It’s little wonder that Alan Moore has officially disowned the movie version of his dystopian comic series V for Vendetta. As adapted by The Wachowski Brothers (those reclusive pseudo-philosophers who mask their ideological shallowness in a verbose camouflage of anagrams and palindromes, e.g.: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.”), Moore’s raw response to the present and prospective ills of Thatcher-era England becomes a dully neutered examination of our own big-budget monstrosity, The War on Terror. I refrain from calling Vendetta a critique because the film essentially acts, as one colleague put it, like a two-hour-plus tranquilizer. It doesn’t rile one up so much as it strokes our myopic egos into submission, distracting us with literal fireworks (à la Romero’s Land of the Dead) while its sham creators greedily raid our pockets, hearts, and minds.
Any truly revolutionary spirit we possess is counteracted by Vendetta‘s adherence to the typical. The Wachowskis take Moore’s story (which, after a recent re-reading, seemed all the more like a musical composition that requires each individual reader to be a singularly interpretive instrument) and Hollywoodize its structure, making V’s (Hugo Weaving) destruction of Parliament the film’s balls-out climax as opposed to its inciting prologue. This simple act of narrative juggling defangs many of Moore’s recurring motifs and effectively muddles their meaning. The Wachowskis make their first mistake by recasting the 17th-century Catholic dissident Guy Fawkes (whom V adopts—in the form of a goateed, perpetually grinning porcelain mask—as his anarchistic persona) as a kind of martyr-hero when, in reality, he’s thought of as an inept joke, burned in effigy on the fifth of November of every English year while the gathered public recites a sardonic rhyme (“Remember, Remember…”) that the film erroneously turns into a somber call to arms. In the comic, V’s destruction of Parliament effectively redefines his symbolic visage—by completing Fawkes’s plot to obliterate England’s center of government the mask ceases to represent Fawkes and becomes something else entirely. Out of an old English jest and from the ashes of a mocking, rather contemptuous celebration of one man’s incompetence emerges a new revolutionary who, with the sins of the past as his evidence, attempts to rewrite the present for the sake of the future.
The Wachowskis similarly rewrite history, but only in the name of the almighty dollar (or pound, depending on the exchange rate). In the Vendetta film, V calls upon the English populace to gather at the foot of Parliament on the fifth of November in one year’s time. Yet unlike the comic V, who hijacks a television broadcast and brilliantly scolds the fearful English public like a displeased day-job manager, the movie V just wants a show of rebellious, Riefenstahl-lite solidarity and, in the case of Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), a little bit o’ chaste nookie on the side. Evey is the character most radically changed from the comic, and all for the sanitized worst. Recall the way in which Clive Owen’s arm strategically blocked Portman’s snatch in Closer and you’ll have an inkling of how Moore’s conception of Evey (as an amalgam of a Victorian-lit saint/whore and a women’s lib androgyne) has been ruinously reworked. The film Evey is a career girl who wouldn’t be out of place in Mary Tyler Moore land and from frame one you never doubt that she’s gonna make it after all. Far from a progressive rethinking, it plays instead as misogynistically retro: the scene where Evey, at V’s request, dresses in a fuck-me schoolgirl getup to ensnare a pedophilic priest makes little dramatic sense minus the needy desperation inherent to the comic Evey, who clings to V both ideologically and physically, always with a somewhat incestuous emotional undercurrent.
This sterilization of the character’s sexual confusion mutes the power of the film’s centerpiece sequence in which V tortures Evey in an attempt to bring forth her deeply buried, defiantly individual sense of self. In the comic it plays as a discomfiting and protracted series of intellectual and near-physical rapes, complete with expressionist chiaroscuros and skin n’ bones Holocaust imagery. It’s a brilliant illustration of one of Moore’s many points (that our true nature must often be dragged out of us, kicking and screaming) and so all the more dispiriting to see mangled in the film version. Portman can’t escape her coddled physique; when her hair is forcibly shaved to the scalp she reminds one less of Falconetti and more of a Paris Hilton-esque socialite who accidentally wandered into Supercuts. The sequence somewhat rights itself when, in a near-complete carryover from the comic, Evey finds letters in her cell, written hastily on toilet paper by an imprisoned lesbian named Valerie. Though filmed in that amber, straight-male sanctified glow often accorded to mainstream cinematic portrayals of lesbians (while gay men continue to have their on-screen erotic lives concealed by tasteful, obscurantist half-light), these scenes—which are greatly helped along by the performance and voiceover work of Natasha Wightman as Valerie—manage to cohere into something poetic and, by the end, you half believe in Evey’s transformative, empathetic tears. But it is all botched by the character’s subsequent rain-drenched revelation, a birthing and baptism scene made ineffectual because Evey is clothed—in Technicolor-orange prison garb no less. (You’d think that, of all people, the creators of The Matrix would recognize the glaring necessity of a “naked, as if from the womb” visual metaphor.)
