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The Criterion Collection: Orpheus Blu-ray Disc Review

The Criterion Collection: Orpheus Blu-ray Disc Review

Orpheus (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1950)

ORPHEUS (1950, Blu-ray released August 30, 2011 – MSRP $39.95)

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Fans of Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus and collectors of Criterion Collection discs no doubt already own the classic, surreal film as part of the label’s excellent Orphic Trilogy DVD set from several years back. Their new, updated Blu-ray release, however, provides more than a few reasons to upgrade, not least of which is the formidable collection of special features.

    Jean Cocteau’s update of the Orpheus myth depicts a famous poet (Jean Marais), scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa), and a mysterious princess (Maria Casarès). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the princess from the world of the living to the land of the dead, through Cocteau’s famous mirrored portal. Orpheus’s peerless visual poetry and dreamlike storytelling represent the legendary Cocteau at the height of his powers.

I can’t help but feel the legacy of Oprheus every time I watch it. I see so much that Jodorowsky, Coppola (in particular, in his Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and others plucked from the film that if I’m not careful, watching it can become more like playing a game of Where’s Waldo and less like enjoying great filmmaking. But Cocteau’s masterpiece of the “cinematograph”, as he prefered to call it, is easy to enjoy and fall in love with of its own accord. The dreamlike imagery, often accomplished with in-camera effects, is innovative and effective even today. Cocteau’s script, so subversive and political while adapting the well known myth, is still thrilling in its brave genre shifts – from drama to spy-thriller to horror in a handful of beats. And Orpheus himself, the striking Jean Marais, for all his weaknesses as a thespian, maintains the perfect tone of the somnambulist throughout. With gorgeous photography by Nicolas Hayer and a landmark jazz soundtrack by Georges Auric, Oprheus approaches the gates of perfection and remains a must-watch for each and every film fan to this day.

The transfer of the film on this new Blu-ray edition of Oprheus from Criterion is culled from a well-restored internegative and and is jaw-dropping. When you compare the footage of the film from the supplemental documentaries to the feature on the disc, you’ll be blown away. Those looking to compare this new edition to Criterion’s previously issued DVD from 2000 won’t be left quite as breathless but will no doubt find themselves quite pleased with the increase in detail, contrast and overall more film-like look of the transfer.

From the booklet:

    This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain internegative struck from the original nitrate negative. The restoration of Orpheus was carried out in collaboration with the Archives français du film in Bois-d’Arcy, France, under the supervision of assistant director Claude Pinoteau. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

The new lossless audio track is also a marked step up from the previous compressed track of the DVD. It still sounds its age and won’t impress those cinephiles who only appreciate modern multichannel audio but it’s clean and clear with enough dynamic range to reproduce the score in a very enjoyable way.

From the booklet:

    The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

All right. This is the great stuff here. The special features on this Oprheus disc make the Blu-ray a no-brainer as a first purchase or an upgrade. This thing is packed! From the brand new, brilliant-but-sleepy commentary by scholar James S. Williams to the interviews and features appropriated from the now out-of-print Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus DVDs, the sheer wealth of material presented here provides a richness of insight into Cocteau as both a man and artist that you’ll feel closer to his process and closer to the film as a result. In fact, after watching the feature-length Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown and 40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau docs, I found myself so familiar with the director that his rambling philosophizing on the nature of man, art, society, fame and the poet became somewhat tiring. It seems the Cocteau could tend to get so wrapped up his own notions that even the questions of an interviewer would go unheeded, as evidenced in the 16-minute In Search of Jazz segment.

All in all this is an unrivaled package of features related to the film and the director. My only true wish is that the film’s companion pieces in the Orphic Trilogy, Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus, had been included. I fear, however, that Criterion no longer holds the rights to them and that it might be some time before they make their way to Blu. With that in mind, this Oprheus Blu-ray is pretty perfect.

Highest possible recommendation!

Special Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Audio commentary by French film scholar James Williams
  • Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown, a 1984 feature-length documentary
  • Video piece from 2008 featuring assistant director Claude Pinoteau on the special effects in the film
  • 40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau, an interview with the director from 1957
  • In Search of Jazz, a 1956 interview with Cocteau on the use of jazz in the film
  • La villa Santo-Sospir, a 16 mm color Cocteau film from 1951
  • Gallery of images by French film portrait photographer Roger Corbeau
  • Raw newsreel footage
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by author Mark Polizzotti, selected Cocteau writings on the film, and an essay on La villa Santo-Sospir by Williams

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[VIDEO] Three Reasons: Orpheus  – The Criterion Collection

[VIDEO] Three Reasons: Orpheus – The Criterion Collection

If you’re not yet excited enough about this month’s slate of Blu-ray titles from Criterion, check out the video above. The latest ‘Three Reasons’ trailer from the studio will give you a taste of why you need to get your hands on the August 30th high-def debut of Jean Cocteau‘s dreamy Orpheus. It’s a shame the other two films in the trilogy aren’t showing up along side of it, as they did on the now out-of-print DVD set. I’m left to wonder if Criterion have lost the rights to The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus. I hope not but I fear it to be the case.

