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Comrades
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Lanterna Magicka - Bill Douglas & the Secret History of Cinema (2009, 60 minutes), an insightful new documentary on Douglas' life and work
  • Visions of: Comrades (2009, 15 minutes) cast-members recall making the film
  • Bill Douglas interviews (1978, total 33 minutes)
  • Home and Away (Michael Alexander, 1974, 31 minutes) charming short film co-scripted by Douglas
  • News report from the set of Comrades
  • Original Comrades trailer
  • Fully illustrated booklet including new essay, visual material, archive Q&A with Bill Douglas, biography, cast and credits etc

Comrades

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Bill Douglas
Starring: Alex Norton, Robin Soans
1987 | 182 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £27.99 | Series: BFI
BFI Video

Release Date: July 27, 2009
Review Date: August 2, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

The epic story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset labourers deported to Australia in the 1830s for forming a trade union.

Unfolding in the pastoral haze of Dorset and blinding light of Australia, this beautiful film is rich with carefully layered visual illusions an nuances. With moving, profound performances from a magnificent cast - including Alex Norton, Imelda Staunton, Robin Soans, Philip Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Allen and Barbara Windsor - this is a compelling account of struggle and injustice.

This distinctive feature from a director of singular vision is presented in a new High-Definition restoration.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Long unavailable (and in all honesty Iím not even sure if it has ever received a VHS release) BFI Video presents Bill Douglasí Comrades in the aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 on the first dual-layer Blu-ray disc of this 2-disc set. The image is presented in 1080p.

Again BFI has blown me away with one of their transfers. Iíve never seen the film though have been recently made aware of it and its reputation (though highly regarded it was shown briefly in theaters in the UK in 1986/87, quickly pulled, and hardly seen since then) so I wasnít sure what to expect but what I ended up getting was a near-perfect image for a rather striking looking film.

The film is filled with incredible shots, loaded with a massive amount of detail and the high-definition transfer on here handles it flawlessly. Itís so strikingly sharp and crisp, detail is high, and colours look just absolutely wonderful, beautifully saturated and perfect. There are absolutely no issues with the transfer, itís perfectly clean.

Even more impressive is the condition of the print. Itís almost completely faultless, just a few minor blemishes. Grain is still present but looks absolutely wonderful, perfectly natural.

Very film like and just about perfect. This is one of the most striking and wonderful looking transfers Iíve seen on Blu-ray for an older film (and I have to say it does somewhat kill me to call a film from 1987 ďolderĒ.) Just absolutely beautiful to look at, BFI yet again giving a lot of attention and care to a neglected film that certainly deserves this presentation.

Like a lot of BFI Blu-ray releases this one is region free, meaning it should play on all players worldwide. It plays perfectly on my PS3.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The disc also presents a lossless stereo track that suits the film. Itís fairly quiet and I canít say it has much in the way of range. Dialogue is adequate and easy to hear (I had a few troubles with accents, though this is more my problem and not a reflection of the disc.) Certainly not as striking as the video transfer but perfectly acceptable for this film.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

BFI have devoted the first disc completely to the film, moving the supplements to the second disc. One thing Iíve noticed with BFIís multi-disc Blu-ray releases is that while the first disc with the film is a Blu-ray disc the second disc is usually a single-layer DVD. Thankfully thatís not the case here, the second disc being a single-layer Blu-ray disc, also region free.

First is an absolutely wonderful documentary, the 63-minute Lanterna Magicka Ė Bill Douglas and the Secret History of Cinema. Itís an absolutely fantastic documentary, a sort of making-of for Comrades and loving tribute to Douglas and his collection of film paraphernalia. The most fascinating aspect of it is his collection, which includes many items used for ďoptical entertainmentĒ, a lot of items that predate cinema (dioramas, zoetrope like items) and then different types of cameras and a lot of materials related to Chaplin (figures, books, cut-outs, etc.) He also has a large set of film books that took up most of his small flat at one period. The collection, which now appears to be in a museum, is wonderful, as is the footage of Douglas (taken from an interview that also appears on this disc) and his friends talking about it. Thereís footage of friends, family and colleagues talking about him, and then discussion on the making of Comrades and the appearance of many of those ďmoving imageĒ gadgets, something Douglas was determined to get into the film (the narrative is somewhat tied together by Alex Nortonís variety of characters, which include a lanternist and diorama showman.) It also mentions some of the issues including the editing and then its actual premiere. Again itís an absolutely fabulous, brilliant documentary, one of the best features Iíve come across on a DVD/Blu-ray release so far this year.

