As the New Year promises another wave of remakes, more selective cinema goers might consider building up their personal collection of films and hiding out until the onslaught is over. January offers a mix of attractive DVD releases, particularly heavy in the area of 1920s German expressionism, one of the first movements to link cinematic techniques and modern art. Below are Jocks&Nerds’ essential releases for the month.
Few silent films, or rather few films full stop, have been as influential as director Robert Weine's Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920). A trailblazing work of German expressionism, its nightmarish atmosphere, unhinged camera angles and prickly, out-of-joint setting proved inspirational in cinema, visual art and architecture alike. Weine's masterpiece tells the tale of the mysterious, villainous hypnotist Dr. Caligari, who commits a series of murders through a sleepwalking dupe. With a surprising final twist that still has the power to shock, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the most radical films ever created. Eureka's new double Blu-Ray edition SteelBook, part of the Masters of Cinema series, showcases the film in a new high-definition presentation. Extras include From Caligari to Hitler, a new documentary by film historian David Kalat.
The Spanish director Victor Erice is best known for The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), his acclaimed account of a young girl's coming of age in rural Spain. Less well-known is its follow up and spiritual sequel El Sur (1983), which Pedro Almodóvar has called "one of the best [films] in Spanish cinema history”. It had a difficult production. Projected to be three hours in length, its producer pulled out half-way through, leaving Erice to form a film from his unfinished footage. Despite such obstacles, however, Erice created a masterpiece. Set in northern Spain, El Sur follows the teenage Estrella as she reminisces on her childhood with her father Agustín. It's a serene, haunting tale riven with elisions, the shadowy counterpart Beehive.
Luis Valdez is a director and playwright, known for forming the El Teatro Campesino theatre troupe with Mexican-American students and farm-workers during the 1960s Chicano movement. Valdez’s 1987 film La Bamba portrays the life of one of the most famous Chicanos of all time, the rock’n’roll star Ritchie Valens. It follows the events of his tragically short life, from his humble roots in Pacoima, Los Angeles, his romance with a white girl named Donna Ludwig and unfortunate death – Valens was an aviophobe – in a plane crash, along with rock’n’rollers Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. After Don McLean’s 1971 hit ‘American Pie’, that day, 3 February 1959, became known as ‘The Day the Music Died’. To celebrate La Bamba’s 30th anniversary in January, Eureka Entertainment is releasing a digitally restored version on Blu-ray and DVD.
Another expressionist hit, E.A. Dupont’s Varieté is a high-intensity melodrama set in a circus. Popular in both Germany and the US, the 1925 film was noted for its virtuosic cinematography, carried out by Karl Freund – who would go on to work on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis two years later. The film stars German actor and Hollywood star Emil Jannings – who later became unemployable after acting in Nazi propaganda films – as Boss Huller, an ex-trapeze artist who runs a circus with his wife. After meeting the young and beautiful Berta-Marie, Huller decides take up trapeze once again and develops a new number with her. Passion soon leads to obsession and, after the artist Artinelli gets involved with their act, Huller’s life starts to fall apart. Varieté is now included in Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Series as a Blu-ray/DVD boxset, featuring three separate scores.
Created by Akira’s mastermind Katushiro Otomo and award-winning director Rintaro, the anime Metropolis is an adaptation of an adaptation. It is inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s manga, which was released in 1949, three years before his Astro Boy series. After seeing a still of the female robot from the original Metropolis, a German expressionist film by F.W. Murnau, Tezuka decided to create his book. Given half a year to put together a 160-page story by publishers Kodansha, Tezuka formed the plot from unpublished work and based the central character Michi – which became a prototype for Astro Boy – on Murnau’s female robot. Tezuka’s book was an international success – renamed Robotic Angel in Germany after objections from the Murnau foundation – and inspired a wave of new manga artists, including Katsuhiro Otomo. Otomo’s take on Metropolis draws from Tezuka’s as well as the original film – bringing back themes of class struggles and dystopia. In January, the anime will now be available through Eureka in a limited dual-format SteelBook.