Connect with us

Video

Blu-ray Review: Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

The set affirms the profound emotional power of these idiosyncratic collaborations.

4.5

Published

on

Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

Director Josef von Sternberg and actor Marlene Dietrich fashioned films together that feel more vitally strange and neurotic than ever before, now that mainstream cinema has been tamed by corporations to follow a set of generically empowering tropes as rigid as the rules of any production code. Taming, in fact, is also the driving action of von Sternberg and Dietrich’s films. In Germany, their joint breakthrough was The Blue Angel, which remains an astonishingly cruel examination of a male’s fear of having his lust and loneliness turned against him by a sexual superior. The six American films that von Sternberg and Dietrich made in the wake of The Blue Angel’s success, starting in 1930 with Morocco and concluding in 1935 with The Devil Is a Woman, similarly utilize gender subjugation to explore the essential social divide between men and women. These films aren’t as cathartically sadistic as The Blue Angel, which offered a cleansing exorcism of the mutual resentments existing between the genders, though they have a lingering, more internalized dream power. Their sadism is buried beneath the surface.

These American films—Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil Is a Woman—also reflect another kind of taming. In the early 1930s, the Production Code was gradually taking shape, reining in not only the content of films, but their attitudes as well, ushering in Hollywood’s moralistic, heteronormative streak. This development would lead to Dietrich and particularly von Sternberg becoming passé, seen as European outcasts in an American landscape that began to insist on unceasing proclamation of the values of family and patriotism.

One can see von Sternberg and Dietrich inventing new ways to play their erotic music as the Production Code was being more rigorously enforced. Morocco and 1931’s Dishonored are more openly bawdy than The Devil Is a Woman, which expresses its unbridled sensuality through a combination of set décor and wardrobe that’s almost alien. At one point, Dietrich’s character appears to be wearing an Egyptian headdress—never mind that we’re in fin de siècle Spain—and her visage is heartbreakingly soft. No wonder the film’s two male protagonists nearly kill one another trying to have her.

Though the films make loose pretenses of being set in real places against historical backdrops, they’re rooted in a fantasy realm in which Man and Woman play out a sex game that at once subverts and expresses the strictures of a caste-ridden society. Dietrich cumulatively plays one character, rather than six, across the set of films: that of Marlene Dietrich, warrior artist who uses male vulnerability to her advantage, transcending traditional female pigeonholing. In all these American films, Dietrich plays an iconoclast, usually a notorious femme fatale and stage performer who shares a past with male characters who are played by such impressive stars as Gary Cooper, Victor McLaglen, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall, and Cesar Romero. Usually Dietrich’s characters are provided two men per film to spar with: one a schmuck unworthy of her powers, who’s blessed with the humility to recognize this truth, and one a primordial hunk of masculinity who’s capable of rising to the challenge of her beauty and unsentimental intelligence.

These films are governed by ritualistic plotting and staging that parallels the ritualism of even progressive sexual relations. The nearly pointillist precision of Dietrich’s movements contrasts with von Sternberg’s maximalist determination to create a filmic style worthy of his muse. Von Sternberg is Dietrich’s greatest and most neurotic suitor, seemingly capable of changing even his star’s genetic code. In Morocco, Dietrich is still the fleshy cherub of The Blue Angel, but by the time of The Devil Is a Woman, she’s grown lankier and more angular, those angles suggesting the thorns of a human rose. That angularity is also evident in 1932’s Shanghai Express, when Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily is legendarily framed looking up toward the ceiling, cloaked in darkness, her face emitting a heavenly mournful light.

These films, when watched in succession, reveal patterns, forging an über-narrative of a woman bound to live the same story over and over again. With the notable exception of 1934’s The Scarlet Empress, the Dietrich character succumbs to a man, unbelievably, at the end of each film so that she may reestablish her independence by the beginning of the next narrative only to fall for the same trap again. This pattern abounds in the notion of a woman who submits out of exhaustion from holding the wolves at bay, refuting an element and irony of her power: that she’s completed by the stereotypes that men force her to play, particularly that of the femme fatale, which provides her a pretense for her to create an art of performance and roleplay.

