Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - FLESH + BLOOD and TARAS BULBA ""

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - FLESH + BLOOD and TARAS BULBA

FLESH + BLOOD (1985; Paul Verhoeven)
From Kino Lorber's site:
Betrayed by power. Corrupted by love. Bound by honor. In the battle between good and evil, only the strong survive! From visionary director Paul Verhoeven comes this "vivid and muscular" (Variety) epic adventure of medieval bravery and blood lust starring Rutger Hauer  and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In the chaotic, morally bankrupt Europe of 1510, a cold-hearted warrior named Martin (Hauer) leads his motley crew of mercenaries into battle to reclaim the castle of an ousted nobleman. But when the despot betrays them, Martin and his band of ruffians strike back by kidnapping the innocent young maiden (Leigh) betrothed to the nobleman's son - a fearless Renaissance man who must risk life and limb to rescue the woman he loves! This Verhoeven film seems to get lost in the shuffle between his critically and commercially successful Dutch films (like TURKISH DELIGHT, SOLDIER OF ORANGE and THE FOURTH MAN) and his much more well-known U.S. films (like ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL and STARSHIP TROOPERS). FLESH + BLOOD was in fact his first U.S. film and one that ended up being his last with longtime collaborator Rutger Hauer (who had worked together on five projects including this one). Apparently the two had many disagreements on set and were far less than sympatico on this film. This was to be a production plagued by crew problems, weather problems and budgetary issues. It would supposedly almost cause Verhoeven to ponder quitting filmmaking altogether. Regardless, Verhoeven certainly set out to make and succeeded in making a very unromanticized version of a "Middle Ages" with this movie. His view of this period as a place that was home to disease, brutal violence and poverty feels more like the way it probably was. It's an unpleasant "reality" to say the least and thus the film can be tough to watch in parts. Coming from the director of ROBOCOP and TURKISH DELIGHT, one can probably guess that this is going to be a remarkably GRAPHIC film and it certainly is. Apparently the folks at Orion were often asking Verhoeven for a war film along the lines of SOLDIER OF ORANGE, so this is what he and his screenwriting collaborator Gerard Soeteman came up with. Apparently the two were inspired by such westerns as THE WILD BUNCH and VERA CRUZ as well as the Burt Lancaster swashbuckler THE CRIMSON PIRATE. FLESH + BLOOD benefits greatly from the cinematography by longtime Verhoeven colleague Jan de Bont. It's not the prettiest looking film ever, but then it isn't supposed to be (and I still love a nice 2.35 to 1 frame). Jan de Bont and Verhoeven worked together on many films previous to this, but it is interesting to note that as with Rutger Hauer, the two never worked together again after this movie(correction: of course they were both on BASIC INSTINCT together in 1992). The cast, outside of Hauer, includes Jennifer Jason Leigh (who was supposedly handpicked by Verhoeven), Susan Tyrell, Bruno Kirby and cult actor extraordinaire Brion James.
Speaking of the late, great Brion James, here's a brief interview clip of him talking about his troubling experience on FLESH + BLOOD:

Special Features:
This disc includes an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven. He is rather energetic in his discussion of the cuts that he had to make to the film for the MPAA (though this is his unrated version) and how difficult the production was for him overall.
Also included is "Composing FLESH" a short featurette interview with composer basil Poledoris. He details how he became involved with FELSH + BLOOD and how he found his way around scoring the movie. 

TARAS BULBA (1962; J. Lee Thompson)
From Kino Lorber's Site:
Four centuries ago, in a barbaric age ruled by violence, vast armies clashed in desperate battles and fierce men struggled to regain their freedom. Taras Bulba, a breathtaking epic that engulfs the screen with high adventure that enthralls from beginning to end. Set in the Ukraine of the 16th century, Taras Bulba stars Yul Brynner in one of his most colorful roles as a powerful Cossack chieftain determined to regain his land from treacherous Polish invaders. Despite bitter dissension in the ranks, he is soon leading his soldiers into savage warfare. But further conflict erupts when his headstrong son Andrei (Tony Curtis) falls deeply in love with a Polish girl. Spectacular battle scenes highlight the nonstop action, arriving at a shattering climax in which father and son must ultimately confront the rift between them.I find it interesting that this film was directed by the prolific J. Lee Thompson, a man I associate with a lot of fun action movies from THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES to his later work with Charles Bronson in the 70s and 80s. Now that I think of it, Thompson was a rather diverse director all around in that he did both action and thrillers/mysteries (EYE OF THE DEVIL, 10 TO MIDNIGHT, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD) quite well. He even dipped his toe in the waters of horror with his now classic 80s slasher HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. That said, Thompson was certainly not a bad choice to helm this epic and I believe the film to be better for his involvement in it (though supposedly this was a project that was developed to have Robert Aldrich in the director's chair). TARSA BULBAS was scribed by the somewhat legendary Waldo Salt (he of the prestigious award of his own name), who wrote such cinematic memorables as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SERPICO, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST and COMING HOME. Salt of course collaborated on this particular script with screenwriter Karl Tunberg (BEN-HUR), it being an adaption of a novel by Nikolai Gogol (who, to me, most notably wrote the source story for Bava's BLACK SUNDAY). The same source material was adapted into another film in 2009. It's been stated that this film/story is basically a "Romeo & Juliet" type tale which has an epic 16th century as it's backdrop. That is a fair an apt statement certainly and yet the film reflects a certain era of Hollywood filmmaking which I continue to have an odd affection for. It is made in that grand style of production design that is certainly lovely to behold (especially in anamorphic Panavision). The film cost somewhere between $6-7 million in 1962 dollars and while it was not the most expensive movie from that year, it nonetheless failed a bit at the box office only earning back about half that. The similarly budgeted THE LONGEST DAY ($7.75 million) earned close to $51 million. By way of comparison, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY cost about $19 million, but also made back just under three quarters of that cost. Further, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was 1 $15 million film that topped box office grosses with $70 million. These number would seem to indicate that the public might be tiring of films set before the early 20th century. This kind of social trend fascinates me and I've always been intrigued by the struggles Hollywood became entangled with in the later 1960s as they came realize they had no real idea what people wanted to see anymore (which resulted in what many have called a "Golden Age" of Hollywood in the 1970s). TARAS BULBA is thought-provoking when viewed in that context. It is an epic of it's time and does feature memorable performances by both Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner as well as a rousing, adventurous score by veteran composer Franz Waxman.

Both discs can be found at Kino Lorber's site:
as well as other online e-tailers.

1 comment:

Mediateket said...

DeBont worked on Basic Instinct.