Monday, September 13, 2010

Metropolis - 1927 incomplete restoration (film review)

Directed by Fritz Lang, filmed by Karl Freund.

From the Internet Movie Data Base ( In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

What follows, now, is a rant about the brilliance of this film. Much of this implies a certain understanding of the previously available versions.

The current version of Metropolis, now available from Kino Video, is an incomplete restoration. A recent discovery in South America of approximately 30 minutes of previously thought to be missing footage was edited into the existing prints. Prior versions had been found, and this new nearly-restored version made great use of everything that had gone before as well as the newly-discovered missing pieces.

The editing process was directly attached to the existing score that was written to accompany the performance of the film. The score makes references to certain events that transpire in the story line, and the result, incomplete as it is, is now the closest thing to The Definitive Version of this master work.

The first thing that was noticed by this author was that the new South American footage was not cleaned up, not remastered. That was a disappointment, at first. There is a torn, damaged quality that is, at first, more than a little annoying. Having seen several severely damaged classics on the Criterion Collection series, this author is very aware of how current digital technology can be used to restore damaged visual images to an approximation of their original quality.

This choice to NOT do so lead to a moment, however, in the opening of the film that startled this author to such an extent that there was a verbal outcry, and the companion (Mr. Scot Murphy) noticed it. Quickly using the formula of 24 frames per second, and the approximate time of that clip (about 1.5 seconds), this author determined that the piece of damaged footage was about 36 frames in length.

From that moment forward, the realization dawned: it had to be presented in its damaged form, as that was the only way for those who have seen the other versions could identify just how flawed every existing available print had been.

Entire subplots were woven into the fabric of what was a familiar story. This author has seen Metropolis many times, and the Giorgio Moroder re-creation from the 1980's (still unavailable on DVD!! Crime against film...), went so far as to colorize the film to the original specifications: the original was hand-tinted, a practice that is rarely identified. Several classic silent films have bursts of color.

One moment in the film, where our hero, Freder takes the place of a worker, is rightly remembered as one of the high points in all of cinema; the mindless physical labor of standing before a giant circular gauge, the worker has to move two hands on the face of the gauge to match a pair of flashing lights. What is returned to us is that worker's subplot. In the Morodor version, a recently dismissed employee, now working for the son, becomes seduced by the lure of a decadent night club. Here, we now see it was the worker the hero had replaced.

The recently dismissed employee mentioned above has a fuller story, and he is harassed by the hero's father via a thug. The thug has multiple parts, the same actor playing several roles, wildly divergent from the others but slowly integrating into one character. This, in itself, is something that modern cinema has attempted but largely failed to do with this level of coherency and poignancy.

The villain of the piece, a demented soul named (of all things) Rotwang. With a lengthy sequence found in South America, a previously missing back story comes into focus: both Rotwang and Joh Frederson (the father of the hero) were deeply in love with Hel, the mother of the hero. The sequence brings a level of depth that shakes a lot of the prior understanding of the film to such an extent that this author was forced to study while viewing.

The Whore Of Babylon sequence, now longer and more fully realized, has been elevated in the mind of this author as one of the most perfect example of what cinema, as an art form can do, and should be remembered and championed, as the infamous Shower Sequence is in the Hitchcock film Psycho. Brilliant, poetic, disturbing, it now underscores the depravity of those members of society who have access to enough disposable income that they can spare time, time that the workers simply do not have, to follow not a pleasure but a sin.

Sin is now exposed in this film, sin and redemption, in such depth, in such detail that by the end of the film, this author determined that this film is possibly the single most Christian of all films made in the 20th Century. Watching it, seeing the progression of the characters, following the new segments, this author was at one time actually possessed to begin "Hail Mary, full of Grace, blessed are you among all women..."

One sequence has always been troubling to this author: the Seven Deadly Sins and the figure of Death are shown as statuary that comes to life. Now replaced to its correct setting, and supported by a previously unseen exposure of the hero to the statuary, with his sudden, heartfelt prayer to the figure of death (as recollected, it was "Yesterday, I would not have thought of you, but today, I beg of you, please pass by my beloved.") the sequence is no longer just an oddity but a vital and important portion of the story.

The restored score, performed live at the Michigan Theater on original Barton organ, was in and of itself a revelation. The music has hints of music even now considered to be experimental. Several musical passages sound more like Philip Glass than anything else. This author had the great personal pleasure of meeting the performer (Dr. Steven Ball, ), the organist received two separate and well deserved standing ovations.

There are portions of this film that now bring tears to the eyes, as well as swelling emotional responses that have rendered every other existing print obsolete. This is a work of genius and should be enjoyed by anyone who holds the film experience a great pleasure.

