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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Crime > Missing Person > Psychological > Murder > Counterculture > Photography > Fashio > Blow-Up (1966/MGM/Warner Bros./Criterion Blu-ray)/Five American Experimental Films Of The 1950s (Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)/Moby Dick (1956/United Artists/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition

Blow-Up (1966/MGM/Warner Bros./Criterion Blu-ray)/Five American Experimental Films Of The 1950s (Blackhawk Films/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)/Moby Dick (1956/United Artists/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/The Soldier and The Lady (1937/RKO/VCI/Sprocket Vault DVD)/20th Century Women (2016/A24/Annapurna/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Two Lovers and A Bear (2017/Fox DVD)

Picture: B/B/B/C/B/C+ Sound: B-/C+/C+/C+/B-/C+ Extras: B/D/B/C-/C+/C- Films: B+/B-/B-/C/C+/C

PLEASE NOTE: The Moby Dick Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, is limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last from the links below, while Five American Experimental Films From The 1950s is now only available online and can be ordered from our friends at Movie Zyng via the order button atop this review or on top of our right hand sidebar.

There has been an attack on the idea of experimentation that is obnoxious, tired and boring, by people who fear change, are afraid to be left behind or just begrudge other's successes. As always, it has always been about doing something different, inventing something new and breaking up the boredom of those who (want to?) do nothing. These various films demonstrate this in all kinds of ways...

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966) is back in an extensive new Criterion special edition Blu-ray and just in time for the film's 50th Anniversary. The international sensation about a somewhat arrogant fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who eventually thinks he has accidentally photographed a murder extended the reputation of Antonioni as one of the great filmmakers of his time and of all time. We previously reviewed the film on DVD in this rave for that release:


Warner Bros. owns all the MGM catalog films to 1986 and very recently, they started licensing titles to Criterion, in what is still one of the best developments for film fans who love home video in years. Since that release, the film continues to be celebrated, continues to puzzle and challenge viewers, continues to be one of the great fiction films (along with Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy) to capture the counterculture and have many amazing moments and appearances (from Veruschka (Von Lehndorff), the world's first supermodel, to The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page!) to the great supporting cast including Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, John Castle and Peter Bowles. This is a must-see classic getting the deluxe treatment like never before, from its new transfer to a bunch of extras.

While the old DVD merely had a trailer, we get a teaser and trailer here, a small illustrated book featuring separate essays by film scholars David Forgacs and Stig Bjorkman (the latter from a new book due soon on the film), Julio Cortaztar's original shirt story that the film is based on and Questionnaires that Antonioni distributed to photographers & painters in London researching the film, then the Blu-ray adds a new piece about director Michelangelo Antonioni's artistic approach, featuring photography curators Walter Moser, Philippe Garner and art historian David Alan Mellor, Blow-up of Blow-Up, a new 52-minute documentary on the making of the film, a conversation from 2016 between Garner and actor Vanessa Redgrave and archival interviews with Antonioni and actors David Hemmings and Jane Birkin.

Five American Experimental Films Of The 1950s is the latest Blu-ray from Blackhawk Films and Flicker Alley to present more great independent works, this time from 1949 to 1958, that offer new visual approaches, juxtapositions, matches with music and other fresh approaches that are so good, they don't always seem as old as they are. Paraphrasing the press release, the films include...

John Arvonio's Abstract in Concrete (1952) shot for this stunning pattern film of New York City at night over a five-year period. The music by Frank Fields is a movement of his 1931 suite Times Square Silhouette. Although it was quite successful and widely shown in the 1950s, Arvonio never released another film.

Analogies #1 and Color Dance #1 are both by Jim Davis (1952-53). Painter, sculptor and a major figure in '50's avant-garde film, Davis is represented in the Masterworks anthology by Evolution.

Treadle and Bobbin by Wheaton Galentine (1954) with Singer treadle sewing machine the star of this rhythmic and imaginatively photographed work. Galentine collaborated with other major independent filmmakers of the period including Francis Thompson, Shirley Clarke and Alexander Hammid, but this is his only released solo work.

and N.Y., N.Y. by Francis Thompson (Filmed 1949-57, released 1958). Thompson shot the vibrant fractured images with a Kodak Cine-Special camera specially rigged with 'secret' mirrors, kaleidoscopes and even reflective car hubcaps. The experience remains an exquisite time capsule that not only documents Manhattan during the 1950s, but also, in the words of the New York Times, proffers ''one of the few genuine masterpieces'' of the burgeoning experimental film movement in the United States.