With Stephen Rea soberly cashing a paycheck as Chief Inspector Finch and John Hurt doing a one-note Big Brother/Bush/Blair stand-in as the fascist Chancellor Sutler, it is left to Stephen Fry as the kindly talk-show host Deitrich (an entirely Wachowski creation, I believe) to inject some much-needed meaning into the proceedings. The role is something of a conceptual nightmare (a societally-repressed homosexual who greets each day with a cheerfully derisive laugh, toeing the party line while hiding forbidden texts and paintings in his house as if suicidally tempting the inevitable), but Fry is up to the task and makes the Wachowskis’ ridiculously coded dialogue sound nearly profound. In the film’s best scene—where John Hurt also gets to deliciously cut loose—Fry acts as ringmaster to a Benny Hill-esque skewering of Chancellor Sutler and one gets a fleeting glimpse of the challenging and, yes, supremely entertaining film that might have been.
On the whole Moore’s graphic novels end on moments of individual introspection, so the mass uprising that climaxes the film version of V for Vendetta feels like the ultimate betrayal. While the restless English populace—decked out in matching Guy Fawkes masks and garb—descend on the city of London, a train filled with explosives hurtles toward Parliament. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” acts as thundering accompaniment to the ensuing explosions and the temptation, I think, is to look upon this big-budget representation of iconographic destruction as a challengingly subversive statement, something like, “In order to move forward, we must sometimes go back.” (See boys, I can do it too!) Yet the scene lacks that necessary measure of aural/visual insanity, something akin to Josef von Sternberg’s “1812 Overture”-scored finale to The Scarlet Empress or, hell, the cannon fodder montage from Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, which would make it in the least bit effective. (Director and Wachowski protégé James McTeigue’s amateurish mise-en-scène primarily alternates between medium close-ups and two shots, with a few digitally enhanced slow-mo scenes thrown in to satiate those viewers whose hands are eternally glued to their joysticks).
When the crowd of V’s unmasks before the smoldering remains of (God bless you, Clark Griswold) Big Ben-Parliament, they stand perfectly still and stare forth coldly and impassively—they’re like the wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s performing the rave scene from The Matrix: Reloaded. Gazing over this multiracial panoply of faces (and listening to Portman’s deathly serious voiceover about how V is “all of us”) it’s hard not to view these stoic souls as the Wachowskis’ metaphorical representation of their audience. Not surprisingly, this supposedly all-inclusive cross-section of humanity comes across as little more than a faceless multitude to be coddled and exploited by ultimately meaningless laser light shows. Yet the writers neglect an important verity: once the fireworks have ended, we must inevitably leave the communal darkness and become ourselves again. And when we have emerged into the light, we might best make use of our time regained—a period in which, no doubt, those responsible for this abortive fiasco are distractedly stuffing their pockets with limitless amounts of green—by conceiving, planning, and executing a vendetta all our own.
Save for the gloppy-looking glow around John Hurt’s cabal during the film’s conference-room scenes, the disc’s image rates an s-for-sleek, and through dialogue is slightly weak sounding, the surround work is e-for-expansive.
You’ll find a routine behind-the-scenes featurette on disc one. By comparison, the extras on the second disc are almost profound: an extensive glimpse at the design of the film’s futuristic dystopia, an informative lesson on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpower Plot, and an extollation of the original comic’s political dimensions and aesthetic achievements. Also included is a theatrical trailer and a superfluous montage of film clips set to Cat Power’s “I Found A Reason.”
V for Vendetta, unlike the Alan Moore comic from which it’s adapted, is scarily flat.
