“The Passion of Joan of Arc” DVD

I’m not really going to review “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928); it’s an ok film I guess, but I thought it was pretty boring, mostly because of the Maria Falconetti’s (Joan) monotone performance. If you’re an obsessive Joan of Arc fan, then by all means seek it out, although I suspect there are better avenues for that (mainly, just reading the trial transcripts) than sitting through this movie.

But, I do need to give a shout-out to the Criterion Collection’s DVD of “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” because they did a great service by the film.

See, it’s a silent film, and I do mean totally SILENT. I’ve seen a fair amount of silent films over the years, and while there is no dialogue, the score serves to keep things moving and focus the audience’s attention. But “The Passion of Joan of Arc” comes to us with no score; apparently, the director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, never settled on a score and with the film being lost for years, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he had.

In their infinite wisdom, the Criterion crew added an optional score to the DVD called “Voices of Light.” Now, being the sometime film purist as I am, I initially chose to watch the silent version so I could fully experience the director’s vision. I held out for a good 90 seconds before I switched over.

“Voices of Light” was inspired by the film, and for the most part matches the action. It’s a choir singing and the vocals are occasionally distracting from the action on screen, but, if you have to watch the film,  it’s worth it. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is only 82 minutes long, and I don’t think I could have watched the whole thing without some sound.

Thanks a bunch Criterion crew! Keep ‘em coming!

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Written by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Joseph Delteil

Maria Falconetti’s (Joan)

Desert island movies

I don’t often indulge in list making (well, publicly anyway), but recently I was chatting with a friend and brought up the age-old hypothetical; if you were stranded on a desert island, and could only watch five movies for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

He brought up that hopefully you would bring a DVD player with you; but on my hypothetical island, there’s a tricked-out entertainment center with an online library filled with every movie ever committed to film. Like the “Lost” island, but way cooler. (Incidentally, on this island, next door to the entertainment shack, there is a similar setup with a library, where you can access five novels for your stay, but that list is for another post.)

So, here’s my five, the movies I would want to spend the rest of my life watching, in no particular order.

1.      “The Apartment” (1960) – As close to perfect as movies can get; it’s funny, dark, moving and a little sad. Just perfect.

 

2.      “Wild Strawberries” (1957) – Also another perfect one and probably my favorite movie ever; every time I watch it, it makes me believe that we all can changes our lives for the better, we just have to make the leap.

 

3.      “Vertigo” (1958) – They can’t all be feel-good pictures; one of my two favorite Hitchcock movies (the other one is “Notorious”), and the one I couldn’t leave behind. Tortured souls never had such good celluloid representation as Jimmy Stewart here.

 

4.      “The Princess and the Warrior” (2000) – I adore this sad little German fairy tale about love and change, but as much as I love it, I don’t need to see it all the time. Once every two or three years is just right, and a perfect accompaniment to island living.

 

5.      “Clerks” (1994) – Sure, it’s not the greatest comedy ever made, or even the best Kevin Smith film (IMHO, “Dogma” takes that title), but it never gets old and I laugh every time I see it, and on the island or off, we can all use more of that.

There you have it; judge at will. Anyone else care to share?

The fading art of speculation

We’re going to be doing something different this week, mainly because 1) I’m officially on vacation (whoo-hoo!) and 2) I haven’t been watching movies of late (but we’ll get back to that later this week).

As I’ve stated in other posts, I started watching “Battlestar Galactica” about five weeks ago. It has been one hell of a ride, and I can confirm that yes, this really, really is the best show on television. It’s not hype, it’s amazing. The “Battlestar” gang deserves every award made for TV (it won’t get them, but that’s beside the point).

But, I did not come here to praise “Battlestar Galactica,” or to bury it. Really, I’m writing about a larger issue; the value of speculation.

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Somewhere in the Night (quickie)

“Somewhere in the Night (1946),” directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, has something of an intriguing (if tired) premise; a man (John Hodiak) wakes up in a military hospital. He can’t speak because his jaw is wired shut, and he doesn’t remember who he is, but everyone keeps calling him George Taylor. He decides to go with it, and waits to recover, to give himself time to find out his identity.

It’s Film Noir, and it’s not bad so far; the trail he follows on the quest is kind of cool, mainly because he’s looking for another man, Larry Cravat, a friend of his who left him money and a letter, and who has since disappeared. Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s not alone in his quest; he keeps running into some unpleasant types, looking for Cravat and some money Larry may have stolen.

And I just had to stop watching at this point; I figured out the ‘mystery’ within the first 15 minutes, and the bad acting and endless exposition were not enough to make me stick around for the characters to figure it out too.

Want some noir with teeth? Go rent “Laura” or “The Maltese Falcon.” Leave “Somewhere in the Night” where it belongs; the back shelf of memory, never to be seen again.

“Somewhere in the Night” (1946)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Written by Howard Dimsdale, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Lee Strasberg

Starring: John Hodiak (George W. Taylor)

 Nancy Guild (Christy Smith)

 Lloyd Nolan (Police Lt. Donald Kendall)

Heavenly Creatures on DVD: A warning

So, much to my delight, my “Heavenly Creatures” DVD, one of my all-time favorite movies, arrived today; unfortunately, it’s not the version I wanted.

I’ve had the VHS tape for eight years or so and after a recent viewing with a movie buddy (Hi Jim!), I decided that yes, it is time to upgrade. But what a minefield I’ve stepped in to; the theatrical version was released on DVD in May 2002, followed up with the uncut “New Zealand” theatrical version released in September 2002. The latter restored 10 minutes of cut scenes, along with a modified ending.

Being me, the movie purist, I want both DVDs, but first I want the version that I’ve loved since I was teenager. But since that one is hard to find at the moment, I decided to give the ‘upgraded’ version a shot, judging it solely on the ‘new and improved’ ending sequence.

It’s not bad. Essentially, the new ending amounts to an extra final shot of Pauline’s blood-soaked face (along with her haunting scream) before the epilogue text appears. It doesn’t diminish the ending’s power like I initially thought it would, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Jackson was right to end the film with a fadeout from the fantasy sequence to her scream over a black screen, a subtle and devastating ending versus a bloody, over-the-top ending. I’m not sure is this is totally accurate, but I read somewhere that he preferred the shorter, U.S. release to the uncut version.

Smart man, that one.

So, as I continue to scour the Internet for the ‘cut’ version, I now know this hunt is worth it. Just a warning to fans out there; be sure of which version you’re getting BEFORE you press the ‘buy’ button.