Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Le Crime de DVD: A cri de coeur from the Siren

This past weekend the Siren saw a great film: Jean Renoir's Le Crime de Monsieur Lange. Jacques Prévert's witty script is an absolute marvel of construction that compresses a large number of fully drawn characters into a complex narrative, and does so in (get this) 80 minutes. (As John McElwee observed this week in his fine review of the film of the moment, "current films too often start with a bang and finish up dog tired.") And the Siren's copy contained a marvelous prologue in which Renoir himself discusses the movie, pointing out the experimental nature of the way it was filmed. The director also talks of his admiration for the performance of Jules Berry as the villain, Batala. It is no wonder Renoir got consistently fine performances from his actors--he respected both them and their craft.

Isn't that great? Aren't you burning to see this 1936 gem now? You are? Tough.

It isn't on Region 1 DVD. The Siren had to get her copy, like samizdat, from a sympathetic blogger she won't name for fear of bringing some sort of corporate wrath on his head. He knows who he is, and he's a mensch. He probably won't mind if the Siren tells you the print is in so-so shape--murky in parts, with the occasional jump. But Monsieur Lange's nowhere near as bad off as Caught, which the Siren also got under-the-table from another, equally wonderful blogger. That Max Ophuls masterpiece, about love, social-climbing and obsession, looked as though it had been filmed through a Mafia widow's mourning veil.



The good news is that Monsieur Lange is now part of a Region 2 boxed set from the UK, and Caught will soon be available as a Region 2 DVD from BFI Films. The Siren's going to get her own copy of Caught, to go along with Le Plaisir, Letter from an Unknown Woman and The Reckless Moment. Gallingly, however, the last two films were made right here in the good old U.S. of A., as was Caught. Ophuls was as continental as they come, a true cosmopolitan. But it was the independent company of Joan Fontaine (bless her) that made Letter possible, and Universal that distributed it. It was our grand old country that provided the resources for Ophuls to make three phenomenal movies in a row (after letting him languish for six years, but better late than never). And it is our country, and the corporate drones who make the decisions about which movie gets a DVD release, that has failed to release these movies. In all fairness, perhaps it is the French who should have been on the case of Monsieur Lange. But we are also awaiting Diary of a Chambermaid, a superb Renoir film made during his American exile, as well as The Woman on the Beach.

Glenn Kenny performs a great service every Monday Morning with his "Foreign-Region DVD Report," letting us all know about movies available outside the U.S. Serious cinephiles do own region-free players. The Siren does. She has also resorted to VHS for those movies that made it to one format but not the other. But what does it say about us as a society when we concede some of the greatest American art to the tender care of other countries? What becomes of a great film if it is confined to highly expensive overseas orders, bootleg copies made by friends, a late-night Turner Classic Movies screening or the occasional festival screening? You might as well take the score for Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, stick it in a closet and bring it out once a decade. You're slowly killing the potential audience for the lesser-known movies, virtually guaranteeing that the broad taste for classics as something more than antique curios is fated to wither and die.

You want to see Bigger Than Life, Nicholas Ray's legendary 1956 study of a suburban father's descent into addiction and madness? So does the Siren. So she's picking up a copy next month. When she goes to FRANCE. And she's also getting a copy of Make Way for Tomorrow, which influenced Ozu's cowriter on Tokyo Story and which many critics rank with Citizen Kane as one of the great American films. The French found the money to put together a pretty good version of it. Paramount (a unit of Viacom, which posted $1.6 billion in 2007 profits) has not. The Siren wonders what Leo McCarey, a rock-ribbed patriotic conservative of the deepest dye, would have made of his own country's lack of interest in distributing his best film.

Well, the Siren says it's a disgrace. Don't talk to me about profit margins, complex rights and the cost of restoration. Last year NBC Universal cleared $923 million in profit. The company is owned by GE and Vivendi, both of which have also been known to make money. They could throw a little dough at Ophuls.

