La Roue (Abel Gance, 1922)
Abel Gance’s La Roue is a wild poem of a movie. French audiences saw the film at its 1922 premiere in four parts over three evenings. At seven-and-a-half hours, it was the longest film yet produced, anywhere. Flicker Alley, in partnership with Blackhawk Films (and using a restoration done by Lobster Films of Paris) gives us twenty reels of the original thirty-two, and, given the breadth and scope of what’s survived, one wonders what we’re missing from the three hours that’s disappeared.
Written for the screen by Gance, La Roue‘s storyline is a powerful collision of two French literary impulses of the 19th century: social realism and the unique ultra-Romanticism of Victor Hugo. The film’s sentimentality, melodramatic contrivance and swells of Gallic passion outdistance any of the Victorian theatrics of Griffith, yet a modern viewer is richly rewarded, as with Griffith, if he goes with Gance’s flow.
La Roue‘s initial set-up allows for the drama’s fulcrum, a rather queasy form of phantom incest. Sisif, a widowed middle-aged train engineer, witnesses a horrific train wreck and jumps in to help with the rescue effort. Finding a blonde-haired infant girl blubbering under a rose bush alongside the tracks, Sisif, without telling anyone, and, more disturbingly, without searching for a surviving parent, simply takes her home to be a companion for his little boy . . . and himself.
Launched into the future, we find the girl, Norma, grown to a bumptious free-spirited teenager and Sisif degenerated into a morose belligerent drunk who can’t stand the sight of his son and the stolen girl engaged in sibling horseplay. As the title cards proclaim, there’s a cancer at work here. To his horror, Sisif has found himself overwhelmed with lust for his ersatz daughter, while his son, Elie, a sensitive violinmaker, also discovers an indelicate urge-to-merge with his sister, who, he discovers, much too late, is, well, not his sister. Sisif’s indomitable, selfish withholding of the truth of Norma’s origins from the girl and the boy thrusts the story — despite all its melodramatic underpinnings — into a tragedy of disarming emotional depth.
It’s all in Gance’s remarkable filmmaking and an epochal performance from his star, Séverin-Mars as Sisif. Gance insisted on shooting the entire film on location, which gives the often high-strung events a profound tension, as they play off real textures and light. Sisif and his children live in a tiny cottage in the midst of a massive, functioning railroad yard. As gigantic locomotives steam by within feet of Norma playing with her pet goat, the emotionally damaged father confronts her with haunted eyes beneath a mask of soot. Cinematographer Léonce-Henry Burel photographs the yard both in gritty detail and pictorial loveliness. Gance called this first part a symphony in black and the second part, which takes place in the alpine environs of Mont Blanc, a symphony of white. The wheel of the first is that of man and machine; the wheel of the second is the superhuman cycle of nature. Throughout, Séverin-Mars — a short stocky man with an archetypal French face — projects larger-than-life torment, yet remains believable as a humble man of limited inner resources.
Gance was proud of his cutting-edge rapid montage technique, which works well in La Roue‘s suspenseful action sequences, and is probably what Cocteau referred to when he compared Gance’s achievement here in film to Picasso’s in painting. To Cocteau and other avant-gardists, montage must’ve seemed like a prescient, cubist rendering of space and time, but modern eyes merely accept it as everyday visual language.
More crucial to La Roue‘s expressive force are Burel’s long takes, fashioned by Gance into a slow pulse of magisterial image. If this were a symphony, it might be by Brahms, as the film yields an adagio of unutterable grief late in its second part. Sisif, now totally blind, has fashioned a large wooden cross that he must plant high on a mountain precipice, the scene of a senseless death the year before. Shot outdoors in very low light, the sight of the aged Sisif dragging the cross up a snowy slope is one of the great images of silent cinema.
Flicker Alley’s two-disc set, which comes on the heels of their unprecedented Méliés release, presents the film in an extraordinarily crisp and detailed transfer that must take advantage of an inferior source in just a few crucial scenes. There’s only one special feature, but it’s a dandy: a short film by poet Blaise Cendrars. Cendrars, who apparently liked to hang around movie sets, shot what must be one of the earliest “making of” documentaries, showing the energetic Gance at work. Robert Israel has provided a lovingly fashioned, newly composed orchestral underscore.
France/1922/B&W and tinted/Silent with English titles/270 minutes/1:33:1 aspect ratio. Released on DVD by Flicker Alley in 2008.
