Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Christ Stopped at Eboli....on VHS

Very pleased to hear Criterion are adding Francesco Rosi's 1979 masterpiece to the Collection in September. I'm hoping for a simultaneous UK release but either way, I'll be adding this to my own collection even if it means getting the more expensive US import - some things are worth the extra cash. It's been at least twenty years since I last saw Christ Stopped at Eboli and I retain very warm, impressionistic memories of the film - the dusty, impossibly remote town where the film is set, the strange and fascinating customs and superstitions of the townsfolk, and a career-best performance from Gian Maria Volonte. If Christ did stop at Eboli, I stopped at VHS - the 1992 Artificial Eye VHS edition that is, which contained the long 3½ hr version of the film spread over two tapes. In 2006, UK label Infinity Arthouse put out the film on DVD but it was a huge disappointment, containing a 145min abridged version of the film, but worse still, the DVD transfer was extremely poor, the image riddled with ghosting instances and darker interior scenes that were rendered near unwatchable. So the forthcoming Criterion Blu-Ray is a genuine cause for excitement. With the release some months away, this gives me time enough to finally read the Carlo Levi memoir the film is based on, and perhaps revisit Arrow's Taviani Brothers collection.

All this talk has me feeling nostalgic for my old Artificial Eye set and for this post, I dug it out from among the few VHS tapes I still own. I've always been fond of the Artificial Eye aesthetic - the uniformity of design, the clean organization of titles and text, the judicious use of stills and the instantly recognizable gray sleeve which gave an air of austerity and gravitas that I felt was entirely appropriate for titles like L'Atalante, Andrei Rublev, Les Enfants Du Paradis, i.e. serious world cinema. Looking at the Christ Stopped at Eboli sleeve now and seeing Derek Malcolm's name, I'm reminded of how much star wattage critics like Malcolm (The Guardian), Philip French (The Observer), and Geoff Andrew (Time Out) had back in the 90's...

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