Throughout these films, seemingly endless motifs also suggest a fluidity of identity within Dietrich’s persona that perpetually solidifies and dissolves in infinitum. In Morocco, Dietrich’s Mademoiselle Amy Jolly is becoming in a tuxedo, clearly enjoying the women watching her, though by the end of the film she becomes a legionnaire’s (Gary Cooper) willing lover, trailing behind him in the desert with soldiers’ wives. As Helen Faraday (a.k.a. Helen Jones), Dietrich rediscovers a tux in 1932’s Blonde Venus, extending to another chorus girl a startling gesture of sexual familiarity as she assumes the stage, though she submits again to the rules of a housewife. In The Devil Is a Woman, Dietrich’s Concha Perez evades a man by ascending a staircase resembling the one that leads to death and torture in Shanghai Express.

Sometimes, these patterns are pointedly contradicted or re-contextualized. In the six films that von Sternberg and Dietrich made in America, there’s no sight more alarming than that of Dietrich as a housewife in the first half of Blonde Venus. Initially, von Sternberg’s compositions are correspondingly plain, at least by his standards, though the film gradually grows cluttered and surreal as Dietrich’s character goes on the run, effectively allowing herself to become a classic Dietrich heroine. By the end of the film, Dietrich is hiding in a shelter that’s right out of von Sternberg’s dreams, abounding in his usual scrims, veils, shutters, webs, animals, and frames within frames within frames.

Occasionally, von Sternberg and Dietrich’s formalisms seem to be in competition with one another. It’s ironic that The Scarlet Empress is the one film in which the Dietrich character refuses to submit to a man, as it’s also the film in which von Sternberg’s poetry comes closest to swallowing the actor alive. Audacious even for Sternberg, the film is full of ghoulishly comic statues that suggest characters’ repressed, calcified desires, with tableaux that seem to be set in a garish, extraordinary hell and epic sequences that revel in the elaborate transmission of political power. (Dietrich is also uncharacteristically upstaged in this film by another actress, Louise Dresser, who gives a delicious comic turn as the perturbed Empress Elizabeth Petrovna.)

Von Sternberg and Dietrich’s American films have often been derided as camp, and such an attitude springs from the presumption that art should be good for you, with declarative themes and “realistic” stylization. Von Sternberg and Dietrich fashioned instead a fantasy world that embodies the longing that drives one to cinema: for a grandeur that invites our complicity with icons, rendering our anxieties into pop myth. In their unreality, these six films elucidate our sexual hungers as well as the miscommunications and insecurities that often prevent said hungers from being satiated.

Image/Sound

There are inconsistencies in the images of these restorations that indicate the challenge of refurbishing old films without losing their essence. Image clarity varies across the six discs, though the softness is often beautiful and at least partially intentional. Certain elements, such as rainfall, are rendered with a piercing clarity, as are many close-ups of the films’ many unforgettable faces. The multilayered depth of these images is phenomenal, as is most evident in the stairway scenes in Shanghai Express and The Devil Is a Woman, as well as in the hallucinatory musical numbers of Blonde Venus and the nearly cubist gothic interiors of The Scarlet Empress. The monaural soundtracks are sturdy, particularly in communicating the varied diegetic noises of von Sternberg’s bustling sets, though dialogue is occasionally muddy and eclipsed by the films’ scores. Generally, though, these are glistening, dazzlingly well-detailed preservations of some of the most stylish films ever created.

Extras

It’s difficult to communicate the beauty of these six films together in words, and critics Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin circumvent this problem by offering an evocative juxtaposition of quotations and film footage in their video essay Bodies and Spaces, Fabric and Light. López and Martin manage to elucidate the existential loss of identity that’s communicated by Josef von Sternberg’s obsession with ornamentation, and their work here is one of this package’s highlights. Meanwhile, several new documentaries elaborate on how The Blue Angel brought von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich to America, where their styles quickly evolved. Von Sternberg is portrayed as a control freak and self-conscious myth maker, while Dietrich is shown to be a brilliant chameleon, a master of several languages who could suggest a woman from everywhere and nowhere and thusly embody von Sternberg’s obsession with creating an essentially borderless fantasy zone.

An interview with film scholar Homay King acknowledges the racial quandaries of such fantasies, as applied in this case to the orientalism of Shanghai Express. In another interview, von Sternberg’s son, Nicholas, talks of his father’s influence on his own photography, parsing von Sternberg’s aesthetic in the process. This package includes a variety of other odds and ends, most notably a booklet with three astute and poetic essays by Imogen Sarah Smith, Gary Giddins, and Farran Smith Nehme. One does wonder, however, about the set’s lack of even a single audio commentary, and why several discs are unaccompanied by features pertaining directly to the individual films. For instance, only Morocco gets a making-of supplement. Though there’s quite a bit to savor in this set, it doesn’t quite achieve definitive status.

