Lovely late January. It’s dark, cold and you’re broke. Illness and recovery have become your best friends. Not to worry, there’s always the Noel Coward Collection (Second Entertainment •••) to get through. This is a star-studded collection of BBC adaptations of Coward’s full-length plays, one acters and short stories including Hayfever, Private Lives, Design for Living and Plays in Laughter. The shonky production values of these adaptations have dated badly, but the strength of Coward’s writings holds firm thanks to some very superior performances from the likes of Paul Eddington, Paul Schofield, Judi Dench, Tom Courtney, Ian Richardson and Penelope Keith.
If that’s all too ‘lovey darling’ for you, a safer bet could be the Paul Robeson Collection (Network ••••), a very fine collection of rarely seen films featuring the great actor, singer, athlete and civil rights activist. Highlights include a new conversion from a brand new HD print of Zoltan Korda’s 1935 epic adventure Sanders of the River; the groundbreaking 1936 film Song of Freedom (the first film to sensitively deal with Africa American man’s heritage) and newly restored silent Body and Soul.
There’s lots of lovely oddities out too. Beat Girl (Blackhorse •••) was banned in the UK for many years after its release in 1960. Why? Because there’s drugs in it, and strippers and Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed, that’s why. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards but it is a fascinating curio. Stranger still is Flavia the Heretic (Shame ••••), Gianfranco Mingozzi’s 1974 nunsploitation flick about one young nun’s sordid experiences behind the convent walls. Mingozzi’s film actually stands up well and is way superior to many of the other softcore porn nun features being knocked out (as it were) at the time.
Norwegian filmmaker Jens Lien’s The Bothersome Man (Drakes Avenue Pictures ••••, pictured) is an absolute peach of a movie about one man’s struggle for normality in a world he is sure he shouldn’t be a part of. Why this fantastic coolly surreal feature did not receive a better theatrical release last year is anyone’s guess. Finally, the great Spanish filmmaker Alex De La Inglesia underrated 2004 screwball comedy Ferpect Crime (TLA Releasing ••••) is released on DVD. Set in a huge Madrid department store, the film is funny, drop dead fashionably so. Take my word for it.