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Koch Vision presents
Dan Burstein's Secrets of the Occult (2006)

"Many still view the occult with suspicion, but modern science is often working on the edge of the supernatural."
- John Cullum, narrator

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 30, 2007

Stars: Dan Burstein, John Cullum
Director: Stuart Rekant

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:35m:56s
Release Date: March 13, 2007
UPC: 741952644798
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+BB B+

DVD Review

The latest entry in author Dan Burstein's DVD series of the weird or conspiratorial looks at the world of the occult, after having already ventured into Dan (The DaVinci Code) Brown territory with a peek-a-boo at the tangled history of Mary Magdalene and Angels, Demons and Masons. This two-part disc consists to two segments (47m:58s) that trace the hazy links between what was once considered "magic" and what eventually came to be known as good old science. The title of this release may be a bit deceptive, as we're not given any true secrets, but rather a connect-the-dots route of how some of history's cutting edge brilliant thinkers dabbled in what was once considered the dark side.

In the first part, Magicians, a gaggle of academics and writers (including Burstein) uncork with some generally fascinating material, looking back on the disparate likes of Aleister Crowley and Pythagoras. There's the expected link back to ancient Egypt, some whispers of alchemy, and the natural progression of principles of magic filtered into modern science and medicine. The segment even includes a brief discussion of the spiritualist movement, offering up the infamous Fox Sisters and the mysterious Madame Blavatsky. I am a tad disappointed that in the Fox Sisters piece there's nary a mention of their admitted fakery in their seances, and this glaring omission seemed to taint an otherwise level presentation.

The second segment is Scientists, again with largely the same troupe of academics and writers, and here the focus is less on the allegedly unexplained and instead deals with the work of big names like Carl Jung, Franz Mesmer, Isaac Newton, Sigmund Freud. The message is still a link between magic and science, and whether it is Mesmer's advances in hypnosis or Wilhelm Röntgen and the X-ray, their discoveries do indeed seem a little supernatural, as we're reminded often that it is possible in fifty years something we consider "magic" today just may be science fact. This section doesn't tread into true occult as much as the first segment, though oddly enough neither seem to truly dig in as much as I would like.

The production values here have what I like to call a Discovery/A&E/History Channel feel to them, in that there are talking head interview segments daisychained between archival photos and hazy-edge re-enactments of whatever is being discussed. Narrator John Cullum occasionally dips into an Unsolved Mysteries-ish speaking pattern, but I suppose he's here to give the proceedings that "boy, this is serious" vibe, with just a hint of ominous supernaturalness. These would work well as just sound recordings, because as classroom-polished as the visuals are, none of them are particularly essential to getting to the point of the speakers.

I suppose as an introduction to the basics of the occult, and its relation to actual science, this 94-minute program may be a neat first step. The participants are all seemingly well-versed, and each present their factoids with an earnest kind of listenability that never drifts into dry lecture territory. Given that the runtime isn't all that long for such a deep subject, the level of detail on some individuals seems to go on a little long (Newton, for example) while others like the aforementioned Fox Sisters (a fascinating subject on their own) get what amounts to a quick mention, and a slightly uneven one at that. If you're already remotely interested in the history of the occult, it's not likely much here will be all that new to you, and the somewhat lopsided content isn't especially occult-oriented.

Calling this "secrets" of the occult may be just a wee bit overstated.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Unlike the full-frame release of Burstein's Secrets of Angels, Demons and Masons, this occult entry gets the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen treatment from Koch Vision. Not an especially bright transfer overall, the print carries some soft edges during a few of the reenactment transitional bits, but generally the interview segments appear with well-defined detail.

Pleasant, but hardly remarkable.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Not really much room for anything too dramatic here—bunch of smart folks talking about occult history—so the 2.0 Dolby Digital audio mix isn't necessarily terribly showy. Voice quality is perfectly clear at all times, with narrator John Cullum's voice being particularly full-bodied, with the most lively element being the musical beds used to bridge segments.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Secrets of Mary Magdalene, Secrets of Angels, Demons & Masons
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Not much here, but what is quite good. A bonus feature entitled What Is the Occult? (28m:30s) is peppered with most of the participants from the main program, each addressing and explaining in a bit more detail what the meaning of occult really is. It sort of seemed at first like it was going to be a re-edited set of deleted scenes, and it very well could be for all I know, but it's actually a concise condensation that is crammed with a lot of great info.

A trio of "Secrets of..." trailers is provided, including one for Secrets of the Occult. Each segment is cut into 8 chapters each, for a total of 16.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Overall not quite as revelatory on the subject as I had hoped (downright skimpy in some spots), though a 28-minute bonus feature titled What Is the Occult? included here ends up actually being the best part. As an intro to the material this may be enlightening, but if you've had more than a passing interest coming into this then it may all be old hat.


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