari Eriksmoen as a perfect Susanna and Andrè Schuen as the valet Figaro, with Elisabeth Kulman (as the irreverent Cherubino), Ildikó Raimondi (Marcellina), Peter Kálmán (Bartolo / Antonio), Mauro Peter (Basilio / Don Curzio) and Christina Gansch (Barbarina). Extras include a documentary: Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Between Obsession and Perfection (Le nozze di Figaro). Watch the video
VIY EUREKA EKA70415
‘By the shades of night, may he go blind, turn his hair white. Bewitch him. Cover him with snow.’ Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, Viy is a haunting 1967 fantasy horror film directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, with a screenplay by Yershov, Kropachyov and Aleksandr Ptushko. Set in 19th century Russia, it tells the story of an unruly seminary student ‘philosopher’ forced to spend three long, dark nights with the corpse of a beautiful young witch. But when she rises from the dead to seduce him, it will summon a nightmare of fear, desire, and the ultimate demonic mayhem. Bursting with startling imagery and magiical special effects courtesy of the directors and artistic director Aleksandr Ptushko, whose spectacular stop-motion effects and innovative colour cinematography has seen him referred to as the Soviet equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. The evocative music is by Karen Khachaturyan, nephew of Aram Khachaturyan. There are striking performances by Leonid Kuravlyov as the novice monk Khoma and circus performer Natalya Varley as Pannochka. The hulking demon Viy is played by Nikolai Stepanov. This was the first Soviet-era horror film to be officially released in the USSR and it has influenced generations of directors for more than half a century. Steven Schneider included it among his ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’. Eureka Entertainment has now released this ground-breaking gothic folktale in a Limited two-disc Blu-ray Edition as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series, with the 1080p HD restoration made using original film elements. Watch the trailer.
Extras include a new audio commentary with film historian and eastern European cinema expert Michael Brooke; Optional English mono audio; Optional English subtitles; A video essay on Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol; Archival documentary about Nikolai Gogol; Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Peter Savieri; The original 1967 Trailer; Plus a Collector’s Booklet featuring an essay on Aleksandr Ptushko by Tim Lucas as well as an essay by Serbian writer and film critic Dejan Ognjanovic. Three tantalisingly brief Russian silent film fragments are included: The Portrait (1915), The Queen of Spades (1916), a spooky tale of gambling and madness, and Satan Exultant (1917), where a disturbing visitor calls on a dark, stormy night. A bonus disc includes rebellious Djordje Kadijevic’s 1990 film A Holy Place (Sveto mesto) for the first time on home video in the UK – plus a candid interview with director Kadijevic. This brilliant adaptation of Gogol’s story features the striking Branka Pujic and is a superb example of Serbian Gothic cinema, described by critic Dejan Ognjanovic as ‘an unparalleled excess of perversity and terror.’
TAKE BACK 101 FILMS
Gillian White plays the lead in this all-action feature as a seemingly unassuming woman who must take on an evil gang of human traffickers when they kidnap her teenage step-daughter. Zara and Brian (real-life couple Gillian White and Michael Jai White) are successful and living the perfect life, but when Zara heroically foils a robbery, she soon becomes headline news and the talk of her small town. This unwanted notoriety sees Zara’s mysterious past catch up with her, putting her family’s life in serious danger. When their daughter is kidnapped by a sadistic gang, led by the frankly unhinged ‘Patrick’ (a remarkable performance by veteran Mickey Rourke), the pair face a race against time to save her life. With dogged Detective Chalmers (James Russo) also on Patrick’s trail, Zara and Patrick’s paths collide in an explosive finale. Pacily directed by Christian Sesma, with beautifully photographed desert locations in California, Take Back is an adrenaline-fuelled, martial arts action thriller that offers up a different kind of hero for different times. Gillian White is outstanding as the formidable Zara, finally facing up to her past and getting revenge on the savages who almost ruined her life.
