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Masters Of Cinema Spring 2012 Schedule

A couple of months ago we took a look at British boutique Home Video label Masters Of Cinema’s Post-Summer 2011 schedule. Having seemingly gotten a taste for event announcements, the Eureka strand today announced their first quarter 2012 release schedule. Again, it’s an eclectic group of films, taking in Asia, Europe, the United States and Australia, with filmmakers as notable as Pasolini, Godard and McCarey all represented. So, without further or do, here they are. -

Ruggles Of Red Gap

Following in the wake of this year’s wonderful release of Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow, Masters Of Cinema here issue an earlier work starring Charles Laughton. Laughton is an English butler, the wonderfully named Marmaduke Ruggles, who finds himself in the wild, wild west thanks to a series of circumstance. Following the revelation that was Make Way For Tomorrow we couldn’t be more excited to see more McCarey given the deluxe treatment.

Accattone

The debut film of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Accattone is one of a number of works from the famed Italian director that Masters Of Cinema are releasing next Spring. Accattone is a notoriously grim film, with its story of prostitutes and criminals a layered autobiography of sorts.

The Gospel According to Matthew

Another early film from Pasolini, and a personal favourite of ours. Pasolini melds mind-bending imagery with a controversial subject matter that would hint at the directors later, far more extreme work. There wasn’t any extras of note on the initial, now OOP Tartan DVD of The Gospel According To Matthew, so it will be interesting to see what the Masters Of Cinema pull out of the bag for this release.

Ro.Go.Pa.G

A surprise release (only revealed in the Masters Of Cinema catalogue, as an aside to the main “event”). Ro.Go.Pa.G is an anthology film, comprised of a number sections, with one directed by Pasolini, one from Jean-Luc Godard, another from Ugo Gregoretti and one final piece from Roberto Rossellini. The Pasolini segment of the film, La Ricotta, featured as part of the supplements on the Criterion Collection release of Mamma Roma, with the short film being this writers very favourite thing that the director has ever done. Starring Orson Welles, La Ricotta charts the plight of a filmmaker attempting to film the story of The Passion. It’s magnificent. Artwork unavailable at the moment. 

Repo Man 

Alex Cox’s seminal work, the Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton starring Punk-Sci-fi-Comedy makes its way to Blu-ray as part of Masters Of Cinema’s agreement with Universal Pictures (outlined here in our previous MoC article). A stack of extras, including Cox’s infamous television cut of the movie (“melon farmers”) feature on the disc, which is accompanied by a hand drawn 40 page booklet from Cox himself.

Two-Lane Blacktop

Another Universal title, and another Limited Edition release from Masters Of Cinema. We’re not the biggest fans of Monte Hellman’s minimalist road movie, Dennis Wilson’s performance aside, but it’s great to see a film like this get the deluxe treatment. Extras wise, this release looks to replicate the already fantastic Criterion Collection edition of the film, which includes an audio commentary from Hellman, and around 90 minutes in documentary features.

The Insect Woman 

Masters Of Cinema continue in their quest to release every frame of film shot by Shohei Imamura. The Insect Woman, which also includes a copy of Imamura’s second film, Nishi Ginza Station alongside it will be the company’s fifth Imamura Blu-ray. Imamura is the perfect example of why the work that Masters Of Cinema do is so important, and how effective it can be, with the label bringing a relatively obscure filmmakers work to a larger audience.

Le Silence le La Mer

Jean-Pierre Melville’s debut piece is here reissued as a dual-format edition. We’re big fans of Melville’s resistance tale here at Hope Lies, with the thought of seeing the film in glorious HD a mouth-wateringly exciting proposition. Check out our recent re-evaluation of the film here.


Punishment Park

A second dual-format reissue, this time of Antipodean filmmaker Peter Watkins’ most complete work. Punishment Park takes place in a fictional America, one in which justice is dealt out in a manner quite different to the real world. Ultra-right wing politics and notions of justice are brought to the fore. We were actually at a screening of Punishment Park just last month, and can attest to just how relevant the film remains over 40 years on from its initial release.