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sinéad Cusack Director: James McTeigue Screenwriter: The Wachowski Brothers Distributor: Warner Home Video Running Time: 132 min Rating: R Year: 2006 Release Date: August 4, 2006 Buy: Video, Soundtrack
Blu-ray Review: Forty Guns
Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.4.0
Though shot in a drum-tight 10 days, and on a low budget, writer-director Samuel Fuller’s raw, punchy noir-western Forty Guns isn’t a film of half-measures. As it acquaints us with Tombstone, Arizona, the parched Cochise County town where its action takes place, the 1957 film does so with an unbroken dolly shot that runs the entire length of main street, taking in something like 50-plus actors in choreographed motion and encompassing both an exposition dump and a startling zoom-and-pan reveal.
When Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), the territory’s domineering land baroness, conducts her daily business via horseback, she does so with all 40 of her grizzled hired hands in tow, a thunderous spectacle trotted out for matters both large and small. And when a tornado rips over the hills, realized by Fuller and his crew as a high-powered dust storm that renders the landscape a grainy, swirling abstraction, Stanwyck is right in the middle of the fray; the script called for Jessica to be dragged along with the hoof of a runaway horse, and Stanwyck insisted on performing the daredevil maneuver herself, much to the chagrin of producers.
Bold expressionism and brawny physicality were staples of Fuller’s filmmaking career—qualities surely indebted in some part to his experiences as an infantryman and cameraman during World War II—and in Forty Guns the entire cast is synchronized with that sensibility. The film is possessed of an earthy eroticism, evident in a number of scenes dedicated to watching Tombstone’s men bathe openly under the afternoon sun, as well as in an insistent streak of sexual innuendo in the dialogue, wherein any talk of a man’s gun is quite transparently an allusion to his cock.
Upon the arrival of pacifistic U.S. Marshal Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan), carrying a warrant for the arrest of Jessica’s rotten brother, Brockie (John Ericson), in town with siblings Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), the townsfolk’s dormant sexual energies are expulsed, with Wes angling for local gunsmith Louvenia (Eve Brent) and Griff himself going after Jessica. In a place where gunfire is the prevailing expression of emotion, violence and sex thus become intimately entangled—a link visually represented when Wes and Louvenia’s mutual desire is consummated by an eccentric down-the-rifle-barrel POV shot that Jean-Luc Godard would crib for Breathless only three years later.
This suggestive visual punnery aside, the structure of Forty Guns ultimately accommodates a shift from lewd flirtation to emotional vulnerability, with the at-first caricatured threat of violence becoming a real and deadly threat indeed, as new bonds are sewn and prior allegiances are fissured. Griff, having vowed to retire his six-shooter, awakens Jessica’s sensitive side in the process of spending time with her, breaking down her desperado roughness with his nonviolent, levelheaded enforcement of the law.
The moment when Jessica seems to have fully emerged as a more complicated woman than she initially appeared is among the film’s most beautiful: When she and Griff find shelter from the aforementioned tornado in an abandoned barn, a lilting crane shot descends from the rafters to find the lovers entangled from head to toe in a pile of hay, the camera finally landing in an intimate two-shot to survey their nostalgic exchange without a single cut. It’s a scene of aching tenderness in the midst of bawdy farce and jolts of brutality, but such a commiseration of souls proves fleeting in a land of hardened alliances and quick triggers, and it’s this very union that acts as the catalyst for an accumulating body count.
The film’s tonal swing from goofiness to severity is best exemplified in the three Tombstone ambushes conducted by Brockie. The first, seemingly the result of a drunken whim, is a maniacal shooting spree played mostly for shock laughs (save for the mood-puncturing casualty of an innocent blind man), and concluded by Griff’s swift pistol-whipping of the terrified Brockie. Mirroring this is a more coordinated attack later in Forty Guns when a wedding is interrupted by a surprise bullet, immediately throttling the mood from revelry to tragedy—and leading to a hymnal-led funeral scene to rival those in John Ford westerns. Finally, the third ambush in Tombstone finds Griff again marching calculatedly toward a menacing scene, only this time unsure of the whereabouts of the aggressors. Fuller stages the scene as a high-wire standoff between three disparate points of threat, juicing the dramatic irony to a breaking point until Griff expertly diffuses the situation, but not without preventing another death.
Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope at a time when the format was largely reserved for color productions, Forty Guns‘s deep chiaroscuro anticipates the characters’ deadly impulses and the grave directions that the drama takes. It all leads to a climactic showdown of remarkable savagery that seems to confirm an irrepressible violence within the hearts of even the most upstanding among us—though it’s followed then by a studio-mandated corrective to it, a scene that partially aims to clear the dust churned up by such a bleak capper. Fuller includes a line of dialogue that complicates the uplift, but even if he hadn’t, Forty Guns‘s damning treatise on gun infatuation and the incapacity to transcend one’s nature had already landed its heaviest blows, leaving a bitter aftertaste that no smearing of schmaltz could quite undo.
Studio-shot interiors are granted a superb degree of contrast, with the deep, inky shadows doing full justice to the film’s celluloid origins, in addition to mirroring the bottled-up anxiety and rage in the characters. Meanwhile, location work in the foothills of Arizona is awesomely vivid. When Barbara Stanwyck or Barry Sullivan ride across the landscape on horseback, the subtle gradations and tones of the arid ground are as compelling as the action being depicted. And suitably for a film at least partly about the destructiveness of firearms, the howling gun blasts heard on the audio track are enough to get the attention of the neighbors, if not too loud to overwhelm the at-times hushed dialogue and gentle desert ambiance.
The meatiest supplement here is “A Fuller Life,” Samantha Fuller’s affectionate feature-length tribute to her father’s experiences as a journalist, infantryman, and filmmaker, unconventionally presented as a series of readings from his autobiography, A Third Face, by directors and actors who knew him. Not all these participants seem equally enthusiastic about the project, and the documentary consequently has some dry, overly wordy passages. But the access to Fuller’s treasure trove of personal material—clips from his old bylines, footage from WWII, and production files—makes it never less than a fascinating excavation for acolytes of the artist.
Similarly rewarding in this regard are the three other bits of deep-dive Fuller content: an entertainingly candid 1969 interview with the director that can be played as a commentary track, a printed excerpt from A Third Face that goes into some detail about Forty Guns‘s production, and a newly shot interview with Fuller’s second wife, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter that plays like a heartfelt stroll down memory lane. Rounding out the package is an essay by film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a new interview by critic Imogen Sara Smith, who, in a welcome pivot from all the attention lavished elsewhere on Fuller, conducts a fairly thorough examination of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Forty Guns, hailing it as an impassioned summation of a career that was on the decline by the late ’50s.
Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Jidge Carroll Director: Samuel Fuller Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 80 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Release Date: December 11, 2018 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Let the Corpses Tan
The solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.3.5
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan might rekindle a familiar debate regarding style and substance in art and whether the distinction matters in discussions of aesthetics. Riffing on 1970s-era Italian crime films, Cattet and Bruno Forzani get so lost in their catalogue of fetishes that they lose grasp of the snap and tension that drive even a mediocre heist narrative. That’s partially the intention here, as the married Franco-Belgian filmmakers are aiming for a wandering bloodbath that stews in their characters’ obsessions, which presumably parallel their own, but those obsessions often feel trivial, distracting from the abstract plot.
In Let the Corpses Tan, Cattet and Forzani announce their self-consciously derivative intentions with explosions of paint that suggest blood as well as the act of ejaculation. This link—between art, sex, and violence—is the thread purportedly uniting the film’s various shoot-outs, sexually and religiously inflected fantasy sequences, and odd camera angles, lurid color stocks, and splintered editing. Luce (Elina Löwensohn) is a painter living out among the jagged and sunbaked cliffs presumably somewhere along the Mediterranean, where she drinks, works, sunbathes, fucks, and keeps the company of a traditionally motley collection of misfits. Some of these misfits have just robbed a truck carrying hundreds of kilos of gold, brutally killing several guards and police officers in the process. These acts are played nearly for comedy, with explosions of blood that echo Luce’s splattering of paint against canvases. And the crimes bring the police upon Luce’s desert idyll, triggering a shoot-out that spans the majority of the film’s running time.
The film’s desert setting is memorably beautiful and punishing, and Cattet and Forzani milk it for quite a bit of its erotic potential, gazing at Luce’s often nude body as she sweats in the sun while the coterie of grizzled thugs ogle her. Pleasurable for their own sake, such scenes also affirm the notion of the gold heist as a re-channeling of unfulfilled sex. A little of this symbolism goes a long way, and amusingly so, though Cattet and Forzani keep indulging jokey metaphors, from a lamb roasting sensually on a spit to a martyr fantasy in which Luce is tied nude to a stake, her breasts lactating champagne.
