Reconsideration is one of the keys to good cinephilia. Context is everything. This month has seen two works placed up for re-evaluation by two of the foremost specialist home video labels.
Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Or Arc has long been a part of the modern canon of accepted classics. Reaffirming this position, this past Summer the film charted in the famous Sight & Sound once-every-decade top ten list, as it has done on three occasions in the past. But alas, this almost wasn’t the way things panned out. Dreyer’s original vision was meddled with by the church and government upon original release, and with a sense of rediscovery greeted a cut of the film re-presented at the height of Langlois culture in the 1950’s being the move that placed the film in any real post of accessibility, albeit in a severely truncated form known as the Lo Duca version of the film.
It wasn’t until 1981 that a print of the film befitting Dreyer’s original vision was found, and in an Oslo mental institution of all places. Even though the last couple of decades has seen the film firmly ground in the canon, accessibility has remained an issue, especially in the UK. It’s difficult to believe, but up until this month’s release of the film The Passion Of Joan Of Arc had not received a DVD release.
Similarly wrought a path to the fore, and yet one that has seen it’s particular film’s consensus opinion as being one much different to the Dreyer film is that of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Often cited as “The Worst Film Of All Time™”, by many who haven’t seen it, Heaven’s Gate was mangled and withheld on release by a studio unsure of just what to do with one of the most ambitious pictures of the period (In the defence of United Artists, Cimino himself wasn’t innocent, overspending and pushing his luck during most of the shoot). But over the Summer the US’s formidable Criterion Collection announced their acquisition of the film for their library, promising a lavish DVD and Blu-ray edition, and so began the latest stage in that particular films slow recovery to respectability.
The key to reappraisal is presentation. Earlier this year I attended a 35mm theatrical screening of Dennis Hopper’s infamous The Last Movie, a picture so obscure that all previous viewings had taken place via VHS cassette. While the film had underwhelmed on a decades old cropped video, the big screen experience turned out a different movie altogether. Perhaps it says everything that my appreciation for Heaven’s Gate stems from a screening of a 70mm blow-up of the film. The new Criterion reissue of the movie is an immeasurable improvement over the barebones MGM DVD from the early 2000’s that the new edition has replaced, although to counter my own thesis it is worth noting that the initial stages of the road to redemption for Heaven’s Gate began with on television on the legendary Z-Channel, who aired the 219-minute cut of the film just months after a severely butchered 149-minute cut played theatres.
Elsewhere and on a similar note, this week saw Paris’ Cahiers du cinéma announce their annual top ten, becoming the first major publication to do so this in 2012. While the to-be-expected likes of Miguel Gomes’ Tabu and David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis featured in a list headlined by Leos Carax’s sublime Holy Motors, the Cahiers list, as always, is most notable for the more unusual films that featured, the most unexpected of which would be Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. Still unreleased in the UK, one might have written off Coppola’s latest, should the wails of disapproval coming out of many an international festival be heeded, but alas, as time has shown with visionary works like Heaven’s Gate, Blade Runner and L’avventura, I can’t wait to give Twixt a shot.
Adam Batty – Editor-In-Chief
Heaven’s Gate and Film Maudit Culture – Peter Labuza for Film Comment.
With 35mm Film Dead, Will Classic Movies Ever Look The Same Again? Daniel Eagan for The Atlantic.
Films Not Freebies – Craig Skinner opened up the debate on the ethics of film criticism.