With modernism and post-modernism, you would see films like this on public TV and occasionally other programs at a time when TV was smarter, but not much more. I'm glad when any company goes out of their way to release special works like this and I hope Flicker Alley continues to do so (they have before) with Blackhawk or wherever they can get great material like this.

There are sadly no extras, but maybe next time.

John Huston's Moby Dick (1956) is one of the few versions of the classic novel that works on any screen, big or small, influenced Spielberg's film of Jaws (1975) and was a bit more experimental than is remembered since it has been issued in plain color prints instead of the special one-time Technicolor prints it originally got released in. For this new Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray, MGM (who now controls this film later released by United Artists, though Warner Bros. originally issued it) has assembled a digital color recreation of that color in HD from original 35mm camera materials, but we'll save the details on all that for the tech review section below.

So many film and TV versions come across as weak or don't know what to do since they think they can coast on the greatness of the book and/or are so in awe of it, they don't concentrate on the task at hand. Here, Huston knows what he is doing, has Gregory Peck as Ahab, plus the likes of Leo Genn, Richard Basehart and Orson Welles in his supporting cast, has really thought this out with all involved and is trying to do as authentic a version of the book as he can by getting deep into its text, the obsessions and wants this to be as authentic as possible. That is down to the dirt and grit of the time, the silence, as well as the largeness of the world the people inhabit, as size becomes shaken up on top of what it was in its time. The color being cleverly dulled was an attempt to reflect pictures of the time that told the story, so Huston is going all the way.

With that said, it has many great moments, but in any version, there were still parts that did not always work or seemed not to integrate with others. Obviously the book is great and there may be the possibility this is the best the book an ever be adapted and that the book in whole cannot totally be captured on film, like Orwell's 1984 and the like. Still, no one has done a better job since and its nice to see it available the way as close to as intended as possible. Still, its not totally there for me.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and yet another excellent, underrated essay by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-ray adds a feature length audio commentary track by Kirgo and fellow film scholars Paul Seydor & Nick Redman, an Original Theatrical Trailer and piece on the restoration of the film entitled A Bleached Whale: Recreating The Unique Color of Moby Dick.

George Nichols, Jr.'s The Soldier and The Lady (1937 aka The Bandit & The Lady aka The Adventures Of Michael Strogoff) tries crossing the action film and war film with a historical epic, but with limited funds. Based on a rare non-Science Fiction Jules Verne novel, the mix of those genre may not seem shocking today in a world with mish-mashes on the Internet and too many would be filmmakers clueless on what to do to begin with, but this was ambitiously made by real filmmakers who thought this would add up. I like some of the moments here and it may be based on real history, but the makers try too much at once and I think that backfires a bit.

Strogoff (Anton Walbrook) is the courier of no less than Tsar Alexander II, fighting to get vital information to the Tsar's Russian troops against all kinds of odds, war, spies, backstabbers, double agents and more. The energy is often here and some scenes are even fun, but it can be all over the place. I can imagine some people would find that aspect fun in what is a sort of one-of-a-kind film, but those different segments never seem to finish hat they start or transition well enough into the next one. Still, I'm glad Sprocket Vault via VCI have issued this RKO film that also stars Elizabeth Allen, Akim Tarmiroff, Margot Grahame, Ward Bond, Fay Bainter, Eric Blore and Edward Brophy.

Text notes by Richard M. Roberts are the only extra, but it is really good and worth reading.

Mike Mills' 20th Century Women (2016) takes place in 1979 (though the period seems a little earlier at times) as a mother (Annette Benning) is dealing with raising her son (Lucas Jade Zumann) alone, in what is a good relationship that is not totally toxic, but has some issues and his growing up and trying to find his way starts to pull them apart a bit. This is also about the status of the other women in their lives (played by the likes of Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) and how one man (Billy Crudup) has more of an affect on their lives and situation than the mother's previous boyfriends.

Some of this is predictable despite some experimental narrative approaches (even referencing actual experimental films) and the script was Academy Award-nominated for being clever in some parts, honest in others, yet it does not always play well on screen despite the fine acting talent, Something does not meld, the pages of the script feel like pages in a script and though some fine points are (re)made, I just did not buy it in total and part of the problem is how it tended to drag. A24 and Annapurna are at least backing ambitious works and this rightly has had some success, but you will have to judge for yourself if it works all around or not. I did not, sadly.

