DVD Event of the Week: Is it Fox Horror Classics 2, a fabulous box set marking the home video debut of Chandu the Magician, with art direction by the insanely brilliant William Cameron Menzies? Is it The Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 5, another Fox set featuring Castle in the Desert, arguably the very best film featuring the great Asian detective? Or is Sony's new Blu-Ray version of Made of Honor, a romantic comedy with Patrick Dempsey playing a character at least ten years younger than he actually is?
All worthy, to be sure, and next week I'm definitely going to rave about the Chandu disc, but you'll forgive me if I take this opportunity instead to write about something I didn't get a chance to discuss when it was originally releasd in 2004. I refer, of course, to Flicker Alley's utterly amazing two-disc restored version of Louis Feuillade's 1917 masked superhero serial Judex.
Feuillade was an astoundingly prolific auteur -- between 1907 and his death in 1925 he made approximately 700(!) films in almost every genre, but he's best known for his chapterplays (Judex, Fantomas and Les Vampires) which are remarkable on every level. The great critic David Thomson got it right when he said that Feuillade is "the first director for whom no historical allowances need to be made"; far more than even Griffith, he seems to have anticipated almost every development in film grammar by the century's mid-teens. He was also a huge influence on the Surrealists, among them Luis Bunuel, who (as noted in the excellent essay by Jan-Christopher Horak which accompanies the Judex box) appreciated Feuillade's ability to find the uncanny in simple landscape images (one of the many pleasures of the Feuillade serials is that they were all shot around authentic Parisian streets and suburbs of the day). Judex is somewhat atypical in that its title character is an avenging good guy rather than a criminal mastermind, but it's the obvious model for a lot of stuff that followed it (Lang's Dr. Mabuse films, for starters), it's endlessly inventive, and I defy you to watch a chapter without immediately wanting to see the next one. (I should also add, for purposes of clarification that Feuillade's serials, including Judex, are not strictly speaking cliffhangers in the Flash Gordon sense; they're actually a lot closer to a contemporary multi-episode TV mini-series).
In any case, Flicker Alley's restored version is, at 5:15 hrs, the most complete currently available, and it derives from mostly excellent prints in a newly tinted film transfer; it's accompanied by an effective, flavorsome new period-sounding score (in stereo) by Robert Israel (who discusses his creative process in a fun bonus featurette). Bottom line: You can (and should) order it here. (Incidentally, there's a terrific feature remake from 1963 directed by Georges Franju; it's also highly recommended and I am pleased to note that it too is available on DVD).
Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:
Coolest Surreal (Intentionally or Otherwise) Commercial Feature Film Ever!!!!
And by "commercial feature film", we mean that obviously artsy things like Un Chien Andalou or Blood of a Poet really don't qualify. Okay?
And my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
The hallway with the the candleholders that are actually human arms may be my all-time favorite film image ever.
4. Dementia (John J. Parker, 1955)
Wrote about this one here a while back but it's worth flogging again. Writer/director Parker takes the surrealism implicit in certain film noirs (the shadows and creepy angles, the sexual paranoia) and makes it pretty much the film's upfront subject. Once you've seen it, you'll never forget it.
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Hitch obviously loved the surrealists, cf. the Dali dream sequence in Spellbound, but for my money it's the long serenely hallucinatory scene here of James Stewart following Kim Novak around San Francisco that really gets to the spooky heart of the matter.
2. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Repressed abuse victim Catherine Deneuve's slow descent into homicidal madness, visualized by Polanski as a sort of nightmarish homage/parody of the imagery in Beauty and the Beast. Unsettling and beautiful.
And the all time coolest surreal feature film, you gotta be kidding it's not even close so don't give me a hard time, obviously, is --
1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979)
The long voyage of the starship Enterprise through the gigantic alien entity V'ger is not only one of the greatest pieces of kinetic art in the history of cinema, it's also a vast dreamscape made flesh. Dali would have loved it, IMHO.
Awrighty now -- what would your choices be?