No, movie studios are not charities. But neither are they widget manufacturers. They are sitting on a major part of our historical and cultural heritage as Americans. And sitting, and sitting, and sitting, while the films' lifespan becomes ever more precarious. We accept that companies have a responsibility not to pollute or leave a mountain looking like a moonscape. (Well, most of us do. Hard-core Randians probably quit reading before this paragraph anyway.) Why are movie studios not held to a higher standard for this vital responsibility, that of preserving and disseminating the very things that make them special?

Criterion is a splendid company. We all love Criterion. They rock, and furthermore they just released an Ophuls set of The Earrings of Madame de..., La Ronde and Le Plaisir. (Pretty please, could we put some hustle in the Naruse stuff, guys?) But they're not all that big, and they can't do it all themselves. They can't even do it with other outfits like Kino also helping out. As a cinephile the Siren is not content to hang around and wait for Criterion every time someone says "oh, they're supposed to be doing a version." There are thousands of films, and only one Criterion.


[I saw] The Wind at the Dryden Theatre in Rochester's Eastman House one night in 1956. I had never heard of it! And I could find no clue to its history. Gish's clothes were charmingly contrived from all periods, from no period. Her hair was either piled up in a dateless fashion on top of her head or swirling round her throat and shoulders. The Swedish director Victor Seastrom (born Sjöström), in his direction, shared her art of escaping time and place. Seastrom and Gish were meant for each other. After the picture, I could hardly wait to ask the curator of Eastman House, James Card, when and where it was made. He said that it had been made at MGM, in Hollywood, in 1927. 'In Hollywood, in 1927, at MGM?' I said. 'Why, I was there then, working at Paramount! How come I never heard a word about The Wind?'
--Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood


The past decade's pre-code discoveries have emphasized the fact that the film canon shifts constantly. Given a steady stream of classic movies, we look at old films with new eyes and wonder how past audiences missed their evident greatness. Those films in the vault--how do we know there isn't another Man's Castle, another Employee's Entrance in there? Film stock is finite. And The Wind, by the way, isn't on DVD.

The Siren has a waking nightmare that visits her sometimes as she tries to go to sleep, in which the only old movies to be found anywhere are on the AFI Top 100 list. She sees herself ten years from now, wanting to share One-Way Passage with her teenage twins. And she can't. It's off in a basement somewhere, turning to dust. Never mind, the special effects sucked. We can alway rent Casablanca again, right?

36 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I was thinking of having a post where I would have readers send me money to buy Region 2 DVDs. I seem to have a fair record of buying movies that do become available in US versions after I buy the R2 DVD - Eyes Wide Shut, Madame D ..., The Leopard. Tears of the Black Tiger, Girl Can't Help It, Pretty Poison, Infernal Affairs come to mind. I do have the BFI copy of Bigger that Life as well. I am almost convinced that my buying a R2 DVD is a guarantee that the R1 version will be on its way. On the other hand, I still have Jour de Fete, Toni and Red Squirrel as well and some R3 only films of Asian titles that will will probably not get R1 versions (hint: see my next post).

Campaspe said...

With the dollar in the toilet, it's incredibly expensive to buy European DVDs. The shipping will kill you too.

I also have my problems with the French. Lots of titles that aren't out there, and many that are do not come with subtitles, which is pretty stupid considering Great Britain with a large supply of movie-lovers is right there.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Caught was originally released on a French Region 2 DVD from Vfpvostf/Wild Side Video, which is where I got my copy. (The first time I saw this wonderful movie was, of all places, the Encore Mystery Channel...where I also obtained City That Never Sleeps--a first-rate noir that I hope to transfer from its current VHS status to DVD.)

Finding movies on Region 2 DVD is sort of a hobby of mine. Thanks to my diligence, I've been able to locate gems like The Fallen Sparrow, The Undercover Man, Stranger on the Third Floor, Riot in Cell Block 11, The Dark Mirror, etc.

Here's a nice website that carries a lot of RKO classics still not available here on Region 1; you can order most of them from Amazon.fr (though as you have pointed out, they're pretty pricey thanks to our current sucky dollar). I'll bet your French is better than mine, too.

Campaspe said...

Ivan, thanks very much! I will check out the link. The dedicated classic lovers definitely find their ways. My worry (among others) is that making so many excellent films an arduous slog to find keeps them as a rarefied taste. I'm an evangelist, I want more people to see these things.

