Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY (Second Sight). There have been so many versions of Mary Shelley’s 1819 novel. The best still remains the James Whale 1931 film with Boris Karloff and which is responsible for the general public even today thinking that Frankenstein is the Creature’s name.
In Christopher Isherwood’s 1973 erotic version, somewhat ploddingly directed for television, the Creature (played by the charismatic Michael Sarrazin) is, interestingly, a Byronic figure, beautiful and intelligent, who tragically grows ugly and deformed. Frankenstein, his maker, loves him far more than he does his wife whom he deserts on his wedding night to be with him.
THE BUTLER (Entertainment in Video). The butler is black and he works at the White House, serving every President from Eisenhower to Reagan. He is a real person but his life has been turned into fiction and is played out against a background of the Civil Rights Movement in which his son (also fictional) is a leading activist. Forest Whitaker, always passive, has dignity, but his performance, like Lee Daniels’ film, is a bit on the dull side. Oprah Winfrey is surprisingly cast as his wife, surprising in the sense that you may think of her as a talk show hostess rather than as an actress
FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND (BBC). This four part TV drama series takes a look at the wartime adventures of Ian Fleming (Dominic Cooper), as bad boy, as spy, ladies man, brute sadist and as liar. Recruited by Naval Intelligence, he had a lot of fun and games in bed and out. The whole thing is as absurd as any Bond movie to which there are many references. His relationships with his mother (Lesley Manville) and his superior officer (Anna Chancellor) are unashamedly camp theatrical.
FIRE IN THE BLOOD (Sony). Medicine. Monopoly. Malice. Millions are dying of AIDS in the developing countries because of lack of access to affordable drugs. The magnitude of the problem will not go away until Health is put before Profits. The rich US pharmaceutical firms continue to block all cheap drugs. The documentary, distressing and shocking, deserves the widest distribution.
IN FEAR (StudioCanal). A young man and his girl friend are in a car and lost. They drive through the woods on a rainy night, going round in circles, trying to find a hotel. They are liable to be attacked at any moment. Nobody knows what is going on; not even the actors! The director, Jeremy Lowering, didn’t give them a script. This creepy thriller is effective for much of the time; but it doesn’t know how to end.
QUERELLE (Artificial Eye). Rainer Wemer Fassbinder’s last film (1982) is based on Jean Genet’s homoerotic novel. The totally artificial action, studio bound, shot in garish colours, set in and around a dockside brothel, is relentlessly crude,thoroughly pretentious and incredibly boring. The dubbing is awful. Jeanne Moreau sings Oscar Wilde’s ‘Every man kills thething he loves.’ Querelle is a French matelot, played by Brad Davies. Lindsay Kemp used to stage Genet in the theatre and it was so much more fun.