September 01, 2008

Notes From A DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Hey everyone. I’m going to totally put on my film geek hat for this one.

First up, I want to talk about Orson Welles. Most might not think of him when they think of SF and fantasy, but Welles was all about the SF and fantasy, and not just in a Shakespearian sort of way. Of course the most famous thing Welles did was his Mecury Theater War of the Worlds broadcast. I’m sure most of you have heard it, or have heard bits sampled from it. It’s quite the awesome piece of writing and radio production and well worth checking out.
The 1953 "War of the Worlds" DVD (directed by Byron Haskins) also includes the entire broadcast of the Mercury Theater production, and is a pretty fine adaptation in its own right. The visuals on this have haunted me ever since I saw it as a child.

Next of the Welles-a-pa-looza is his adaptation of Kafka’s "The Trial". This weird piece of surreality definitely falls within our SF/fantasy camp, if only because I say so. The kind of paranoia, fear, and oppressive nature of the narrative is completely Dickian, and well worth checking out. There are many crappy public domain versions of this disk out there, but a pristine 35mm print was found a few years back, and a really nice DVD release is now available.

Another lost Welles classic recently “rediscovered” is "Don Quixote". This is the movie that Welles self-financed, and shot, on and off for over a dozen years. He never really finished it, but his second unit director Jesus Franco (AKA Jess “Vampiros Lesbos” Franco) cobbled together a print in the late 90’s, after shooting some extra footage. Welles scholars have roundly rejected Franco’s cut of this film as not being very "Wellesian". But it's Jess Franco . . . and Orson Wells! Doing "Don Quixote"!! Come on! Give it a try!

More directly releated to the horror genre is "Malpertius". This film stars Welles, and is directed by Harry Kumel ("Daughters of Darkness"). This is a surrealist horror masterpiece that definitely needs to be experienced. "Daughters of Darkness" was pretty damn fine but this one goes even further out on a limb. God bless labels like Barrel Entertainment for bringing lost classics like this one onto DVD.

Moving away from Welles in order to look at another lost horror classic, this one brought out by Criterion. They’ve just released the definitive edition of Vampyr (1931), directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer. This chilling German film is of the German Expressionist period, and is loosely based on the story "Carmilla" by Le Fanu. The dream-like visuals and narrative style really demonstrate that David Lynchian-esque work was around long before David Lynch. This Criterion edition is a brand-new restored print, and the movie has never looked better. It also features a big pile of extras, and background about the director, AND a book featuring the original screenplay and the Le Fanu short story.

While we are talking about German Expressionism, I want to also mention the Criterion two disk “original serial killer” film "M," starring Peter Lorre, and directed by Fritz Lang.

In addition to "M," and "Vampyr," some Criterion titles that are of interest to SF fans include the original "Blob" movie, "Kwaidan" (Old school J-horror), and "Videodrome".

That’s all I’ve got for now. . . but next month is October, so you know I’ll have plenty to fill you in on then. Until then, keep watching (the skies)!

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