Orpheus (1950) - The Criterion Collection


ORPHEUS
(August 30, 2011 – MSRP $39.95)
Video: 1.33:1 1080p
Audio: uncom­pressed monaural soundtrack

Special Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Audio commentary by French film scholar James Williams
  • Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown, a 1984 feature-length documentary
  • Video piece from 2008 featuring assistant director Claude Pinoteau on the special effects in the film
  • 40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau, an interview with the director from 1957
  • In Search of Jazz, a 1956 interview with Cocteau on the use of jazz in the film
  • La villa Santo-Sospir, a 16 mm color Cocteau film from 1951
  • Gallery of images by French film portrait photographer Roger Corbeau
  • Raw newsreel footage
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by author Mark Polizzotti, selected Cocteau writings on the film, and an essay on La villa Santo-Sospir by Williams

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Top New Blu-ray releases for the Week of July 19

Top New Blu-ray releases for the Week of July 19

Well, here you go. This past week’s new Blu-ray release post, almost a full week late and a little short on quality reviews. The tardiness is due to a trip out of town, followed by my family coming for a visit and then many a day and night spent at the Fantasia Festival here in Montreal. The lack of serious disc reviews is due to the fact that I didn’t receive screeners for most of the Blu-ray releases of this past week. I know, cry me a river, right? But there it is.

As always, clicking the Blu-ray package art will zip you over to Amazon where every purchase you make through our links helps the site stay on its feet. We appreciate every single click and thank you again for continuing to read The Blu-ray Blog.


1. THE MUSIC ROOM

The Music Room (1958) - The Criterion Collection


    With The Music Room (Jalsaghar), Satyajit Ray brilliantly evokes the crumbling opulence of the world of a fallen aristocrat (the beloved actor Chhabi Biswas) desperately clinging to a fading way of life. His greatest joy is the music room in which he has hosted lavish concerts over the years—now a shadow of its former vivid self. An incandescent depiction of the clash between tradition and modernity, and a showcase for some of India’s most popular musicians of the day, The Music Room is a defining work by the great Bengali filmmaker.

Before getting my hands on the new Criterion Blu-ray disc of The Music Room, I had never seen the film. But it’s quickly weaseled its way onto a short list of my favourite movies of all time. I picked up director Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy on DVD years ago (found them all in the used bin of my local Blockbuster – yeah, I know how lucky I was then), quickly falling in love with his style – impeccably well rounded characters shot with a quiet, ruminating camera. But The Music Room is so much more. As wonderful as the three Apu films are, The Music Room just seems more intimate and at the same time, more universal than his previous films (to be fair, he’d only completed two films in the Trilogy when he made The Music Room but the third, The World of Apu, maintains the feel of the previous entries in the series.) The camera work is sensitive but, and I have to say that I’m sure this was not the intent but I find it exhilarating nonetheless, in moments of harsh lighting, it reminds me of old Universal films from the ’30s. To be specific, there are shots that remind me strongly of The Bride of Frankenstein – one of the best films ever made, if you ask me.

I understand, however, that a lot of the visual elements that bring those older films to mind is due to the fact that The Music Room was shot black and white and hasn’t been kept in the best shape through the years. With that in mind, the restoration presented here by Criterion is an absolute marvel. Thank God for film preservationists. The work done here is nothing short of a miracle and if you have any doubt, just check out the DVD and Blu-ray screenshot comparison on DVDBeaver. In addition to the restoration performed on the film being miraculous, the transfer to Blu is absolutely stunning – textured and rich, with deep blacks, prominent grain and tons of detail. One of the most impressive discs I’ve seen this year. Audio sounds dated but clean, clear and effective.

The special features on the disc are plentiful and truly a treat to watch. The 1984 Shyam Benegal doc about the director runs over two hours and paints a clear and full picture of Ray’s life and career. It’s almost worth the price of the disc on its own. I also found the Andrew Robinson and Mira Nair interviews to be informative and quite moving. It’s quite clear that they both feel deeply about the man and his work.

Highest possible recommendation!!

Special Features:

  • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Satyajit Ray (1984), a feature documentary by Shyam Benegal that chronicles Ray’s career and includes interviews with the filmmaker, family photographs, and extensive clips from his films
  • New interview with filmmaker Mira Nair
  • New interview in which Ray biographer Andrew Robinson discusses the making of The Music Room and the film’s cultural significance
  • Excerpt from a 1981 French roundtable discussion with Ray, film critic Michel Ciment, and filmmaker Claude Sautet
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp as well as reprints of a 1963 essay by Ray and a 1986 interview with the director about the film’s music

AMAZON: $28.99


2. AMELIE

Amélie [Blu-ray]

    The City of Lights sparkles in this “delightful and original” (Boston Globe) quirky comedy that garnered 5 Academy Award® nominations. At a tiny Parisian café, the adorable yet painfully shy Amelie accidentally discovers a gift for helping others. Soon Amelie is spending her days as a Cupid, guardian angel and all-around do-gooder. But when she bumps into a handsome stranger, will she find the courage to become the star of her very own love story? Audrey Tatou (The Da Vinci Code) shines in this “lighthearted fantasy” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) that stole the hearts of audiences and critics worldwide.