The latter sequence offers a juxtaposition of cruelty and sadomasochistic sex that might’ve been startling in a film less grab-bag in nature—if, say, the scene had been allowed to serve as a narrative culmination, suggesting that the heist and hostage situation inspires in Luce a reckoning with forbidden desires. In this context, however, it feels as if Cattet and Forzani are merely adding another whimsy to their woodpile in order to certify their bona fides as cult rebels. There’s another violent and sexual fantasy sequence later in the film, which seems present just to give the audience a nude shot of another actress, and the images are festooned with leather, guns, insects, skulls, and seemingly endless close-ups of the bad-ass bank robbers’ faces.
Let the Corpses Tan is diverting when watched for 10 minutes—and which 10 minutes you choose doesn’t really matter, as the film runs in circles, re-digesting its conceits as characters stalk and kill each other. In the end, Cattet and Forzani’s pastiche is less reminiscent of Italian crime films than of Quentin Tarantino’s own brand of orgiastic cinephilia, and this contrast elucidates why Let the Corpses Tan feels so hollow. Though Tarantino is also a trickster enthralled with formalist gimmicks, his best films have emotional texture, expressing the longing that drove him to movies to begin with. Cattet and Forzani are too cool for such vulnerability.
On the whole, Kino Lorber’s transfer leans a bit on the dark side, leading to more muted reds, greens, and golds, especially throughout the film’s daytime sequences. Still, the graininess of Manuel Decosse’s 16mm cinematography is ably preserved; the acute textural details found in the film’s endless array of close-ups of sweaty, expressive faces and objects in motion are beautifully rendered. The nighttime sequences, often shot with a blue filter, still offer ample contrast between the deep black shadows and carefully lit bodies that move gracefully in and out of them. The 5.1 surround and stereo sound tracks are particularly impressive, offering an evocatively layered and full-bodied mix that highlights the film’s intricate sound design. The crackle of fire, creaking of leather, and bursts of gunfire sit forward in the mix, replicating the sensorial overload of the theatrical experience.
Film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Queensland Film Festival Director John Edmond, who have known each other for years, evince an amiable rapport on their engaging audio commentary, and while this frequently leads them into light-hearted digressions, they do manage to cover a large amount of ground regarding the cinematic influences that inform Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s aesthetics. Their discussions of ’70s Italian crime films, gialli, and spaghetti westerns are informative if a tad predictable. More fruitful and compelling are the stretches where their talk veers into the unexpected, such as the influence of Satoshi Kon on the filmmakers’ sense of narrative structure and the film’s playful warping of time through rapid-fire editing. Perhaps most enlightening is when Heller-Nicholas and Edmond link Let the Corpses Tan, for its plethora of associative metaphors and reliance on sexual and religious iconography, to George Bataille’s Story of the Eye and the work of Kenneth Anger. The only other extra included is a theatrical trailer.
Kino Lorber’s edition of Let the Corpses Tan is fairly slim on extras, but the solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.
Cast: Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbé, Marine Sainsily, Pierre Nisse, Marilyn Jess Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Screenwriter: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 92 min Rating: NR Year: 2018 Release Date: January 8, 2019 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: A Dry White Season
This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.4.0
The opening shot of A Dry White Season depicts two young South African boys, one black and one white, laughing and merrily playing ball with each other. This moment of harmony, a tacit reminder that racism is learned, is soon torn asunder by the viciousness of South Africa’s apartheid system. The forces of division at work in the country are charted after the tranquil opening, with the black child, Jonathan (Bekhithemba Mpofu), arrested and brutally caned for attending a peaceful student protest and the white boy, Johan (Rowen Elmes), seen playing rugby with schoolmates who are, of course, all white. Soon we learn that Jonathan’s father, Gordon (Winston Ntshona), works as a gardener for Johan’s father, Ben (Donald Sutherland). When Ben sees the bloody cane marks on Jonathan’s buttocks, he immediately begins rationalizing the actions of the police, unable to admit that they acted irrationally. Johan, upon glimpsing the same wounds, can only gape in horror.