Overall

This rapturous package affirms the profound emotional power of the art born from one of Hollywood’s most influential and idiosyncratic collaborations.

Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou, Eve Southern, Francis McDonald, Victor McLaglen, Warner Oland, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Lew Cody, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Eugene Pallette, Louise Closser Hale, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall, Rita La Roy, Sidney Toler, Morgan Wallace, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser, C. Aubrey Smith, Gavin Gordon, Lionel Atwill, Edward Everett Horton, Alison Skipworth, Cesar Romero Director: Josef von Sternberg Screenwriter: Jules Furthman, Daniel Nathan Rubin, Josef von Sternberg, S.K. Lauren, Manuel Komroff, John Dos Passos, Sam Winston, David Hertz, Oran Schee Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 542 min Rating: NR Year: 1930 - 1935 Release Date: July 3, 2018 Buy: Video

Advertisement
Comments

Video

Review: Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher on Shout! Factory Blu-ray

This sterling Blu-ray transfer is occasion for reconsidering the film as more than a minor entry in producer Val Lewton’s body of work.

4

Published

on

The Body Snatcher

Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher thrives on dramatizing how individual responsibility functions within a larger chain of command. Though the film is set in late-19th-century Edinburgh, the dilemmas faced by medical student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) are in lockstep with the global catastrophe of World War II, as Fettes struggles to determine whether or not he should obey the unorthodox commands of his mentor, Dr. “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). MacFarlane employs the graverobber John Gray (Boris Karloff) to deliver corpses for his medical experiments, as bodies are in short supply due to legal reasons. While not an explicitly coded story about Nazi war crimes (for one, neither MacFarlane nor Gray profess an ideology of hate), the focus on the shadowy machinations of power is prescient of the rhetoric of the Nuremberg trials, where Nazis who participated in the atrocities committed in Auschwitz and other concentration camps denied their criminal culpability.

Though the stakes of The Body Snatcher are much lower than genocide, one of the film’s primary thematic concerns is the psychological guilt of those who participate in murderous schemes for personal benefit. The medical field becomes a conduit for fascism, as Fettes wants to develop a medical practice devoted to personal care rather than profit, personal agendas, or scientific advancement at all costs. And since these ideas are being explored under the supervision of producer Val Lewton, they’re conveyed in the style of his frightening poetics.

One remarkable scene finds Wise amplifying the claustrophobia of confined spaces through tight framings. In it, MacFarlane’s slow-witted assistant, Joseph (Bela Lugosi), has just announced to Gray his blackmail demands after learning of Gray’s body-snatching practice. Despite the initiative to profit from his knowledge, Joseph is at best inept and seems to be merely imitating the kinds of exploitation he witnesses all around him. Wise flips Lugosi’s popular on-screen persona from suave predator to clueless victim. Karloff gives Gray a snarling confidence that manifests in the steady luring of Joseph toward his death. Confronted with the reality of his actions, Gray immediately locks into a mode of self-preservation, seduction, and murder. Such cold and calculating actions project the underlying terror of how rationality might be abused to harm weak or unsuspecting citizens.

A lesser, plot-driven subplot of the film concerns the efforts of Fettes to restore spinal function to young Georgina (Sharyn Moffett), a paraplegic who arrives with her mother, Mrs. Marsh (Rita Corday), at MacFarlane’s home seeking help. Georgina feels like a redux of the girl from Wise’s prior Lewton production, 1944’s The Curse of the Cat People. Whereas in that film Wise gave profound expression to how a child’s mind is affected by parental abuse, The Body Snatcher reduces Georgina’s emotions to a plot device, as Fettes’s more personal and intimate approach to medicine is meant to impugn MacFarlane’s unfeeling, hard-nosed methods.

