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Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

The Love of a Woman

(French: L'amour d'une femme, 1953; BD release date: August 22, 2017):
Marie (Micheline Presle), a young doctor, arrives on the island of Ushant to replace its retiring physician. She experiences prejudice from the mostly male population, but also love in the form of engineer André (Massimo Girotti). (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

The Love of a Woman was ‘Golden Age’ director Jean Grémillon’s final feature-length picture, following a career that extended back to the silent era. Despite being a foreign production filmed entirely in French and starring French actors, it often tries to match the tone and timbre of Hollywood’s ‘social message’ movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s (a tradition that has evolved, but still tends to define ‘prestige season’ studio releases). At first blush, the film often feels trapped by convention and the weight of its themes, but Grémillon quickly elevates the material with lyrical interludes (usually meant to define the atmosphere surrounding the small island community or to establish the dire straits of medical incidents/procedures, including a shockingly graphic hernia surgery scene) and fearless melodrama that drives its moral declarations beyond its more careful intonations of its American and British counterparts. Grémillon, René Wheeler, and René Fallet’s screenplay puts characters above plotting – an approach that sometimes finds them lost in episodic asides and unable to thoroughly communicate the stakes of the situation. Marie and André’s budding relationship, for example, is meant to be the dramatic heart of the film, but it has a habit of getting in the way of Marie’s greater arc as a female doctor fighting for her place in a male-dominated, culturally-stilted world. Ultimately, however, this narrative approach allows the actors to dictate pace and offers Grémillon more room for those lyrical interludes that give the film and its manipulative, tear-jerking moments a grander artistic meaning.

It doesn’t appear that The Love of a Woman has ever been released on DVD or any other digital home media, at least not in any English-speaking territories. This new Blu-ray debut is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p. The HD master was digitally restored from original film elements by Gaumont, then given to Arrow. The age and quality of the material makes for a particularly grainy and sometimes quite dark black & white experience. This usually means that exterior images are a bit muddled, while interior stage shots look pretty fantastic. At its best, the edges are tidy and contrast is strong without blowing-out the rounder gradations. At its worst, it is still a natural representation of what cinematographer Louis Page photographed on set. The original French mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM. Sound design is very simple, usually consisting of (what I assume was) a single overhead mic set-up to capture performance and incidental sound. Some outdoor sequences and process shots (usually driving scenes) feature added atmospheric effects (wind, rain, car motors, and one particularly noisy boat trip through rough waters), but dialogue remains prominent and clean throughout. The score, which alternates between chugging melodramatic themes and sorrowful mood pieces, was composed by Elsa Barraine and Henri Dutilleux. There isn’t a lot of music, but what we get is warmly and roundly mixed, despite the single-channel treatment.

Extras include:
  • In Search of Jean Gremillon (1:36:09, HD) – This feature-length documentary on the work of Grémillon was made for French television and originally aired in 1969. It covers the director’s complete career and includes footage from his films alongside interviews with director Rene Clair ( Under the Roofs of Paris, 1930), archivist Henri Langlois, Love of a Woman lead Micheline Presle, actor Pierre Brasseur ( Eyes without a Face, 1960), and many others.


 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up


Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

The Big Knife

(1955; BD release date: September 12, 2017):
Charles Castle, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, looks like he has it all. But his marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract. Studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff isn’t taking the news too well and he’ll do anything he can to get his man to sign on the dotted line – even if means exposing dark secrets…(From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife is as subtext-strewn, subversive, and star-studded a Hollywood B-melodrama as you can expect from the future director of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). It seems to have been overlooked, due to its more modest budget, and the fact that it was released the same year as Aldrich’s seminal ‘50s noir, Kiss Me Deadly (1955), but the comparison isn’t entirely fair. Both films fall under the noir banner, but James Poe’s screenplay is adapted from a play by Clifford Odets. The source’s stage basis has a huge thematic and stylistic effect on Aldrich’s cinematic choices, the pitch of the performances, and the narrative pacing. It’s more of an ‘emotional noir’ than the kind of hard-boiled thrill-machine often associated with the brand. As often happens, the stage play foundation is a mixed blessing. Its (mostly) single-location setting creates a sense of claustrophobia and affords the cast an excuse to amp-up the theatrics (Rod Steiger absolutely devours the scenery and the already highly-strung Jack Palance plays the straight man), but it also drags the first act through some banal character development. Once he gets to the meat of the drama, Aldrich (who was recently portrayed by Alfred Molina on Feud: Bette and Joan) knows exactly what buttons to push, as he strikes a judicious balance between tawdry and genuinely moving. The Big Knife takes its time, but is worth the wait and eerily prescient following the downfall of Harvey Weinstein.