Oh God, I effing love this film. Amelie is probably my second favourite film of all time. And writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s clear best work to date. And though I haven’t seen this new Miramax/Lionsgate Blu-ray edition of the film (I have the Alliance disc from Canada) I feel comfortable recommending it. It features all the goodies from the previous DVD editions of the film (and the Canadian Blu) and, from what I can ascertain from early reviews and forum posts, the best transfer the film has seen yet.

AMAZON: $13.99


3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Beauty and the Beast: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray] (1946)

    Jean Cocteau’s sublime adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale masterpiece—in which the pure love of a beautiful girl melts the heart of a feral but gentle beast—is a landmark of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. The spectacular visions of enchantment, desire, and death in Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) have become timeless icons of cinematic wonder.

Here’s another one of my great cinematic loves, newly available on Blu. I discovered Cocteau’s incredibly gorgeous, imaginative Beauty and the Beast via my old Criterion Collection Laserdisc edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, wherein director Francis Ford Coppola sites, via his exceptional commentary track and featurettes, as well as in text supplements, this work as one of the most influential on the tone and imagery of his 1992 film. So, of course, I had to seek it out. And, of course, I immediately fell in love with it. What a beautiful, masterful imagining of the classic tale.

Those who already own the Criterion DVD won’t see too much of an uptick in detail but contrast is more dynamic and the whole thing is just overall more film-like. All the supplements have been ported over and are quite substantial. If you don’t own the DVD this is a blind buy.

AMAZON: $29.99


4. BOYZ ‘N THE HOOD

Boyz 'N the Hood [Blu-ray] (1991)

    Boyz N The Hood” is the critically acclaimed story of three friends growing up in a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood, and of street life where friendship, pain, danger and love combine to form reality. “The Hood” is a place where drive-by shootings and unemployment are rampant. but it is also a place where harmony coexists with adversity, especially for three young men growing up there: Doughboy (Ice Cube), an unambitious drug dealer; his brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a college-bound teenage father; and Ricky’s best friend Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who aspires to a brighter future beyond “The Hood.” In a world where a trip to the store can end in death, the friends have diverse reactions to their bleak surroundings. Tre’s resolve is strengthened by a strong father (Larry Fishburne) who keeps him on the right track. But the lessons Tre learns are put to the ultimate test when tragedy strikes close to home, and violence seems like the only recourse.

Boyz N The Hood is a ’90s classic and the film that made director John Singleton’s career. It was also one of the final films to star good ol’ Cowboy Curtis, “Larry” Fishburne, soon to be replaced by his doppleganger, Morpheus, better know as “Laurence” Fishburne. The film also made stars of the likes of Angela Bassett, Morris Chestnut and Cuba Gooding Jr. among others, as well as proving that rapper Ice Cube has some acting chops. Yeah, Boyz N The Hood is kind of a big deal. And now you can get it on Blu. Sony didn’t send me a screener so I can’t tell you how it looks in high-def but knowing them, I’m sure it’s worth the upgrade from DVD.

AMAZON: $13.99


5. POTICHE

Potiche [Blu-ray]

    Set in 1977 in a provincial French Town, Potiche is a witty and charming comedy starring Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne Pojol, a housebound ‘trophy housewife’ (or potiche) who steps in to manage the umbrella factory run by her tyranical husband after the workers go on strike. To everyone’s surprise, Suzanne proves herself to be a competent and assertive woman of action. Gerard Depardieu plays a union leader and Suzanne’s ex-beau who still holds a flame for her. With Potiche, acclaimed writer-director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) has created a satrical and hilarious take on the sexes and classes.

Deneuve and Depardieu directed by Ozon. That should be enough for you to run out and grab up a copy of this bad boy right there. Having only seen as much as the trailers for the film, I think it looks like a pretty entertaining retro-romp. The Music Box Films Blu-ray release has received fairly average marks over at Blu-ray.com but, it should be noted, represents the processed vintage look of the film accurately. Extras are lite, including a lengthy “making-of” doc, costume tests and a couple of trailers.

AMAZON: $34.99


ALSO AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY THIS WEEK
Clicking an image will take you to Amazon.com where you can learn more about and purchase the Blu-ray disc:

Limitless (Unrated Extended Cut) [Blu-ray + Digital Copy] (2011)Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One [Blu-ray] (2010)Take Me Home Tonight [Blu-ray] (2011)Gungrave: The Complete Series (Classic) [Blu-ray]



The Reef [Blu-ray] (2010)Tekken (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) (2010)Chocolat [Blu-ray]Nowhere to Run [Blu-ray] (1993)



Bridget Jones's Diary [Blu-ray]The Boy in the Striped Pajamas [Blu-ray]Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series [Blu-ray]House of the Rising Sun [Blu-ray] (2011)



Belly of the Beast [Blu-ray] (2003)Peep World [Blu-ray] (2010)Desert Flower [Blu-ray] (2011)



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