Even if the narrative threads aren’t as tightly focused on exploring a complex theme as one might hope, The Body Snatcher nevertheless manages to still send chills, and predominately through Wise’s fleet direction and Karloff’s unflinching embodiment of a real-world monster. As with other Lewton productions, the scares are rooted in how character guilt or corruption gives way to fear rather than vice versa. Indeed, while Karloff receives top billing as the film’s embodiment of terror, it’s actually Daniell’s MacFarlane who pulls the strings. In fact, after MacFarlane believes he’s snipped away all loose ends, it’s his own mind that proves to be the final obstacle that cannot be overcome. Less supernatural than secular, the film challenges viewers to look more closely at how society might be impacted by their own behaviors and actions—especially those conceived of or acted upon when others aren’t watching.

Image/Sound

While the DVD transfer of The Body Snatcher released with Warner Home Video’s The Val Lewton Horror Collection was certainly serviceable, the new 4K scan of the film’s original camera negative absolutely sparkles on this Blu-ray release. From beginning to end, the film’s sumptuous high-contrast, black-and-white images are stable and without discernible fault. Depth of field is sharp and focus remains consistent throughout. To this viewer’s eye, hardly a single shot looks anything less than superb. The DTS-HD monaural soundtrack is clean and highly audible, with dialogue and music perfectly balanced.

Extras

Several extras are holdovers from Warner’s 2005 DVD collection, including a feature commentary track by Robert Wise and historian Steve Haberman, as well as the documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy. Each are a wonderful means to comprehend the significance of both this film and Lewton’s legacy, especially if one is just getting acquainted with the extent of the producer’s work. The one new extra is a brief appreciation of The Body Snatcher by Gregory Mank, who spends the bulk of his time talking about why Boris Karloff’s performance is so special. Also included on the disc are a theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.

Overall

Shout! Factory’s sterling Blu-ray transfer is occasion for reconsidering The Body Snatcher as more than a minor entry in producer Val Lewton’s body of work.

Cast: Boris Karloff, Rita Corday, Russell Wade, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater, Sharyn Moffett, Bela Lugosi Director: Robert Wise Screenwriter: Philip MacDonald, Val Lewton Distributor: Shout! Factory Running Time: 77 min Rating: NR Year: 1945 Release Date: March 26, 2019 Buy: Video

Continue Reading

Video

Blu-ray Review: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour on the Criterion Collection

This unbelievably beautiful restoration is a poignant testament to the talent of an obscure artist too often taken for granted.

5

Published

on

Detour

There’s a fragility to Detour that only strengthens its spell. Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 film is an inventively sparse mixture of docudrama and DIY expressionism: There are no lush sets and camera pirouettes on display here, as Ulmer makes do with found settings, isolated props, and abbreviated, shaky tracking shots that are rich in authentic and incidental textures. There is tension between edits that cobble sometimes mismatched takes together, meaning that one can almost feel the work that’s necessary here to sustaining an illusion with limited means. Detour has a fly-by-night intensity, then, that’s derived by the thinning of the distance between the film’s collaborators and the audience, suggesting the fluid quality of live art, particularly theater and musical concerts, with the gutter vitality of pulp fiction at its most wrenchingly subjective.

In this context, Detour’s tricky narrative resembles an auto-critical study of how to put a scheme over with no money. Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is an aspiring musician hitchhiking from New York City to Los Angeles to see Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake), who left him to try to break into movies. In the sort of observational flourish that’s typical of Ulmer’s films, we see Al playing a piano in an empty bar, with stacked chairs in front of him in the foreground that lend compositional dynamism to the image while casually illustrating his sense of rejection. To put it bluntly, Al may always be relegated to playing after hours rather than primetime, and Sue wants to enter the center ring. Both characters are stunted artists hamstrung by a lack of resources. In the tradition of disenfranchised men in film noir, Al gets into trouble.

Detour opens on Al at a diner, tellingly arguing with a customer over a selection on the jukebox after the film’s main events have already occurred. A shadow creeps over Al, enclosing his face in darkness as he begins to narrate for us, describing how he wound up as a drifter. Ulmer and screenwriter Martin Goldsmith never allow the audience to forget that Al’s telling the story, as he’s almost certainly an unreliable narrator. Al recalls being picked up off the side of the road by Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), who throws his money around before dying in circumstances so absurd as to lead us to suspect that Al is either hiding something or outright lying. After Haskell dies, Al, in a masterpiece of convenient rationalization, decides that robbing Haskell makes sense, as no one will believe that he didn’t kill the man anyway.

