Canada Carries On, Twice

NFBWith the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, John Grierson, the British documentarian and the NFB’s first commissioner, set upon a project to foster and shape the national identity, and the outbreak of World War II was a timely context for Grierson’s nationalist aims.  One of the NFB’s first efforts was Canada Carries On, a series of theatrical shorts aimed to boost morale during wartime.  Its producer, British documentary filmmaker Stuart Legg, found early success in the endeavour when he received two Oscar nominations for the new documentary short category.  Relying heavily on stock footage and “voice-of-God” commentary, Legg’s Churchill’s Island (1941) and Warclouds in the Pacific (1941) are remarkable documents of their periods.  Churchill’s Island won that first documentary Oscar, but Legg has failed to garner the kind of recognition given to his close colleague Grierson.

As per the NFB:

This film won the NFB its first Oscar® and was also the first documentary to win this coveted award.  It presents the strategy of the Battle of Britain, showing with penetrating clarity the relationships between the various forces made up the island’s defences.  Here is the Royal Air Force in its epic battle with the Luftwaffe, the Navy in its stubborn fight against the raiders of sea and sky, the coastal defences, the mechanized cavalry, the merchant seamen and behind them all, Britain’s tough, unbending civilian army.

As per the NFB:

This short film examines the Japan that emerged at the beginning of the 1900s and was firmly established as an industrialized nation by the outbreak of World War II.  Facing the greatest threat in their history, the democracies of the Pacific took careful stock of this new Japan and its strength, and erected a vast system of defence across the world’s greatest ocean.

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A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Matter of Life and Death.

criterion logoAs his plane is going down in flames, doomed World War II pilot, Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) meets over the radio the love of his life, an American radio operator named June (Kim Hunter).  He miraculously survives the crash and the pair commence their romance, but Carter is troubled with a life-threatening brain injury treated by a village doctor (Roger Livesey) and a heavenly collector (Marius Goring) intent on escorting his errant soul to the other side.  Originally designed as a propaganda piece to promote better relations between Britain and the United States, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death became an English classic featuring delightful performances by its cast, accomplished Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff, and spectacular production design by Alfred Junge.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie
  • Martin Scorsese on A Matter of Life and Death
  • Thelma Schoonmaker Powell and Grover Crisp on AMOLAD and its restoration
  • Interview with cinematographer Jack Cardiff
  • A Matter of Fried Onions, Diane Broadbent Friedman on the medical foundation of AMOLAD
  • Behind the scenes footage, filmed during a visit to Denham Studios by Canadian soldiers
  • “The King and the Stars,” a Front Page newsreel by British Pathé on the 1946 Royal Command Film Performance screening, along with unused and unissued footage of the event and the press reception
  • New interview with author J. K. Rowling and actor Daniel Radcliffe in appreciation of the film
  • Two Lux Radio Theatre productions from 1947 (starring Ray Milland, Ann Blyth, and Nigel Bruce) and 1955 (starring David Niven and Barbara Rush)
  • The Hedda Hooper Show – This is Hollywood‘s 30-minute radio adaptation, starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, and Vincent Price
  • Screen Director’s Playhouse radio production from 1951, starring Robert Cummings and Julia Adams
  • Kinescope of the “Stairway to Heaven” TV adaptation for Robert Montgomery Presents, starring Richard Green, Jean Gillespie, and Bramwell Fletcher
  • Parody sketch from Big Train, featuring Simon Pegg, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, and Amelia Bullmore
  • Gallery of sketches and stills of Alfred Junge’s production designs
  • Sequence shot for Powell and Pressburger’s unmade The White Cockade, starring David Niven and Pamela Brown
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring behind the scenes photos, the script, and new essays by film critics Dave Kehr, Robert Horton, and Mark Kermode

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The Lost One (Peter Lorre, 1951)

