2015: A Year In Review: Movies [Home Entertainment]
We’ve taken a look at some of the theatrical highlights from the last twelve months [see full list here], now comes the mammoth task of rounding up a selection of the many highlights from the 2015 home entertainment schedule.
As always, we will only pick one release from each distributor.
The Apu Trilogy [Blu-ray]
Dir. Satyajit Ray
As expected, Criterion have had another outstanding year with such must have releases as Eclipse Series 44: Julien Duvivier in the Thirties, Ikiru, Mulholland Drive, Le Silence de la Mer, Odd Man Out and The River all making welcome appearances in the prestigious Collection, however, when a potential release was hinted at earlier in the year, it was clear that there was only ever going to be one clear winner (should the release live up to expectation).
Featuring stunning new 4K digital restorations of all three films (undertaken in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and L’Imagine Ritrovata), and with crisp uncompressed monaural soundtracks, this meticulously restored new Blu-ray release of arguably the finest trilogy in cinema is without doubt the year’s most essential home entertainment release. Pretty impressive considering the original negatives were burned in a fire just two decades ago.
If you are yet to discover these rich, poignant and incredibly beautiful works for yourself, then now is most certainly the time to do so.
The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection [Blu-ray]
Dir. Carl Th. Dreyer
With restored standalone Blu-ray releases of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, not to mention Rossellini: The War Trilogy, The Roberto Rossellini & Ingrid Bergman Collection and The Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection – all released in Limited Edition 3-Disc Box Sets – it is safe to say that BFI have had a pretty great year with their Home Ent. output.
Back in April however they released another strictly Limited Edition 3-disc Blu-ray box set, this time featuring the works of one of the cinema’s greatest filmmakers, Carl Theodor Dreyer – again in newly remastered High Definition presentations.
Featuring the landmark films Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955) Gertrud (1964), and the perhaps lesser known silent work Master of the House (1925), alongside a host of early short films, archive materials and other cool special features, this is an absolute must have release, and I would advise grabbing yourself a copy of while you still can.
Dragon’s Return (Drak sa vracia) [DVD]
Second Run DVD
Dir. Eduard Grečner
Second Run DVD have yet again unearthed a wealth of forgotten gems over the last twelve months, bringing them to light with new high definition digital transfers and allowing a new, wider audience to discover (or perhaps revisit) some lesser known masterworks of world cinema.
In a year that saw impressive releases of Story of My Death (Història de la meva mort), All My Good Countrymen (Všichni dobří rodáci), War and Peace (Jang aur Aman), Pictures Of The Old World , Kinetta, and the Věra Chytilová films Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce strom rajských jíme) and Traps – not forgetting the Polish Cinema Classics Vol.III box set – it was the August release of Eduard Grečner’s Dragon’s Return that proved the real highlight.
A key film from the golden era of Slovak cinema, Grečner’s radical fusion of ancient folklore and experimental modernism is presented from a superb new HD restoration of the film, highlighting the luminous monochrome image and making it one of the year’s most exiting and rewarding releases.
The Third Man [Blu-ray/DVD]
Dir. Carol Reed
Widely considered to be the greatest British film ever made – sitting firmly atop the British Film Institute’s 1999 Top British Films poll – Studiocanal’s stunning new 4K restoration of Carol Reed’s The Third Man certainly did not disappoint.
The restored Blu-ray transfer is as crisp and as beautiful as could be hoped for, and jam packed with special features, a copy of the soundtrack, art cards and a chunky booklet, the 4-Disc Collector’s Edition set proves an absolute essential release.
Special mention must also go to Studiocanal’s equally beautiful ‘Vintage Classics’ releases of The Tales Of Hoffmann, The Happiest Days Of Your Life and Far From The Madding Crowd.
Love and Death [Blu-ray]
Dir. Woody Allen
It is still very sad that some people still voice disdain towards Twilight Time for their limited numbers and high prices, however the reason they release their titles in limited edition runs is due solely to contractual demands/negotiations from the respective studios that hold the rights to those title. Of course they would want to produce/sell more copies and reduce costs if they could, however with the budget they have, 3000 copies of any given title is all they can do. It is not a lack of respect to the public, it is merely an issue with financial constraints and Twilight Time are one of the best and most consistent Blu-ray companies going.
Twilight Time’s output has been prolific to say the least – with a mightily impressive 60 title released during 2015 – offering strong, consistent transfers, excellent commentaries and bonus features and great liner notes (courtesy of Julie Kirgo) on a smorgasbord of films, some of which people thought would never see a restored Blu-ray release. Of the 60 films released this year, we have seen beautifully restored releases of Fright Night: 30th Anniversary Special Edition, Journey to the Center of the Earth (New 4K Restoration), A Man for All Seasons, Mississippi Burning, Zardoz and Remains of the Day.
In particular though, it is their ongoing Woody Allen series that has proved a particular highlight. With this year’s releases of The Purple Rose of Cairo, Shadows and Fog and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy joining their 2014 releases of Broadway Danny Rose and Crimes and Misdemeanors, and with rumoured future releases of Zelig, Stardust Memories and September, their Woody Allen series has become nothing short of essential.