Driving Haskell’s car, wearing the man’s clothes and spending his money, Al gives a ride to Vera (Ann Savage), who’s hitchhiking near a gas station. In another twist so ludicrous that we doubt the veracity of Al’s story, Vera immediately discerns that Al isn’t Haskell, claiming to have recently ridden and fought with him—a development that’s foreshadowed earlier by the scratches on Haskell’s hand. Vera and Al are soon trying to sell Haskell’s car, becoming bound by desperation and sexual tension, as Vera reveals herself to be a formidable, bitter, and merciless opponent. Savage gives the film a jolt of hothouse energy, her curt, pragmatic ferocity serving as a counterpoint for Neal’s commanding recessive-ness.

Detour’s lean 69-minute running time also suggests simplification wrought by economics. Ulmer never resolves the mystery of Al’s trustworthiness, and another death, even less likely than Haskell’s, exacerbates the impression that Al’s attempting to kill his way out of a thicket of escalating crises. The audience is watching either the story of a delusional or unrepentant killer or of a man so profoundly unlucky he might earn words of sympathy from Job. This ambiguity amplifies the tension that’s been created and sustained by Ulmer’s raw yet beautiful style, while complicating the self-pity that often drives crime films.

Detour also pointedly lacks a third act, leaving Al drifting in the narrative ether. Vera tries to blackmail Al into helping her with the sort of conspiracy that drives many noirs, but this development is brutally curtailed, as is Al’s quest to find Sue. The film eats itself alive before the viewer’s eyes, post-modernly reflecting its hero’s doom, which functions as a heightened symbol for the ordinary disappointments of real life. Detour’s struggle to exist mirrors our efforts to do the same, and the film has an aversion to bullshit that’s livelier and more suggestive than anything in most contemporary cinema.

Image/Sound

This new 4K restoration, the result of over a decade of research, is awesomely pristine, rich, and detailed. To those who first came to Detour through subpar VHS editions and online streams and have come to associate it with a lurid crumminess that suggests the film equivalent of a beat-up E.C. comic, the transfer will likely look and sound too beautiful. But one quickly adjusts, as this Criterion edition honors Ulmer’s artistry, emphasizing the beauty he conjured even with a few thousand dollars and a week-long shooting schedule. Close-ups are vivid, revealing people’s wrinkles and creases, and clothing textures are shown to be pivotal illustrations of character. Above all, there’s a silkiness to the image, a velvety sheen that honors its aesthetic virtuosity. Meanwhile, the soundtrack gracefully oscillates between the various sounds of the road and diners and hotels, offering a subtle aural portrait of down-and-out life that contrasts with the dynamic mythmaking of the score. The hisses and pops of prior editions are gone, and so the film sounds as great as it looks.

Extras

Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen, a feature-length 2004 documentary, and a new interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg, author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, cover overlapping ground but are each worthwhile. Both supplements discuss Ulmer’s background as an immigrant from the Czech Republic—though he, like many directors in America who hailed from that part of Europe, claimed to be from the more cosmopolitan Vienna—as well as Ulmer’s early working relationships with legends like F.W. Murnau and legends in the making like Billy Wilder. And both pieces attempt to explain how Ulmer, an intelligent, talented, and cultivated man, failed to achieve the recognition that was enjoyed by, say, Wilder. (Ulmer’s stunning The Black Cat figures into each account.)

The Man Off-Screen offers an appealingly wandering account of Ulmer’s life, with guests like Joe Dante, John Landis, and collaborator Ann Savage celebrating the filmmaker’s inventiveness. Meanwhile, Isenberg offers a concise examination of Ulmer’s aesthetic, suggesting that the filmmaker’s unsatisfied quest for mainstream success benefitted his art. Robert Polito’s essay, included with this disc’s accompanying booklet, examines the creation of Detour with exhilarating precision, while contextualizing the film within the crime genre at large, on the screen as well as on the page. The theatrical trailer and a supplement detailing the origin of Criterion’s extraordinary restoration round out a slim but nourishing package.

Overall

This unbelievably beautiful restoration is a triumph of preservation as well as a poignant testament to the talent of an obscure artist too often taken for granted.

Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald, Tim Ryan, Pat Gleason Director: Edgar G. Ulmer Screenwriter: Martin Goldsmith Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 69 min Rating: NR Year: 1945 Release Date: March 19, 2019 Buy: Video

Continue Reading

Video

Review: Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue on Shout! Factory Blu-ray

The film is a prescient vision of a modern world defined by media oversaturation and social media validation.