Karen said...

Oh my heavens, The Wind and Make Way for Tomorrow aren't available on DVD here? That is just a sin and a shame.

I saw Tokyo Story for the first time a few months ago, and was struck by its similarity to Make Way for Tomorrow, but didn't realize there was a direct connection. Another Siren-Sponsored Fun Fact, to know and trade--thanks!!

I tended not to care for Victor Moore much in most films, but he was heart-breaking in that film.

Back to the DVD front: kudos to you for pointing out that we're relying on outsourcing for the preservation of our unique film heritage. (Somehow not surprising, given the current climate blowing out of D.C.) Now, if only we can get someone influential and wealthy to listen to you! We shouldn't have to rely on the random attentions of TCM to see this wonderful stuff.

Campaspe said...

Karen, neither is The Crowd. Outsourcing is a good way of putting it. Supposedly Fox is going to put out a boxed set of Borzage this winter, we shall see.

Exiled in NJ said...

My late wife and I bought our first VCR in 1988 and because of a personal tragedy in our life, we became almost fanatic watchers of film, new but mostly old. We lived near the Movies Unlimited retail and rental store. We always rented; today I am sorry we did not buy.

Ivan is right: in those days we found Fallen Sparrow, Stranger on 3rd Floor, and other gems that have disappeared, only to be found at garage sales. Wife had a love for George Sanders so we lapped up the affair pictures: Bel Ami and Uncle Harry. Then there was Laughton's The Suspect. All gone now.

And whatever region you shop, has anyone ever found a decent print of Hitchcock's The Secret Agent, a film that greatly depends on sound?

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

What is really annoying is that studios are leaving money on the table. "Oh it costs too much to make and distribute a DVD. We can't do it unless there's a big audience," they say.

There are companies that sell single DVDs for about $5. Sell each copy for $20 and that's $15 every time someone orders a disc. No inventory, no distribution. The studio owns the rights, so no cost there. Just make a digital copy once and let the profit roll in. Not big profits to be sure, but it is free money.

We'd prefer high-quality, but we'll live with low. But they won't take our money.

David C said...

I guess because I'm an inveterate pirate who believes getting films seen is more important than paying for them (a) I fully support your getting a copy of the marvellous CAUGHT by fair means or foul (it's Ophuls' revenge on Howard Hughes for firing him from VENDETTA -- the Robery Ryan character is a Hughes portrait) and (b) I don't mind where in the world something's available, as long as it IS available.

Tim K. said...

Over at criterionforum.org, they keep a very good running list of forthcoming titles. Here's what it says about [b]The Crime of Monsieur Lange[/b]:

"UPDATE 06/08: 'We plan to release at some point, but no street date yet'. NEW JANUS FILMS PRINT"

J.C. Loophole said...

Oh- why do the Japanese have a DVD copy of The African Queen and we do not? My friend in Japan has often bragged about it, but I keep waiting for the inevitable tricked-out WB or Criterion Special Edition DVD. I mean- I didn't buy Droopy on DVD from England, because I had faith- and I was rewarded. Waiting for The African Queen and I Married a Witch, by the way. Waiting...waiting...
One reason I believe in purchasing and adding to my growing collection is some dim hope that some mid-level exec will one day see a chart and say- "Hey, some guy back east bought the new Jazz Singer DVD. His $30 really put us over for the quarter! Jim - I believe it's time to dip in the vault and release more stuff. If this guy is buying it, who knows how many others are."
Fantasy, you say? Wishful thinking you say?
Just doing my part, says I.

Campaspe said...

Exiled, was it my George Sanders post that first lured you over here? I can't remember. Since then I have seen Lured and A Scandal in Paris but Bel-Ami remains frustratingly out of reach. I also recorded I Can Get It for You Wholesale off Fox Movie Channel.

David, I agree that it's nice to know that someone, somewhere is watching Bigger Than Life, and it's fine that it's the French, who revere Ray. But I'm saying that locking up great movies or scattering them across the globe in this ridiculous electronic treasure hunt we have now is making classic movies more of a rarefied taste than it should or could be. It's a populist art being doled out in miserly little dribs and drabs.

