Today we’re talking about three deluxe Blu-Ray releases of three highly notable films, each hugely important and influential in their own way. Coincidentally, each film also deals with what happens when European powers decide they’d really like to control a piece of the Islamic and/or Judaic world.
* “Ben Hur”— I finally caught up with this most popular of religious epics many moons ago at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, where it was introduced by it’s then elderly but still fairly hale star, Charlton Heston. Heston might have still been in good shape in the late 1990s or early 2000s, but the 35mm print that was shown on the giant screen, theoretically the best then available, was washed out and wan.
That disappointment is now a thing of the past with a restoration made frame-by-frame from the original 65mm negative that was so painstaking this “50th Anniversary” edition of the 1959 film actually arrives 52 years after the original “Ben Hur” release. At last, the spectacle looks as spectacular as a spectacle should, even if it’s now on relatively small home screens. (My 42 incher is by far the biggest TV I’ve ever had, but it’s obviously not the Cinerama Dome.)
As fate would have it, aside from a double bill of “Eraserhead” and an oddly beat-up print of “Sunset Boulevard” presented by David Lynch, I only saw two complete films at this year’s AFI Film Festival at the Chinese Theater multiplex.
The first was this year’s Cannes Palm D’Or winner, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, aka “Joe.” This is obviously a film and a director with many ardent admirers, including a lot of online cinephile acquaintances I respect, and I can certainly understand why viewers much more patient than I with the “contemplative cinema” aesthetic would love it.
It’s a sweet-natured and poignant magical realist non-story about a dying man and his family, with many striking individual moments but, by its own design, no narrative tension. Sadly, I seem to have a permanent allergy to the kind of deliberately slow-paced films that focus very intensely on the minutia of daily life with no particular story, even if, as in this case, it features plenty of arresting imagery and involves people who turn into half-monkey creatures and a ghost or two. I only nodded off once, but the gentlemen next to me was pretty much a goner at the 20 minute point. Snoring ensued.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Jim Emerson of the always outstanding Scanners blog has accomplished both with this really terrific video examination of the late Sally Menke’s editing of “Inglourious Basterds.”
The new trend is to rewrite it. Deadline’s Tim Adler featured another trailer, presumably for English audiences, for “Jackboots Over Whitehalll,” but this one explains what’s going on so that even we dumb Americans can understand it.
So, I understand that this is being touted as “Team America” meets “Inglourious Basterds.” I’d throw in “Robot Chicken” as well. Except, of course that all of those were funny. And while “Team America” and “Robot Chicken” revel in their primitive technology which often makes the jokes all the funnier, here, the characters seem completely inert. I’m frankly surprised this is getting a theatrical in the U.K. or any first world nation. I know British humor doesn’t always translate, even for someone like me who adores Monty Python and British cinema in general. This just looks kind of weak.
One fun casting note. The voice of Winston Churchill is provided by one of my favorite British character actors, Timothy Spall, who is also playing Churchill in “The King’s Speech,” which I highlighted yesterday.
I’ve rearranged previously-scheduled posts slightly this morning because of the very sad and unexpected death of editor Sally Menke at age 56. Ms. Menke was best known as the editor of all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies and, it was obvious from interviews, a hugely valued collaborator to the director. It appears she may have been a victim of the record heat yesterday. (It’s not unusual in Southern California for the highest temperatures to come right about this time.)
It’s sometimes hard for people to understand who’ve never worked on a movie to understand how important a good editor is and how much of a truly creative task it is. It’s also not that easy for outsiders to understand an editor’s contribution because we don’t see all the raw material they work with. I’ve seen editors take some pretty horrible stuff and make it usable and they can take good-to-okay material and make it near perfection. It’s a kind of alchemy. In any case, our sincere condolences to all of her friends and family, including Mr. Tarantino. I’m sure he’ll agree that his movies from this point forward will be inevitably somewhat different. I think you’ll get an of just how crucial Sally Menke was from what’s below.