Black Line (Teruo Ishii, 1960)

Eclipse LogoFreelance reporter “Scoop” Machida is hot on the trail of a prostitution ring called the Black Line, when he is framed for the murder of a young woman.  Forced to clear his own name, the handsome journalist sinks deeper into the Black Line’s rotten swamp of drugs, prostitution, and murder and finds unexpected help in Maya, a steamy female gambler familiar with the neon-lit streets, shadowy alleyways, and seedy nightclubs he must navigate.  The closest film in the Line series to classic American film noir, Ishii’s Black Line is a pulpy assortment of crime film conventions including the starkly expressionistic black and white cinematography by Jûgyô Yoshida, a jazzy music score by Michiaki Watanabe, and a sleazy screenplay by Ishii and Ichirô Miyagawa.

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On the Line with Teruo Ishii

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions.  Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

Eclipse LogoDanger lurks all around in Teruo Ishii’s Line series, a collection of sensational films noir made during the director’s beloved time at Shintoho studios from 1947 until its bankruptcy in 1961.  In these stylistically varied but consistently provocative crime films, Ishii offers a glimpse at the lurid underworld of drug-dealers, human-traffickers, prostitutes, and assassins through the eyes of dogged journalists, devoted boyfriends, and wrongfully accused men.  With jazzy scores and neon-lit streets, these seedy and saucy films convey Shintoho’s daring and eccentric filmmaking ethic and Ishii’s origins as Japan’s “King of Cults.”

Secret White Line (Shirosen himitsu chitai)

Ishii impressed audiences and studio execs with this remarkable, energetic investigation of an underground prostitution ring, inspiring a film noir series for Shintoho and establishing a thematic foundation for future films.

Black Line (Kurosen chitai)

A tenacious crime reporter, framed for the murder of a young woman, attempts to expose a prostitution and drug syndicate in this bleakly hardboiled tale set amongst the neon-lit streets and unsavory dives of Shinjuku.

Yellow Line (Ôsen chitai)

A betrayed hitman, his exotic dancer hostage, and her reporter boyfriend converge on Kobe’s sleazy, claustrophobic Casbah and on an unscrupulous prostitution syndicate called the Yellow Line.

Sexy Line (Sekushî chitai)

Ishii take his camera to the streets of Asakusa and Ginza and its milling crowds in this witty investigation of pickpockets, prostitutes, post-war prosperity, and moral license.

Fire Line (Kasen chitai)

In Ishii’s co-scripted final film of the series, a sharpshooter, a shady arms dealer, and a mobster’s moll plot to steal back a cache of guns from a duplicitous and double-dealing gang.

With notes on the films by Japanese-cinema historian Chris D.

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Psycho (Gus Van Sant, 1998)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Psycho.

criterion logoFew films have been as maligned and misunderstood as Gus Van Sant’s near shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, however Van Sant’s retelling is a bold effort to restore Psycho to its filmic roots and a brash statement on authorship, Hollywood entertainment, and the changing nature of cinema.  It is an unlikeliest of movies – a $60-million dollar, studio-funded, nationally-released, avant-garde film.  Gathering around him an impressive cast and crew including Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Forster, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, title designer Pablo Ferro, original Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, and composers Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek, and Wayne Horvitz, Van Sant takes on one of cinema’s great masterpieces and offers an unsettling opportunity to see Psycho for the first time once again.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration approved by director Gus Van Sant and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary with Van Sant and actors Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn
  • New interviews with Van Sant, and actors Heche, Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortenson, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, and Robert Forster
  • Psycho Paths, a 30-minute documentary on the making of Van Sant’s Psycho
  • Psycho Shampoo, Van Sant’s 1979 parody commercial appropriating Psycho‘s famous shower scene
  • Punk Rock Psycho, a new interview with Van Sant and Mortenson on their considered follow-up remake of Psycho relocated to a punk rock setting
  • Psychos, Steven Soderbergh’s feature-length mash-up of Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho and Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho, with introduction by Soderbergh
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film scholars Stephen Jay Schneider, Donato Totaro, and Mark Carpenter

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Phoenix Tapes (Christoph Girardet and Matthias Muller, 1999)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Phoenix Tapes.

criterion logoCut together from 40 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller’s 6-part Phoenix Tapes is a surreal collage of the master director’s themes, motifs, gestures, and objects in a pure cinematic experience.  More than a mere catalogue of Hitchcockian fetish objects and complexes, Girardet and Müller reconnect us to original experience of Hitchcock’s films by removing the familiar context of those sounds and images.  In doing so, Phoenix Tapes examines the uncanny fear specific to the master of suspense and through those Oedipal traps, guilty consciences, maternal obsessions, and murderous desires, explores the dark recesses of cinema’s own collective unconscious.

Disc Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, approved by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New interviews with Girardet and Müller on selected works
  • Short films by Girardet and Müller, including Manual (2002), Beacon (2002), Play (2003), Mirror (2003), Kristall (2006), Maybe Siam (2009), Contre-jour (2009), Meteor (2011) and Cut (2013)
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film scholars Thomas Elsaesser, Dominique Païni, Sally Shafto, and filmmaker Guy Maddin

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Who are your neighbors?: 60 years of peeping through the “Rear Window”

Who are your neighbors?: 60 years of peeping through the “Rear Window”.

We should be sharing more of the wonderful work we discover online, and so we’ll start with this excellent review of the actors who play Jeff’s neighbours in Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954).  Performances like these are taken for granted, but Jnpickens at Comet Over Hollywood reveals there are some fascinating facts lurking behind these thankless roles.  It’s absolutely inspired to ask who these actors were and, in a way, reminds me of Robert Ray’s unconventional approach to film study and his surrealist games borne from those minute, unconsidered details glossed over in the classical Hollywood narrative.

The Knack … and How to Get It (Richard Lester, 1965)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Knack … and How to Get It.

criterion logoEither you have it or you don’t.  Cool and sophisticated Tolen (Ray Brooks) has it with a monopoly on womanizing proven by a long line of conquests, while his naïve and awkward landlord Colin (Michael Crawford) desperately wants a piece of it, but when Colin falls for an innocent country girl (Rita Tushingham), self-assured Tolen quickly makes a play for her.  Fresh from the success of A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Lester applies his frenetic style to the early days of Swinging London and creates this mod masterpiece.  The Knack … and How to Get It breaks through the formulaic conventions of romantic love and the sex comedy and stands as a handsome portrayal of the generation gap and the oncoming sexual revolution, wowing audiences at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival and making it a surprise winner of the Palme d’Or.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, approved by director Richard Lester, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring Steven Soderbergh interviewing Lester
  • New interviews with Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, and Rita Tushingham
  • Downloadable soundtrack by John Barry
  • Birdwatching, interviews with Charlotte Rampling, Jacqueline Bisset, and Jane Birkin, who all made their onscreen debuts in The Knack … and How to Get It
  • Richard Lester’s 1965 documentary on Formula One racing made for Esso
  • New interview with Richard Lester on his advertising work during the mid-1960s, including a collection of his television commercials
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by British film scholar Janet Moat

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