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)
In its initial rollout of Blu-ray titles to begin this fall, Criterion has promised a reissue of The Last Emperor. The company’s adoption of the new format will have spurred me to an upgrade anyway, but with Last Emperor, I will have to double-dip simply to answer this question: can Blu-ray make this film any more beautiful than it already is on their recently issued four-disc set?
The present edition represents, I think, a pinnacle of sorts for the Criterion Collection; it’s the most perfectly rendered color film I’ve ever seen on disc. But, to re-evaluate the film itself, Last Emperor was also a pinnacle for the synergetic partnership of Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. As David Thomson suggests in his piece for the booklet, the director and his lensman, as they conspired with art direction, costume design, and the particularities of light itself, fashioned a cinematic splendor that parallels the black-and-white ecstasies of Josef von Sternberg. Working their way from their first collaboration, The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), the two found, in Last Emperor, their most unified project, where formal, visual elements join with the narrative and its arc of meaning. Like an ancient Chinese jade carving, it’s an exquisite object with a story to tell.
The film’s hues are exceptionally deep and vivid, but what’s most remarkable to me is the overall balance and naturalness of the color, which makes a saturated, color-keyed moment — like the three year-old Pu Yi gleefully running through that banner of purest yellow — structurally and symbolically cohesive, not merely aesthetically gratuitous. As with von Sternberg, light-baffling veils of fabric and screens create mystery and meaning. In addition, the film’s intense physical beauty has an erotic charge (again, like von Sternberg), and of course sexuality is at the core of any Bertolucci film.
Imprisoned in the massive confines of the Forbidden City while, outside, in the years prior to WWII, China reinvents itself, Pu Yi (John Lone) is a strange hothouse flower not unlike the ones he finds himself tending toward the end of his life in the Beijing botanical gardens. Bertolucci grounds Pu Yi’s regressive sexuality in a scene where, as a boy of eight or so, the emperor still seeks his wet nurse’s teat. Later there’s a disturbing scene in which several court eunuchs fondle the adolescent Pu Yi’s face through a long translucent sheet, a spectacle witnessed by the boy’s surrogate father, his tutor Reginald Johnston (Peter O’Toole), who notes with unease his charge’s stunted personality. As a young man, cavorting with his empress (Joan Chen) and his concubine (Vivian Wu), Pu Yi enjoys the two girls with fetishistic fervor under and through a silk coverlet.
When Pu Yi’s made puppet ruler of Manchuria by the Japanese during WWII, Wan Jung’s (Chen) emotional and sexual withdrawal, a virtual protest over the emperor’s collusion with China’s enemy, is reminiscent of Ada’s (Dominique Sanda) rejection of Alfredo (Robert De Niro) over his passive allowance of fascism in 1900. In the wake of each man’s political/sexual impotence, the women of both films are destroyed. In Last Emperor, as Wan Jung collapses into despair, her disaffected lesbian dalliance with the Japanese spy, Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han), brings to mind Clerici’s (Jean-Louis Trintignant) wife’s clueless acceptance of the Sapphic blandishments of Anna (Sanda) in The Conformist.
Before Last Emperor, Bertolucci made a film called The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981), but Alfredo Berlinghieri, Marcello Clerici, and Pu Yi are all ridiculous men, compromised and made foolish by the cultural/political changes brought on by war or revolution. Pu Yi is perhaps the director’s final summing up of ridiculous men, but, more than that, while awarding his emperor a bathetic, non-tragic destiny, Bertolucci signals an end to his long-term romance with the ideals of Communism.
In the postwar re-education camp, Pu Yi allows his second father figure, the governor of the camp (Ruocheng Ying), to restore him to the values of common humanity, only to witness this seeming paragon of Maoist idealism denounced and publicly humiliated on the streets of the Cultural Revolution. The governor’s downfall — juxtaposed with the stilted enthusiasms of red-book, accordion-playing girls and boys, marching and singing midst all the streaming red banners — is ironic and disheartening, a sucker punch to Communism as heroic ideology.
In a mystical, strangely moving final scene at a deserted Forbidden City, Pu Yi — now an anonymous tourist — reaches behind his abandoned golden throne to retrieve a small grasshopper cage from his childhood. As implausible as this recovery may be, when Pu Yi hands the keepsake to the pre-adolescent Maoist security guard, the cage yields a living grasshopper. Looking up to question the old man, the boy finds that Pu Yi has simply vanished — a fitting end, somehow, for this curiously hollow person, fictionalized as Emperor by the demands of History.
