A quick listing of some of the discs I’ve got my hands on in the last month or so; I’ll be doing posts on a few of these films in the near future (or writing about them as part of a larger column).
- My love affair with Criterion Collection DVDs (illegally procured from Palika Bazaar, of course) continues. They have a surprisingly large number of Japanese films from the 1950s and 1960s, and the additions to my collection include Nobuo Nakagawa’s gory Jigoku (good in places though I was ultimately a bit disappointed), Ozu’s Good Morning, Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp (a wonderful companion piece to Ichikawa’s fine anti-war film Fires on the Plain, which I also have), and best of all a sharp, carefully restored print of Masaki Kobayashi’s Hara-Kiri, which I’ll write about soon. Also a real cult classic – Seijun Suzuki’s 1967 film Branded to Kill (watch it and you’ll know why it was such an inspiration to Quentin Tarantino, among other directors).
- Again on Criterion, Ingmar Bergman’s faith trilogy: Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence. I had the first and the third on badly scratched DVDs already (The Silence is a personal favourite) but these are better prints and they include fine video essays by Peter Cowie. I love the menu designs on all three films: lovely, sensual close-ups of great Bergman actors like Gunnar Björnstrand, Harriet Andersson and Max von Sydow. And while on faith, I also picked up a really good transfer of Dreyer’s Ordet.
- A disc of Hitchcock’s Notorious with two audio-commentary tracks, including a fascinatingly detailed one by film scholar Marian Keane, who examines many of the film’s key scenes on an almost shot-by-shot basis. This meticulous visual reading of one of my all-time favourite movies was a real treat.
- I was gifted the box-set of The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (all three films plus two discs of supplemental materials) but in hindsight I would happily have paid for it, even at the inflated prices demanded by the legit-market mafia. The first two movies look sumptuous, much better than on the video-cassettes I used to own; the restorers have achieved a very high-definition print without mucking about with the lushness of Gordon Willis’ cinematography. Had a marvelous time watching the three films back to back over a recent weekend and developed a deeper appreciation of the magnificently, deliberately melodramatic finale of Part III, culminating in Michael Corleone’s silent scream on the steps. (The last 20 minutes of that film is pure opera, and even while I’m conscious of Francis Ford Coppola’s straining for an end that is Profound and Shakespearean and full of Tragic Grandeur, I still can’t help admiring it.)
The main-menu page of each disc sets the mood, using quietly ominous scenes from the movies. (The scene on Part II menu is the chilling long-shot of Michael watching from behind the glass windows of his lakeside house as his brother Fredo goes on the last fishing trip of his life.) The director's commentary by Coppola manages somehow to be understated and florid at the same time, much like some of the most famous sequences in these films. The level of his identification with Michael is a bit scary though, especially when he points out that his daughter Sofia Coppola (who was lambasted for her performance as Mary Corleone in the third film) was the recipient of much of the negative criticism that was really intended for him, in much the same way that Mary takes the bullet meant for Michael!
The viewing also whetted my appetite for some Godfather-related literature, notably Pauline Kael’s famous review of Part II (not available online, as far as I can tell), and this piece by Jonathan Rosenbaum, one of the few major movie critics who wasn’t a big fan of the first two movies. Do also read this excellent essay, in which Rosenbaum praises Al Pacino’s performance in the third film as an example of “a termite performance in a white-elephant part” (the reference is to Manny Farber’s famous distinction between white-elephant art and termite art).