A Director's feature-length audio commentary track and two Making Of featurettes are the extras.

Kim Nguyen's Two Lovers and A Bear (2017) is a complicated romance with some nice visuals, good moments and two good leads in Dane DeHann and Tatiana Maslany (they have some chemistry) having their love affair in the rather isolated arctic where they work and live. Part of the idea is that the lack of distraction means they can focus on each other better, but both have their pasts and she has some issues in particular that the isolation actually brings back from her suppressed past, so complications ensure.

Despite some good moments, this was not very memorable to me and this too is trying to be experimental with the situation offered; it does not become a bad horror film to its credit. Unfortunately, it just happens quietly and with no point save that they have got each other and can they hold it together. It is ambitious in its own way and I've seen DeHann before, he can act. Unfortunately, even the polar bear could not get this to stick with me.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

All four Blu-rays here look fine, starting with the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Blow-Up with the most advanced use of color on the list, comes from the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm interpositive, showing off the color and amazing work by Director of Photography Carlo di Palma. The older DVD might have been impressive for its time, but this Blu-ray surpasses it in every way, color range, depth, detail, Video White, Video Black and Video Red. The only thing I can say is that maybe the color could be a even a bit more vibrant in some shots (turning up your HDTV color is not necessarily going to correct that), but it is more than worthy of the great Blu-ray Criterion did a few years ago (reviewed elsewhere on this site) for Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) we also highly recommend. Both have great HDTV demo moments too.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers of all five films on the Experimental set are fine new HD transfers of the original Kodachrome film materials used, rarely showing their age and one of the too few times the classic color format (only discontinued a little while ago) has had top rate HD treatment as it was usually used for 16mm, Super 8mm and 8mm home movies or film prints (often in digest form) of films for the pre-home video home film market. However, like dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor, Kodachrome prints hold up extremely well when stored properly with little to no fading or color shifting. That makes this set demo material for your TV.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Moby Dick tries to recreate the special dye-transfer, Technicolor version of the film that Huston and longtime collaborating Director of Photography Oswald Morris, B.S.C., (The Guns Of Navarone, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Oliver!, Equus, The Man Who Would Be King, Lolita, part of The Man With The Golden Gun) by adding a new color layer to the stunning three-strip, full color process to actually drain the color a bit to make it look like old art and postcards from the era. Scorsese (et al) tried to find a high quality print of this, but could not, so a restoration expert looked at a decent print, taking notes and the like, then digitally scanned the negative and recreated the color as much as possible in what we could call a one-time 4-strip color process. The results are not bad and make sense versus what he sampled, but there is still a little something missing (saturation? Fullness?) that makes it play a little underwhelmingly, yet it is the most authentic representation of the film since its original release. Fans will be happy too.

The 1080p 2.00 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Women is our one all-digital shoot and it definitely has some good moments that save it from being just another generic HD release, and I'm not just talking the fancy use of stock footage, but some nice naturalistic shots and no stupid trick shots.

The 1.33 X 1 black & white image transfer centered in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 frame (bookended by black bars on the sides) on Lady comes from a decent print, but it has some issues and the transfer of the film itself is soft often. In fairness, some shots to use either diffused lighting and/or diffused lenses, but this is not from a great print overall. Still, it is always interesting to watch.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Lovers a colorful HD shoot with nice arctic footage, but not much more memorable about it, though like Lady, an HD version would look better.

As for sound, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Century is one of the two recently recorded films on the list, well mixed and presented, but is too quiet and refined at times to take total advantage of the multi-channel possibilities since it is dialogue-based and has some audio that is a bit off, so the PCM 1.0 Mono on Blow-Up from its original 24-track magnetic soundmaster can actually compete, even if it has some slight edge to it from age. Both ironically feature Rock music.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono lossless mix on Moby Dick shows its age a bit more than expected, even when the lossless music-only track does not, but it is from age and not the transfer. The PCM 1.0 Mono sound on the five Experimental films usually feature music and sometimes sound effects, but can compete with their feature film counterpart of the time and though they show the limits of their budgets, they sound pretty good. However, both have their limits, so the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Lovers (a bit more compressed and unresolved in the separation of its channels) and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Lady, sounding better than expected for its age and the print's condition, can more than compete with those Blu-rays sonically.

To order the Moby Dick limited edition Blu-ray, buy it and other great exclusives while supplies last at these links:




- Nicholas Sheffo


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