The Holy Mountain (1926)
Where’s it on? Masters of Cinema Blu-ray
A century ago, the German filmmaker Dr Arnold Fanck spawned a new genre of Alpine cinema. The bergfilme (or mountain film) would likely be forgotten today were it not for its most famous example, The Holy Mountain, which comes to Blu-ray this week. Said fame is inextricably linked with that of its leading lady Leni Riefenstahl, still a decade away from directorial infamy for her role in the Nazi propaganda apparatus. On a technical level, the film is a remarkable cinematic achievement, quite unlike anything else being made at the time, or arguably since. But it’s impossible to separate Riefenstahl’s baggage, not least given the film’s overt nationalistic overtones and imagistic synchronicity with its star’s later films. Contextualisation is key, and amply provided by this Masters of Cinema release. Kat Ellinger’s essay on the controversial actor-director is essential, as is the inclusion of Ray Müller’s exhaustive 1993 documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl.
People on Sunday (1930)
Where’s it on? BFI Blu-ray
If you’re after some Weimar cinema that’s less controversial, but no less fascinating in its credentials, the BFI brings People on Sunday to UK Blu-ray for the first time this week. Directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, written by Billy Wilder and with Fred Zinnemann on camera operator duties, it’s a city symphony — of sorts — shot on the hoof, with all the energy and immediacy of a time and place that might imply. Light on narrative, but far from the fierce experimentation of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929), it lands somewhere between fact and fiction, as staged sequences with non-professionals rub shoulders with those spontaneously captured on the streets of Berlin. Exactly who was responsible for what is likely lost to history, but there’s enough casual virtuosity on show for any and all of them to lay claim.
The Heiress (1949)
Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray
Loosely adapted from the Henry James novel Washington Square, William Wyler’s masterpiece took home four Oscars back in 1949, including Best Actress for Olivia de Havilland. A major influence on Martin Scorsese’s The Age on Innocence (1993), The Heiress is a wonder of production design, largely confined to the ornate home in which de Havilland’s Catherine Sloper finds herself prisoner, just another object among the many acquired by her father (Ralph Richardson). If at first glance it appears to be a study in psychological emancipation from patriarchal tyranny, the truth proves darker still, as evinced by the film’s gut wrenching finale. The story goes that Montgomery Clift walked out of the premiere, unable to watch his turn as romantic lead Morris Townsend. The performance styles of the central quartet couldn’t be more dissimilar, but all stand as indicators of varying, if equally punishing, modes of oppression in Catherine’s domestic subjugation.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Where’s it on? Fabulous Films Blu-ray
Forget Easy Rider (1969), here’s the real deal as far as post-western New Hollywood myth-making goes. The plot is a sliver: Kowalski (Barry Newman) has 15 hours to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco. Richard C. Sarafian lends the existential charge from the director’s chair. Spare in dialogue, Vanishing Point is pure cinema — time, space, movement and light its tools. Pick your allegory as the white car hurtles through the landscape like film through a projector, inciting freeze frames and disappearing acts before total immolation (which Monte Hellman would literally cinematise at the end of Two-Lane Blacktop the very same year, as the film itself catches fire), charting a path from Méliès to ’Nam.
Under Fire (1983)
Where’s it on? Eureka Classics Blu-ray
A superior political thriller from erstwhile Bond director Roger Spottiswoode, Under Fire follows a trio of journalists covering the collapse of the Somoza regime in 1979 Nicaragua. Gene Hackman is the hotshot with an eye on a TV news anchor gig, Nick Nolte the photographer with an eye on Hackman’s other half (Joanna Cassidy, terrific). While the larger story arc centres on Nolte’s bid to photograph the presumed dead leader of the revolutionary rebels, it’s in its smaller moments and attention to inhabited detail that Under Fire elevates itself above the likes of Missing (1982) or even Salvador (1986). Finely attuned to the film’s debates on journalistic ethics, Spottiswoode draws tremendous performances from his top-notch cast. Hackman insinuates wounded pride with penetrating sensitivity, but it’s Nolte who makes yet another case for his consideration among the greatest actors of his generation.