Five things to watch this weekend – 22-24 November

Including essential Tarkovsky and one of the world’s most influential horror films.

Samuel Wigley

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

On the cusp of its 100th birthday, this week’s most venerable new player on the home entertainment scene is Paul Wegener’s The Golem – a classic of German expressionist horror from 1920. Given a pristine Blu-ray treatment by Masters of Cinema (home to many other classics of the era from F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang and others), The Golem is based in Jewish legend and tells of a 16th-century rabbi who molds a golem out of clay to protect his community from a prophesied tragedy, only for subsequent astrological movements to play havoc with the lumbering creature’s behaviour. Set in a higgledy-piggledy mittel-European town (created on magnificent sets by designer Hans Poelzig), Wegener’s film proved a huge influence on the Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931), which puts it pretty much at ground zero in the history of horror. The disc comes with three soundtrack options – I watched it with the avant-garde electronic score by Wudec and was completely transported.

Moulin Rouge (1952)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray and DVD, also BFI Player

Moulin Rouge (1952)

This week brings two restorations of early 1950s John Huston pictures to Blu-ray. The East Africa-set river adventure The African Queen (which won Humphrey Bogart the 1951 Oscar for best actor) is the more canonical of the pair, but the following year’s bohemian rhapsody, Moulin Rouge, particularly benefits from an HD spruce-up. A biopic of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, featuring José Ferrer as the absinthe-quaffing post-impressionist, its dazzling recreation of the eponymous nightclub – all glinting lights and reflective surfaces – is a triumph, contributing to a vision of late 19th-century Paris that won deserved Oscars for its costumes and art direction. If Huston’s storytelling feels a trifle laggardly at times, we get plenty of bonuses along the way, including early pre-Hammer roles for both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – the latter as Seurat. 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Friday, 11.50pm

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Both The African Queen and Moulin Rouge were financed by the British producer brothers John and James Woolf through their venture Romulus Films, and by happy coincidence Talking Pictures TV are screening Romulus’s first release this Friday. Another early 50s marvel of Technicolor, this time directed by the literary eccentric Albert Lewin, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman feels a bit like the long-lost Powell & Pressburger masterpiece you’ve never seen. It’s set amid a community of expats and bohemians on the Costa Brava in the 1930s – a scene that revolves around Ava Gardner’s singer and socialite Pandora, whose beauty entrances even the enigmatic Dutch sea captain (James Mason) whose galleon is moored out in the bay. Lewin’s fable unfolds with a kind of sleepwalking poetry in which the trance-like performances and the story’s heady fusion of myth and mystery combine to create a rare artefact of British surrealism.

Nostalgia (1983)

Where’s it on? Film4, Monday, 1.25am

A fortnight after they screened Mirror, Film4 are back with another late-night dose of Tarkovsky. This time it’s his penultimate film, 1983’s Nostalgia. In many ways, it’s perhaps the Russian master’s least celebrated work, though I’ve always found it one of his most hypnotic, containing as it does two or three slow-cinema ‘set pieces’ or sequences that, once experienced, become branded on the brain. The story is fairly slender, involving a Russian writer travelling to Tuscany to research an 18th-century composer, but try forgetting the camera’s exploration of the steam-inundated spa town of Bagno Vignoni or the nine-minute shot in which our hero attempts to carry a candle from one end of a mineral pool to the other without it blowing out. Meditative and masterful, this is sushi-grade arthouse cinema, and comfortably one of the finest films of the 1980s. 

Upgrade (2018)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

For a change of pace, here’s a slick, imaginative and very funny cyberpunk thriller from the Blumhouse stable, with echoes of 80s sci-fi like The Terminator (1984) and Robocop (1987). Set in the near future, it stars Logan Marshall-Green as a mechanic, Grey, who is left both widowed and paralysed after a brutal mugging. But a reclusive inventor offers him a chance for revenge in the form of a cockroach-shaped AI implant called STEM, which Grey discovers gives him extreme agility and unstoppable fighting skills – although, unnervingly, it also talks to him inside his head. Leigh Whannell’s film is the kind of goofy modern genre piece you’d expect to be on Netflix, but in fact none of the subscription services has it, so the new limited edition Blu-ray package is welcome.

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