With the incompleteness of the current restoration, this author holds in his heart the notion that someday, while he still lives, that the entire film will, someday, be returned to its fullest glory.

It is a Must See.

Suvai (restaurant review)

On 12 September 2010, I had to incredible pleasure to encounter an establishment in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Located at 217 S. State Street, next to the State Theater, the front of the restaurant is easily passed by, but fortunately for me, and my taste buds, I was with a good friend (Mr. Scot Murphy) who suggested that we inspect this place, and I am most grateful he made that suggestion.

The menu that day offered a buffet at $9.95 per person, so that was the route that we chose to follow. Entering, the interior of the restaurant was inviting, the decor eye-catching and the space intimate where so many others would have been confining.

The wait staff was, to a soul, open and willing to assist. One in particular suggested certain dishes and a wonder combination of chutneys to improve the already superior displayed foods.

There is no way to single out a specific dish. The curried goat was a huge hit for both of us, there was a dish that included baby eggplant that was To Die For, and a vegetable stew that was described repeatedly as magnificent.

Buffet line style service is rife with potential to go horribly wrong, but not when the staff is focused totally on the dining experience. The staff at Suvai was attentive to everything.

Both Scot and I filled two plates and enjoyed cups of soups and stews. Seasoning and spices within Indian cuisine can be intimidating, on occasion reaching what I refer to as Test Of Manhood Hot. Here, the spices were flawlessly balanced, each bite an explosion of flavor and texture. This balancing act is not to be taken lightly; this restaurant is a perfect, flawless example of what can be done with a cuisine and menu that can often intimidate those inexperienced in the spices and cooking style.

The highest praise I can offer, then is this: if you have always wanted to try Indian cuisine, or if you have a taste for it and wish to introduce others to the wonders of India, Suvai of Ann Arbor is the finest example I have yet encountered for such an experience .

To miss out on this superior experience is to cause a deficit in dining pleasure.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Film review: Hard Candy - (2005)

Directed by David Slade, starring Ellen (Juno) Page and Patrick (Watchmen) Wilson, featuring Sandra Oh.

A cat and mouse thriller, mostly confined to one home and two characters. A harsh and disturbing examination of pedophilia: not for the squeamish. Nothing here too grotesque, just straightforward, and really, isn't that enough?

Page's performance here is amazing. The phrase "just a kid" takes on a whole new depth: think of Kids (1995), with its ugly and unrelenting viewpoint. Her character, and the way she presents it here, shows an Ellen Ripley (from the Alien franchise) as a teen: no bovine excrement accepted.

Wilson is sly, sneaky, creepy and weak, sick and tormented. Nuanced and subtle, his performance goes from the "I want this" to "I'm sick, please help" and everywhere in-between. A difficult part but done with style and substance.

Oh is mentioned because, well, she is Sandra Oh.

In the extras on the DVD, the director stated that the audiences that saw Hard Candy were evenly divided into thirds: loved it, hated it and "I'll have to get back to you on that." Slade said that response made it a total success in his mind, and I would concur.

This is the kind of film that should inspire long, intense conversations and fierce debate. Worthy of owning, but with the codicil: it is not an easy film to watch.

Psychedelic Soul by The Temptations (remastered) - Review

They could out sing, out dance, out perform and outclass anyone, anywhere, at any time. It is the harsh attitude malfunction of this writer that The Tempts were beyond a doubt the finest vocal group to come out of Motown (in itself enough to cause fistfights), if not the entire era in which they recorded.

The remastered version of this spectacular album runs two CD's long, and to hear it with the extra cuts, previously unreleased versions of classics will be a revelation for those who think that funk/soul and especially Motown was incapable of going into the Sgt. Pepper or Bitches Brew territory.

The Fabulous Funk Brothers were never so well served as they are here, and that includes the must-have 20th Century Masters Millennium collection. The FFB are given more room to run and their longer leads into the songs as well as their stronger backing of the five powerhouse voices is amazing.

This is the kind of musical revelation that is unworthy of downloading. It is the kind of re-working and remastering that makes the actual, physical purchase a requirement. It in and of itself renders greatest hits packages and the monster 5-disc Emperors Of Soul box set obsolete.

Ball Of Confusion here clocks in at 4:09, Psychedelic Shack
runs 6:22, Runaway Child Running Wild 9:35, and Papa Was A Rollin' Stone has been brought to 12:04. I cannot fathom having ever heard Papa Was A Rollin' Stone in the form here, more strings, stronger, fuller: how was that possible? It was flawless to begin with, one of the greatest shining moments of the era, possibly the single greatest moment in Motown: that bass line, the way the voices sneak in and around each other, taunting the lyrics... amazing.

The Tempts here also walk up to War, made famous by Edwin Starr, and claim it for themselves.

Front to back, a magnificent statement.