It’s not all good news though. A bunch of titles have gone out of print recently, most notably the Lubitsch In Berlin box-set, Dreyer’s Michael and Soul Power. Check out the complete Masters Of Cinema collection online at MastersOfCinema.org

Bank Holiday Bank Heist

In honour of the second Bank Holiday in as many weeks Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second takes a look at our favourite bank robbery films. Well, we say “bank robbery films”, but we mean heist flicks.  

Thief (1981)

Michael Mann, the king of the modern american heist flick, has influenced pretty much every film in which a heist of any kind takes place post-1995. Many allusions were drawn between the work of Michael Mann and the opening section of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, from the moments that the prologue premiered several months before the film actually saw release, and more recently actor-turned-director Ben Affleck directly referenced Mann’s Heat by having one of his characters taking a break from bank robbery by sitting down to watch that particular film during The Town. For all the mechanical genius displayed in Heat though, and while the fraught visceral nature of Public Enemies is to be lauded, Mann has never bettered the neon-lit safe disections of his earliest work, the early 80′s James Caan starring neo-noir Thief. The timeless tale of the semi-reformed career criminal trying his darnedest to go straight, only for one last job to reel him back in, Thief is an often forgotten gem, and quite possibly the filmmakers finest hour.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Al Pacino’s turn as the naive robber seeking the riches to fund his partners sex change reads somewhat antithetical to the largely masculine subgenre that is the heist flick, but its the unusual slant that gives Sidney Lumet’s film the twist that’s kept it in the public eye for over 30 years too.  Sonny Wortzik is perhaps the ultimate summation of the flawed, tragedy strewn anti-hero that would define Pacino’s career, be it as Michael Corleone or King Lear. Special mention also to Pacino’s The Godfather co-star John Cazale.

Rififi (1955)

Following communist blacklisting American filmmaker Jules Dassin turned to France for work in the 1950′s, after making his name in Hollywood in the preceding decade. Arguably his finest work, Rififi might just be the perfect combination of American-inspired gangster flick and Franco post-Poeticism. The film is reissued next week complete with fantastic new restoration, and will be the subject of an in-depth piece here at Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second.


Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Following the lead of Lumet both in terms of canine-inspired titles and in terms of execution, Quentin Tarantino flipped the conventions of the heist genre on its head with his debut flick. Glimpsing the actual heist only in brief flashbacks, Tarantino places his audience in the middle of a somewhat unique scenario, as the madness and confusion that stems from what happens when not all goes to plan consumes the people at the heart of the tale. Massively influential, and still holding up almost a decade on, Reservoir Dogs set the tone for an entire generation of filmmakers, reliant on post-modernism and overt dialogue.

Bob Le Flambeur (1956)

Something of a gamechanger within the oeuvre of Jean Pierre Melville, Bob Le Flambeur saw the French filmmaker cement his position as the godfather of the Nouvelle Vague. Melville’s tale of an ageing gangster and his attempt to take down a grand casino paid tribute to the American cinema of the decade or so that had gone before, paving the way for the New Wave filmmakers to cite similar fare as inspiration when producing their own works in the years that followed. Melville took a lot from this particular area of cinema, and gave a lot back, culminating in Le Cercle Rouge, which itself contains one of the finest on-screen heist sequences. Melville’s film was remade by Neil Jordan in 2002 as The Good Thief, which saw Nick Nolte take on the lead role.

Trench Coats and Trilbies – Le Cercle Rouge

Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970. FRANCE.

Le Cercle Rouge starts as it means to go on. Opening with a philosophical scroll, claiming to be the words of the Buddha, yet it is completely made up. Melville plays on the expectations of his audience to spin a yarn that is both ground in reality (in the sense that it is wholly believable), yet is one wholly informed by the cinema. Melville’s world of trench coats and trilby hats evokes the history of the crime picture.