The Criterion set contains, besides the director-preferred theatrical cut, the entire 218-minute Italian television version. Included on discs 3 and 4 are four hefty documentaries concerning the making of the film. Squeezed in here and there are interviews with Bertolucci and composer David Byrne, and a thoughtfully encapsulated, truly informative historical rundown of the film’s era by Ian Buruma. A lavishly illustrated 90+-page booklet blessed with intelligent articles and interviews accompanies the discs. All considered, a phenomenal package.
China/1987/Color/2.00:1 aspect ratio/Theatrical version: 165 minutes/Television version: 218 minutes. Released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in 2008.
Lost in Beijing (Li Yu, 2007)
Massive changes are afoot in the contemporary China of Li Yu’s film, too. Massage parlor owner Lin Dong (Tony Leung Ka-fai) pilots his Mercedes under sparkling new skyscrapers where the husband of one of his star masseuses, Ping-guo (Fan Bingbing), washes windows. As a thriving self-made man, Lin Dong dallies casually with prostitutes and then comes home to a spacious apartment and a cynical, infertile, but accommodating wife, Wang Mei (Elaine Jin). Ping-guo and Kun (Tong Dawei) inhabit a tiny crumbling apartment in a Beijing slum, but being young and underclass, like to have sex and laugh about it afterwards. It’s the old capitalist paradigm, the sterile rich and the fecund poor, and China’s just learning about the ever-widening gulf between the two.
In the film, the opposite sides of the coin get a chance to face each other when Kun, washing windows outside the parlor’s offices, witnesses Lin Dong rape his wife, a rather graphic and gruesome depiction that is meaningfully paired with a similarly vivid picturing of the younger couple’s spontaneous wall job in the shower the night before. In the wake of the rape, Kun — who is no prize, caring male to begin with — treats his wife miserably and becomes obsessed with squeezing retribution money from the rapist boss, who legally remains untouchable. For the disadvantaged couple, it’s a bitter stalemate, both for any reconciliation between themselves and for Kun’s hope of cathartic bundles of cash.
When Ping-guo comes up pregnant, the timeline points to either man as the father, and Lin Dong is suddenly jarred from his callous detachment and becomes convinced the child is his. Now, for both men, it’s all about the baby, and the film for a time allows itself to be a comedy as bizarre contracts, in anticipation of the birth proving the real father, are drawn up while Lin Dong dashes feverishly about, suddenly obsessed with his victim’s well-being as the mommy.
In the midst of Lin Dong’s swelling with anticipatory joy and Kun’s descent into sullen bitterness, both wives are marginalized, and the film’s theme comes into focus: the uneasy status of women in a modernizing Beijing. Ping-guo is visible and attended to only because she’s breeding; Kun, viewing her as a slut and spoiled goods, vacillates between needing and ostracizing her. Lin Dong’s wife has become superfluous and knows it. In a series of blustery events, the men simply fall apart in selfish despair, leaving the women to fend for themselves.
Performances are uniformly excellent, with standout work from Tony Leung Kai and Fan Bingbing, who is famous in China as a fashion supermodel. Distinctly non-glam in the film, the small-statured Fan, tossed to and fro by male foolishness, is like a leaf in the wind until she finds her mettle — a subtle awakening to the possibility of independence, the costs of which the actress makes movingly evident.
Li Yu’s (right) show feels indifferently shot — on video, perhaps? — in a loose improvisatory style with jagged editing to match. Within scenes there are sudden, quick splices, the kind you get in a stretch of interview within a documentary, and they can undermine your belief in the drama at times. If Li Yu is playing postmodernist games here, I wish she’d cut it out. As a clearly gifted filmmaker with lots to say, she doesn’t need them.
The glimpses of a Beijing with both glitter and squalor are fascinating — and important, in that, once coverage of the Olympics begins, I’m sure we’ll be getting only the glitter.
Hong Kong; China/2007/113 minutes/Color/In Mandarin with optional English subtitles. Released on DVD by New Yorker Video in 2008.