Tim, thanks and welcome! I hadn't seen that; I fervently hope "at some point" means soon. Criterion brings things out as quickly as it can. I just don't understand the leisurely attitude of the majors toward some of their best titles. Well, no, I do understand it, I am just saying it isn't right.

J.C., it is nice to see you here again. I am laughing because I entertain the same fantasy on occasion. When I bought my copy of Lured I was secretly thinking that perhaps a suit somewhere saw the tally and said to his fellows, "hey, there's money in this old guy Sirk's stuff! Now where did we put 'There's Always Tomorrow'?"

Lou Lumenick said...

Letter From an Unknown Woman, though originally released by Universal, is owned by Paramount as part of its Republic Pictures (nee NTA) library, which also includes Caught. Paramount actually announced a DVD release for Woman a couple of years ago but then decided it wasn't interested in distributing older titles (like, say, McCarey's My Son John) except for It's a Wonderful Life and re-leased the rights to the Republic library back to Lionsgate, which has been trickling out titles in generally woeful transfers. Make Way for Tomorrow and Ruggles of Red Gap are among the hundreds of Paramount titles that Universal, which has controlled rights since the 1950s, is sitting on. Very frustrating. My understanding is that The Wind is going to be included in a Warner Lillian Gish set along with The Scarlet Letter and La Boheme .. some day.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Campaspe: these guys are about to close up shop and have some stuff on sale including several vintage RKO titles.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Oops, try this link.

mndean said...

Just FYI, TCM is going to show One-Way Passage in September. At least it's scheduled. With TCM lately, one can never be sure (they dumped an entire Glenda Farrell day last month for some very routine fare), but I think it'll run since it's Kay Francis month.

Campaspe said...

Lou, thanks for the correction and for fingering the actual villains in the case of Letter, which is a special favorite of mine. I can't be the only one who thinks that movie, and Make Way and Ruggles and even the silents, could find devotees just like It's a Wonderful if only they were more widely seen. It was years of public-domain repeat viewings that made Wonderful Life a household name after all.

Oh dear Peter, a sale link--what are you doing to me? well, I did return a big-ticket item to the store today so that's sort of like extra money I have to spend, right? :D

mndean said...

Oh, and this is why I'm an obsessive recorder of anything remotely rare on TCM, especially anything pre-WWII. If I don't think it'll be released on DVD within a year (or ever), I'll record it rather than wait. Better to have something than nothing, especially since I can't travel to the film festivals now.

Notes: I've been waiting for Crime of Monsieur Lange ever since I watched it on a bad VHS copy at least ten years ago. It even sat (and sat and sat) on my Netflix to-be-released list until I quit them. I often amuse myself now by watching lesser movies and discovering other pleasures from them, rather than waiting for Corporate America to decide that I am finally worthy of purchasing their oh-so-valuable IP. I have a region-free player, but I just can't stomach the cost of a Region 2 DVD.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I second Peter's (sausage) link--I've bought several discs there in the past, and I've yet to be disappointed.

Vanwall said...

There was a video-tape rental place in the murky past here, that stocked the damnedest things, even mildly darned ones, and amazingly in Beta sometimes, my system of choice - if they didn't have it, they would come up with it - you ask and sooner or later they'd call you with it waiting on the counter. I cannot remember them ever failing, even if I had to take a sketchy VHS copy, so the availability of just about anything was mind-boggling. Sadly, I also remember passing on buying used copies of films and television shows that don't seem to exist anymore. Yeah, shortsighted. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit I came upon Peter's link a few years ago looking for some Euro soft-porn/Giallo rarities - but I'll own up to it's a good outfit to deal with, regardless of genre.) I don't embarrass easily, tho. Siren, it's a pity bean-counters aren't instructed that your blog is required reading. ;-)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

"No, movie studios are not charities. But neither are they widget manufacturers. They are sitting on a major part of our historical and cultural heritage as Americans."

Right you are.

Gloria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gloria said...

