Cool and Classic: 'The Late Mathias Pascal' – a fabulist silent epic
Plus the final quartet of 'The Sleepy Eyes of Death' samurai adventures
"Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Musicals" (Warner) continues the celebration of Warner Bros. 90th anniversary with another box set, this one collecting 20 landmark musicals from 1928 to 1988. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Late Mathias Pascal" (Flicker Alley), directed by Marcel L'Herbier from a Luigi Pirandello novel, is a fabulist epic from 1926 France starring Ivan Mosjoukine, one of the great French actors of the silent era, as a dreamer whose life takes a fantastic turn. L'Herbier was one of the giants of French cinema of the twenties, a master of technique, a proponent of complex storytelling, and an artist who wound fantasy and poetry around social realism. There is nothing realistic about "The Late Mathias Pascal," which open s on a succession of setbacks, a romance that lands our oddball hero with a mother-in-law who poisons his marriage, and a double-shot of tragic death before it takes a hard turn into wish fulfillment. The provincial dreamer who loses it all becomes an innocent in the high society of Rome where he wins it all back, but his new life comes with a wicked price.
While not technically fantasy, "The Last Mathias Pascal" lives in a world where anything can happen. Mathias lands a job in a horror of a municipal library that could have spring from the imagination of Kafka in a whimsical mood and Marcel L'Herbier comments on Mathias' predicament with dream sequences, hallucinations, and phantom doubles, not to mention intertitles that tend to spell out his themes directly: "Being nobody becomes more and more difficult," quoth the film, in case we hadn't noticed. It bounces from dreamy romance to heavy tragedy to bouncy fantasy and back without feeling schizophrenic, thanks to the grace and elegance of L'Herbier's direction.
It doesn't necessarily feel like there's three hours of story here, but the magnificent sets and locations, L'Herbier's evocative imagery and effects, and Mosjoukine's offbeat performances, morphing through complete character evolutions as if he really was recreated anew with every change of fortune and identity, make the film a delightful journey.
The Blu-ray has been mastered from a 2009 restoration by La Cinématèque française. There are small scuffs and scratches throughout, and a few brief segments of deterioration, but overall it is a strong image with lovely tints. It is accompanied by a lovely and lively score composed and conducted by Timothy Brock, who specializes in original scores for small orchestras, and performed by orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna in Italy. An excellent production all around. Includes a booklet with notes by film historian Richard Abel.
"Sleepy Eyes of Death Collector's Set Volume 3" (AnimEigo) - Raizo Ichikawa is the deadly wandering sword-for-hire Nemura Kyoshi, the half-breed son of a Japanese noblewoman and the Christian missionary who raped her, in the series known as "Son of the Black Mass" in Japan and "Sleepy Eyes of Death" in the U.S.. This set features films the final four films of the 12-film series: "A Trail of Traps" (1967), "Hell is a Woman" (1968), "In the Spider's Liar" (1968), and "Castle Menagerie" (1969). The discs are all in Japanese with English subtitles and feature program notes, bios, image galleries, and original trailers.
"The Origins of Oz" (Smithsonian Channel) looks at the life and inspiration of author L. Frank Baum, author of the "Oz" books.
Two vintage "adults only" features from the glory days of pornographic filmmaking: "Serena: An Adult Fairy Tale" (1979) with Serena and Jamie Gillis and "Same Time Every Year" (1981) with Ron Jeremy, Loni Sanders, and Tiffany Clark. Both are directed by Fred J. Lincoln.