Watch the trailer
CAVALLI – ERCOLE AMANTE NAXOS NBD0118V
Francesco Cavalli is not as well known as Monteverdi, though he was crucial in establishing opera as an art form and was the most famous and influential Italian opera composer of the mid-17th century. Staged productions of his operas used to be rarities but in recent years La Calisto, L’Egisto and Ercole Amante have been staged more often in recent years. Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister to the king, commissioned Ercole amante (‘Hercules in Love’) to celebrate the June 1660 wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain, though preparations for the splendid staging caused a delay of almost two years before the first performance. This took place at a theatre built specially and at great expense to present the regal extravaganza, which combines larger-than-life characters with mythology and genuine human emotions with natural and cosmic phenomena. This Blu-ray release features a lavish production of this sumptuous Baroque spectacle, conceived by directors Valerie Lesort and Christian Hecq for the Opéra Comique in Paris and recorded in 2019. Cavalli’s extravagant masterpiece is brought magically to life with numerous scene changes and people and fantastical creatures who metamorphose. The costumes designed by Vanessa Sannino combine with Christian Pinaud’s imaginative lighting to create a fabulous fairytale atmosphere. Raphaël Pichon conducts the Pygmalion Chorus and Orchestra with scintillating flair and the outstanding soloists include Nahuel di Pierro as the forceful Ercole, Italian mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus as the noble Giunone, Giuseppina Bridelli as an impressive Deianira, Francesca Aspromonte as a touching Iole and Dominique Visse as the amusing Lychas, with magnificent bass Luca Tittoto as Neptune and the ghost of Eutyrus. Irresistible entertainment on a grand scale. Watch the trailer
PEOPLE ON SUNDAY BFI B1348
In this vivid snapshot of Weimar life, a group of young Berliners enjoy a typical lazy Sunday, including a trip to the city’s suburban lakes. Flirtations, rivalries and petty jealousies ensue as they all try to wring the last from their weekend even while Monday and the weekly routine loom. Taxi driver Erwin leaves his girlfriend Annie at home in bed to meet up at the Nikolassee beach with Wolfgang (wine salesman and occasional gigolo), who brings along his new girlfriend, film extra Christl, and her best friend Brigitte, manager of a record shop. Wolf goes off with the delightful Brigitte and seduces her, while Erwin and Christl relax with a record player on the beach. It turns out that the bond between the two men is the one that counts, and after promising the girls they would meet again next Sunday they make plans instead to watch football. The minimal plot is incidental to the natural charms of the all amateur cast and glimpses of an almost idyllic Berlin, made extra poignant by the knowledge that Hitler would come to power just three years later. Influenced by Eisenstein, and a precursor to Italian neo-realist cinema, People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag) launched the careers of a group of influential young filmmakers who would achieve international success, including future Academy Award-winners Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan (The Hustler) and Fred Zinnemann, the future noir masters Robert Siodmak (The Killers) and Edgar G Ulmer (Detour), as well as prolific fantasy screenwriter and novelist Curt Siodmak. BFI has now released People on Sunday on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, presented with two vibrant scores by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin and the experimental Icelandic group múm, a documentary, three short films and a new audio commentary by Adrian Martin. The original negative of the film is lost so this restored version was reconstructed by The Eye Institute in the Netherlands and the 2K scan was digitally restored by Deutsche Kinemathek. Its release coincided with BFI Southbank’s major season to mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic, celebrating one of the most innovative and ground-breaking chapters in the history of cinema. Special features with this High Definition release also include Weekend am Wannsee (Gerald Koll’s documentary about People on Sunday, featuring interviews with star Brigitte Borchert – still a delight in her Eighties – and writer Curt Siodmak), A Trip Through Berlin (a six minute ride through the streets of Berlin in 1910), Beside the Seaside (Marion Grierson’s beguiling picture of the British seaside, with a commentary written by W H Auden), This Year (documentary by John Krish following the adventures of Leicester factory workers on their staff outing to London).
PROKOFIEV – THE FIERY ANGEL NAXOS NBD0113V
Sergei Prokofiev was born in the Ukraine in 1891, and soon became an accomplished pianist as well as something of an enfant terrible, mocking authority figures and anyone else who held traditionalist views. He was a traditional composer at heart though and his wide-ranging output included operas, symphonies, concertos, string quartets, film scores (most notably for Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible) and superb ballet music, the best-known being Romeo and Juliet, with its high drama and tenderness revealing Prokofiev’s complete mastery of the orchestra. He created seven completed operas, including The Gambler, The Fiery Angel and The Love for Three Oranges (the only operatic success during his lifetime). The Fiery Angel was first performed in Paris in 1954, a year after the composer’s death and almost thirty years after the work’s completion. Based on a novel of the same name by Valery Bryusov, inspired by the author’s own experiences with Nina Petrovskaya, who was the mistress of Russian symbolist writer Andrey Bely. He nearly came to fisticuffs with Bryusov over his relationship with her and Nina, Andrey and Bryusov became the inspiration for this weird operatic tragedy by Prokofiev, who wrote the libretto for it himself. Set in 16th-century Germany, it tells the story of Renata, a young woman who guided since childhood by her guardian angel Madiel to lead a life of chastity. She then falls in love with the same angel, who turns into a raging pillar of fire, and is beset by demonic visions until the Inquisition condemns her to the stake. Although he bever saw the opera performed, the music’s brittle energy, drama and eloquent lyrical tenderness would re-emerge in his Third Symphony.
