I apologize for the long dry spell at this site, but I needed to recharge.
You should see things pick up a tad here over the next few weeks. Let me catch you up on some home releases I've been watching...
Those who know Ken Russell from his erotic fantasias of the '80s or his pastoral D.H. Lawrence adaptations might be as surprised as I was by The Boy Friend, his 1971 take on the West End stage musical. Russell, who often blocks his shots as if the frame were a proscenium, kneads this malleable work into an endearing little gem. The movie takes a bit of time to get going, as the viewer is introduced to the backstage drama revolving around a theater company about to perform for an infamous Hollywood producer, Mr. De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal of From Russia with Love). After the leading lady (an uncredited Glenda Jackson) literally breaks a leg, her shy understudy (supermodel Twiggy, in an amazing debut) must take over, a nerve-wracking prospect for many.
In addition to the backstage goings-on Russell's film work on two other levels, presenting The Boy Friend theatrical performance both onstage and in an ethereal Busby Berkeley-style format, each stunningly captured by Oscar-winning cinematographer David Watkin (Out of Africa). Warner Archive's disc (released last month) is gorgeously remastered, and one of their first to include an extra, a featurette on the making of the film. My estimation of the charming The Boy Friend rises each day; it may be one of the best DVD releases this year!
From Britain's bad boy, we move onto France's fatalistic femme! Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl (just reissued on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection) is an, at times, harrowing and explicit look at sexuality and its effect on the 12-year-old title character, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux), by way of her beautiful 15-year-old sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), who loses her virginity to an older boy while on summer holiday. It is also wickedly funny. Yes, there is something slimy to the way the film's male character plies Elena with whispered romantic cliches, circular arguments, and a token of affection which take on a ridiculous cast when one discovers the true story behind it. But there is also a comic resonance for anyone who has experienced young love that one could liken to an arthouse version of Private School or any other comedy in which the aim is for its central character to pop their cherry.
The fact that Fat Girl is punctuated by a shock ending which (seemingly) comes out of nowhere is neither too surprising nor ill-conceived. As anyone who saw last year's Blue Beard (Barbe Bleue) knows, Breillat has a black heart when it comes to sibling rivalry, sexual precociousness, and mining humor from each.
Sex is also the catalyst in this next quirky tale. Long before director Jonathan Demme became mired in "Oscar-baiting" endeavors (after his career was sidetracked by his Academy Award for the merely adequate The Silence of the Lambs), his particular brand of music-filled zaniness peaked in 1986's Something Wild. The road movie features a lethal Ray Liotta's major motion picture debut as the unhinged ex-husband to Melanie Griffith's unpredictable Lulu. Lulu hijacks sad sack Jeff Daniels dragging him on a trip back home to introduce him as her husband to mama and her former classmates at her 10-year high school reunion. Demme steers the film through wildly manic tonal shifts, from comedy to violent suspense, expertly selecting source music (his good taste borne out of his days as a rock journalist) to drive the movie to its unexpected conclusion.
Something Wild bowed on Blu-ray this past week in a spiffy new Criterion release that contains a lengthy interview with Demme in which he places the film in historical context within his career and talks at length on the subject of Daniels', Griffith's, and Liotta's performances (the three actors have never been better). But the real treat is the opportunity to see Tak Fujimoto's colorful cinematography displayed at its best in this new transfer. The end credits roll, a throwaway treat that epitomizes the best of Demme, spotlights Sister Carol doing her take on "Wild Thing" against a bright red brick wall, and it has never looked better.
Tomorrow sees the release of Daydream Nation. Think of it as Twin Peaks-lite. This oddball little indie oozes atmosphere as it follows a high-schooler (Kat Dennings) who recently moved into a strange little town where drugs and sex seem to be the only highlights of the day for her fellow classmates. The smoke from a perpetually burning industrial fire keeps sunlight at a minimum, and of course, a serial killer is on the loose. But none of it adds up to anything of substance. THe darker aspects of the story never go far enough, the movie playing more like something you'd see on a basic cable channel than in theaters. Still, the film is evocatively lensed by Jon Joffin, and the ensemble (which includes Rachel Blanchard, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell and young Tom Cruise-lookalike, Reece Thompson) is smartly directed by Michael Goldbach in this, a promising feature debut. Worth a rental, but buy it only if you've got a thing for the underrated Dennings.
Lastly, my newest DVD column up at Wide Screen (now available from the Apple store as an app for the iPad, and coming soon for the iPhone and the Mac desktop) is about the late Sidney Lumet. I write:
...Over the past few weeks, a fair amount of tributes have concentrated on Lumet’s best-known pictures, movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City and [others] mentioned earlier. But the prolific Lumet’s filmography was deep and wide, its aesthetic preoccupations easier to pin down in hindsight than in the director’s lifespan. Call them atypical, uncharacteristic, or underrated; here are my picks for six of Lumet’s most offbeat — and in some cases underappreciated — films...CONTINUE READING AT NOMAD EDITIONS: WIDE SCREEN