A more generic making-of is included, a 15-minute piece entitled Visions of Comrades, which gathers interviews from various members of the cast and crew including actors Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton and Robin Soans, producer Simon Relph, and associate producer David Hannay. Not as good as the previous doc but still a decent reflection on the film, with its members reflecting on what drove them to do the film, what they liked about the film, working with Douglas, and the budget. One of the more fascinating things Iíve learned from this release (mentioned all throughout the features) is Douglasí style of script writing, which spent more time describing visuals than giving dialogue. Davis was actually drawn to the project because he found the script so interesting.

Bill Douglas Interview is a 19-minute featurette made up of interview footage shot after Douglas completed his film trilogy (also available on Blu-ray and DVD by BFI.) In this interview he talks about first being exposed to film, mentions how he talked his way into film school, his method of writing scripts, how he teaches his students, the films he finds interesting and would love to make, and then, of course, shows off his collection of memorabilia and cannot help but give a demonstration of them, even giving a sort of history lesson. Itís a great interview but this part of it is the most charming. His love of cinema and its history shows through and is something I doubt he could hide even if tried. He just beams during this part of the interview and canít help himself.

Bill Douglas: Reflections on His Trilogy is made up of segments from the same interview used for the previous feature. In these bits he talks about his reasoning for using different crews on each film (to get a different feel) and then talks about the actors and non-actors that appear in them (I assume his love of Bresson, mentioned in the other documentaries, is what led him to the decision of non-actors.) Itís a great extension on the previous interview. In all it is a fantastic interview and I hope all of it is here or at least very little is missing from the original footage.

Home and Away is a 31-minute short film co-scripted by Douglas and directed by Michael Alexander. Itís a decent, occasionally amusing short film about a group of boys at a boarding school. I rather enjoyed it and while Douglas didnít direct it does still share a bit with the films in his trilogy (I must admit Iím surprised itís on this release and not the Blu-ray for Douglasí trilogy.)

We then get a 4-minute theatrical trailer and then a 2-minute on-set report featuring wonderful set footage and brief interviews with Bill Douglas and producer Simon Relph.

And as usual BFI includes a fantastic booklet including an essay by Grahame Smith, a reprint of a Q&A session featuring Bill Douglas, made after a screening of the film, and then a bio of Douglas. Thereís also notes on the versions of the film and the Bill Douglas Centre, Scattered throughout youíll find samples of the script and then storyboards. In all a perfect conclusion to the set.

And thatís it. I was disappointed at first by the lack of a commentary but as I thought about it after completing the set I donít know if this release would have benefitted from one. Its supplements on the second disc more than cover the film and Douglas thoroughly (and BFIís release for Douglasí trilogy offers more.) Everything on here is wonderful and worth the time viewing, specifically the hour-long documentary, one of the best features Iíve come across so far this year. In all an impressive set.

10/10

CLOSING

This may be my favourite release so far this year. Iím actually rather shocked the film has been so rare and hard to find as I found it to be an absolutely wonderful film, very striking with an engaging story, and just beautiful to look at. Itís style is also something I never expected, and maybe this style, which asked its audience to reflect on what theyíre watching, didnít hit it with its viewers. Itís a shame because Iíve never seen anything like this and itís certainly unique. And the Blu-ray release is no less striking. The transfer is fantastic, the film more than deserving of it, and the supplements are incredibly entertaining and informative. An absolutely superb Blu-ray edition and I think BFI should be proud of it.




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