The narrative focuses relentlessly on Renata, who is haunted by an angel who turns out to be the devil. This Blu-ray release features an exciting Teatro dell’Opera di Roma production, conducted by Alejo Perez, that was acclaimed as a presentation of Prokofiev’s masterpiece which sparkles in all its grotesque glory. Director Emma Dante describes the work as an explosive mix of fantastical realism and endless confusion of nightmares, madness, sexual impulses and cultural clashes. The fine cast includes English baritone Leigh Melrose as the barbarous Ruprecht, Polish soprano Ewa Vesin as Renata, mezzo Anna Victorova as The Landlady, and Andrii Ganchuk as Johann Faust/The Servant. Watch the trailer
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH STUDIOCANAL OPTBD4370
Influential director, producer and actor Roger Corman (now aged 94) was a pioneer in the world of independent cinema, establishing a popular and critical reputation in the 1960s with his series of low-budget films adapted from stories by American author Edgar Allan Poe. Corman directed eight of these adaptations in all for American International Pictures, including The Masque of the Red Death, which he made in England in 1964. Like many of Corman’s other classics, this one starred horror stalwart Vincent Price. Mainly based on an 1842 fantasy tale of the same name by Poe, it tells the story of a cruel, degenerate prince who sells his soul to the devil and terrorises a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers. Price gives one of his finest performances as Prince Prospero, with great support from a cast that includes Jane Asher as a flame-haired young innocent, Hammer’s ‘scream queen’ Hazel Court as a voluptuous disciple of Satan, and Patrick Magee as a particularly decadent courtier (‘Did I startle you?’). Studiocanal is now releasing the extended cut of this iconic film, stunningly restored in 4K by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and The Academy, available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The DVD/Blu-Ray edition includes both the extended cut and the theatrical cut, a 20-page booklet with a new essay from The Academy’s film preservationist Tessa Idlewine and four art cards from the restoration.
The excellent special features include an interview with Keith M. Johnston, lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, which explores the fascinating topics of colour and censorship; A new commentary with film critic and author Kim Newman and filmmaker Sean Hogan; and a fascinating conversation between Roger Corman and Kim Newman which was filmed in 2013 as part of the BFI’s Gothic Season. Unseen by audiences until it premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2019 to great acclaim, this meticulous restoration brings back to life the striking and bold cinematography from Nicolas Roeg, with its amazing use of colours. The new version of the film reinstates a number of censored scenes which were cut from the film’s original release. ‘One of the best film adaptations of Poe’s particular brand of lush horror.’ – Kim Newman.
INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: THE COMPLETE FILM SERIES EUREKA CLASSICS EKA70406
‘The mind – it destroys, it distracts, it creates monsters, commits murder.’ Inner Sanctum Mystery was a popular American radio programme from the 1940s based on a series of mystery novels of published by Simon & Schuster and over 500 episodes were broadcast. In 1943, Universal purchased the screen rights from Simon and Schuster to make The Inner Sanctum Mysteries hour-long feature film series starring Lon Chaney, Jr, who was hoping for more varied roles after Universal had cast him as a monster in many of their horror films. In a nod to the radio series, a ‘stream of consciousness’ voiceover was often incorporated into the scripts and the films were prefaced with the sequence a bobbing head of actor David Hoffman staring out of a crystal ball giving warnings to the audience about how each of them is capable of murder. British radio listeners in the 1960s will remember the popular Round The Horne comedy with its spoof sketches and echoing introductions to the ‘Inner Sanctum-um-um-um-um-um…’ This boxed set from Eureka contains all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series, available on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time. In each episode, Chaney plays a different character, usually a successful and respected member of the community. They also share a taste for clourful neckties and seem irresistible to every woman attractive around. Unfortunately, they have a knack for becoming involved in murder, often as the chief suspect.