The tale of Corey (Alain Delon), a recently freed criminal and the job he is  pressurised into doing upon his release by a corrupt prison guard, Le Cercle Rouge tells of the chance meeting between Corey and Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), an escaped criminal en-route to face justice. With Mattei (Andre Bourvil), an unrelenting cop on their tail, the two plan to take down a Parisian jeweler, with the help of disgraced police marksman Jansen (Yves Montand). While the chance meeting of the central pair might be deemed convuluted by some (another character in the film actually comments on the semi unbelievable nature of the happenstance), within the context of the film such things seem trivial.

Ground in reality, yet littered with stylistically contradictory elements (back-projection, artificial rain and snow) and produced using Melville’s very particular method of framing and staging a shot, Le Cercle Rouge has a magical realism feel to it, countering heavily with the initial angle. Tight, POV or third-person shots are produced with the staged structure that one would not associate with concepts of realism, with the film ultimately coming across as some kind of fascinating combination of the two completely different trails of thought.

Visually the film is a marvel. In the opening moments of the film, a genuinely fascinating moment occurs when the camera removes itself from gazing upon Mattei, who is leaning out of the window of a train carriage, and floats away into the sky. Elsewhere, the slow, languid pace of the film counters the relatively intense plot of the picture. With that in mind though, the film does “exist” for a whole hour before the plot of the film actually starts. The opening 60 minutes are dedicated to establishing tone and character. The construction of information within the frame often acts as a reflection on the ultimate faith of the films criminal protagonists. Complex imagery courtesy of a spiral staircase blurs the relationship between those on-screen, and specifically placed props and shadows recall jail bars.

Perspective is everything. As one character states in the film “All men are guilty. They’re born innocent, but it doesn’t last”, and while the men at the heart of the film are very much criminals in the most literal sense of the word, one must not forget that the initial act that sets off the whole plot is that of a corrupt prison screw effectively forcing Corey into taking on the job. Melville focusses on mirrors, be it in a car rear view mirror or in a bathroom mirror whilst a character is shaving.

Mattei, the gentle, knowing presence at the heart of Le Cercle Rouge would prove to be an appropriate final performance for Andre Bourvil. Known professionally simply as “Bourvil” the actor, who rose to public awareness through predominently comic roles, starring in La Grande Vadrouille, which until 2008 was the most successful French film of all time. His Mattei, the cat-loving Commissaire is little more than a well-placed spin on the usual Bourvil character, the off-kilter semi-clown. Alongisde Bourvil, Yves Montand, star of Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear is almost unrecognisable as the alcoholic Jansen, a character who is introduced via a fascinating alcohol hallucination that sees snakes, spiders and rats attacking the man as he sits in his bed. As the character later cases the target of the gangs robbery, via a series of crash zooms and detail shots, he evokes the more familiar star of the French cinema screen, a visual reboot which signifies the characters development.

At the heart of the film lies the key heist. Practically cut in real time and present in near silence (diegetically speaking), Melville presents each minor detail, the tension building with each stage of the act. The heist truly is one of the all-time great on-screen robberies, besting even that of Rififi, which presumably was the jumping off point for Melville with this sequence. A menacing sight in their masks, its somewhat ironic that the three men only reveal their true identities when their physical appearance is hidden.

Melville’s camera evokes memories of the cinema, with practically every aspect of the production reminding of where cinema has been before, and where Melville plans on taking it with Le Cercle Rouge. The seedier side of Paris that Melville deems the spiritual home of this later work doubles for deepest, darkest New York city, with overpasses and bridges recalling the Big Apple of Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, and Allen Baron’s Blast Of Silence, as well as countless other crime dramas set in that particular part if the US city. Alongside this adoption of the crime centre of the United States, we are also reminded of French heritage cinema; as the pair clamber over rooftops its impossible not to think of Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, the early benchmark for Gallic crime fiction on screen.

The finest crime film of all time?  Spinning everything that has gone before it Melville’s film is one of the most well constructed and satisfying works in the field.