Full transparency: all Blu-rays reviewed were provided by Kino Lorber, Criterion, Code Red, and Cohen Film Collection.
The semester has started, summer is coming to a close, but the Blu-ray reviews are back in full swing. If there was a theme to this month’s titles, it would be stellar performances and star personas, with the exception of one title that actually played at the IU Cinema in a long-ago era known as “November of 2019.” Cohen Film Collection has a great double feature of French crime films (The Gang/Three Men to Kill) featuring the magnetic and alluring Alain Delon. Kino Lorber brings us a film featuring a major and culturally significant performance from the noble and charming Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. New addition to the blog Code Red kicks off the spooky season with queer-adjacent horror featuring a movie-devouring performance from the great Susan Tyrell in Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. And finally, there is my pick of the month, a contemplative and bittersweet piece of cinema from the master of contemplative and bittersweet cinema, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s international breakthrough film After Life.
I made many great discoveries and I sincerely hope you find something that piques your interest. Give it a listen and I’m sure something will catch your ear and hopefully soon after that your eye.
As with every month, there are titles I receive that I think you should be aware of but just don’t have the time to give them the full audio treatment, a mix of melodrama, romantic comedies, docs, and AIRSHIPS BABY.
Arise, My Love / No Time For Love
In keeping with this month’s theme of stars and stellar performances, Kino Lorber has put out two romantic films starring Claudette Colbert. In the pantheon of screwball skirts, Colbert always struck me as the one inhabiting an eloquent sophistication, always down-to-earth and while usually maintaining the higher ground in the tête-à-tête with her Y-chromosomed co-stars, she always played being “low status” during a round of pithy volleys very well. It’s nice to see her get flustered as equally as it is for her to be completely in control of any given scenario. That’s what makes Arise, My Love and No Time For Love such an interesting pairing.
In Arise, My Love (directed by Remember the Night’s Mitchell Leisen and notably co-written by Charles Brackett and A Place for Film favorite Billy Wilder), she plays the tough but somewhat untactful reporter Augusta “Gusto” Nash. She schemes and succeeds and gets imprisoned American pilot Tom Martin (played by Ray Milland, kind of a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart in this film) out of an execution by Spanish fascists during the Spanish Civil War by posing as his wife. There’s chemistry and passion but her career and his dedication to keep fighting while Hitler not-so-subtly looms on the horizon keep the romance at bay… for a little bit. The movie spans a few years, and a few genres for that matter (is it a war film? a melodrama? a rom-com? yes!), so the movie unfolds a little slower than most romantic films from around this period. The movie takes it time with how much juice there is between Milland and Colbert and keeps the double entendres at arm’s length until it can’t anymore. Outside of how clear-cut the propaganda is in this film — the final monologue from Colbert is kind of unintentionally chilling — it’s a nice piece of schmaltzy cinema where Colbert is in control most of the runtime.
Where she’s a little less in control and the double entendres and innuendo don’t waste any time making themselves present would be her pairing with Fred MacMurray in No Time For Love (another Mitchell Leisen joint), and trust me, reader, they eventually make time for love. Colbert is once again a headstrong journalist, but this time she’s a photojournalist. She’s uppercrust and annoyed at the idea of having to take an assignment photographing “sandhog” construction workers working on a tunnel project. There she bumps into a boy with a body, Jim Ryan aka “Superman” to some (MacMurray). One near-fatal accident and two fistfights later, Ryan is out of a job. Feeling guilty, Colbert takes it upon herself to hire him as her personal assistant in the hopes that the steam under her collar will magically dissipate and folks, if you’re a fan of the works of Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat, you know exactly where this is going. This movie doesn’t simmer so much as it boils over with Colbert vainly trying to keep the lid from rattling. It’s so much fun looking at her lust after MacMurray and the movie goes to some highly amusing lengths to convey this, including a great dream sequence you ain’t gotta be Freud to decode. It’s fun to see Colbert be low-status comically but high-status character-wise to MacMurray. It makes her next repost of wit that much more potent. The courtship is a little dated with MacMurray stealing nonconsensual kisses from Colbert, but the movie’s heart is in the right place (most of the time).
Featuring audio commentaries from film historians Kat Ellinger and Nick Pinkerton respectively, you can find Arise, My Love and No Time For Love through Kino Lorber.
Truman & Tennessee / Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over
Next is a pair of docs discussing a trio of outspoken figures. Truman & Tennessee, from director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, attempts to thread the needle between two iconic writers of both stage and screen by having the film be presented as two tales running parallel to each other. On paper this is a no-brainer. Both men were close friends, had eerily similar lives and struggles as gay men from the south and wrote works dripping with wit and venom, and yet… it never quite comes together. While the archival footage from Dick Cavett and David Frost interviews and reading from journals are welcome (not so much how they are read — we get half-baked impressions from Zachary Quinto as Tennessee Williams and Jim Parsons as Truman Capote), it never really elevates itself to anything more than “isn’t it crazy how similar these two men’s lives were? And they were friends!”
It’s one of those documentaries where you wait for an ultimate truth to emerge, especially given how many interesting elements from both their lives intersect, but in the end I almost wonder if this wouldn’t be better served as a piece of historical fiction, something that plays with the dynamics of their relationship and the kismet of their lives to say something larger. However, I will say if you’re not familiar with either of these figures, do yourself a favor after watching this film and track down the movies and plays written by Williams and Capote. The film gives you enough tastes to lead you down the right path if you need a starting point, and for me that’s where the value lies. Could have done with a 30-minute section on Capote’s Murder By Death cameo, though.
You can buy Truman & Tennessee from Kino Lorber.
Past IU Cinema guest, filmmaker, and “No Wave” pioneer Beth B has a much different subject and approach to her latest film Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, a film about No Wave artist, poet, and lead singer and guitarist for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks Lydia Lunch (another past IU Cinema guest who visited during the 2014 Burroughs Century celebration). The film opens with Lydia narrating a story about hitching a ride with a man and flat-out telling him she won’t be trading sexual favors for the lift. The man responds in the affirmative only for him to eventually pull out a weapon and make her lick the tires of the car. He tells her that it’s not about sex, its about power, and then Lydia looks at the camera and responds, “And I had the power.” I can’t think of a better way for a film to introduce someone as complicated and prickly as Lydia. The film whisks you through her life and career the way any talking heads doc would, but with that added wrinkle that you may find contradictions and tons of things you will absolutely not agree with — but that’s what makes it so fascinating. There is no black and white with Lydia Lunch, only whether or not she has control of any situation. She doesn’t pull any punches and Beth B does a great job of letting things fall where they may and never shying away from any given thing Lydia turns her attention to. It’s a non-didactic portrait and it’s honestly quite refreshing.
Along with some deleted scenes, an extended interview with Carlo McCormick, excerpts from spoken word and musical performances from ‘91 to ’96, and a short film starring Lydia from 2020, you can pick up Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over on DVD from Kino Lorber.
Jules Verne’s Master of the World
CLEAN-SHAVEN CHARLES BRONSON IN HORIZONTAL STRIPES
3 STARS! CHECK IT OUT
DID I MENTION AIRSHIPS?
Featuring audio commentaries by film historian Tom Weaver and Vincent Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams (not present on the now out-of-print third Vincent Price Collection from Shout Factory), as well as a commentary by actor David Frankham and a feature-length documentary about screenwriter Richard Matheson, you can pick up Jules Verne’s Master of the World from Kino Lorber.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.