Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The BFI Werner Herzog DVD Collection Disc 2

It is finally time to look at the second disc of the BFI collection box set. Hope you enjoyed part one and potentially found it useful. This time round, there are only two titles to devour. One being my personal favourite Herzog film, and the other being an example of his early television documentary work.

(Jeder für such und Gott gegen alle)

“Nothing lives less in me than my life”

Up until his late teens, Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.) was locked in a cellar by a man in an overcoat and top hat. Devoid completely of any human contact aside from his mysterious captor, Kaspar had only a toy horse to occupy his time. One day however,  Kaspar is finally released by the man, taught some very basic phrases, handed a letter and a Bible, and left in a town square in Nuremberg. Understandably, the locals are intrigued by this mysterious fellow and Kaspar becomes something of a sensation. The locals take pity on him and begin to teach him how to speak and become a respectable citizen. However, it goes sour for Kaspar and he becomes the latest attraction at the local circus. Thankfully, appalled by what he is seeing, a well respected schoolmaster by the name of Herr Daumer (Walter Ladengast) takes Kaspar in to his own care and helps further him in to a well respected and decent human being. After a while, Kaspar begins to question aspects of society and religion. Starts to think for himself and even baffles Daumer and his fellow academics. There is much discussion, debate and philosophising. Not only that, but Kaspar falls in love with music. Unfortunately, he is attacked by the man who held him captive and is then mysteriously stabbed once recovered from the initial attack. Facing death, Kaspar ponders about visions he has had and then slowly fades away.
The film is based on the real Kaspar Hauser, a German youth. Of course, Herzog's adaptation does drift away from the original source material in places. We are meant to sympathise with Kaspar's hardships and celebrate his liberation, in both the literal and metaphorical form. What I feel the story teaches us is that more often than not, those who have different ideas than ourselves, are not always incorrect. I feel it also tells us that we should nurture young minds and not completely disregard ideas and concepts based on the background or position in society of the person who conceives them. I found Kaspar Hauser to be such a touching, yet devastating film. It's an emotional roller coaster  Bruno S. plays Kaspar perfectly. The fact Bruno spent the majority of his youth in mental institutions plays heavily in his portrayal of a character that is not too dissimilar to himself. It's the subtlety in his portrayal that makes it work. It may not be Herzog's most groundbreaking effort, but this is his masterpiece. A great example of taking a real life situation and presenting it in film form. It's a simple film, with a simple message that is also full of childlike wonder. 

(Behinderte Zukunft)

The only other feature on the disc is Herzog's 1971 television documentary that raises awareness about how handicapped people (children in this case) were treated by society in Germany at the time and compares it to how handicapped people are treated in America. Herzog's subjects in the German portion of the documentary are a group of children born with missing limbs. It looks at how they are grouped together in complexes and educated. They are somewhat segregated from society. That being said, it does shine a light on those who are genuinely trying to help and educate the children, but you can't help but feel distress at the fact that they are again, grouped together in one housing complex and not integrated in to society. That becomes in a way, hardly surprising after you hear accounts from the parents and the children themselves of how they have been demonised. We then cut to America and follow a German born university lecturer who has his independence thanks to things like an electronic wheelchair and his place of residency adapted to make his life more comfortable. Overall, this is a simple documentary that has the focus purely on the subject matter. Just like Kasper Hauser, you will be touched and devastated. A very powerful piece of documentary film making.

I think that the two films on the disc go hand in hand. They both deal with how society looks at people who aren't deemed as 'normal'. They both tackle and address important social issues. They also show that just because someone is different, there is nothing stopping them from doing the same things you can achieve. Both films are presented wonderfully, especially the documentary. So far I am adoring this set for the supplemental features alone. On the disc you get a stills gallery, trailer and audio commentary for Kaspar Hauser.

Thank you for joining me once again, here is to disc 3!

You can buy this set from the BFI here, MovieMail here and Amazon UK here. Buying from the BFI directly means you can support the great work they do 100%. You can also pick up a gorgeous looking steelbook of Aguirre here and here.

To find out more about the BFI and some of their release check out their website here.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Bijou (1972)

(dir. Wakefield Poole, 1972)

On his way home after a long day at work, a construction worker (Ronnie Shark) witness a young woman (Cassandra Hart) being hit by a car. Of course, being the gentleman that he his, our brave hero is there to help a lending hand. Well, I should say thieving hand. He steals the young woman’s purse and makes it back to his apartment. Obviously shaken by what he has just witnessed, he decides to get a load off (no pun intended) his mind and have a little bit of rub and tug to the music of Led Zeppelin (you know, mood music), he takes it in to the shower but starts to get images in his head of the woman and abruptly stops (fair play). He notices a flyer for a club called Bijou in the woman’s purse and decides to hit the place up to help take his mind off things. When he arrives all is not as it seems and things get a little strange from here on in.