The Big Knife was released on barebones DVD by MGM, but it was misframed at 1.33:1. Arrow’s Blu-ray debut has been remastered in 2K from original film elements and is presented in its preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio (for comparison, see the 1.37:1 trailer on this disc). Ernest Laszlo’s naturalistic, black & white photography has a raw quality that kicks up considerable grain in dark, wide-angle shots, which is a challenge for the remaster. Said grain doesn’t exhibit any blocking issues and matches the other textural qualities of the transfer. Tonal qualities are subtle without much posterisation and there are no halos along the hard black edges. The mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 and sounds probably about as good as we can expect from a 60+ year-old, single-channel track. The sound floor buzzes a bit higher than expected, there are some pop/crackle issues, and dialogue tracks are slightly muffled, but Frank De Vol’s score and the jazzy source music have some considerable dynamic range. Note that imdb.com specs state that there was an RCA 3 Channel Stereo mix made as well. I suspect that Arrow simply didn’t have access to it.

Extras include:
  • Critic commentary – A new, exclusive Arrow track featuring Glenn Kenny of the Village Voice, MSN, and Entertainment Weekly, and Nick Pinkerton of Film Comment, AFI, and others.
  • Bass on Titles (33:46, SD) – Famed title and poster designer Saul Bass interviews himself about his work, film-by-film, in this self-directed documentary from 1972 that includes complete clips of the title sequences in question.
  • Behind-the-scenes TV promo (4:59, HD)
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up


Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

J.D.’s Revenge

(1976; BD release date: November 14, 2017):
Law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends when his life changes dramatically. Taking part in a nightclub hypnosis act, he becomes possessed with the spirit of a violent gangster murdered in the 1940s. Believing himself to be the reincarnation of murderous J.D., Ike launches a revenge campaign against those who had done him wrong all those years ago… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following the popularity of William Crain’s Blacula (1972) and its superior sequel, Bob Kelljan’s Scream Blacula Scream (1973), theaters were briefly inundated with low-budget films that combined blaxploitation with classic horror motifs. Like any quickly spreading B-movie fad, blaxploitation horror ran the gamut from trash (Frank R. Saletri’s Blackenstein, 1973) to supremely satisfying entertainment (Paul Maslansky’s Sugar Hill, 1974) and thought-provoking subversions of genre norms (Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess, 1973). Somewhere in the middle was Detroit 9000 (1973) and Friday Foster (1975) director Arthur Marks’ J.D.’s Revenge, which owed less to Universal Studios’ Gothic classics than it did to the irony-laced morality horror of EC Comics. Even then, screenwriter Jaison Starkes (who was kind of working from the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde playbook) clearly had more on his mind than simply mashing-up possession story terrors and blaxploitation clichés for the drive-in crowds. There are underlying messages about the hypocrisy of organized religion (especially as they existed in predominantly black neighborhoods), but, more than anything, the script focuses on the disintegration of a loving and healthy relationship. Ike’s descent into madness, violence, and adultery all fits the model of real-world domestic abuse. Revenge-from-the-grave plotline aside, the toxically masculine, ghostly influences are often more dangerous to the people Ike loves than J.D.’s enemies. This means that, by the film’s second rape scene, it’s almost impossible to maintain any sympathy for the main protagonist (perhaps that’s the point?). In addition to Marks’ solid direction and stylish use of montage editing, the performances are unusually mature for type. These help to balance the adolescent qualities that were necessary to please the teenage grindhouse audiences that bought the most tickets. J.D.’s Revenge could’ve been just another trashy satire, but, in spite of everything, Marks and company turned it into something genuinely tragic.

