Reliving classics on blu-ray

Second Take

Reliving classics on blu-ray

The newest trend in the video pirate market is stocking vintage Hollywood movies in blu-ray. And amazingly enough, you get these blu-ray blockbusters for the price of what one paid in those days for a DVD! A friend presented me with a dozen of my favourites, and though I didn’t think I would watch these classics again, I found that I watched the lot of them over two weekends. It’s the crisp blu-ray format that probably made them more compelling. Four of them in particular I relished seeing again. Annie Hall, The Big Sleep, Do The Right Thing and Glory.

Annie Hall

What would we do, we angst-ridden urbanites without Woody Allens’s witty aphorisms and intellectual humour to take the sting out of modern life? In Annie Hall, for the first time, Allen dropped his visual gags and one-liners for a blend of the comic and the serious and succeeded brilliantly. Anhedonia, defined as the chronic inability to experience pleasure, was Woody Allen’s working title, changed only three weeks before the premiere. (Hall is Diane Keaton’s real surname).

The re-titling reflected a shift in Allen’s whole concept of the film, from a comedic survey of almost every issue that plagued his own life to the exploration of a love affair — and it happened, he said, only during the final editing process.

More or less biographical, the film explores fragments of Allen and Keaton’s real-life relationship. It won four Oscars, but characteristic of Allen, he was disappointed with the results. Annie Hall ended the old vaudeville joke phase of Sleeper and Take the Money and Run and signalled the serio-comic phase of Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Look quickly for Sigourney Weaver in her screen debut as Allen’s date outside the movie theatre. The funniest scene in the movie — where he sneezes into the cocaine powder — was pure improvisation. 

The Big Sleep

Summoned to the lavish mansion of General Sternwod, Marlowe, a private detective played by Humphrey Bogart, is hired to investigate a blackmailer, a Hollywood smut book dealer who has compromising photos of the general’s daughter. The general’s real aim is to have Bogart locate his missing confidante Shawn Regan. Marlowe quickens his moves through a labyrinthine plot of gambling, blackmail and, of course, murder.

The unwieldy plot of The Big Sleep, scripted by none other than William Faulkner, had even Raymond Chandler baffled. Asked about the killer’s identity, Chandler reportedly snapped back — “How should I know? You figure it out.” The action offstage was just as brisk. Bogart’s third marriage was reaching its terminal stage while his on-going romance with Lauren Bacall was hotting up. 

Do The Right Thing

One of the best, most complex film about race-relations ever put on the screen, Do The Right Thing is funny and ferocious. What begins as just another hot summer day in New York becomes a virtual explosion of dissatisfaction, faded hope, and strained love in a predominantly black neighbourhood. Spike Lee plays Mookie, a deliveryman for a successful pizzeria owned by Danny Aiello, a stubborn Italian. A glistening Korean fruit-and-vegetable store is nearby. But everyone who is black is struggling. When the summer heat grows unbearable and it becomes painfully clear to the blacks that they are being beaten into ineffectuality, a riot erupts.

No matter how many times you see it, the craft, power and sheer energy of Lee’s work shocks you. And Lee is served by a first-rate cast, particularly Danny Aiello as the beleaguered Sal, whose famous pizzeria is the focal point for the racial tensions that dominate the entire film. It’s ambiguity is disturbing: at the end Lee offers the solutions of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X — one non-violent, the other militant, and asks you to choose.  

Glory

Exhilarating, lyrical, inspiring, Glory is a film about the American Civil War. It reminds us why we go to the movies: to be awed by sheer visual grandeur, the kind of spectacle that is a feast for the senses. One that only cinema — not literature, not drama — can furnish. But Glory is more than mere spectacle. It is a moving, unforgettable story about courage, heroism and honour. 1863.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry becomes the first black regiment to fight in the Civil War. The 54th is led by a white officer, the 25-year-old Colonel Robert Gould Shaw played astutely by Matthew Broderick. Among the black volunteers are Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, and Andre Braugher. Director Edward Zwick and British cinematographer Freddie Francis turn a war film into intense, poetic drama. While its epic grandeur is lost on video, it’s still a fiery, spirit-stirring experience.

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