The Hours (Paramount, 2002) D: Stephen Daldry, w/ Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore. Rating: NNNN so, is the hours a triumphant ex ample of the art of literary adaptation and a showcase for three great actors, or is it just Charlie's Angels for the intellectual set? If you have the right mindset, Meryl Streep having an epiphany about the emptiness of life is the middlebrow equivalent of Drew Barrymore licking a steering wheel.
I remain unconvinced, partly because of my disappointment with the filmmakers' decision to slot the three stars into separate stories, so there are no scenes of three of the best actresses in American movies working together.
My favourite elements are Streep's performance (check her reaction shots in her one scene with Julianne Moore) and Philip Glass's score, which more effectively pulls the picture together than all the carefully constructed parallel moments in the three stories.
That said, if you want a lesbian movie completely devoid of sex, the DVD presentation is very good. The making-of featurettes are concise, and the two commentaries are interesting; that Moore, Streep and Kidman each works alone in the actors commentary saves it from becoming a "you're so great in this scene" marathon, and Streep is quite funny. DVD Extras Director/novelist commentary, star commentary, featurettes on the music, Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway and the actresses, theatrical trailer. English and French versions, English subtitles.
Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Criterion/Morningstar, 1974) D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, w/ Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
Love Is Colder Than Death (Wellspring, 1969) D: Fassbinder, w/ Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla. Rating: NNN
Gods Of The Plague (Wellspring, 1970) D: Fassbinder, w/ Harry Baer, Schygulla. Rating: NNN
Fear Of Fear (Wellspring, 1975) D: Fassbinder w/ Margit Carstensen. Rating: NN
Chinese Roulette (Wellspring, 1976) D: Fassbinder w/ Anna Karina, Margit Carstensen. Rating: NNNN thanks to the folks at well- spring, there are three times as many Fassbinder titles available in North America as there are in Germany, including a lot of essential early titles like Gods Of The Plague, Katzelmacher and The Merchant Of Four Seasons. On the other hand, the drawbacks of Wellspring's Fassbinder series (they put the same booklet in every volume, and aside from The Merchant and The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, they've been very light on extras) make me very happy that Criterion will be issuing the late German director's post-war trilogy, The Marriage Of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss and Lola, later this summer.
Indeed, of the essential Fassbinder, all that's missing now is The Third Generation, In A Year With 13 Moons, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and his monumental television adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Love Is Colder Than Death and Gods Of The Plague are very early films, from the heart of Fassbinder's "I'm more Brechtian than anybody" period, chilly black-and-white "gangster" movies for Fassbinder specialists. I'm a great admirer of Fassbinder, but these are tough going, even in such excellent transfers.
Fear Of Fear is less interesting. It's basically Diary Of A Mad Housewife with Margit Carstensen as a woman afraid she's going mad who seeks sanctuary in booze, pills and extra-marital affairs.
The prize of the Wellspring releases is Chinese Roulette, a thriller (sort of) about a very dysfunctional family whose members show up separately at their country house, lovers in tow, for a weekend of psychological gameplaying. With Godard's star, Anna Karina, in one of the leads, and Michael Ballhaus's gliding camera work, Chinese Roulette plays like a combination of Douglas Sirk and Claude Chabrol's late-60s marital dramas. There's an essay to be written on the relationship between Fassbinder and Chabrol; Love Is Colder Than Death is dedicated to Chabrol, but Fassbinder also wrote an essay denouncing him for making films about "bourgeois insects." Yeah, people actually used rhetoric like that in the 70s. Chinese Roulette is very much a study of bourgeois insects.
Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, an unofficial remake of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, with Brigitte Mira as a 60ish widow who falls in love with a much younger North African immigrant worker, much to her children's dismay and her neighbours' disapproval, remains one of Fassbinder's most emotionally accessible films. On a certain level, it's kitchen-sink Sirk, with its working-class textures more subject to rupture than the suburban gloss of All That Heaven Allows; on another it reveals Fassbinder's instinctive emotional connection with outsiders, as both characters violate the social codes that control their circumscribed worlds. Mira, the veteran German stage actress, is astonishing. She would become a Fassbinder regular and is particularly nasty in Chinese Roulette. DVD EXTRAS Ali: Fear Eats The Soul offers a really superb collection of supporting materials. Todd Haynes, whose Far From Heaven is a remake of the same Sirk film and who has by his own admission stolen from Ali more than once, offers a 20-minute introduction. There's a half-hour episode on the new German cinema from BBC's Omnibus program, made in 1976, and a new 25-minute interview with the film's star, Brigitte Mira, who's very sharp for someone 93 years old. She doesn't look a day over 80.
Jubilee: 25th Anniversary Edition (Criterion/Morningstar, 1977) D: Derek Jarman, w/ Jenny Runacre, Toyah Willcox. Rating: NNNN Sebastiane (1976) D: Derek Jarman w/ Leonardo Treviglio, Barney James. Rating: NN derek jarman, like fassbinder a product of the 60s and 70s, came from a more conventional background (he was a production designer for Ken Russell, versus Fassbinder's background in radical theatre) and got to a far less conventional place. If Fassbinder's sensibility is gay, his aesthetic rarely swings over into queer. His politics are more radical than his aesthetic. Aside from the middle-aged decadence of Querelle and Lili Marleen, Fassbinder's milieu is "realistic" working-class Germany. Jarman, on the other hand....
Sebastiane and Jubilee were Jarman's first features, and if Sebastiane is only about three degrees away from being an exquisitely photographed soft-core porn romp, all flawlessly muscled boys playing at being Roman soldiers, speaking Latin and swooning over each other, Jubilee is something completely different.
With its time-travelling narrative (Queen Elizabeth I visiting mid-70s England), it's one of the few genuinely punk movies - smart, campy, furious and as in-your-face as the first Clash album.
A few of Jarman's films - basically Jubilee and The Last Of England - beggar description. They're non-narrative but not quite experimental, and they function as time capsules with a hair trigger. You can't imagine Jubilee being made at any moment other than 1977, much as you can't imagine The Last Of England emerging from anywhere but Thatcher's London in 1987.
Now that we have Jubilee on DVD, may we please have The Last Of England?
A note on the transfer: according to the back of the DVD, the transfer is 1.66:1, letterboxed top and bottom on a 4:3 set, slightly letterboxed on the sides on a 16:9 set. I checked it on my computer, and, yes, it is, but because most televisions overscan, the image actually fills the screen on a flat set, and on wide-screen it will look like a 16:9 transfer. DVD EXTRAS Jubilee: A Time Less Golden, a new retrospective documentary on the making of the film, new booklet essay by Jarman scholar Tony Peake, theatrical trailer, collection of Jarman ephemera, scrapbooks and advertising materials. English subtitles.
Also This Week
Gangs Of New York (Alliance Atlantis) Two-disc SE, but apparently no director's cut.
King Of The Hill: Complete first season (20th Century Fox) Mike Judge's homage to real folks and propane.
The Chaplin Collection (Warner) The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and Limelight in newly mastered two-disc special editions, restored with the cooperation of the Chaplin estate.
The Tenant (Paramount) Roman Polanski moves into a new apartment. Discovers the ghost of Catherine Deneuve.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb