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Blu-rays of the Week
La Belle Noiseuse
(Cohen Film Collection)
French director Jacques Rivette’s overlong dramas are mainly self-indulgent exercises, but his four-hour 1991 film about the volatile relationship between a famous painter and his young muse is—along with his two-part 1993 biopic about Joan of Arc—his best work. Rivette’s technique is often like watching paint dry; add in the usually amateurish performances, and it’s downright painful. But here, the volatility between artist and muse is artfully presented and persuasively enacted by Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Beart, along with the intricacies of creating art that are shown in real time.
It all looks splendid on Blu; extras include vintage interviews with Rivette and with screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent, along with film historian Richard Suchenski’s commentary. Now let’s get a hi-def release of Divertimento, Rivette’s two-hour alternate cut of this material, composed of entirely new shots and sequences.
The Golden Cockerel
This is the second staging to be released on Blu-ray in the past year of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fantastical final opera about an aging Tsar whose title bird warns him of danger.
If this version—staged in 2016 in Brussels by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Alain Altinoglu, leading the Le Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus—is less memorable than the smashing Mariinsky production, it’s a serviceable account of Rimsky’s colorful score. In the title role, soprano Sheva Tahovel and dancer Sarah Demarthe are very fine; hi-def audio and video are good.
One of Shakespeare’s most potent tragedies is given a compelling staging by director Angus Jackson at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The straightforward telling lucidly dramatizes the hubris and nobility of those involved. Strong acting by Andrew Woodall (Caesar), Alex Waldmann (Brutus), James Corrigan (Marc Antony) and Hannah Morrish, whose Portia who can hold her against these men, provide a laser focus. The hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras include Jackson’s commentary, actor interviews and historical featurette.
Sex, Lies and Butterflies
This newest documentary from PBS’s long-running Nature series focuses on those beautiful insects whose unique life-cycle—from cocoon to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly—is shown in the most extraordinarily intimate detail.
Narrated by Paul Giamatti, the 53-minute feature follows scientists analyzing the intricacies of these delicate creatures, including moths (obvious relatives of the butterflies); on Blu-ray, the stunning hi-def camerawork allows us to see, as it were, the very folds of these exquisite insects in all their glory.
DVDs of the Week
David Hockney at the Royal Academy of the Arts
(Seventh Art Productions)
For this latest Exhibition On Screen release, Britain’s most famous living painter presents two large exhibits of his recent work: in 2012, his colorful California landscapes, painted on an iPad, of all things; and his 2016 exhibition of 82 intimate portraits and a still life, each done in the course of three days.
Hockney is engaging and amusing during the discussions of his work; we get to see someone who has been painting for decades still reinvigorated by his art and still re-inventing himself.
Laugh-In—Complete 4th Season
This latest Laugh-In release comprises the entire 1970-71 season of the classic comedy-variety show, which was hosted by Dick Rowan and Dan Martin, pitch-perfect ringmasters for the series’ usual bizarre stew of corny jokes, goofy skits, musical interludes and political satire.
As usual, the stars are an always game crew of regulars (like Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens, Arte Johnson, Lily Tomlin) and a far-flung array of guest stars running the gamut from Rod Serling and Orson Welles to William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. Along with 26 full episodes, there are bonus interviews with Lily Tomlin and Arte Johnson.
CD of the Week
Jesus Christ Superstar—Live in Concert
NBC’s recent live version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s most popular rock musical was a high-energy affair, which helped cover up flaws in the staging, acting and singing. Still, for the most part, this gets by on adrenaline alone, which is why Alice Cooper’s Herod is transfixing in his big scene and why Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas scores so highly whenever he’s singing.
Conversely, John Legend’s Jesus has little charisma, and although she has a lovely voice, Sara Bareilles doesn’t do justice to Mary Magdalene’s standard “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Lacking the necessary visual component, this CD is an adequate record of the performance, which is highlighted by Norm Lewis absolutely killing it on “This Jesus Must Die."
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