Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Raro Video / Kino Classics - THE CONFORMIST and THE CABINET OF DR.CALIGARI on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Raro Video / Kino Classics - THE CONFORMIST and THE CABINET OF DR.CALIGARI on Blu-ray

THE CONFORMIST (1970; Bernardo Bertolucci)
The first time I became aware of THE CONFORMIST, I was staring at the employee picks shelf in the video store I was working in during my college years. I had obliquely heard of the film but never seen it (nor any Bertolucci film if I recall). One of our more senior staffers had the movie in his picks section and it caught my eye. We may have even had a conversation about it before I took it home.
THE CONFORMIST was one of those movies that sort of "snapped me awake" from the stuff I had been watching prior to seeing it. It was one of those movies that you look at a totally begin to understand film as art. Everything about the movie was artful, from the compositions to the story to the music. Even the narrative structure was remarkable. It was just spectacular thing this movie. To that point, my experience with foreign films was still relatively limited. I hadn't seen many of them within the much colder academic climate of some of my film classes, but had watched very few for my own pleasure (outside of things like DELICATESSEN and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN). THE CONFORMIST was probably the first "important" older film I watched outside of a classroom setting and it impacted me even more because of that. Not feeling the pressure to analyze and contextualize it, I was left to be absolutely engaged and transfixed by it. I can't help but get swept away when I watch foreign films. The films of different countries affect me in different ways. French movies are one way and Italian films are another. There's something truly unquantifiable about Italian cinema from their low art to high. It obviously has to do with cultural differences, but Italian films can seem the most bizarre of all foreign cinema sometimes. It truly makes me try to figure out how the differences in their culture versus ours could produce such uniquely different outcomes. The Italians just seem to feel things and experience things on a whole other level from us and to be honest I'm a little jealous of that phenomenon. THE CONFORMIST is an example of Italian cinema at its most lyrical, it's most poetic and tragic. It is a story that transcends any basic synopsis and becomes a piece of moving 24-frames-per-second artwork. It is obviously one of Bertolucci's finest achievements.
Special Features:
"In The Shade of The Conformist" - a 57 minute visual essay accompanied by a 2011 interview with Bertolucci. It is made up of stills from his films (& footage from THE CONFORMIST) and gives examples of Bertolucci's style and technique as it evolved in his films before THE CONFORMIST. The interview with Bertolucci himself is engaging he gives lots of details about the production. It's something of a commentary track and a nice inclusion.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920; Robert Weine)
There are few films whose influence is truly immeasurable, but THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is certainly one of them. One of the earliest "nightmares put to film", CALIGARI stands as the incarnation of German Expressionism to end all other incarnations. Its darkly stylized sets and lighting still stand as unnerving and unsettling even today. And yet, there are so lovely and jagged from a design point of view that they contribute heavily to the film's truly mesmerizing nature. It all feels like a twisted stage play as overseen by Tim Burton as a child (it even has act breaks within it). Could anyone involved have had any idea at all how impactful their work would be on the fabric of cinema as we have come to know it? It's doubtful they had any idea at all however the film itself remains as a testament to the power a single movie can have on people. It is a kind of "ground zero" for a lot of influences that radiate out including horror films, film noir and other styles. It is so stylized that it may be difficult for some modern day viewers to even relate to it as a movie in the sense that they are used to. It's hard to even recognize Conrad Veidt, but he and some other prominent and popular German actors (Werner Krauss and Lil Dagover) were quite deliberately cast. It's still tricky for me to wrap my head around the film as it was seen at the time it came out. It was a major release and a big film with big actors and yet so out-there in terms of what it is in comparison to say the Hollywood blockbusters of 2014. It's just hard to imagine a studio today putting out something like this. It's quite remarkable and was
obviously so far ahead of its time. The slogan that was used to promote the film upon its release was, "You Will Become Caligari".  I like that a lot. I can almost see it pasted all over the billboards and buses of Los Angeles. So simple and yet so compelling. And to see CALIGARI is to examine the question of what it means to become him. One could theorize about Freud and the ego and the ID and make many tenuous connections. There's definitely some interesting ideas to be explored in that regard, but I always wonder how much the filmmaker could possibly have infused his movie with on a conscious level. To become overly analytical about a movie like CALAGARI, while it is difficult NOT to do, is something akin to trying to draw concrete notions from a fever dream. At its core it is a fable and one that may seem familiar. There is a monster, a (veritable) mad scientist and a girl. What more does one need from a movie?

Special features:
There are a few restoration demonstrations on this disc, but the main supplement is the 52-min German Language documentary, "CALIGARI: How Horror Came to the Cinema". This doc features interviews with film historians and it covers not only CALIGARI, but also the context from which it came and German cinema at the time in general. It makes a case for the film being a reaction to all that was going on on Germany around that time. The filmmaker's specifically site the complete lack of order and a general trend towards Bohemianism with the characters in CALAGARI, which flies in the face of the state of German society at the time. It also touches on the avant-garde movement in Europe around that time. It is an interesting (if a little dry) historical background for the film with lots of archival footage showing Germany and its people around the time in question.
One other intriguing feature of this disc is they it includes two scores for the film - the first by the University of Music at Freiburg and the second by DJ Spooky (aka Paul D. Miller). The first track is obviously more traditional and Spooky's score offers a slightly jazzier, more modern approach with some conventional elements as well as some electronic elements.

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