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Shadows And Fog

    Ian Jane

  • Shadows And Fog

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: November, 2015.
    Director: Woody Allen
    Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Madonna, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, Anne Lange
    Year: 1991
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Woody Allen's 1991 film Shadows And Fog is a Kafka-esque trip through the life of Max Kleinman (Allen) set in a sprawling city that, quite intentionally, looks like something out of a black and white German expressionist picture. The story takes place over one night where Kleinman is woken up by a group of men storming around hoping to catch a serial killer who has been preying on the city's populace under cover of the thick fog that perpetually coats it.

    While that's going on, strange things are afoot at a travelling circus. Here a woman named Irmy (Mia Farrow), the show's requisite sword swallowing beauty, is ending her relationship with a clown named Paul (John Malkovich) after finding out that he's been fooling around on her behind her back. The other woman? Marie (Madonna). Irmy splits, not sure what she's going to do to support herself, but quickly finds some solace when she befriends a group of hookers played by Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, Anne Lange and Jodie Foster. Eventually a wealthy student named Jack (John Cusack) offers Irmy a substantial amount of money for an hour's worth of intimacy but as soon as she seems to think she's found a new career path the cops shot the whorehouse down. Once again, Irmy is on the streets and it's here that she runs into Max. They hit it off, maybe there's something to this odd relationship, but things get complicated when the men investigating the rash of murders finger him as their prime suspect.

    Beautifully shot by frequent Allen collaborator Carlo Di Palma and sent to an evocative score from Danny Elfman, Shadows And Fog is, in many ways, an exercise in style over substance. There really isn't much of a story here, though there is a series of (sometimes very loosely) connected events to keep things moving, but there is no shortage absolutely gorgeous atmosphere. This is a definitely a film you come to for the visuals, rather than the plot or the pacing, though those familiar with Allen's style of storytelling should have no trouble appreciating the quirky way that the characters intertwine and interact here.

    As to the performances, Allen isn't really stretching as an actor here. He plays the same sort of neurotic, nebbish character that he's known for and, as is typically the case, you often get the feeling that he's simply being himself in front of the camera. He does what he does well but he's not going to win over any new fans here, which is why it's important that he's surrounded himself with such an interesting supporting cast. Mia Farrows is quite lovely here. Her character is sympathetic enough that we can feel for her and understand why she'd want to get away from Paul rather than attempt reconciliation. Malkovich, as her foil, is an interesting choice for his role as he's not particularly handsome, at least not on a traditional way, but he does good work here and it's interesting to see him act alongside both Farrow and Madonna (who looks great vamping it up here and who is actually a bit underused). Cusack is also good as the would-be john while seeing Tomlin, Bates, Foster and Lange play streetwalkers is nothing if not amusing.

    A strange mix of humor, drama, suspense and art for art's sake, Shadows And Fog does not lack for charm even when it ends without feeling finished. Look at it is a strange chiaroscuro style 'slice of life' story and you're on the right track and with that in mind it's easy to appreciate how gorgeous it looks and how well acted it is.


    Twilight Time's AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presents Shadows And Fog in its proper 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio and by and large it looks very good. The black and white image shows plenty of nice, natural film grain but this all works in the film's favor, it helps create that right atmosphere for the story. Black levels are nice and strong and detail is strong throughout - there are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement, and just overall looking very much like film, just the way that it should be. Detail is also quite good. There are definitely moments where Allen goes for a very start look in terms of contrast and this can and does result in some of the darker scenes showing less detail, but this is all intentional and part of the movie's attempts to look like a much older film than it actually is.

    The main audio track on this disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional subtitles available in English only. The audio here is fine. This isn't a particularly complex track but the dialogue is always crystal clear and balanced nicely against the score, which sounds really good here. The mix, for an single channel track, sounds quite full.

    Extras are slim (not surprisingly given Allan's dislike of extra features and commentary tracks), all that's here, aside from chapter stops and basic menus, is the film's theatrical trailer and an isolated score presented in DTS-HD 2.0. Inside the keepcase, however, is the requisite booklet of liner notes from Julie Kirgo that offer some welcome background information on the film as well as some insight into what makes it unique in Allen's already rather eclectic filmography.

    The Final Word:

    Shadows And Fog isn't Woody Allen at his funniest but it is one of his more interesting projects, a bizarre take on the German expressionist films that so clearly influenced him here that entertains to be sure but that never quite connects the way his best work does. Still, it's worth a watch for Allen's fans even if it's definitely not the best starting point for those new to his work and Twilight Time's disc both looks and sounds very nice.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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