Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
Where’s it on? Arrow Academy Blu-ray
One of the most underrated filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age, Mitchell Leisen is perhaps best known for his work directing screenplays by Preston Sturges (Easy Living, 1937; Remember the Night, 1940) and Billy Wilder (Midnight, 1939), both of whom were known to give him stick for the job he delivered. Don’t listen to either of them — especially Wilder’s dog-whistle description of the openly gay Leisen as a “window-dresser,” recounted in the extras on this Arrow Academy release — you’ll find less misanthropy at play here than in many a Sturges or Wilder joint. Hold Back the Dawn falls into the latter category, shot from a script by Wilder and Charles Brackett. The metatextual framing device feels like the writing duo’s clever-clever touch, but the tenderness for the trio at the heart of the film’s love triangle — however cynical their actions —is all Leisen. Centring on a visa scam on the Mexican side of the US border, it’s not hard to find contemporary resonance when Charles Boyer’s hustler notes, “There’s a fence back there. You Americans make a very definite point of it.”
Coming Home (1978)
Where’s it on? Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray
It took a long time for Hal Ashby to get his proper critical dues. This Masters of Cinema release, along with Criterion’s recent edition of Shampoo (1975) and Amy Scott’s excellent 2018 documentary, Hal, finally go some way to shepherding the great American filmmaker back into the spotlight. A big winner at the 1978 Oscars, where both Jon Voight and Jane Fonda took home the gold for their lead performances, Ashby’s drama about a paraplegic Vietnam veteran and the volunteer nurse with whom he begins an affair proved one of his most successful films. Formally speaking, the filmmaker is at the peak of his powers, most evident in the brilliant opening scenes. The soundtrack may be a little heavy-handed, and the speechifying a bit much, but in its quieter moments, this one soars.
The Garden (1990)
Where’s it on? BFI Blu-ray
Originally included as part of the BFI’s mammoth Derek Jarman boxsets earlier this year, The Garden and the next film on our list receive standalone Blu-ray releases this week. Shot on Super 8 around the filmmaker’s Dungeness home, two years after his AIDS diagnosis and the introduction of Section 28, it’s a confrontational work seething with anger at the escalating mistreatment of the gay community. Rich in biblical allusion, it’s a film driven by the force of its images — perhaps none more startling than that of a hanged, leather-bedecked Judas — and a poetic narration by Michael Gough that speaks to the lost paradise of its title.
Where’s it on? BFI Blu-ray
Dying of AIDS, and with his sight failing, Derek Jarman made Blue, the most experimental of all his feature films. Opening and closing credits aside, the film consists of a blue screen, over which an aural symphony of reminiscence, observation and musical cues are laid. To describe the film’s image as unchanging wouldn’t be quite right, especially when viewed from a print, the film itself giving life to the static colour scheme, and noticeably captured by this new Blu-ray release. A modernist memento mori from a filmmaker pre-disposed to visual extravagance, it makes for a profoundly emotional viewing experience, as much by virtue of its absences. The disc includes Jarman’s final work, the home movie montage Glitterbug (1994), among myriad complementary fragments and features.
Where’s it on? Anime Ltd. Blu-ray and DVD
This Oscar-nominated gem from Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 2006) seems precision-tooled to cast a spell on young and adult viewers alike. Largely privileging four year old Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi) with its perspective, it’s a riff on A Christmas Carol, as the young boy’s inability to cope with the arrival of baby sister Mirai sets off a series of fantastical encounters with relatives past, present and future. Hosoda is steadily making a name for himself as one of the foremost names in Japanese animation, with Mirai only serving to compound the triumph of his previous feature, Your Name (2016).