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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > Melodrama > Religion > Faith > Serial > Mystery > Adventure > Literature > City > Silent Cine > Cinema Of Discovery: Julien Duvivier In The 1920s (1925 - 1930/Flicker Alley Blu-ray Set)

Cinema Of Discovery: Julien Duvivier In The 1920s (1925 - 1930/Flicker Alley Blu-ray Set)

Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: B Films: B-

Flicker Alley has yet again issued a priceless treasury of silent classic, this time by the famed French Director Julien Duvivier, nine of his films that were in awful shape or were dangerously lost forever. Most of the films are either religious faith films or melodramas (the latter sometimes with comedy,) but there is more here too and the titles are as follows.

Red Head (1926, comedy/drama about the title child)

Revelation (aka The Agony of Jerusalem, 1927)

The Wedding of Mademoiselle Beulemans (1927, love triangle melodrama)

The Whirlwind of Paris (1928, melodrama includes the music world)

The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (1928, satire of movie chapter serial plays)

The Divine Voyage (1929)

The Miraculous Life of Therese Martin (1929)

Mother Hummingbird (1930, melodrama of woman so sick of her home life, she goes to Algeria!)

and Ladies' Paradise (1930, silent version only, a remarkable tour de force about progress, cities and the future.)

So you have the three faith films that might not work for everyone, but especially in a current age of usually, sadly, very phony 'faith films' that are among the worst I have ever seen, to see a filmmaker sincerely dealing with such subject material (like a Scorsese) is actually refreshing and reminds us how much better such films used to be.

The four melodramas hold up surprisingly well and even when (and where) they get a little long and drawn out, they also tend to be interesting character studies at times and maturity is one of the reason they hold up as they do.

So that leaves us my two favorite films here: The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower and Ladies' Paradise.

Tower is a work that even the experts on the new featurettes seem to miss the point of. Not only is it a spoof of the then-silent movie serials that were huge at the time in the U.S., France and wherever they were exported (and the genre was successful well into the sound-era until TV came along, so think the mid-1950s!) and he is also spoofing a genre that was bigger than anyone here seems to realize: detective films!

Already, there were many silent Sherlock Holmes films (some of which have been thankfully restored, you can read more about them elsewhere on this site) among other detectives and other mystery films that did or did not have a lead detective (think early psychological thrillers, including German Expressionist films, Hollywood silent Horror, etc.) so with all that in mind, you can watch and suddenly see exactly how clever Duvivier is being in sending it all up as a complete, as long serial of its own, the kind of thing Warhol would have appreciated. There are some remarkable scenes and sequences that make this more of a must-see than expected and I am glad to have caught it. I will be showing this one to a few people I know who will get it.

Ladies' Paradise appears to be a comedy or melodrama at first, but it is working on a much higher level, is based on Emile Zola's novel about a fine mom and pop clothing store being pushed to into bankruptcy by the giant department shopping store of the title. The daughter of the family in trouble (the wonderful Dita Parlo) makes a uncomfortable decision to work at the new place secretly to keep bringing in money, no matter the consequences, but she has more problems than expected.

Of course, the building (especially for its time) is elaborate (as is the pre-digital promo to get new customers) and is practically a world of its own, high class and made to think that the world is all yours, if you just buy a few items you need. Production design and visual effects are amazing and even stunning, though some might show their age, others do not and it was the other big surprise of this set. The cast is amazing, the clothes something and the screenplay well-rounded and thinks things out all the way.

The editing and cinematography are also amazing often and when it concluded, not only did it work as drama and maybe comment on classic division and a moneyed world, but its uncanny grasp of the modern (and then modernist) world and what the future may and may not mean puts it up there with Lang's Metropolis (1926, produced the the German UFA Studios that co-produced this film) and Tati's PlayTime (1967, both reviewed elsewhere on this site) as classics of a partly unrecognized genre of films that look at the city on many levels. I hope this new set gets all of these films re-seen and rediscovered, but Ladies' Paradise alone is enough for me to recommend this whole set!

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers can obviously show the age of the materials used, but these were painstakingly fix, repaired, restored, reconstructed and much more, at great time and expense, so prepare to still be amazed. In some cases, a 35mm print or more existed, but (too) often, lost footage was only available in smaller formats like 16mm, 17.5mm and the Euro-only 9.5mm (aka 9,5mm) consumer format (all safety film versus the volatile nitrate prints that were all manufactured with gun powder and can easily catch fire or worse when they decay!) in all kinds of conditions with all kinds of problems and issues.

This also included making new inter-titles and reproducing tinting the way Duvivier wanted it in many cases, even if it cuts down in the definition and detail of the image as it always did. The way each film was saved under these circumstances is a piece-by-piece master course on how films can be and need to be saved, restored and preserved. I will add that at times, the restoration looks so good, it is excellent and above my letter grade.

In most cases, the menus offer '5.1' or 'Stereo' options, with the Stereo being PCM 2.0 Stereo for the new music and that always sounds best, give or take if you like the music scores, but '5.1' is not a lossless option or even 5.1 in any case, but lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo! That's fine for older systems, but not 5.1 of any kind. The PCM options are as good as these scores will ever likely sound.

Extras include another excellent, nicely illustrated booklet on the film (44-pages this time, all on high quality paper) including informative text and several essays featuring introductory remarks by Christian Duvivier, son of Julien Duvivier, notes and full credits on each film, and many rare photographs. The discs add Image Galleries featuring stills and promotional materials for Poil de Carotte, L'Agonie de Jerusalem, Le Mariage de Mademoiselle Beulemans, Le Tourbillon de Paris and La Vie miraculeuse de Therese Martin, then each film has an introduction video (eight by Serge Bromberg), an essay video, a music featurette on Divine Voyage and most have very comprehensive featurettes (very well-hosted by either Chrystel Bonne or Colin Ruffin) on the restoration of each film. All slide into a solid paperboard case.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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