It was hard to choose just one title, however we have gone for their new presentation of Allen’s hilarious parody of Russian literature, Love and Death. With a stunning transfer doing full justice to the gorgeous cinematography and an authentic DTS-HD Master monaural audio track enhancing Prokofiev’s sweeping music, this is a real must have release.
Shoah (and four films after Shoah) [Blu-ray]
The Masters of Cinema Series [Eureka Entertainment]
Dir. Claude Lanzmann
Shane, Man of the West, Forty Guns, The Quiet Man, The Naked Prey, Dragon Inn, Seconds and The Shohei Imamura Masterpiece Collection all stand out as highlights of the 2015 Masters of Cinema canon, though again there is only one release that truly deserves the top spot.
Claude Lanzmann’s landmark 550-minute documentary about the Holocaust, Shoah, stands as one of the greatest and most significant achievements in cinema and is here presented on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK, alongside four other films Lanzmann made on the subject between the years of 1997 and 2013.
Lanzmann spent twelve years spanning the globe for surviving camp inmates, SS commandants, and eyewitnesses of the “Final Solution”. Without dramatic re-enactment or archival footage – but with extraordinary testimonies – Shoah renders the step-by-step machinery of extermination, and through haunted landscapes and human voices, makes the past come brilliantly alive.
Much improved on the previously released Criterion Collection edition, Eureka’s own effort offers a much stronger visual presentation, with richer colours and more natural skin tones, enhancing the authentic grain structure and notably removing the slight turquoise tinge that appears on the Criterion version.
One of the most important and powerful works in all cinema perfectly restored in an absolutely essential release.
Sherlock Holmes [Blu-ray/DVD]
Dir. Arthur Berthelet
Flicker Alley have made their name with flawless restorations of a great number of significant works – notably from the silent era – and last year’s output was no different. 2015 saw releases of the silent 10-episode Films Albatros serial The House of Mystery (La Maison du mystère), a newly restored 15-film box set of Chaplin’s Essay Comedies, the 37-film Masterworks of American Avant-garde Experimental Film [1920-1970], 3-D RARITIES (A Collection of 22 Ultra-Rare and Stunningly Restored 3-D Films) and a truly breathtaking new Blu-ray presentation of Dziga Vertov’s landmark The Man with the Movie Camera (and Other Newly-Restored Works).
However, in terms of cultural impact and its significance in the silent film canon, we have gone for the November release of the long-lost silent feature, Sherlock Holmes.
Long considered lost until a complete dupe negative was identified in the vaults of La Cinémathèque française last year, this William Gillette film is a vital missing link in the history of Sherlock Holmes on screen. By the time it was produced at Essanay Studios in 1916, Gillette had been established as the world’s foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage—having played him approximately 1300 times since his 1899 debut. This newly-restored edition, thanks to the monumental efforts of both the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and La Cinémathèque française, represents the sole surviving appearance of Gillette’s Holmes on film.
Presented with optional French and English intertitles and featuring an original score composed and performed by Neil Brand, Guenter Buchwald, and Frank Bockius, this stunningly restored presentation is as glorious as you might expect. Arriving on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time ever, this new edition – packed with extensive bonus supplements – is an absolute triumph!
Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism [Limited Edition] [Blu-ray/DVD]
Arrow Films [Arrow Academy]
Dir. Kiju Yoshida
What a year it has been for Arrow Films. With so many incredible films released throughout 2015 it is difficult to know where to even begin. We’ve well and truly spoiled with Limited Edition releases of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Complete Collection, Videodrome, Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box, Edgar Allan Poes Black Cats [Two Adaptations by Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci] and the flawless My Darling Clementine + Frontier Marshal, not forgetting the long anticipated release of Mario Bava’s giallo masterpiece, Blood and Black Lace.
In terms of the sheer rarity of the films featured though – not to mention the quality – the Limited Dual Format Edition Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism box set has to top the list.
This collection brings together three works from the late sixties and early seventies, a loose trilogy united by their radical politics and an even more radical shooting style. Eros + Massacre, presented here in both its 169-minute theatrical version and the full-length 220-minute director’s cut, tells the parallel stories of early 20th-century anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists. Their stories interact and intertwine, resulting in a complex, rewarding work that is arguably Yoshida’s masterpiece.
Heroic Purgatory pushes the dazzling cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak but dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in early seventies Japan. Coup d’état returns to the past for a biopic of Ikki Kita, the right-wing extremist who sought to overthrow the government in 1936. Yoshida considered the film to be the culmination of his work, promptly retiring from feature filmmaking following its completion.
Eros + Massacre is indeed a real masterpiece of narrative obscurity and multi-layered complexity, and to see the full-length 220-minute director’s cut in all its restored glory is something very special indeed. At almost £60 the set isn’t cheap, but it certainly is worth it … and just think how much you’ll have to fork out once it goes out of print!