The best of the series include Dead Man’s Eyes (directed Reginald Le Borg) in which an artist called Dave on the point of greatness is accidentally blinded. The operation to restore his sight depends on another person willing to donate their eyes, but who can be trusted? His exotic model Tanya (Acquanetta) is in love with Dave and jealous of his engagement to marry a rich girl (Jean Parker), which angers Nick, her jealous former suitor. Meanwhile, Alan (Paul Kelly), a psychiatrist and Dave’s closest friend, has a secret passion for Tanya. In the stylish Pillow of Death (directed by Wallace Fox), a lawyer in love with his secretary is suspected of suffocating his wife, among others, as the body count rapidly rises. With a sparky script and set in a dark, haunted house, this atmospheric mystery also stars the lovely Brenda Joyce (soon to become the second Jane to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan), formidable English actress Rosalind Ivan, J. Edward Bromberg as a dubious psychic, and twinkling George Cleveland as the family sceptic. The other episodes are Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, The Frozen Ghost (in which a stage mentalist and a discredited plastic surgeon are involved in mysterious goings-on in an eerie wax museum), and Strange Confession.
The Special 3-disc Blu-ray Edition contains High Definition (1080p) presentations of all six films comes with estras that include audio commentaries; Kim Newman on The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (a new interview with journalist, film critic and fiction writer Kim Newman); This is the Inner Sanctum: Making a Universal Mystery Series; The Creaking Door: Entering The Inner Sanctum (A history of the radio series with author/radio historian Martin Grams Jr.) Mind Over Matter (Archival interview with actor Martin Kosleck; Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Radio Episodes (A selection of episodes from the original radio series; plus a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the series by Craig Ian Mann. A treat for every classic mystery and horror fan. Watch the trailer
HELENE GRIMAUD – WOODLANDS AND BEYOND C MAJOR 755504
French-born virtuoso pianist, author and wildlife conservationist Hélène Grimaud made her first recording aged just 15. She studied animal behaviour as well as music at the Paris Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique and later co-founded the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York state, where she now lives. As an internationally acclaimed musician, she has played everything from Gershwin to Bach but has concentrated on romantic music, particularly Brahms and Rachmaninov – The New York Times hailed her performance of the Rachmaninov Second Concerto as ‘bold, assured and properly rhapsodic’. Hélène Grimaud could be called a Renaissance woman for our times, a woman with multiple talents that extend far beyond the instrument she plays with such poetic expression and peerless technical control. As well as a passionate and committed musical artist whose pianistic accomplishments play a central role in her life, she has established herself as a committed wildlife conservationist, a compassionate human rights activist and as a writer. Together with her creative and life partner, photographer Mat Hennek, the pianist created the multimedia concert project, Woodlands And Beyond, captured on this Blu-ray recording at the Grand Hall of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.
Hélène Grimaud’s virtuoso piano performance is accompanied by Hennek’s highly praised photo series Woodlands, which depicts genuine portraits of trees, the results of numerous hikes through forests in Europe and the USA. With works by romantic and impressionist composers, such as Luciano Berio, Nitin Sawhney, Toru Takemitsu, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy, Grimaud leads her audience into the enchanting world of those various Woodlands and even beyond. ‘Grimaud is completely at ease, showing flawless clarity in her interpretations.’ – Die Welt. Watch the video
VERDI – IL TROVATORE CMAJOR 754707
Giuseppe Verdi’s four-act opera Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), with an Italian libretto by Salvatore Cammarano based on a play by Antonio García Gutiérrez, received its first performance at the Teatro Apollo in Rome in 1853. In 1857, Verdi revised the opera for Paris as Le Trouvère and added a ballet. Despite its complicated and sometimes incomprehensible plot, Il Trovatore has since become one of the most popular works in the standard operatic repertoire. People are attracted to Il Trovatore because of its rousing melodies, its brutal, powerful plot, and its simple structure: elements that make it one of the best examples of Verdi’s theatre pieces. Set in the mountains of Medieval Northern Spain, Il Trovatore is a warrior named Manrico. His enemy is led by the Count di Luna, who loves Leonora, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. According to Ferrando, the captain of the guard, an old woman had been accused twenty years earlier of casting an evil eye over the Count’s brother. She was burnt at the stake and the subsequent disappearance of the boy, followed by the discovery of a child’s skeleton in the ashes, led to the conclusion that the woman’s daughter had thrown him into the flames to avenge her mother. Meanwhile, back in the present, Leonora does not love the Count, but the troubador Manrico, raised by the gypsy Azucena. Manrico is not only the Count’s rival, but as a follower of the rebellious Count d’Urgell, he is also the Count’s sworn enemy. In the Second Act, Azucena tells Manrico her version of the terrible event twenty years ago and the plot becomes even more complicated.