Funny thing about the DVDs: I purchased a NTSC compatible VCR just to see old film classics on VHS which were available in the USA but not in Europe (So I have a share myself of non-legit copies through lack of a better option): why has the tide turned? Do the big corporations think that love for good old films is a thing of the past or one that doesn't mean big bucks? I suspect the second.

I wonder why we can purchase music CDs from any region of the world, but for DVD releases we must buy a multi-zone player... or else? And even in the case of European releases, there are cases when a film released in one country won't have as much as a couple of alternative subtitles: I want badly to see Pabst's "Westfront 1918", but it has only been released in Germany (with no available subtitles in either French, English or Spanish).

I confess that both Ohpuls and Naruse are fairly well catered, as far as Zone-2 releases on DVD go... but unfortunately, most of them are a "film-only" version, which makes me wish I had money enough to get all the Criterion releases (even of films available already on Zone-2!)

I saw "The Wind" years ago:it was my first Gish experience and one of the reasons I got to love both her and silent movies: it is a shame that it hasn't been released (I think that I had a recording from a TV broadcast at home... I'll have to check it).

BTW, "Ruggles of Red Gap" DVD is having a French release:
http://www.commeaucinema.com/film=l-extravagant-mr-ruggles,38885.html

Apure said...

Sometimes it happens the other way round. Sometimes... You have Demy's Lola, we (depressed, Euro-waving French) do not. And Raymond Bernard's Les Misérables. If that's any consolation...

Miguel Marías said...

Well observed, but I'm afraid that happens everywhere. Not only foreign filmmakers with an American career, like Renoir (whose "The Diary of a Chambermaid" is in excellent DVD in Spain) or Ophuls (whose splendid "The Exile" is nowhere on DVD; by the way, there is a new, restored Italian label RHV DVD of "La Signora di tutti" with English subtitles that I had to buy thru Amazon.de), but all-American may be sadly under-represented: where are Hawks' "Today We Live" or "Red Line 7000" or Ford's "7 Women"? Until the centennial year of 2006, Italy was one of the worst places to find Rossellini on DVD, and yet Visconti's "Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa..." and "L'Étranger" are missing anywhere. Even the chauvinistic French have not published on DVD Bresson's "Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur" or "Une femme douce"...
Miguel Marías

Gareth said...

I can't get over how many non R-1 DVDs (especially from various parts of Europe) don't include subtitles; there are three or four subtitle tracks on nearly every US DVD I possess, so why on earth don't more French DVDs (as you note) have a English subtitle track? Surely the distributors wouldn't mind a few more overseas customers through amazon.fr or fnac.fr? I don't have a problem with understanding spoken French, but I sure wish I could share more of my films with friends; it would make me a feel a lot better about all of the DVDs sitting on my shelf ;)

Gloria said...

Campaspe, I don't know if Miguel Marías has mentioned it to you, but he's the top Spanish expert/harbinger on Mikio Naruse.

(I have proof of that, senyor: your old '93 article in "Nosferatu" magazine and the San Sebastian Film Festival book on Naruse contributed by you, he)

Campaspe said...

Gloria, I have "Ruggles" on my "possible" list for French DVD purchases.

Miguel, does the Spanish DVD of "Diary" have an English subtitle track by any chance? I have noticed Gareth's complaint about subtitles, the French just don't seem to bother. It must be awful being deaf in France as well because closed captioning seems also non-existent. My French is just flat-out bad and the tinny sort of dialogue sound on many older movies makes it even more difficult. But with CC I can follow pretty well. No dice.

Gloria, thanks for tipping me off. You always remember how I love Naruse but I haven't written up the movies I saw, for the most part--he is so hard to find in the U.S., despite his genius. I came across someone mocking Philip Lopate for going on about Naruse, as though it were some sort of abstruse taste only a snobbish toff could have. But Naruse's films are completely watchable and accessible, if only THE MOVIES WERE WIDELY AVAILABLE. Sigh.

Noel Vera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noel Vera said...

Am waiting for more Ritwik Ghatak films to come out in Region 1 DVDs. Also, Bimal Roy.

But you want to talk nightmares? Filipino film print storage is my constant nightmare. I've been to Regal Film's warehouse--it's a 'bodega' that's hot as hell inside. You can smell the prints turning into vinegar.

