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Valentino (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)

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    Ian Jane
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  • Valentino (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)



    Released on: February 29th, 2016.
    Released by: BFI
    Director: Ken Russell
    Cast: Rudolf Nureyev, Leslie Caron, Carol Kane, Felicity Kendal, Seymour Cassel
    Year: 1977

    The Movie:

    Directed by the late, great Ken Russell and released in 1977, Valentino begins with the news of the famed actor's untimely demise at the all too young age of thirty-one. Newsreel footage shows us how his legions of female fans are inconsolable over the news, swarming the funeral home where his body lies in a scene that is essentially a riot. It is, in Russell's grand tradition, an exercise in excess and strange visual style.

    After that initial sequence, things are put back into place, order is restored and there is some calm. From there, we learn how Rudolph Valentino (played by ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev) touched the lives of a few different women he was involved with over the years. This is set up through a series of flashbacks as each one of these women show up to pay their respects and get in on some photo opportunities (photographers are omnipresent in this world). First up is June Mathis (Felicity Kendal), a screen writer who was involved with the actor. Through her story we learn how Valentino immigrated to the United States from Italy, where he was born, how he worked menial jobs at first and then got work as a dancer, hoping to earn the money he would need to buy a farm in California. When he runs afoul of some mobsters, he splits to Los Angeles but still hopes to buy that farm one day. In L.A., he finds work dancing in nightclubs where he starts to draw more attention than he initially expected. This is a positive at first, until one night he grabs a woman named Jean (Carol Kane) and pulls her out to the dance floor, much to the dismay of her jealous date, Fatty Arbuckle (William Hootkins). Surprisingly quickly, he and Jean are married and he decides, after learning about the film business through her, that he should try acting and it's hear we learn how June Mathis would wind up 'discovering' him.

    From there, Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron) shows up to grieve, giving the photographers exactly what they want. She then talks about how Valentino was cast as Armand and she as Camille in the production of the same name. Of course, this turns out to be doomed, in its own way. Natacha Rambova (Michelle Phillips) follows, telling of a love triangle of sorts and how she knew Valentino was destined for stardom. When she and Valentino worked together on The Sheik, they would become intimate and when he would split with his wife, they would travel together for a while. They are married south of the border before the divorce is finalized, however, and they are, upon their return to California, charged with bigamy which leads to a lengthy downward spiral of events for the couple culminating in a scene where Valentino challenges a reporter to a boxing match for casting aspersions on his sexuality (a fascinating sequence in which Russell shows us how boxing and dancing sort of morph into the same thing, at least in his world). At the same time, the health problems that would eventually claim the young man's life start to make their presence known…

    If this isn't the world's most accurate portrayal of a Hollywood star, at least as far as 'the facts' are concerned, it hardly matters. Russell directs this picture with an insane amount of style, but not at the cost of substance. There's a lot going on here, the visuals doing an excellent job of complimenting the storyline and the storyline doing an equally excellent job of complimenting the visuals. Russell does an interesting job of recreating some famous scenes from a few of the actor's better known works (giving the picture some occasional 'film within a film' moments where Russell goes all out in blending fantasy with reality) and really shows off some fantastic set design. There are a lot of period appropriate art deco motifs that are duly exploited for the camera and scores of colorful costumes, backdrops and furniture pieces on display in pretty much every frame of the film. If nothing else, this is an amazing looking film, a picture ripe with sumptuous visuals and an expertly choreographed exercise in taking things completely over the top (this is Russell, we'd expect no less).

    As to the story itself, it is well told. Co-written by Russell and Mardik Martin and based on the biographical book Valentino: An Intimate Exposé Of The Sheik, it does a fine job of summarizing the man's life and some of more famous works. Accuracy may not necessarily be a strong point. Was Valentino really forced to urinate on himself while incarcerated and was he really jailed next to a chronic masturbator? Russell was open about the fact that he wasn't going strictly by the book on this one, and that's covered well in the commentary included on this disc. The performances, however, are quite strong. Casting Rudolf Nureyev was an interesting move. The role might have been better suited to someone with more traditional acting experience than he, but he moves gracefully and impressively during the film's many dance sequences and if the resemblance that he shares to the film's subject isn't uncanny, it is close enough. A young Carol Kane is good here, as is Felicity Kendal and particularly Leslie Caron, really playing up to the photographers as she drapes herself over Valentino's coffin.

