W. Murnau was one of the leading filmmakers of the German Expressionist
movement of the 1920s, most well-known for the first adaptation of Bram
Stoker’s Dracula—Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922). He also spent a little time
in Hollywood in the late silent era, responsible for one of Tinsel Town’s great
silent pictures, Sunrise: A Song of Two
Humans (1927), which won the only Academy Award ever given for “Unique and
Expressionism is mostly defined by a stylized visual conceit that distorts
reality for an emotional effect. Highly-contrasted light and shadow play large
roles in the mode, as well as sharp, angular lines of design. The works of,
say, Tim Burton, could be said to be influenced by the school of German Expressionism.
Most of the films noir made in
Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s also harked back to the movement.
Video has released a double feature Blu-ray containing two lesser-known
pictures made by Murnau in Germany—The
Haunted Castle from 1921, which is more of a whodunnit melodrama than
anything resembling the paranormal or supernatural, and The Finances of the Grand Duke from 1924, a light comedy with some
espionage mixed in. The first concerns a revenge tale with some secret
identities and guilt-ridden angst. The second contains a plot that might be too
complicated for its own good, dealing with a likable dictator who wants to save
a tiny country from its creditors.
film is anything to write home about—they are both rather staid, slow, and,
is astonishing, though, is Kino Video’s miraculous restoration in 1920x1080p,
which presents the movies in such a pristine and gorgeous transfer that it’s
difficult to believe these pictures were made nearly a hundred years ago. Unfortunately,
there are no supplements or audio commentaries on the disk.
silent film and Murnau enthusiasts may very well find something here to savor. Studying
old movies embodies a little bit of time travel. There are good lessons
contained within that inform us of the manners, social sensibilities, and artistic
trends of the day. So little of this period’s work survives, and Kino should be
applauded for making it available.
magnificent Robert Altman whodunnit (or, as Altman and team called it, “who
cares whodunnit?”), Gosford Park, has
received a top-class Blu-ray restoration and re-issue from Arrow Academy, and
it is a gem.
released in 2001, Gosford Park took
its cue from the immensely popular BBC television series, Upstairs, Downstairs—about the dramas that exist in a stately
British manor between the “upstairs” folk—the wealthy upper-class family that
owns the property, and the “downstairs” people—the servants and staff who run the household. Throw in a dash of
Agatha Christie, and a heaping helping of Robert Altman’s ensemble improvisatory
magic, and you have the director’s only full-fledged British production.
Interestingly, the screenwriter, Julian Fellowes (who won the Oscar for Original
Screenplay) went on to create and write the next immensely popular BBC television
series, Downton Abbey, which
resembles Gosford Park in many ways.
historians will certainly recognize the homage Altman makes in his direction of
the piece to Jean Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece, The Rules of the Game, a similar masters/servants ensemble work
that Altman was known to admire. The tone and broad canvas with many characters
and their subtle ribald and clandestine liaisons was surely a blueprint on how
to do Gosford.
work began when actor/writer/producer Bob Balaban suggested a collaboration on
a film, and the idea to do an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery became the
desired goal (Balaban co-produced the picture and has a prominent role as one
of two Americans in the nearly all-British cast). And while the murder mystery
is at the core of the film, it’s really not that important. After all, this is
an Altman film. It’s more about the characters, the relationships, and the
exploration of what the British class system was like in the early 1930s when
the U.K. was holding on to centuries-old mores and values that would soon slip
story concerns wealthy businessman Sir William (Michael Gambon), who is married
to younger Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose sisters are married to men
struggling to stay in or begin business with Sir William. One weekend, all the
relations and a few guests are invited to have a “hunting party” (much like in The Rules of the Game), so the house if
full of people and the servants are very busy.But nobody likes Sir William. After all, he has a history of
impregnating servant girls and forcing them to either give up their babies to
orphanages or leave their employment. (The picture has an added layer of
meaning in today’s #MeToo climate!) So, when he’s found dead—apparently stabbed
with a kitchen knife—no one is very surprised. In the last act of the story, we
learn the secrets and lies of several characters, and how these all played into
cast is impressive. Maggie Smith (as a wickedly opinionated older relation who
depends on an allowance from Sir William) was nominated for Supporting Actress,
as was Helen Mirren (who plays the head housekeeper). Also on hand are Alan
Bates, Emily Watson, Charles Dance, Clive Owen, Tom Hollander, Ryan Phillippe,
Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant, and many other familiar faces of
British TV and film. Jeremy Northam portrays the real silent-film actor Ivor
Novello, and Stephen Fry appears as a bumbling police inspector.
brilliant cast and wonderful script aside, Gosford
Park is assuredly Altman’s film. His style of overlapping dialogue, moving
cameras throughout the house and picking up bits of business and dialogue here
and there, and presenting a tapestry of words and images in which the viewer
must piece together, is in full force. It works beautifully. In fact, Gosford was Altman’s second-highest
grossing picture (after M*A*S*H), and
it was nominated for the Oscar Best Picture and Director.
brand new 2K restoration from a 4K scan, approved by director of photography
Andrew Dunn, looks marvelous. There are three audio commentaries—one with
Altman, production designer Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy, and a
second one with writer Fellowes. A third one is new to the release, featuring
critics Geoff Andrew and David Thompson. Supplements include a new introduction
to the film by Geoff Andrew, brand new cast and crew interviews, and port-overs
from the previous DVD release: featurettes on the making of the film, deleted
scenes with Altman commentary, and more. The package comes with a reversible
sleeve containing the original poster art backed with new artwork by Matthew
Griffin. In the first pressing of the product only, a collector’s booklet
featuring new writing on the film by critic Sheila O’Malley and an archival
interview with Altman is included.
Gosford Park was perhaps Altman’s
last great picture, one that stands proudly alongside his other classics like M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville,
The Player, and Short Cuts. Pick it up!