As recent a film as Celso Ad. Castillo's Burlesk Queen, great film, made in 1977 was long considered lost till recently. I've heard they found a print, maybe in France, if I remember right.

Negatives of Lino Brocka's best work are being stored in France (Insiang (1976), Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged And Found Wanting, 1974); Mike de Leon's films are being stored in Singapore (his masterpiece, Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981) needs serious cleaning).

I hate to think of what's left of my favorite Filipino filmmaker, Mario O'Hara. His Bagong Hari (The New King, 1986), arguably the greatest Filipino action film I've ever seen, is lost--only a video copy exists. Same with both Condemned (1984) and Bakit Bughaw ang Langit (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981). The prints are gone, only a video copy remains.

Filipino filmmakers have been making films since 1919, and production rose to fifty films a year during the '30s, from musicals to melodramas to horror to South Sea movies. And of all the films made in that period (five hundred, presumably), only two survive, both from 1939.

Then there's Gearardo de Leon. His Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not, 1961) exists in a wretched print, but it exists; his even greater El Filibusterismo (The Filibuster, 1962) is in a foggy video copy, and no print exists. Dyesebel (Jezebel, 1953) his mermaid film that Pierre Rissent called "Bunuelian" was lost for the longest time--I hear a print's been found, in Thailand, I think.

Of his masterpiece, Daigdig ng Mga Api (World of the Oppressed, 1965) I've heard nothing. I've met people who've seen it--wax enthusiastic over it, aboslutely. But none of them are younger than sixty, and they won't live forever.

Miguel Marías said...

Siren, if you don't mind my calling you so (I like it better that Campaspe, which in Spanish doesn't sound too well), you're lucky, because "The Diary of a Chambermaid" Vellavisión DVD published here has English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing (which is quite an exception, usually their "producers" are so cheap that most of the Spanish movies people could get to know abroad don't carry any English or French subtitles). Spain was, mysteriously, the first country to publish Naruse on DVD (unfortunately only with Spanish subtitles), including his last (and for me one of his greatest, with strange parallels to Sirk's "Magnificent Obsession") which has not appeared even in Japan (where they have no subtitles, either, despite their fame as born exporters).
Thanks, Gloria, for attributing me such knowledge about Naruse. I only wish it were true: there are about 30 extant surviving Naruse films I have not seen (although I have seen about 34). I discovered him (and began to write about him) in 1983, thanks to the first (an not much attended) of three increasingly large retrospectives at Filmoteca Española, the Spanish Film Archive. I was astonished that such a genius was not widely known around the world. By the way, the book published jointly by Filmoteca and the San Sebastian International Film Festival is bi-lingual, and therefore available in English.
I grieve about what Noel Vera tells about Philippine cinema's preservation. I'm sure we are missing a lot, to judge from what I have been able to see. Less extreme perhaps, there is a danger everywhere of losing forever films which are not restored when it is yet possible (and cheaper than in the future).
Miguel Marías

Noel Vera said...

Thanks Miguel; might add I saw this I think Spanish production Last Stand in the Philippines, a sort of Vietnam war film where the Spaniards play the Americans and the Filipinos the Vietnamese. It was great fun.

Losing one's past films have an effect on film criticism, too. We Filipinos are losing our cultural memory, our sense of what we're like, or what we used to be capable of in terms of filmmaking, in the past decades. It's a cinematic Alzheimer's.

Campaspe said...

Noel, there aren't many posts that leave me with my hand over my mouth but yours did. That is absolutely heartbreaking. The film preservation scene here is still not what one could wish but the losses you describe are truly staggering.

Miguel, is the "last Naruse" you describe "Scattered Clouds"? If so I am glad to say I saw that one and it was one of the best. It did impress me as rather Sirkian but the specific Magnificent Obsession comparison hadn't occurred to me. It's quite apt, though. You tell me it hasn't appeared in Japan? !!!!

During the Cinematheque Ontario retrospective I saw nine Naruses and I wish I had seen three times that number. The one I really yearn to see: Floating Clouds. It was sold out before I got a chance. It's in a UK version but I am hoping for a Criterion release, esp. since as of yesterday my multiregion player has died, killed by a head-on collision with a toddler's hands.