Popeye the Sailor (Max and Dave Fleischer, 1938-1940)
In spite of my brain being, like any baby boomer’s, encoded with Popeye’s image, voice and musical theme, I was never a huge fan of the bulbous sailorman. Yet, in my childhood’s dolorous pre-dinner hours — I’m fairly sure that’s when these shorts aired in my neck of the country — I watched the Popeye cartoons dutifully, respectfully even, as if this were a role assigned to me. In those days, we all knew the taste of canned spinach — ghastly, rheumy stuff — and this knowledge made me wonder if the cartoon’s insistence on Popeye’s formulaic energizer was actually an embedded polemic: come on, kids, drink your milk, finish your potatoes, eat your goddamn spinach.
Disaffected in front of The Box, I knew nothing of Popeye’s origins in the weird old days of syndicated comic strips when, on January 17, 1929, cartoonist E. C. Segar introduced the truculent seaman to the other cast members of Thimble Theater, a well-established, nine-year-old strip featuring long-running, convoluted adventure plots peppered with a dense, oblique humor that’s totally vanished from today’s thin-aired, homogenized not-so-funny funny pages.1
Segar’s original Popeye was a barely verbal, rather coarse piece of nautical whimsy who, inexplicably, is able to steal the affections of Olive Oyl, the girlfriend of Ham Gravy, one of the strip’s main characters. Of indeterminate age and distinctly uncouth, Popeye needed considerable cleaning-up before he could star on the big screen, and the process is continued in the ’38-’40 shorts included on these discs. Here he becomes a rather caring individual who is loath to use violence in the bullring (Bulldozing the Bull, 1938) because it would constitute cruelty to animals. In Goonland, from the same year, Popeye weeps bitter tears when, upon finding his long-lost Pappy imprisoned by Goons, his father refuses to recognize him.
But in the hands of the Fleischer brothers, Max and Dave, Popeye’s rehabilitation didn’t result in a bland sailorman. The keynote of the Fleischer Popeye’s ever-mercurial personality is his constant, existential mumblings as he navigates challenging events, and these often hold nuggets of ad-lib wit, as when, in The Jeep (1938), Popeye, while searching Olive’s apartment for a vanished Sweet Pea, checks under a picture hanging on the wall, and mutters, “heh, heh, well, cherchez la frame.”
Then, of course, there’s the unwavering inventiveness of the Fleischers’ visual conceits and the sheer loveliness of the animating. As kids we didn’t know how good we had it until, in 1960, local stations stopped broadcasting the old black-and-white Fleischers’ and substituted a run of brand-new color Popeye shorts, commissioned by King Features especially for TV and, I assume, in response to the demand for color programming. While the voices of Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) and Jackson Beck (Bluto) were retained, the animation was dumbed down and simplified, as were the plots. The wit was gone. In anticipation of some copyright infringement claims, Bluto’s name was changed to Bruno, a move that seemed incalculably lame. Even the sound effects sounded wrong. Popeye had finally been emasculated — blanded out — meaningfully, just as cretinoid atrocities like Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound had begun to air.
Warner Brothers’ two-disc set is a continuation of their complete Fleischer/Paramount Popeye series that began with the first volume’s inclusion of the ’33-’38 shorts. As in that set, vol. 2 includes a two-reeler Technicolor feature, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, that shines with the Fleischer studio’s virtuosity. When the evil sorcerer conjures several fantastical creatures to combat Popeye’s Aladdin, you wonder whether contemporary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, 2001) might have seen this cartoon in his youth, or, even more so, one of the Fleischers’ Superman cartoons, like the one included in this set, The Mechanical Monsters (1941), a pure neuronal delight.
Among other special features here and there, Warner Brothers provides a well-made and informative documentary on the Fleischer brothers and their rise and fall in the animation business.
USA/B&W and color1938-1940/Aspect ratio: 1.33:1/218 minutes. Issued on DVD by Warner Bros.
Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)
Encountering Tarr’s seven-hour, black-and-white masterpiece is like a first viewing of a Bergman or Peter Watkins film, when all assumptions about what movies can achieve — and how they go about it — are replaced by surprise and awe.
The people in Tarr’s narrative, scripted from the novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, have become what, in the Stalinist era, were labeled “marginals,” i.e. individuals no longer useful and productive for the purposes of the socialist state. In the twilight of the Soviet occupation of Hungary, they inhabit a broken-down farming collective, desperately (and presumably illegally) hoarding a year’s worth of earnings so that they may escape from it. They’re a ragtag, unpleasant bunch who, in the imagery of the novel, are caught and bound together in a web spun by invisible spiders that emerge from their corners whenever they sense human movement.