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

criterion logoIn Peter Lorre’s only directorial effort, German scientist Dr. Karl Rothe murders his fiancée for betraying him and disclosing his research to enemy nations.  Instead of being punished, Rothe’s crime is covered up by Nazi authorities, leaving the doctor gripped by a compulsion to kill.  With the end of World War II, Rothe finds work at a refugee camp under an assumed name, but his past catches up with him when a fellow scientist and former Nazi agent arrives looking for sanctuary of his own.  Co-written and starring Lorre as well, The Lost One was rejected by audiences upon its release but has since become a masterpiece of post-WWII German cinema, an intensely haunting and fatalistic film that interrogates the psychological cruelty that enabled the war and the individual and collective guilt that followed.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by the German Film Institute, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by Lorre biographer Stephen D. Youngkin
  • Peter Lorre – The Double Face, Harun Farocki’s 1984 documentary
  • Displaced Person: Peter Lorre, Robert Fischer’s 2007 documentary
  • Interview with German film historian Christoph Fuchs
  • Theatrical trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Lorre scholar Sarah Thomas, excerpts of Lorre’s own work script, biographical character sketches, documents on the film’s rating, and Bertolt Brecht’s poem to Lorre, “To the Actor P.L. in Exile;” and a new paperback edition of Lorre’s original novel “The Lost One,” unreleased in Germany until 1996 and available in North America here for the first time

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Seventeen Moments of Spring (Tatyana Lioznova, 1973)

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 LogoVirtually unknown in the West, Tatyana Lioznova’s 12-part mini-series Seventeen Moments of Spring is Russia’s most popular and acclaimed TV production, playing annually to millions of viewers since its release in 1973.  Soviet spy Maxim Isaev (Vyacheslav Tikhonov), working in deep cover as a prominent SS officer named Max Otto von Stierlitz, receives direction from Moscow in February 1945 to gather information on peace talks rumored between the Americans and Nazis and frustrate any efforts that might allow the Germans to focus all their military power to the Eastern Front.  What follows is a complicated battle of wits set within the Nazi administration with mortal consequences for Stierlitz and all of the USSR.  This methodically suspenseful and widely successful espionage thriller celebrates the Russian war effort during World War II, valorizes the nation’s security agencies through the patriotic and canny Stierlitz, and subtly critiques Soviet bureaucratic authority in an era of thawing Cold War relations.

Includes the original version and the 2009 colorized version, with notes by historian Stephen Lovell.

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Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)

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

criterion logoEmir Kusturica’s epic masterpiece recounts the demise of his native Yugoslavia through the metaphorical relationship of Blacky and Marko over fifty years.  The pair booze and brawl their way through World War II, enhancing their reputations as communist guerrilla fighters and black marketeers until Marko tricks Blacky and others into hiding in his cellar where they manufacture weapons for twenty years under the false understanding that the war continues.  This raucous and tragicomic parable won Kusturica the Palme d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and inspired a flurry of controversy that resulted in the filmmaker’s temporary retirement from the cinema.  Included here is Kusturica’s stunning, savage, and hilarious theatrical release and his five-hour television version, Once Upon a Time There Was a Country.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration of the theatrical version, approved by director Emir Kusturica, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Once Upon a Time There Was a Country, the 5-hour mini-series cut of Underground for Serbian television
  • New interview with Kusturica on his influences, the film, its reception, and its legacy
  • Journalist Tommaso Di Francesco on Underground
  • Shooting Days: Emir Kusturica Directs Underground, Aleksandar Manic’s 73-minute documentary on the making of Underground
  • Underground at Cannes, footage from the post-screening party at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival
  • Guernica, Kusturica’s 1978 short film
  • Interviews with cast and crew
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Sean Homer and production photos

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Spy Smasher (William Witney, 1942)

Eclipse LogoRepublic Pictures brought the defender of democracy to life in one of the finest serial ever made. Sprung from the four-color pages of Whiz and Spy Smasher, action is abundant in this sensational serial saga concerning Spy Smasher’s efforts to prevent his Nazi nemesis, the Maskfrom crippling America’s defense effort shortly before its involvement in World War II.  Dual star Kane Richmond faces ray guns, firing squads, submarines, futuristic aircraft, and motorcycle chases all under the capable hand of veteran serial director William Witney.  From Mort Glickman’s title music reworking Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to its final fade-out, Spy Smasher represents the serial form at its most energetic and thrilling.

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