Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Lola Montès

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Feb 12, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Lola Montès (Blu-ray)

    Directed by Max Ophuls

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1955
    Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 115 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 French
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: February 16, 2010
    Review Date: February 12, 2010
    The Film
    One of the legendary butchered classics from cinema’s past, Max Ophuls’ Lola Montès in this new restoration is something of a revelation. Released to lousy reviews and no business in 1955 (after costing more than any European film in history to that time), the movie was subsequently edited and reedited in increasingly shorter versions until almost nothing was left of the director’s original vision (in that way, it very much resembled the treatment received by two lavish Hollywood disappointments – A Star Is Born and Star!). Though the movie is still missing almost a half an hour of the original footage, what stands now is the closest we’re ever likely to see of director Max Ophuls’ final cinematic gem. In many ways a culmination of his work in international cinematic venues from Germany to Hollywood but particularly in his last half dozen years of life in Paris, Lola Montès isn’t quite a masterpiece, but it’s a film of great beauty and shows tremendous flair by its director who, sadly, never lived to see the film receive the kind of celebration it deserved.
    Lola Montès (Martine Carol) is one of the most renowned courtesans of nineteenth century Europe. Across her life we see her use her teenaged wiles to entice her mother’s lover Thomas James (Ivan Desny) and later to have dalliances with such celebrated personages as Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg) and King Ludwig of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook) before settling for a man younger than she is, a student of Latin (Oskar Werner) who promises her a life as the wife of a professor free of the lifelong notoriety that has robbed her of her privacy and good health.
    The screenplay by director Max Ophuls, Annette Wademant, and Jacques Natanson uses a fictional circus motif to bookend the story of Lola’s life, told, however, in non-linear fashion. It adds an extra layer of pomp and flash to a life already filled with them and its very garishness serves as a stark contrast to the kinder, gentler stories of the flashbacks (but makes for a very melancholy coda). Ophuls’ dazzling direction takes every opportunity to keep things moving within his extra wide Cinemascope frame and, when appropriate, masks off the sides of the frame to allow intimate scenes to have even more closeness. Working in widescreen for the first and only time, Ophuls often places his actors at the extreme ends of the frame, often suggesting their imminent parting (the Liszt sequences particularly emphasize this), but he never lets the more rectangular frame inhibit those fluid camera moves he’s known for, the camera constantly tracking through the frame, circling the actors, or often going in vertical sweeps symbolizing Lola’s rise through the ranks of society (inevitably becoming the king’s mistress much to the dismay of his people).
    In a film bursting with interesting actors and performances, what a pity that the central role is filled by such an uncharismatic and lackluster actress as Martine Carol. Possessing none of the kittenish vivacity the role would seemingly demand (something Viven Leigh would have been perfect for fifteen years earlier), Carol is a somewhat emotionally drab, uninteresting presence, completely unconvincing as a teen when she seduces her mother’s lover and later something of a mopey cipher. Much more appealing are all of the other performers including Peter Ustinov as the circus ringmaster who guides us through various phases of Lola’s career out of sequence, Oskar Werner, impossibly young and eager as the student who’s first used and cast away by Lola and later serves as her champion and savior, Will Quadflieg as an atypically hale and hearty Franz Liszt, and Anton Walbrook whose nearly deaf king steals all of the tandem scenes with Carol through skillful underplaying.
    Video Quality
    The 2.55:1 Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The Eastmancolor has been restored to wonderful effect even if some of the colors that pop off the screen are occasionally a tiny bit noisy and overly bright. There are a couple of moments when it seems the anamorphic lens is leaving oval impressions on the frame, but the image is otherwise clean and quite captivating with skin tones usually striking but occasionally too much on the pink side. While most of the film is composed in medium shots and they transfer quite sharply, some of the long shots are distressingly soft and indistinct. Black levels aren’t the deepest you’ll see, but they’re certainly adequate. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
    Audio Quality
    The DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 audio track seems a little overemphasized and tends to some slight distortion in the upper registers of the orchestrations of Georges Auric’s music. There is directionalized dialogue present occasionally in the mix, and in the quieter scenes, you’ll notice some light hiss still present in the audio. Still, it’s wonderful to have this audio encode come as close as we’re likely ever to have of the original audio presentation, and the spread across the front soundfield is actually impressive for a film of this age.
    Special Features
    Disc one features an audio commentary by Ophuls scholar and author Susan White. She dissects the film thoroughly (occasionally describing what we’re seeing in detail that’s unnecessary) and offers up many interesting observations and critical analyses, her comments lessened slightly by her somewhat flat, unexciting delivery.
    Disc two contains the majority of the bonus features with this set.
    “Cinéastes de notre temps” is a 1965 French television show which gave its hour over to interviews with members of the cast and crews of various Ophuls films discussing the man and his art, his working methods, and his kinship with actors. This 4:3 broadcast presented in 1080i runs for 53 ¼ minutes.
    “Max by Marcel” is a 2009 documentary by Max’s filmmaker son Marcel about his experiences of working on Lola Montès. The film runs for 33 minutes and is presented in 1080i.
    There is 1 minute of hairstyle and costume tests of actress Martine Carol showing a bit more personality than she displays in the actual movie. They’re in 1080i.
    The 2008 rerelease trailer for the American release of the film runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
    The enclosed 24-page booklet contains a complete cast and crew listing, some beautiful stills from the film, and a heartfelt appreciation of the movie by author and lecturer Gary Giddins. There is also an informative essay on the history of this fabled and troubled production.

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
    In Conclusion
    4/5 (not an average)
    How wonderful it is to welcome back into home video existence this ravishingly beautiful version of Lola Montès for all to share. Even this early in 2010, one anticipates this being one of the top contenders for Best Restoration honors when the end of the year approaches. Highly recommended!
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

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