On the periphery of the web, however, are two solitary individuals: an overweight, alcoholic doctor (Peter Berling) and an emotionally damaged little girl (Erika Bók). The aged, morbidly ill doctor sits in his study, observes myopically the events outside his windows, and makes copious notes about them. The little girl, Estike, estranged from family and society, tortures and kills a cat, and then wanders a day and a night with its corpse through the unending rain that forms the film’s doom-laden backdrop.
At the very beginning of Satantango, a character wakes in the murky dawn to the tolling of distant bells, a sound made ominous by its having no apparent source. So, in spite of the gritty depiction of the village’s poverty and the debased behavior of its inhabitants, Tarr immediately sets it all in a context of the supernatural, or, rather, the superhuman, especially as the bells also herald the imminent return of the inverted messianic figure of Irimiás (Mihály Vig, the film’s composer), who, in spite of being nothing more than a wannabe gangster with sartorial pretensions, has the villagers all a-tremble. These are the End Times, they feel, and with Irimiás having been reported dead, his return is a Second Coming.
Irimiás — a local boy gone bad — is also a marginal. With a history of questionable activities frowned on by the police, they sign him up, in the spirit of rehabilitation, as an informer. But as a con man with an exquisite demeanor of calm gravitas, who also likes to spout reams of poetic nonsense, he has no trouble bilking the villagers out of their money, thereby destroying their hopes as he orders them to scatter all over the map. Then, handily, he furnishes the police with a report detailing ways they might use them. Ah, the pragmatism of the Soviets.
Lest you mistake his film for a mere black comedy, or a down-and-out ship of fools story, or a satire of the Soviet years — and it’s all of these — Tarr inserts imagery of a disinterested natural universe that throws the film’s pulse and feeling, in harmony with those mysterious bells, into a numinous disjoint. Marching with his cronies toward Armageddon in the dim morning light, a spooked Irimiás halts and kneels before a serpentine swirl of low-hanging fog that has also appeared as Estike wandered alone. In an abandoned mansion, an owl watches over the nocturnal bickering of the villagers. A passel of horses suddenly gallops through an empty pre-dawn town square.
Satantango’s long takes are legendary and they can feel excessive (and obsessive) on first viewing, but on the second, the experience becomes profoundly involving, due partly to Gábor Medvigy’s exquisite photography and Tarr’s unique framing, which can often have a rigorous geometric formalism about it, even as the elements of his compositions are muck and ruin. The viewer has a lot of face time with the characters; extreme close-ups have us counting nose hairs, but the effect is not empathy, exactly, but a strange meditative process that leads to a gut feeling that this clueless bunch is not unlike ourselves. In the end, we share their dread.
Taken from a recent restoration, Facets’ transfer appears crisp enough on my tube TV, and has a lovely range of black-and-white values, but the older, bare bones Artificial Eye Region 2 release seems a tad sharper. With the film on three discs, Facets places some intriguing supplements on a fourth, one of which being an hourlong version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth shot by Tarr in just two takes.
Hungary/1994/B&W/Widescreen/420+ minutes/in Hungarian with English subtitles/NTSC, all zones. Released on DVD by Facets in 2008.
Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
After his classic silent, Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), tanked at the box office, the Danish filmmaker Carl Th. Dreyer thought it best to seek a project that might at least make a little money. Horror films — especially those produced by Germany’s UFA studios — were big in the twenties, and Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) had helped reignite a passion for vampire lore. In 1929, as Dreyer and his scenarist, Christen Jul, wrote Vampyr ‘s screenplay, Lugosi was on the boards playing the Count. Browning’s Dracula (1931) opened the year before Vampyr premiered in Berlin.
Thoroughly incapable of producing a mere product for mass consumption, Dreyer was kidding himself if he thought Vampyr would be embraced by the mainstream. The director had in fact delivered an experimental film that, not surprisingly, flopped. Dreyer didn’t make another film until 1943’s Day of Wrath.
Criterion’s gratifyingly deluxe edition of Vampyr comes with a reprint of Sheridan Le Fanu’s purple-tinged gothic romance of 1872, Carmilla. Dreyer disclosed Le Fanu’s collection, In a Glass Darkly, in which Carmilla appeared, as a source for his screenplay with Jul, but Le Fanu’s horror fiction seems to have been more of an inspirational jumpstart than anything else. Carmilla features a dark old manor house standing midst “giant trees” and a couple of very young, very pretty, lethargic girls. One of them is a vampire whose thirst for blood is mixed with sexual desire for her nubile victims. It’s a titillating premise, but Dreyer would have nothing of the lesbianism, although he did keep the manor house, the giant trees, and the two lethargic girls.
In Dreyer’s film, his two girls, Gisèle (Rena Mandel) and Léone (Sybille Schmitz), are sisters, the latter of whom is slowly dying from the nocturnal attentions of a local vampire, Marguerite Chopin (Henriette Gérard), a stolid, mannish old lady who has a posse of ghosts to order around — along with her homunculus, the doctor (Jan Hieronimko) treating poor Léone. The girls’ father knows evil’s a-foot, and solicits the help of a listless youth, Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg), who’s put up for a night at a nearby inn. Gray must help save a soul; that’s the high concept here.
But, although the characters proceed in linear fashion through to a vampire movie’s necessary denouement, Dreyer doesn’t sell the story as a melodrama. Instead he filmed a kind of dream play where characterizations, continuity, even camera movements elide the conventions of feature filmmaking.
Most discomforting for the viewer, Vampyr ‘s characters yield little to those who expect identification with them, or at least with the hero. As Allan Gray, Baron de Gunzburg, who financed the film on the condition he play the lead, has a mesmerizing presence that owes less to acting than to an ability to maintain his face as a frozen mask of fearful emotions — ranging from mild astonishment to mounting terror. Gripped in a vise of oneiric inevitability, Gray has no choice but to participate in a stream of irrational, elliptical events.
De Gunzburg’s large eyes, which have an effete, aristocratic languor in repose, are the centerpiece of the film’s most unsettling sequence, in which Gray finds himself sealed in a coffin featuring a glass window conveniently positioned so that we may see his paralyzed stare, and so that he may look out — helplessly taking in ceilings, sky, and treetops — as he’s carried presumably to burial. Has any other film captured so perfectly the powerlessness of a nightmare’s victim? On old posters, Vampyr once carried the subtitle “The Dream of Allan Gray.”
The director allows few establishing shots: as characters wander over soft-focus, moonlit meadows to reach Dreyer’s carefully selected settings — the spectral inn, the mansion, the crumbling factory, the mill with its interior blasted white — we’re confused in their logistics to one another, or even as to which is which. There’s a misty river that girl and boy must cross at film’s end, but when did they come over it in the first place? Dreyer’s camera may swoop and glide with Gray along interiors but then detach from his POV and watch him walking away, effectively pulling the contextual rug out from under the audience.
Dreyer’s not being sloppy, though; he wants his film cockeyed and disorienting — a state best suited to melding his uniquely personal spiritual concerns (and fears) with the clotted imagery and symbolic territory of old horror genres. As the servant removes the cracked stone slab that covers the grave of Marguerite Chopin, Allan Gray peers through the veil that separates living consciousness from the mysteries of death. Deyer would plumb those same mysteries in his 1955 masterpiece Ordet.
Criterion presents a transfer of the 1998 restoration done by Cineteca de Commune di Bolgna in collaboration with Deutsche Kinemathek and ZDF that makes use of partially complete prints of the French and German versions. For home video, Criterion’s release corrects the major deficiency of the older Image edition, which offered a sizably cropped image; Vampyr ‘s OAR is happily regained, and the current transfer is far sharper, carries more detail, and rebalances the film’s gray scale. For many aficionados, watching Criterion’s edition will be as much a waking dream as Allan Gray’s, and that’s just as Dreyer intended.
Criterion’s fat box encloses two discs and a 214-page book containing the aforementioned Carmilla; Dreyer and Jul’s screenplay as completed before filming began; and essays by Mark Le Fanu and Kim Newman. A second disc features a 1966 documentary on the filmmaker by Jorgen Roos and a visual essay by Casper Tybjerg on Dreyer’s influences in creating Vampyr . Also included is an archival interview with star Nicolas de Gunzburg (in text rather than audio/video). Audio commentary by Tony Rayns accompanies the film, for which Criterion has created an alternate version featuring English text for the film’s many sequences involving the characters reading a book on vampirism.
Germany and France/1932/73 minutes/B&W/Monaural in German with optional English subtitles/1.19:1. Released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in 2008.
- Yet we still have Bill Griffith’s Zippy. [↩]