Gloria said...

Campaspe: Yes, the film Miguel refers to is "Scattered Clouds". I also missed "Floating Clouds" in a festival, though a year or so later there was another season where I caught it (plus "Lightning"). It's such aMaybe one of our gal Hideko's greatest roles (and Masayuki Mori is so wonderfully Jamesmasonish in his role, too). I cannot think of a similar love film, so blunt and bitter about relationships, and yet so romantic, being made at the time in the USA or the UK. The book I mentioned is a remarkable one, and as Miguel says, in Spanish-English version.

Miguel: Well, you've seen more films than many! And probably the further Naruse retrospectives in Spain owe something to your championing his films in the media ;D. I discovered Naruse in the San Sebastian retrospective, just curious about Japanese films in general, and as you, gasped at the fact that he's not as well known as Ozu, Mizogouchi or Kurosawa. Even more, as Campaspe says, as his films are truly very accesible and one can relate well to the characters even if one is not a Japanese. I sus

the bad thing about the available Zone 2 releases is that they step over each other, so to say. The Spanish DVDs released so far (that I know) are "Mother", "Floating Clouds", "Sound of the Mountain", "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs" and "Scattered Clouds". There's a French Box-set containing "Repast" and "Herringbone clouds", but repeats "Floating Clouds" (and the films doesn't seem to be available separately). an UK release has got "Repast". "Sound of the Mountain" and "Flowing". Incidentally, this UK Box-set is named "Naruse Volume one", though so far no "Naruse Volume two" has been released (apparently it depends onnteh sales of "volume one"). In any case, all these DVD releases only seem to have subtitles in one language, which I suspect is due to licensing rights, which is a pity, as availability of multilingual subtitles would increase their market appeal.

The Lack of DVD releases in Zone one is surprising, specially as Naruse's VHS releases (including Late Chrysanthemums, not available in any DVD zone so far) were available in NTSC but not in PAL!

Noel: Last Stand in the Philippines was one of the film hits the old (non-democratic) regime used to cater for (but you probably have already imagined it ). The story is based in an actual happening, though, when the news of the Spanish surrender didn't reach an isolated garrison (it's odd to think of them as the WW2 japanese which remained isolated in the jungles after the end of the war). The film's song (a wistful havanera) was a great hit, and to this day new versions of it are recorded from time to time.

Miguel Marías said...

Noel: I hope you get to see other old Spanish films better than "Los últimos de Filipinas", competently directed by Antonio Román (who did better) but really colonialist and with terribly rethorical dialogues I cannot stand. I'm worried about the state in which some Philippine great movies can be seen on DVD, are they really in that ratio, are they complete... I am a great fan of Peque Gallaga's "Oro Plata Mata", but it lasts 194 minutes, which seems to be quite less than its original length. There are Dutt films All Regions NTSC in Calcuttaweb.com
Siren and Gloria, quite a pity you did not get to see "Floating Clouds", which I find yet the best (with "The Sound of the Mountain") of the 36 Naruse films I've seen.
I'm skeptical, Gloria, about my power of persuasion, which is however useless when the films are not available, as my championship of the great actress Tanako Kinuyo as filmmaker shows: not only was she the first Japanese woman to direct, but I find her six films as good as the best by Mizoguchi, Naruse, Ozu, Shimizu, Yamanaka or Kurosawa. None of them seems to be in VHS or DVD, and I know several Japanese who have not seen them.
Miguel Marías

Walrus said...

This post really struck a chord with me, as I've recently started tracking how much time I spend just looking for films. I would pay premium prices for mediocre transfers if that's what it takes to make these films profitable to studios.

Worse still is trying to find rare foreign films, which distributers will rarely touch without a surefire audience. I'm a big fan of East European cinema and try finding any of that without shoveling over piles of US dollars for region 2 discs and hit-or-miss tranfers. Second Run, a UK distributer with the spirit of Criterion, has recently been wooing a large portion of my income.

On a happier note, I remember catching Bigger Than Life at a college screening by my favorite professor. What a great time!