This year will be remembered as the year film died of unnatural causes, a superior storage medium killed by corporate mandate — which makes it ironically appropriate that Bill Morrison’s Decasia is newly out on Blu-ray. A hymn to the accidental beauty found in decaying nitrate stock, Morrison’s hourlong visual poem coaxes a fragile narrative out of found footage: a boxer spars with a shifting blob; a whirling dervish tries to outpace entropy. Married to an enveloping drone score, it’s a hypnotic experience, and now an especially bittersweet one. Digital promises perfection, but only at a certain kind of beauty’s expense.
With video stores all but extinct and streaming services painfully inadequate, curious viewers are left in a barren no-man’s land. The last-chance gas on that dusty road is Twilight Time, a boutique label turning out beautiful Blu-rays of titles insufficiently marketable for a studio-funded upgrade. A recent example: Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse, an early masterpiece of the then-new Cinemascope format. Shifting between color flashbacks and a black-and-white present (shades of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death), it’s a dazzling formal ballet, performed with witty self-awareness by David Niven and Deborah Kerr, and an almost painfully naked emotionalism by Jean Seberg. Twilight Time’s releases aren’t cheap, and are best bought direct from their site (screenarchives.com), but they’re top drawer, and tend to include isolated scores as extras.
Criterion’s ongoing voyage through the films of René Clément has finally pulled up at Purple Noon, his sensuous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Less faithful but far more inspired than Anthony Minghella’s literal-minded version, the movie functions largely as a vehicle for Alain Delon’s turn as a sweaty sociopath, a polymorphous seducer too cunning for man or woman to resist. The Mediterranean sky above them is an incandescent blue, pristine and savage at the same time, and beautifully captured on the new disc.
The 1955 screen version of Guys and Dolls, recently released on Warner Home Video Blu-ray, is Hollywood-musical-making at its most theatrical. Colors pop with as much punch as the Damon Runyon-derived dialogue; director Joseph Mankiewicz spreads the “Fugue for Tinhorns” trio across the Cinemascope frame as if hanging laundry on a string. The singular oddity is Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson. The part allows him to indulge a wicked sense of humor too rarely seen on film; as for singing, well, at least he’s better than Russell Crowe. Frank Sinatra’s Nathan Detroit is a flinty joy, and Stubby Kaye remains the standard against which all Nicely-Nicely Johnson’s will forever be measured.
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