4

Published

on

Perfect Blue

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a prescient vision of a modern world defined by media oversaturation and social media validation. In the film, Mimi (Junko Iwao), a J-pop girl-group singer who decides to give up music for acting, finds herself targeted by a stalker who threatens to ruin her if she doesn’t return to her old gig. More than just a stalker thriller, however, Perfect Blue unfolds as an extended study of Mimi’s fraying mental health as she begins to question her own identity as more and more crimes happen around her, with evidence pegging her as a suspect.

One avenue in which Mimi’s sense of self is undermined is, of course, the internet. Early on in Perfect Blue, she’s pointed to a website where she supposedly keeps a diary for her fans. Yet Mimi, who can barely even operate a computer, didn’t write the site’s entries, and she panics over the false confessions being posted on the web under her name. In the film, the internet is amusingly shown in its early days; URLs are absurdly long jumbles of letters and numbers, and sites are mostly text-based with maybe a background image added for flavor. Even here, however, the power of the web to enable false identities to propagate and be taken as legitimate is shown to be considerable, and Mimi is helpless to counter the lies put out by whomever has control of “her” site.

Resentment of Mimi’s abandonment of pop drives Perfect Blue’s violence, which befalls those helping the star’s pivot to acting. Kon’s depiction of violence is brutal, delivering a lot of ripped flesh and gushing blood. At one point, a photographer is stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver, while the climactic confrontation ends with so much blood that it seeps out of the victim’s body in a thick wall of sludge. Kon is circumspect only when it comes to the true source of the film’s crimes—obscuring, misdirecting, and withholding the identity of the killer at almost every turn. Throughout, we only see the murderer’s hands wielding weapons, and no clues are offered by the blurred, scrambled perspectives of the dying victims.

Kon also uses this disjointed perspective to illustrate how Mimi’s sense of self slips away from her, not only from the paranoia mounting around her, but also from the regular degradations that the entertainment industry foists on her. Having left the world of pop and its machinations behind her, Mimi finds herself now at the hands of the masculine world of film. Her aspirations to be a serious actress lead her to taking the role of a rape victim in a production called Double Blind, and soon she’s suffering through uncomfortable scenes where she feels violated by the aggressiveness of the film’s scenarios. (She also gets booked with shocking speed for a nude photo shoot to emphasize she’s no longer a “good girl.”)

Much of Perfect Blue’s turmoil comes not from Mimi struggling to clear her name of murder accusations, but from her attempt to control her own narrative, to put forward an image that isn’t co-opted, as much by the killer as the normal power players in show business. Her inability to decide what kind of person she wants to be is as disturbing as the bloodletting that occurs all around her, and is one facet of what’s allowed Perfect Blue to endure as a masterful articulation of powerlessness in the age of media saturation.

Image/Sound

Shout! Factory’s release of Perfect Blue comes with a remastered presentation of the film, and comparing it to the old, standard-def version (also included here) reveals that the new transfer boasts richer color depth and sharper contrast. Yet the integrity of Satoshi Kon’s most minute aesthetic choices, like the way the grimy backgrounds and deliberately fuzzy line details contribute to the film’s hallucinatory edge, have not been compromised. The surround sound remix for both the English and Japanese language tracks ably distribute the dissonant sounds of violence (glass shattering, blood spurting) and Masahiro Ikuni’s score of unnerving drones and frenetic breakbeat production across the channels into a suffocating cacophony.

Extras

The most substantial feature included here is a 40-minute lecture on the film given by Kon himself, and in which he offers his interpretation of the material and insights into his filming process. Elsewhere, there are brief interviews with both the Japanese- and English-language cast in which they give their thoughts on the film, and both a recording session and ad hoc music video for the “Angel of Your Heart” song that plays during the photographer’s murder.

Overall

Perfect Blue looks excellent on Shout’s disc, though it retains the grimy, slightly indefinite features that contribute the film’s brilliant depiction of blurred reality and illusion.

Cast: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Ōkura, Yōsuke Akimoto Director: Satoshi Kon Screenwriter: Sadayuki Murai Distributor: Shout! Factory Running Time: 81 min Rating: R Year: 1997 Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending