Video Event of the Week: Is it Sony's Blu-ray upgrade of John Carpenter's ultra-vi sci-fi thriller Ghosts of Mars? Might Criterion's beautiful new version of Roberto Rossellini's 1959 war film Il Generale Della Rovere conceivably get the nod? Or, against all sense and reason, could Fox's new DVD of the insufferably adorable Marley & Me actually be the one?
All worthy, to be sure, and I'll probably have something to say about the dog next week, but for my money it has to be Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas, a way interesting collection of five restored nautical epics -- including the Cecil B. DeMille-produced The Yankee Clipper -- from the mavens at Flicker Alley.
Actually, The Yankee Clipper -- a quite spectacular 1927 adventure film, based on a real life race from China to Boston with control of the international tea trade as the stakes -- is the real attraction here; the remaining films are all documentary shorts from the same period (my favorite: a sequence from the 1922 Down to the Sea in Ships, a fascinating record of an actual whale hunt out of New Bedford). Directed by Rupert Julian (fresh off a huge success with the original Phantom of the Opera), it stars a pre-Hopalong Cassidy William Boyd and kid actor Frank "Junior" Coughlan (familiar to serial fans as Billy Batson in the 1941 Adventures of Captain Marvel), and was mostly shot at sea on an authentic 1856 square-rigger. The sailing footage is genuinely evocative (enhanced by a nice new organ score by silent specialist Dennis James), and the whole thing is quite as satisfyingly melodramatic and exciting as you'd expect from a DeMille production, including a very convincing typhoon and a rather scary mutiny scene with the de rigeur damsel in distress.
The feature, restored to more or less its original length from multiple sources, mostly looks terrific; some of the shorts betray their age a bit more, but they're never less than watchable. Icing on the cake: A very interesting 2008 interview with the still active Coughlan.
All in all then, a terrific package, both for silent fans and sailing buffs -- you can and most definitely should -- order it here.
Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:
Best Use of Real Life Natural Locations in a Fiction (Non-Documentary) Film!!!
Let me emphasize the "natural" here. We're not talking gritty urban environments, okay?
And with that said, my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
The Texas Panhandle circa 1916 (actually, Alberta, Canada) with exquisite cinematography by Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler. One of the most gorgeous films ever made; whether you think it's dramatically inert is another question, of course.
4. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1960)
You know, it's really hard to watch Lean's widescreen desert scenes now without thinking "Man, if this was shot today with CGI, it would really look like crap."
3. The Searchers (John Ford, 1955)
Obviously, you could make just as convincing a case for almost any of Ford's Westerns, but Monument Valley looks particularly spectacular in widescreen and color, doesn't it?
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
Ah, New Zealand -- the last unspoiled Eden on Earth. After Xena, Warrior Princess, it's a little over-exposed perhaps, but Jackson still gets the maximum gorgeousness out of the place (in all three of the Ring movies, if truth be told).
And the number one coolest use of the wonders of the great outdoors, don't even think about fooling Mother Nature with this one, totally is --
1. Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)
The fictional town of Ferness, Scotland (most of the village scenes were filmed in Pennan on the Aberdeenshire coast, most of the beach scenes at Morar and Arisaig on the West coast) shot by the great cinematographer Chris Menges so as to look like the most magical place on Earth. One of the very best films of the 80s, BTW...laugh out loud funny and profoundly sad at the same time. Bill Forsyth -- a nation turns its lonely eyes to you, for heaven's sake.
Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?