Bijou is the follow up to the hugely successful Boys in the Sand. This time however, we have something more of a hallucinogenic acid trip. What we witness within the Bijou nightclub is a series of highly erotic and often surreal sexual acts. It’s not for everyone, not just for the fact that this is a gay porn film. If you don’t like experimental film, you will most certainly not like this at all. Wakefield’s use of both contemporary and classical music is once again second to none, no matter what your sexual preference or opinions on the sexual content, you can’t deny that Poole is a true artist and visionary. The sets are simple, essentially blacked out spaces (Poole’s own apartment) with minimal use of theatre style lighting, but work brilliantly for what you are seeing unfold on the screen. His use of mirrors and smoke machine certainly add to the affect. In my honest opinion, this is a very tough film to review. From a simple viewpoint, this is a great example of the underground and experimental cinema of the time. However, if you look more closely after repeat viewings, there is a lot that can be potentially dissected, especially in terms of the “psychosexual puzzle” as stated within the synopsis of the DVD. One thing is for certain, this is definitely a film (as Poole himself intended) that will affect people in different ways.

Just like Vinegar Syndrome’s release of Boys in the Sand, you get a healthy amount of special features. There is an audio commentary and video introduction with Wakefield Poole. As well as a vintage interview with himself and an interview with author Linda Williams. Not only that, but you get original audition footage and of course, a trailer. Do I really need to tell you how much of a good job this release is? It’s safe to say that Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration is once again top notch and the overall package is a great thing. If you are a fan of Wakefield’s work or this film in general, you must go out and buy it. If you’re looking for an interesting experience no matter what your tastes or sexual preferences, this is also a release worth owning.

You can read my review for Vinegar Syndrome's release of Boys in the Sand here. Bijou is available to buy directly from Vinegar Syndrome here as well as your favourite online retailers.

Vinegar Syndrome Website
Vinegar Syndrome Youtube


Monday, 6 October 2014

Ascot Elite Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection DVD Review: Downtown

(dir. Jess Franco, 1975)

Jess Franco (99 WOMEN, VAMPYROS LESBOS) stars as Al Pereia, a private detective who is down on his luck and waiting for that next big job. Thankfully for him, he gets a job from a glamorous young woman by the name of Cynthia, played by the ever lovely Lina Romay (FEMALE VAMPIRE, LORNA THE EXORCIST). She wants him to photograph her husband Carlos Rivas, a nightclub owner played by Erik Falk (BARBED WIRE DOLLS, SEXY SISTERS) who has an eye for the ladies. Good old Al accepts and begins his newest assignment. Unfortunately, things get a little complicated when Carlos is found dead. Al becomes the prime suspect and on his quest to clear his name, discovers that Cynthia isn’t actually the wife of Carlos. It turns out that she and her lover Lola played by Martine Stedil (WOMEN BEHIND BARS, SWEDISH NYMPHO SLAVES) are working for Carlos’s real wife Olga, played by Monica Swinn (LOVE CAMP, EAST OF BERLIN). Will the police believe Al? Who killed Carlos Rivas? How many close ups of female genitalia will we have the joy of seeing? Well, it’s a Franco film so that last question should be easily answered. As for the others, you’re just going to have to watch aren’t you?

Downtown is a nice gem within Franco’s vast filmography. Once again he shows that he is a man of many talents by directing, writing, shooting and starring in the film. Overall, it’s an enjoyable outing with a solid story that has some nice twists throughout. Not only that, but the comedic aspects of the film work very well too. Of course, being a Franco film, there are moments that are somewhat clumsy, but it all adds to the overall charm and although not one of Franco's more classier efforts, the score from the Swiss composer Walter Baumgartner (ROLLS-ROYCE BABY, JACK THE RIPPER) is toe tappingly wonderful in places. Lina Romay is fabulous as ever, her scenes with scissor sister Martine Stedil are sexy, yet awkward at the same time, which makes for a positive all in its own (some of their dialogue is priceless).Even Franco gets in on the act with the ladies, it’s a tough job being a director sometimes! If you are looking for a lesser known, but competent Franco film, this is a great one to try. If you are a fan of Jess Franco, you already own this right?

Ascot Elite have done a great job with this release. Going of the DVD version, the transfer is as nice as we will probably get of this film so if you are a Bluray collector, you’re in for a treat with this one. The film is presented in German with English subtitles. In terms of extras you are treated to a photo gallery which has some fantastic shots and a selection of trailers from Ascot Elite’s Jess Franco Goya collection. It’s humble, but at least it’s something. Overall, Ascot Elite have done a great job. Like I said, it’s a great release for those discovering the weird and eclectic world of Jess Franco and for fans of Franco’s work, this is a must.

You can buy the DVD version from Amazon.de here and the Bluray version here as well as from your favourite online retailers.