The opera’s libretto may call for a considerable suspension of disbelief but its gloriously melodic score features such riches as the ‘Anvil’ Chorus, the ‘Miserere’ scene, two great tenor arias and a beautiful baritone aria. This Blu-ray 4K Ultra-HD television recording features a vibrant 2019 production from the Arena di Verona, a 2,000-year-old amphiteatre – one of the largest and best preserved Roman constructions of its kind, with over 22,000 seats. The master of opera Franco Zeffirelli, who died shortly before its premiere, created its legendary scenery with groups of giant sized armoured knights, a fortress turning into a luminous cathedral, an enormous choir, horses and breathtaking fights. Pier Giorgio Morandi conducts a prestigious cast that includes powerful Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov as Manrico, the wonderful Anna Netrebko making her debut as Leonora, Italian Luca Salsi as Il Conte di Luna, with bass Riccardo Fassi as Ferrando and mezzo-soprano MET star Dolora Zajick as the formidable Azucena. ‘Unforgettable’ – Verona Settegiorni.
BUSTER KEATON – 3 FILMS (VOL. 3) EUREKA EKA70391
Between 1920 and 1929, Buster Keaton created a peerless run of feature films that established him as ‘arguably the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies’. Following BUSTER KEATON, VOL 2, in its Masters of Cinema series, Eureka has now released a further collection of brilliant films from the silent comedy genius. Available heree for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, with excellent new restorations, this Limited Edition three disc box set (3000 copies) features Our Hospitality, Go West and College. Directed by Keaton and John G. Blystone in 1923, Our Hospitality is one of his most significant films – as well as one of his funniest. Based on the notorious feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans (here renamed the Canfields and McKays), Keaton is luckless William McKay, who must journey down South to view his lacklustre inheritance, only to be seduced along the way by one of the Canfields, Virginia, who lures him to her family’s house. William knows that thanks to Southern hospitality the Canfield men won’t kill him as long as he’s in their house, so he endeavours to stay there, against all obstacles.
With its attention to 19th-century period detail and emphasis on integrating the gags into the storyline, Our Hospitality was not just a breakthrough in Keaton’s career, but it was also an advancement in the medium, with Variety proclaiming, ‘It marks a step forward in the production of picture comedies.’ The film is also a family affair as it stars not only Buster but also his father Joe as the high-kicking rain engineer, one-year-old Buster Junior as young Willie, and Keaton’s wife Natalie Talmadge as Virginia. In Go West, directed by Keaton in 1925, he is at his most stone-faced as the memorably named ‘Friendless’, who abandons city life to ride the rails to an Arizona ranch, where his ineptitude only makes his nickname even more accurate. But when his one beloved companion, a cow named Brown Eyes, seems to be headed to the slaughterhouse, Friendless intervenes.
Go West is an irresistible blend of deadpan darkness and spectacular comic set-pieces, including a cattle stampede through the streets of Los Angeles. ‘Buster Keaton’s ingenuity, acrobatics, and romanticism flourish equally in this antic twist on melodrama’. – Time Out on Our Hospitality. In College, Keaton follows up The General with a higher education comedy that seems to take a cue from Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. Keaton is bookworm Ronald, whose high school girl Mary (Anne Cornwall) ditches him for someone with the athletic prowess that Ronald lacks. Determined to win her back, Ronald enters college with an eye on sports, but two left feet mean that he struggles, even with help from wonderful Snitz Edwards as the sympathetic College Dean.
