THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill DesowitzSeveral years ago, I discovered the wonders of the London-based based Eureka, which I call the Criterion of Region 2. The Masters of Cinema series is renowned for international classics (Alain Resnais' mesmerizing "Muriel" and Douglas Sirk's underrated "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" are two recent entries that I highly recommend). And now they have embraced Blu-ray, too (http://eurekavideo.co.uk/moc/bluray/).
Speaking of which, the new Blu-ray of F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent masterpiece, "Sunrise" -- the only version in 1080p HD anywhere -- is one of the Blu highlights of the year. The new master contains two versions of the film: the now familiar Movietone version and the recently discovered Czech version, which is shorter but superior looking. The negative was destroyed in a fire but they utilize the best surviving film elements. Made at Fox during the twilight of the era by the German filmmaking pioneer Murnau, "Sunrise" is, arguably, the greatest silent film ever made. Winner of three Oscars for Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Cinematography, and a never-repeated award for "Unique and Artistic Picture," the movie is a very simple one: a farmer (George O' Brien) has an affair with a city vamp (Margaret Livingston), who convinces him to drown his wife (Gaynor). Unable to go through with it, she runs away to the city and he follows her in the trolley car and, slowly, agonizingly, joyously, they rediscover their love during a second honeymoon in the city. The cinematography by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss has never looked more luminous; the lovely tracking shots appear even more poetic. Make no mistake: "Sunrise" represents the apex of silent filmmaking and its visual and emotional impact are immersive. I find myself using that word over and over again when writing about Blu-ray, but it's true: the format has raised the bar for home entertainment viewing. You will also note that Murnau had a great influence on Alfred Hitchcock (check out the opening title sequence and you'll see where Hitch and Saul Bass got the idea for their "North by Northwest" title sequence, which is also coming to Blu-ray).
And speaking of Murnau, Eureka has also released Murnau's "Phantom" (1922) on DVD, a precursor to "Sunrise" boasting the director's trademark naturalism along with a dreamy romanticism. An aspiring poet has a chance encounter with a beautiful woman in the street and experiences a wild romantic adventure that anticipates "Vertigo" in its descent into obsession and desperation.
Meanwhile, Eureka has released two recent films on Blu: Johnnie To's "Mad Detective" (2007) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata" (2008) (2007). Mad Detective" is a brilliant psychological crime thriller from Hong Kong about a genius cop, Detective Bun (Lau Ching Wan) who can see inner personalities (a kindred spirit to "Manhunter's" Will Graham), but is forced into retirement after slicing off his right ear and presenting it as a gift to his retiring boss. However, Bun soon comes out of retirement to track a bizarre serial killer, who is a seven-spirit collective inspired by "The Seven Deadly Sins." "Dr. Mabuse" meets "Seven"? No, this is highly original, funky and unnerving -- and not to be missed. Of course, it looks crisp and creepy in HD. "Tokyo Sonata" may be the best and most solemn movie about the impact of the current recession, in which Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) is unceremoniously dumped from his job and tries to hide his shame from his family by pretending to go to work each day. In a departure from his usual horror fare, Kurosawa manages to impart a chilly existentialism to this very relevant social drama. The city is both a nightmare and a haven, reinforced by the sharp HD image.
Special thanks to Steve Hills of Eureka
Photos: © Eureka