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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Every animal, plant, or man that dies adds to nature's compost heap, becomes the manure without which nothing can grow; nothing could be crafted. Death is simply part of a process. Every death, even the cruelest death, drowns in a total indifference of nature. Nature would watch, unmoved, if we destroyed the entire human race. I hate nature. Its passion is spectative, its unbreakable iceberg face that can bear everything, this goads us to greater and greater acts. But though I hate this goddess, I still see that the greatest acts in history have followed her laws."
DVD ReviewPeter Brook is one of the world's most famous stage directors. He is to experimental theater what Bob Fosse was to musicals. And just as Fosse was almost as well known for his films as for his musicals, so Peter Brook's films are also revered. While The Lord of the Flies is Brook's most well known film, Marat/Sade is a far more experimental and successful adaption. Where The Lord of the Flies was adapted from William Golding's novel, Marat/Sade is adapted from Brook's own Royal Shakespeare Company production of Peter Weiss' play. Brook used the Shakespeare Company for the movie, creating a daring and almost entirely successful film that makes the audience think and take sides.
The year is 1808. The Marquis de Sade (Patrick Magee), France's most infamous personage, is an inmate at the Asylum of Charenton. In an attempt at therapy, the Marquis has written and directed a play, which is being attended by wealthy French patrons, kept safely away from the inmates by iron bars. The play proceeds as well as one would imagine, considering the main actress is a narcoleptic manic-depressive, and one of the main actors is a serial rapist, to name two. Slowly but surely, the production begins to unravel, and the inmates become harder to control. And through the production, various inmates spout out different philosophies, while the head of the asylum speaks for the Napoleonic government of the time.
Such a capsule summation doesn't do justice to this film; Peter Brook's direction, the makeup, and the acting all defy words. Brook contrasts extreme close-ups with wide long shots to suggest that the viewer is seeing a play. However, the contrast actually works in creating a palpable tension that doesn't let up until the final explosive moments. The makeup, suggesting not only the sickness of the inmates, but also some of the crueler tortures that passed for therapy at the time, also heighten this sense of unease. Most of the actors have very few lines, so they allow the makeup and their general stance to suggest their own particular mental illness. The result is that we don't get a host of over-the-top characters that detract from the overall atmosphere. Instead, the individual characters come together to become a dangerous mass, with each individual giving a particular shading to the larger whole.
Of course, the leads have more than their fair share of lines. Patrick Magee is the true standout as the Marquis. Best known for his role as the vengeful writer in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Magee is eminently more expressive and restrained here, in a role that is generally known for its wild theatrics. As much as I liked Geoffrey Rush in Quills, Magee crafts the Marquis into a much more human and believable character. And the look of regret ever present in Magee's face only serves to multiply the resonance of the dialogue a thousandfold. Ian Richardson ably holds up his end of the film as Jean-Paul Marat, the French revolutionary leader. Richardson's role is less articulate than Magee's, but what he lacks in dialogue he more than makes up for in sheer misery. Marat was a leader of strong ideals who was constantly betrayed by the ravenous actions of the French mob, who had no real plan, as well as later bloodthirsty revolutionary leaders like Robespierre. He also had a skin disease that was rather unsightly. Richardson wears his emotions on his sleeve (as well as some gruesome makeup on his body), and plays most of the film with a haunting gaze that is truly chilling.
The only real problem is that it tends to become overly talkative. Now, realizing that even within the film we're supposed to be watching a play, most of the action will be symbolized, and Brook employs various devices to suggest different actions, and most to good effect. But this is a movie about a play about the French Revolution, so the endless talking makes it drag at times. Luckily, there are some good songs that are lively and pick things up. On the whole I'd have shaved off five to ten minutes, and then there would be no need to complain. As it is, Marat/Sade is more than worth watching, regardless of the few extra dragging minutes.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Marat/Sade is part of MGM's "Avant-Garde Cinema" line, and it has been given about as much respect as you would assume any piece of avant-garde art would: none. The transfer on this disc is one of the worst I've ever seen. Colors are muddied; certain scenes look too backlit, while others look too dark. The print is covered in nicks and scratches, and details are difficult to discern. Not only that, the transfer isn't anamorphic. Now, I could understand if this disc had been released in 1998, but this is 2001. By now, anamorphic transfers should be an industry standard. And MGM has always been good about creating nice transfers for their discs, so the only explanation I can think of is that they just didn't care enough about this film to give it the proper treatment it deserves. This isn't just disappointing, it's insulting.
Image Transfer Grade: D-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is no better than the video. The fidelity on this mono track is truly bad. It's often hard to understand what people are saying, and the songs come across as unbearably loud. Sound effects are grating and harsh, and the dialogue stems that are understandable sound horribly dated. This movie really would have benefited from a 5.1 mix, and this mono track is not a substitute for that by any means.
Audio Transfer Grade: D-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: n/a
Extras Review: All we get is an unremastered full frame theatrical trailer. As anyone who owns Peter Brook's The Lord of the Flies on DVD can tell you, it is a packed disc; so I know that material on him is out there, as well as Brook himself, who probably would have contributed a commentary to the disc, if given a chance.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsIt's refreshing to see people making art that takes chances. With Marat/Sade, Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company come together to create a piece of film that will continue to entice and force viewers to think for years to come. This movie has just become a highly valued addition to my collection, as it should for those viewers who like to have films challenge them. Unfortunately, the DVD presentation leaves a lot to be desired, but this movie is so good that you should not hesitate to pick it up. But, if you find that the presentation is lacking, please contact MGM and let them know that what they have released here is unacceptable and should be redone.
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