Without a doubt, this is one of the most anticipated silent film releases of the year. The Murnau Stiftung has restored a German classic, a film that has been universally praised since its was first unveiled in 1925. And then there is the little matter of the music…
Before I get started I want to thank Kino Lorber for providing me with a review copy of this picture.
This film will be released in North America on DVD and Bluray on August 22, 2017. International buyers will note that the discs specifically state they are region 1/A, though I dare say that most Region B viewers have already obtained the film from Eureka. (Please note that all current American DVD editions are from the highly censored American release print.)
E.A. Dupont’s tale of jealousy and death stars Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti and is famous as an early masterpiece of the so-called unchained camera.
Cuts, cuts, cuts
For years, the only version of the film available was heavily truncated by censors. The big appeal of the Murnau Stiftung restoration is that it’s the most complete version released since 1925.
The restoration is crisp, clean and gorgeous. I am including some screencaps. Other than cropping the pillarboxes, I have not touched them in any way.
The big selling point of this disc and the reason why it is so anticipated is the new score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, which played at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to universal praise.
Some background. When this restoration of Variete was first released on DVD and Bluray in Europe, the response was universal: We think the restoration is brilliant but that score by a band called the Tiger Lillies is distracting and ridiculous. It has to go.
Normally, I don’t delve too deeply into film scores unless I have something nice to say. It’s a matter of personal taste and I actually prefer a more modern sound with the silents. That being said, the score for Variete is… something else. The Tiger Lillies take their influence from Weimar culture but they know nothing of silent films and scoring them. (They literally say this in the booklet included with the film.) It shows, to put it mildly.
I warned you. And this was the ONLY soundtrack option on the original European release. Backlash was swift, of course, and German viewers wondered why a German story with a German cast released in Germany would require English lyrics. They have a point.
Eureka, which releases many fine silent film editions in the UK, rescued the British people with two scores, one by Stephen Horne and one by Johannes Contag. (The Tiger Lillies score was included as well, the least-played track in the history of Bluray.)
But what about us poor North Americans? Kino Lorber and the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra have swooped in with a score that contains 100% less shrieking and honking. Thank heavens!
The big question: How is the new score? Most excellent, I am happy to report! This was a student project at the Berklee College of Music and I think that it has a fresh, youthful quality to it. While it does have a modern sound to it (no one will mistake it for a recovered Vitaphone disc), it’s never distractingly trendy. Dare I say that it has a timeless quality? In any case, Region A viewers need not worry, this score is excellent.
(Alas, there are no preview clips available. I asked.)
This release includes a featurette on the scoring of the film, which includes interviews with the students of the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and their program director, Sheldon Mirowitz. It’s a fun look into the scoring process and the young composers come off as appealingly enthusiastic.
We also get a video essay by producer Bret Wood and the 1922 German version of Othello, which, of course, is all about jealousy and stars Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti.
All in all, this is the release of Variate you have been waiting for in Region A. Highly recommended release with an excellent score.
Availability: Will be released on DVD and Bluray on August 22. Learn more and pre-order here.
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