The enormous range of extras includes new audio commentaries for Our Hospitality (by silent film historian Rob Farr) and Go West (by Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton); A shorter work-print version of Our Hospitality with optional commentary by film historian Polly Rose; Making Comedy Beautiful – a video essay by Patricia Eliot Tobias; Video essays by John Bengtson on filming locations for Go West and College; A Window on Keaton – a video essay by David Cairns; The Railrodder (1965) – produced by the National Film Board of Canada and starring Buster Keaton in one of his final film roles; Optional audio commentary for The Railrodder, with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi; Buster Keaton Rides Again – a revealing documentary feature produced concurrently with the film; Audio recording of a post-screening Q&A with Gerald Potterton; Stills Galleries; Plus a perfect bound collector’s book featuring new writing by Philip Kemp; essays on all three films by Imogen Sara Smith; a piece by John Bengtson on the filming locations of Our Hospitality; Gerald Potterton’s original treatment for The Railrodder; and an appreciation of Keaton by writer and silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin. Watch clips
GEORGES MELIES – A TRIP TO THE MOON & AUTOBIOGRAPHY ARROW FCD2003
Born in Paris in 1861, Georges Méliès was a stage illusionist who became a wonderfully creative pioneer film director, leading the way on many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. As well as being the the first person to build a film studio, he was a prolific innovator of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour. He was one of the first filmmakers to use storyboards on films such as A Trip to the Moon (‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’, 1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys. As an illustrator, magician, filmmaker and inventor he paved the way for animation and multi-media filmmaking. A Trip to the Moon, his boldest and best known film, was loosely based on the writings of Jules Verne and follows a group of travellers who are fired off to the moon from earth on an exploration mission, only to end up in peril and captured by the strange local inhabitants, the Selenites.
Featuring a who’s who of theatrical cast from the era, with Méliès himself taking a lead role, this is one of cinema’s first forays into sci-fi and spawned one of the most iconic images of cinema – the man in the moon with a rocket in his eye. The film is included in this Deluxe limited edition in both black and white and its original colours, together with hardback casebound book of George Méliès’ autobiography, previously unpublished in English. Altogether this makes a perfect introduction to the work of one of the most adventurous, inspiring and talented early filmmakers. Extras with the High Definition Blu-ray presentation (in riginal uncompressed Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround audio), include ‘The Innovations of Georges Méliès’ – a video essay by Jon Spira exploring A Trip to the Moon and Méliès’ career; ‘An Extraordinary Voyage’ – Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary on the film, its rediscovery and preservation for future generations, featuring interviews with Costa Gavras, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; ‘Le Grand Méliès’ (1952) – a loving film by Georges Franju about the life and work of Méliès, featuring poignant appearances by his son and 90-year-old widow, Jeanne. ‘I owe him everything.’ – D W Griffith. Watch the trailer
LE CERCLE ROUGE STUDIOCANAL
Controversial French directorJean-Pierre Melville is often regarded as the ‘godfather of the Nouvelle Vague’, and Le Cercle Rouge (‘The Red Circle’) is a great example of the daring and innovative filmmaking that would see the controversial director influence many artists and filmmakers. Though remembered primarily for his intense, spare 1960s gangster films, Melville had a varied range that included wartime dramas, psychosexual character studies, and a collaboration with Jean Cocteau. He worked mostly independently, even building his own studio, and it was this fierce do-it-yourself attitude that resulted in uncompromising films such as Les Enfants Terribles and Bob le Flambeur. French New Wave filmmakers adopted Melville as a sort of godfather (Godard even gave him a cameo in Breathless) but Melville went his own way, making highly idiosyncratic crime films that were beholden to no trend (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations). Supercool Alain Delon, Italian Gian Maria Volontè and suave Yves Montand star the aristocratic thief, ruthless fugitive and alcoholic ex-cop caught together in the thrall of destiny as they plan to carry out the ultimate robbery. The mismatched trio are locked in an elaborate and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with an inscrutable police inspector (the excellent Andre Bourvil, in his final film). He is under pressure to get results and is determined to foil the thieves, despite being drawn irresistibly to his prey.
As the day of the heist dawns, the story unfolds with all four players determined to cheat fate, and the film climaxes in a near wordless heist that rivals Rififi. This skilfully choreographed tale, beautifully photographed by Henri Decae and stylishly directed by Melville, was a big hit with both critics and audiences when released in 1970. Newly resored and now looking better than ever, Le Cercle Rouge is released here in on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital with a wide range of extras that includes a new feature (‘The Perfect Circle’) as well as interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora and writer José Giovanni. ‘Melville blends the Chandleresque world of his own devising with gritty French reality.’ – Guardian.