Throwback Thursday: Beau Travail

The Criterion Collection graced us with their selection of September releases this week and among the selections is the achingly erotic 1999 classic Beau Travail.

 

With her ravishingly sensual take on Herman Melville”s Billy Budd, writer-director Claire Denis firmly established herself as one of the great visual tone poets of our time. Amid the azure waters and sun-baked desert landscapes of Djibouti, a French Foreign Legion sergeant (Denis Lavant) sows the seeds of his own ruin as his obsession with a striking young recruit (Gregoire Colin) plays out to the thunderous, operatic strains of Benjamin Britten. Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard fold military and masculine codes of honor, colonialism’s legacy, destructive jealousy, and repressed desire into shimmering, images that ultimately explode in one of the most startling and unforgettable endings in all of modern cinema.

 

This new special edition of Beau Travail from the Criterion Collection includes a 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Agnes Godard and approved by director Claire Denis, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray; a new conversation between Denis and filmmaker Barry Jenkins; new selected scene commentary with Godard; new interviews with actors Denis Lavant and Gregoire Colin; a new video essay by film scholar Judith Mayne; brand-new English subtitle translation; and an essay by film critic Girish Shambu.

 

Watch a clip from Beau Travail below and click here to pre-order your copy. It’s coming to DVD and Blu-ray in September.

 

Throwback Thursday: Paris is Burning

Welcome to the ball! Director Jennie Livingston‘s award-winning and sensationally entertaining 1990 classic Paris is Burning introduced us to the drag balls of Harlem and we’re eternally grateful.

Voguing, at the time, was an underground form of dance created and perfected by the African-American and Latino gay communities. It burst onto the scene when Madonna took voguing for herself and popularized it. But with Paris is Burning, we also got to meet the originators of the form.

This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, Paris is Burning offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women – including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, and Venus XtravaganzaParis is Burning brings it, celebrating the joy of movement, the force of eloquence, and the draw of community.

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The Criterion Collection’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch special edition is out this week!

With this trailblazing musical, writer-director-star John Cameron Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask brought their signature creation from stage to screen for a movie as unclassifiable as its protagonist.

Raised a boy in East Berlin, Hedwig (Mitchell) undergoes a traumatic personal transformation in order to emigrate to the U.S., where she reinvents herself as an “internationally ignored” but divinely talented rock diva, characterized by Mitchell as a “beautiful gender of one.”

The film tells Hedwig’s life story through her music, an eclectic collection of original punk anthems and power ballads by Trask, matching them with a freewheeling cinematic mosaic of music-video fantasies, animated interludes, and moments of bracing emotional realism. A hard-charging song cycle and a tender character study, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a tribute to the transcendent power of rock and roll.

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Throwback Thursday: Death in Venice

Based on the classic novella by Thomas Mann, this late-career masterpiece from the great Luchino Visconti is a meditation on the nature of art, the allure of beauty, and the inescapability of death.

 

A fastidious composer reeling from a disastrous concert, Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde, in an exquisitely nuanced performance) travels to Venice to recover. There, he is struck by a vision of pure beauty in the form of a young boy named Tadzio (Björn Andrésen), his infatuation developing into an obsession even as rumors of a plague spread through the city.

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Throwback Thursday: Safe

Restrained but emotionally involving, this harrowing tale of a woman who becomes physically allergic to the environment doubles as an AIDS allegory. Safe, an indie classic from Todd Haynes, was greatly misunderstood back in 1995, when it was first released. Over the years, it has become a critically-acclaimed cult classic and has garnered a reputation as a subversive stand-out of the New Queer Cinema movement.

 

Safe © Criterion Collection

Safe © Criterion Collection

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Midnight Cowboy © The Criterion Collection

Throwback Thursday: Midnight Cowboy

One of the British New Wave’s most versatile directors, John Schlesinger came to New York in the late 1960s to make Midnight Cowboy, a picaresque story of friendship that captured a city in crisis and sparked a new era of Hollywood movies.

 

Jon Voight delivers a career-making performance as Joe Buck, a wide-eyed hustler from Texas hoping to score big with wealthy city women. He finds a companion in Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, an ailing swindler with a bum leg and a quixotic fantasy of escaping to Florida, played by Dustin Hoffman in a radical departure from his breakthrough in The Graduate.

 

Midnight Cowboy © The Criterion Collection

Midnight Cowboy © The Criterion Collection

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Female Trouble © The Criterion Collection

Throwback Thursday: Female Trouble

“Where do these people come from? Where do they go when the sun goes down? Isn’t there a law of something?” -Rex Reed

 

Glamour has never been more grotesque than in Female Trouble, John Waters‘ 1974 classic, dubbed at the time “a new high in low taste.” The film injects old-school Hollywood melodrama with anarchic decadence. Divine, Waters’ larger-than-life muse, engulfs the screen with charisma as Dawn Davenport, the living embodiment of the film’s lurid mantra, “Crime is beauty,” who progresses from a teenage nightmare hell-bent on getting ‘cha-cha heels’ for Christmas to a fame monster whose ego-maniacal impulses land her in the electric chair.

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Women in Love © Criterion Collection

Throwback Thursday: Women in Love

A masterful examination of sexual domination and repression, director Ken Russell‘s powerful rendition of the classic D.H. Lawrence novel follows two Midlands sisters and the tempestuous relationships they form. Released in 1969, Women in Love vaulted Russell onto the international stage and allowed him to continue shattering taboos, much as the source material once did.

 

Set in an English mining community on the crest of modernity, Women in Love traces the shifting currents of desire that link the emancipated Brangwen sisters (Jennie Linden and an Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson) to a freethinking dreamer (Alan Bates) and a hard-willed industrialist (Oliver Reed) – as well as the men’s own erotically charged friendship. Bates plays a young man who is attracted to the idea of bisexuality – an obsession which culminates in an unforgettable and still-brazen nude wrestling match with the butch Reed. It’s also worth noting that the novel was adapted for the screen by playwright and gay activist Larry Kramer, founder of Act-Up and The Gay Men’s Health Crises and writer behind “The Normal Heart.”

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