J.D.’s Revenge was released on DVD by MGM as part of their Soul Cinema line. That remained the only digital home video version available for some time; though, like many MGM catalogue releases, it did ait in HD on cable television. This Blu-ray debut has been restored in 2K from the original interpositive by EFlim exclusively for Arrow, who cleaned up and regraded the footage. This is a particularly strong transfer, all things considered. There are major limitations in the source material, which is dark, grainy, and contrasty – all common issues for low-budget releases from the era – but the details are tight, the shapes are distinct, and Arrow/EFilm have managed to produce sharp textures. Inconsistencies can often be attributed to differences between location and studio shots, and the artefacts caused by composite special effects. The original mono soundtrack was supplied directly by MGM Films and is presented in uncompressed LPCM audio. Like many similar films, the sound quality is limited by the dry, single mic recording set up, which absorbs too much ambience alongside the important dialogue. The single channel mix can magnify the issue, but is usually quite clean otherwise, even offering enough range for Robert Prince’s score that it sometimes sounds like a stereo track.

Extras include:
  • Killing Floor (46:03, HD) – This new retrospective documentary includes in-depth and substantial interviews with screenwriter Jaison Starkes, director Arthur Marks, editor George Folsey Jr. and lead actor Glynn Turman.
  • Here Lies J.D. Walker (17:42, HD) – An audio interview with actor David McKnight, who plays J.D. in the flashbacks, set to stills and scenes from the film.
  • Image gallery
  • Trailer and radio spots
  • Arthur Marks trailer reel


 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up


Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

Zoology

(Russian: Zoologiya, 2016; BD release date: November 14, 2017):
Natasha is a middle-aged admin employee at a zoo where her female co-workers take pleasure in making fun of her. She lives with her God-fearing mother and leads a dull existence without prospects, until, one day, she grows a tail. Medical examinations follow where she meets Peter, a young radiologist, and her dreary life is turned upside down. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Russian writer/director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy’s second feature-length effort, Zoology, is a truly unique film from head to toe (or tail) that hides a sentimental heart behind tonal deceptions, such as stone-faced satire, oddball laughs, and cruel tragedy. The story mirrors aspects of a conventional coming-of-age story with the awkward trials of middle age and frames them in within a serious, medically-minded, and ultimately incidental science fiction story about a woman who has inexplicably grown a tail. Not so far beneath its veneer of matter-of-fact humour and quirky sweetness, Zoology also parodies modern Russian culture in obvious enough ways that you don’t have to be particularly aware of the region to get the gist. Tverdovskiy combines the tragic/twee film languages of other modern arthouse satirists with the immediacy of handheld camerawork and documentary-like editing. This terse and intimate quality will hopefully engage audiences that would otherwise be put off by the film’s shortage of ‘conventional’ laughs and deeply sad moments (it actually has quite a bit in common thematically with Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but I would not recommend pairing the two). Of course, none of it would work without the efforts of actress Natalya Pavlenkova, who, in what appears to be her first leading film role, is so natural that it’s almost impossible not to root for her. Zoology is a most rewarding challenge that stumbles a little going into its final act (it feels like Tverdovskiy knew how to end the story, but couldn’t decide how to get there), but ultimately works as off-kilter character study.

Zoology was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and is presented on this Arrow Academy Blu-ray in 1080p, 1.85:1 video. It’s a brand new movie produced on a brand new format, so restoration is not a factor with this particular transfer. Verdovskiy and cinematographer Aleksandr Mikeladze’s photography is a charming blend of contradictory elements. The lighting sources spring from obvious, on-screen sources, yet the frame is constantly teaming with texture and fine details. Diffused highlights break through dimly-lit environments and bloom over otherwise hard edges. There’s very little obvious post-production grading, but the palette is still uniquely and pointedly limited to a handful of pastel hues, due to set and costume choices. Sometimes, these disparate elements create inconsistencies in clarity and upticks in noise, though I didn’t note any major compression artefacts. The original Russian language tracks are presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It is an extremely organic mix that emphasizes subjective sound and low volume levels over surround movement or immersive qualities. The stereo and rear channels are rarely engaged beyond basic ambience, though some sequences include impressive echo effects and a very convincing off-screen cat yowl. The warm piano score, which is not credited to anyone, doesn’t crop-up very often, but it does fill the stereo channels nicely.

Extras include:
  • An Appointment with the Doctor (12:33, HD) – Actor Dmitry Groshev discusses his role, his relationship with Tverdovskiy, and runs down a brief history of the film.
  • A Tail of Zoology (24:39, HD) – Peter Hames, a film historian and author of several books on Czech cinema, discusses Tverdovskiy’s career, his 2014 debut Corrections Class (Russian: Klass korrektsii, 2014), the themes of Zoology, and the state of motion picture funding in Russia.
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video Year-End Wrap-Up

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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