In a new monthly column, Anton Bitel highlights a selection of must-haves, from re-releases to streaming premieres.
The Lighthouse, dir. Robert Eggers, 2018
“I’m probably a figment of your imagination,” observes Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) some way into Robert Eggers’ cinematic shanty, set in the late nineteenth century. “This rock is probably a figment of your imagination too.”
For a figment, Wake seems earthily real – a drunken, farting, cursing, peg-legged old timer insistently in charge of the lighthouse lamp. Yet as his four-week stint with a new assistant (Robert Pattinson) turns into a much longer stay, this tiny, remote New England island will become a staging ground for the two men’s haunting pasts and buried desires.
There are unexpected, and possibly imagined, visits from a pesky seagull, a mermaid, a ghost, a corpse and a Lovecraftian monster, there are nightmares, delirium tremens and madness to unmoor our grip on the narrative – and as this ongoing maelstrom of meaning buffets the viewer, existential preoccupations emerge, allegories offer themselves, and myths (Protean, Promethean) displace history.
Co-writing with his brother Max, Eggers slowly spins a rich and strange sea yarn in monochrome (and in Academy ratio) that overflows with Beckettian absurdity, as these men, perhaps both liars (literal gaslighters), look, while waiting for ‘relief’, into the abyss of both their elemental isolation and their infernal companionship.
The Lighthouse is released on Limited Edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray, 12 June via Arrow Video
Red Sun, dir. Rudolf Thome, 1970
Thomas (Marquand Bohm) may romanticise himself as a returning ‘exile’, but in fact he is a feckless, sponging ‘specimen’ of a man, who has left his wife and three-year-old daughter in Hamburg to reconnect with old flame Peggy (Uschi Obermeier). Cashless and homeless, but with a ‘certain rotten charm’, he joins Peggy and her flatmates Sylvie (Sylvia Kekulé), Isolde (Gaby Go) and Christine (Diana Körner) – all single, independent women who go through male admirers fast – in their Munich flat, only to discover that he is in the middle of a dangerous movement.
Coming out the same year the Red Army Faction was founded, Rudolf Thome’s thriller focuses on a revolutionary cell dedicated less to resisting state imperialism than to overthrowing patriarchy itself. For in a secret, self-declared war against men, these young good-time girls are also ruthless murderers, sometimes taking out their own would-be lovers, and sometimes targeting random strangers.
While, in this battle of the sexes, the women’s actions are unconscionable, and while they will – as so often happens with underground cadres – eventually turn on themselves, Thome makes it difficult for the viewer simply to root for their victims either, who are opportunistic cheats and money-chasing womanisers to a man.
Red Sun is on Blu-ray from 19th June through Radiance
Revenge (Adauchi) dir. Tadasha Imai, 1964
Tadashi Imai’s jidaigeki begins on a day in July of 1722 when an official public duel has been scheduled for noon between proud but untitled samurai Shinpachi Ezaki (Kinnosuke Nakamura) and the higher class Tatsunosuke Okuno. In fact this duel has been sanctioned by the local minister to mend the Okuno clan’s honour, damaged when Tastsunosuke’s two older brothers, Magodayu and Shume, had each challenged Shinpachi to less licit duels, and ended up dead at his sword. Now Shinpachi must let Tastsunosuke best him, to restore the social order – but faced with a profoundly unfair system, Shinpachi decides to go down fighting, and thus to expose honour’s emptiness.
Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, who also penned Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri two years earlier, brings here too not only a cruel deconstruction of the samurai moral code, and even a final quiet act of harakiri, but also a chronological structure that builds to a climactic duel whose complicated antecedents are revealed in flashback.”We shall not look back”, go the lyrics of the war song that Shinpachi sings – but this brutal film’s backward-looking structure ensures that all these events come weighted with tragic inevitability while looking forward to Japan’s self-entitled aggression in the more recent past.
Revenge is released in a 2K restoration for its worldwide Blu-ray debut, 19 June through Eureka! Video’s Masters of Cinema series
Stephen King On Screen, dir. Daphné Baiwir, 2022
Though a documentary, Daphné Baiwir’s feature opens with a fantasy collage of motifs familiar from the different film adaptations of best-selling (mostly) horror author Stephen King. The first of these is a wide aerial shot of a car driving a forest road. This early evocation of The Shining also involves a paradox: for while Kubrick’s film is the most iconic and influential cinematic rendering of King, it also represents an outer limit of adaptation, famously very different in both narrative detail and spirit from the source novel, and just as famously despised by King himself.
Baiwir assesses King’s work through the medium of adaptation, turning for insightful commentary to nearly all the directors who have converted his writing to cinema, in a whistle-stop tour of this prolific, often prescient author’s œuvre. From this impressive range of talking heads, the only notable absences besides Kubrick and Romero (both deceased) are De Palma, Reiner, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Lambert, and King himself (except in file footage).
Wrapping up the themes, Mike Flanagan discusses how he got King to accept an adaptation of Doctor Sleep which ends in an iconically Kubrickian Overlook Hotel, allowing the author at last to find his own place in the long-repudiated work of another.
Stephen King On Screen is on digital from 26 June via Signature Entertainment
Lady Reporter, dir. Hoi Mang, 1989
“This case is being investigated by the Hong Kong police,” the local Superintendent (Melvin Wong) tells undercover FBI Agent Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock), “We need no help from an American Rambo!”
This kind of jurisdictional conflict has long been the bread and butter of the cop movie – but Hoi Mang’s film is the first and only time that a Hong Kong flick has featured a western woman in its lead rôle. Cindy is visiting from the States to investigate counterfeit American bills being printed by The Asian Post, whose publisher (Ronny Yu) is a ruthless criminal surrounded by martial arts experts. Still, as Cindy joins forces with a prosecutor’s daughter (Elizabeth Lee), a rival reporter (Mang) and an undercover cop (Siu-Ho Chin) to bring down the gang, coherent plotting takes a backseat to the fast-punning dialogue (inevitably misfiring in translation) and the hard-hitting, acrobatic action set-pieces (which work in any language).
This apes the fish-out-of-water policier comedy of Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, right down to Babida’s Faltermeyer-esque score – but Rothrock truly is the film’s weapon of mass destruction, taking on an army of opponents from East and West alike with a charm that is lethal.
Lady Reporter is released on Blu-ray, 26 June via Eureka! Entertainment
Le Mépris, dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963
“It’s based on the novel by Alberto Moravia,” says the voiceover that opens Jean-Luc Godard’s feature, listing its key personnel even as we watch a camera and crew track Giorgia Moll walking along a street. In other words, this is a film about film, and about the anxieties and compromises involved in filmmaking.
It begins with a quote from André Bazin about cinema being a substitute for our gaze, and ends with a shot (of a shot) purporting to be Ulysses’ gaze across the ocean to his long-lost island home of Ithaca. In between, the playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) also loses his wife and sense of self as he agrees, in return for the promise of a large monetary payment, to do sexed-up rewrites for Fritz Lang’s Hollywood-funded epic Ulysses. Caught between Lang’s dedication to high art and the profit motive of vulgar American producer Jerry Prokosch (Jack Palance), Paul’s indecision, venality and cowardice earn him the contempt of his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot).
Godard, himself working with American co-producers and facing demands to insert nude shots of Bardot (whose fees constituted half the film’s budget), turns this conflict between culture and cash into an ironic, self-reflexive odyssey.
Le Mépris is released on 4K UDD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital from 26 June via Studiocanal
Published 19 Jun 2023