    As it is with a lot of Russell's work, the devil is in the details. There are a lot of little touches here, subtle bits and pieces that make you think about what they mean, that get into your brain a little bit. This, combined with solid performances and some amazing art direction, make Valentino a very worthwhile film indeed, just enjoy it for what it is rather than what it isn't.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Valentino looks excellent on Blu-ray from The BFI, offered up in a 1.85.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. While some small specks pop up here and there you're not going to notice anything stronger than that in terms of print damage and while the expected amount of film grain is present it isn't intrusive or distracting. Colors are quite nicely reproduced here and black levels are good if only occasionally a little closer to dark grey. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no problems to note with any overzealous noise reduction, problematic compression or obvious edge enhancement while detail and texture are typically both strong throughout the film. The Kino disc released earlier in the US looked good, but this British release looks better. It's on a 50GB disc with the feature talking up 36GB of space as opposed to the US release on a 25GB disc with the feature taking up just over 22GB of space.

    There are English language DTS-HD tracks on the disc available in both Mono and Stereo. Regardless of which option you go for (the Stereo track has some appreciable channel separation in a few scenes that obviously the Mono track does not) the film's dialogue is clean, nicely balanced and very natural sounding and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The score used throughout the film sounds really nice here, a bit more spread out in the stereo mix, but always tight and impressively powerful in spots, and there's solid range evident here. There are no alternate language options provided but English closed captioning is provided.

    Extras kick off with an audio commentary from film historian/Video Watchdog publisher Tim Lucas (the same track that was included on the Kino domestic Blu-ray release) that starts off by talking about how this particular film differs from a regular Hollywood bio-pic and how Russell was more concerned with telling a story rather than telling the truth. He also talks about the filming of the picture, the actual shoot and the production, noting that it was once described as twenty-one weeks of constant anxiety. As the film plays out, Lucas does a fine job of pointing out plenty of scene specific details, putting things into context in terms of Russell's personal life at this point in his career (his marriage in particular) as well as plenty of interesting observations about the sets, the costumes, the cast members that appear on screen and of course the use of music in the film. This is well paced, very well researched, quite articulate and generally interesting. As such, it's an important and appreciated addition to this release, on that Russell's fan base really ought to enjoy.

    The disc also includes some featurettes, starting with Tonight: Rudolf Nureyev On Valentino And Ken Russell, a nine and a half minute bit where the late Nureyev talks on television about his career as a dancer, how he was reluctant to give up the time he had left as a dancer to make a film, how he felt about working with Ken Russell and his thoughts on the man's films, his thoughts on the real Valentino and aspirations he had at the time to go on to make more films. Dudley Sutton Remembers Ken Russell And Filming Valentino is a twenty-two minute featurettes with the actor about his relationship with the late Ken Russell. He talks about how he first met him when he was asked to work on The Devils, and how he 'immediately got on with Ken.' They'd also work together on Valentino and The Rainbow, and he talks about that, but he also talks about the film industry of the time, the way that women were treated, what it was like on set, what it was like being around art school students compared to what it was like working in the air force and much more. Sutton is ridiculously animated here, and he's quite a fascinating interviewee. Lynn Seymour Remembers Rudolf Nureyev is a nine minute featurettes wherein she talks about her personal relationship with Rufolf, how they met, when they got together, what he was like, how he was such a product of his time in regards to the way that sexuality and fashion were unfolding and more. This plays out as a spoken word piece overtop of a still of Nureyev in character as Valentino.

    The disc also includes The Guardian Lecture: Ken Russell In Conversation With Derek Malcolm, which is available as an alternate audio track over top of the feature itself and it is, as you'd guess, a discussion between Russell and Malcolm about film. They touch on drug use, storytelling, directing film, making Crimes Of Passion for an 'exploitation company' on a low budget, the cinematography featured on Gothic, the influence of different art and painting, and loads more. This is a very laid back, casual conversation about Russell's output done with a nice sense of humor and in a very anecdotal style. It runs about ninety minutes in length and it's absolutely worth listening to if you're a fan of Russell's filmography.

    Footage Of Valentino's Funeral Procession is exactly that, it's three minutes of silent black and white footage shot as the man was laid to rest set to some stirring instrumental music. It's impressive to see how massive the crowd was that had assembled for this event and the size of the procession. Rounding out the extras are an extensive still gallery, trailers and TV Spots for Valentino, textless opening and closing credits sequences, the film's score available as an isolated third audio option, static menus and chapter selection.

    As this is a combo pack release it also comes with a DVD version of the movie, and additionally we also get an insert booklet of liner notes containing an essay from Paul Sutton, credits for the feature, a brief biography of Ken Russell and credits for the disc itself.

    The Final Word:

    Ken Russell's Valentino was a box office failure in the United States but time has been quite kind to the film. It's not an accurate depiction of its subject's life but more a fantasy film based around some of his exploits. On that level, it works quite well. It's a gorgeous looking film set to a great soundtrack and full of fine performances from an interesting and eclectic cast. The BFI's Blu-ray release treats the film quite well on home video, presenting it in very fine shape, with multiple audio options and with an extensive selection of great extra features highlighted by a fascinating commentary track and a great vintage interview with Russell himself.

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
























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