Director Euzhan Palcy spends much of the film’s first act visually delineating the extent to which South Africa has been divided under apartheid. In the black townships of Soweto, for example, there’s scarcely any vegetation to be found in the drab, arid ground. Meanwhile, Ben’s home and other white communities are verdant with irrigated, perfectly manicured lawns. And while Ben has a friendly rapport with Gordon, he never forgets his assumed superiority to the man, who must address his boss as Mr. Ben in even their most informal moments. Ben’s initial inability to consider that the police crossed a line with Jonathan changes when the boy is killed and buried in an unmarked location. When Gordon attempts to find the whereabouts of his son’s body, he too is abducted, tortured, and murdered, leaving Ben so stunned that he’s shaken from his oblivious privilege.
The remainder of the film tracks Ben’s attempts to get answers for these shocking events and the fallout it brings to both Gordon’s family and his own. Seeking justice for Gordon, Ben takes his case to a human rights lawyer (Marlon Brando, giving perhaps his weariest and least showy performance), who can only solemnly urge the man to drop this case, as it will never be upheld by an apartheid judge and will only bring him misery. This grim prophecy soon proves true as Ben’s increasingly zealous quest to broadcast the atrocities of the government earns him the enmity of a brutish police captain (Jürgen Prochnow), alienates his wife (Janet Suzman) and daughter (Susannah Harker), and enrages Ben’s colleagues and friends. It even brings further horrors onto Gordon’s surviving family, who are systematically harassed and evicted from their home in retaliation for Ben’s behavior.
In maintaining her focus on both families rather than just Ben’s, Palcy traces the pervasiveness of apartheid’s methods of reinforcing the status quo using everything from social stigma to outright violence. That Ben, riddled with guilt and horror, tries to honor his dead friend and ultimately makes things worse for Gordon’s widow is held against the man, but the director nonetheless foregrounds the near-impossibility of an individual resisting a regime devoted to an ideology like racism. Palcy does occasionally confront Ben with his ignorance, as when he wistfully tells his black driver, Stanley (Zakes Mokae), how they’re both equally African as he reminisces about growing up on a farm, only for Stanley to sarcastically bring up other aspects of “real” African life, such as having to carry one’s ID papers everywhere or being thrown in prison. Ben, embarrassed, trails off and falls silent. Yet Ben is consistently presented with complexity and empathy as he slowly becomes politically aware, and if A Dry White Season ultimately illustrates the high cost of true allyship in a system of segregation, it nonetheless also respects the willingness to make that sacrifice in the face of injustice.
Sourced from a 4K restoration, Criterion’s transfer retains the thick grain of the film but marks a significant upgrade in color depth and texture from previous home-video editions. In particular, the bright shades of the white communities pop in comparison to the impoverished and infertile soil of drab Soweto townships, and the blood spilled by bullets and torture looks especially vivid. The lossless stereo track nicely balances the predominantly dialogue-driven soundtrack with the occasional bursts of chaotic violence in the police’s crackdowns on demonstrations, losing no fidelity at any point.
A half-hour interview between director and co-writer Euzhan Palcy and critic Scott Foundas digs into the former’s life, from her childhood cinephilia to her art studies in France and early support from François Truffaut. Palcy offers copious insights into her career and her approach to A Dry White Season, from building out the source novel’s black characters to her clandestine trips to Soweto to interview survivors of security force arrests and torture. Palcy also contributes an interview in which she breaks down five of the film’s scenes from the research went into them to her filming. Impressively, Criterion unearthed a long-sought interview that Palcy conducted with President Nelson Mandela on the first anniversary of his election in which she questions him on the future he envisions for South Africa. A 1989 interview with Donald Sutherland is also included, as is footage of a 2017 South African National Honors Awards ceremony in which Palcy was bestowed with the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo for her work in illuminating the anti-apartheid struggle to the international community. Finally, a booklet contains an essay by film professor Jyoti Mistry, who explicates how Ben is developed as a genuinely moral agent and not simply a bystander to atrocity.
This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Jürgen Prochnow, Zakes Mokae, Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando, Winston Ntshona, Thoko Ntshinga, John Kani, Susannah Harker, Rowen Elmes Director: Euzhan Palcy Screenwriter: Colin Welland, Euzhan Palcy Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 106 min Rating: R Year: 1989 Release Date: December 12, 2018 Buy: Video