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Lola Montès is a visually ravishing, newly restored, narratively daring dramatization of the life of the notorious courtesan and showgirl presented in the form of a circus attraction recounting her scandalous past in flashbacks presented through the bombastic ringmaster of the circus where she ends up performing.
For more about Lola Montès and the Lola Montès Blu-ray release, see Lola Montès Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on February 14, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Max Ophüls
Writers: Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant, Jacques Natanson
Starring: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, Oskar Werner, Ivan Desny, Will Quadflieg
» See full cast & crew
Lola Montès Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 14, 2010
Max Ophuls' "Lola Montes" (1955) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an audio commentary with film scholar Susan White, recorded in 2008; an installment form the French television series "Cineaste de notre temps," in which many of Max Ophuls' collaborators discuss working on "Lola Montes"; "Max by Marcel" (2009) - a short film by Max Ophuls's son, Marcel, in which he pays tribute to his father and discusses his role as an assistant director on "Lola Montes"; silent footage showing actress Martine Carol briefly demonstrating the glamorous hairstyles worn in "Lola Montes"; and more. The disc also arrives with a 28-page illustrated booklet containing Gary Giddins' essay "Loving Lola." In French, with optional English subtitles. Region-A "locked."
Max Ophuls' Lola Montes is a beautiful yet tragic film. It tells the story of a famous courtesan who ends up selling kisses in a giant American circus after having shared the beds of some of Europe's wealthiest and most respected men. Amongst them were Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, German composer Richard Wagner and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria.
The film opens up in the circus where a ringmaster (Peter Ustinov, Spartacus) begins describing Lola's (Martine Carol, Vanina Vanini) notorious affairs. The woman we see early into the film is bold and well aware of her ability to mesmerize those who dare to look her in the eyes. Before Liszt (Will Quadflieg, Dark Eyes) leaves Lola, for example, he writes her a letter explaining why they must part ways. It is a simple and honest letter, which Lola ignores. Instead, she casually asks for one last kiss - then, before Liszt can even realize that he is being played, he ends up in her bed. He isn't leaving her, she is, and this is his farewell gift.
Next is one of Lola's early affairs with a rowdy adjutant (Ivan Desny, The Wrong Movement). He agrees to marry Lola in order to save her from becoming the wife of an old banker, who her mother (Lise Delamare, Nathalie) has chosen for her. This is the one and only time in the film where we see Lola looking somewhat vulnerable.
On the road to Bavaria, where she is to audition for a prestigious dancing role, Lola encounters a young student (Oskar Werner, Jules et Jim), who immediately falls for her. The two have little in common; he is passionate about politics, she is interested in his body.
In Bavaria, Lola loses the prestigious dancing role, but wins the heart of Ludwig I (Anton Walbrook, Vienna Waltzes). Like the men before him, he quickly falls for her beauty and nearly loses his mind. At one point, he even orders his painters to paint a portrait of Lola for the National Gallery. A sudden and violent uprising in Bavaria, however, puts an end to Ludwig I and Lola's affair.
The film ends precisely where it begins - in the circus, moments before Lola is to perform a dangerous pirouette. She looks weak. We know that she has lost everything, and, from what a visiting doctor shares with the circus manager, that her days are probably numbered.
In 1963, American critic Andrew Sarris proclaimed that Max Ophuls' Lola Montes is the greatest film of all time. But those who saw Lola Montes when it was first screened in Paris on December 23, 1955 had a slightly different opinion of it - they booed after the end credits rolled. The German premiere turned out to be just as disappointing, and eventually inspired the many cuts Lola Montes suffered against the wishes of its creator. Still, Lola Montes certainly had more than a few strong supporters. Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Marco Bellocchio, for example, considered it a masterpiece, and did plenty to have their opinions of the film heard.
Lola Montes is beautifully photographed, and the emphasis on detail in it is very impressive. Some of the baroque scenes, for example, evoke parallels with Federico Fellini's wild circus sequences in Casanova; perhaps, they were inspirational to the Italian director. On the other hand, the fractured storytelling - with flashbacks from Lola's past introduced in non-chronological order - is uncharacteristically bold.
Lola Montes was Ophuls' one and only film in color. It was also the director's last film. It was shot in three versions - French, German, and English - in the 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Because the film turned out to be such an impressive financial and critical flop, during the years each of the three versions underwent some truly bizarre editing, where large portions of it were cut, reinserted and then cut again by various producers. The version of Lola Montes included on this Blu-ray disc presents the film in its original CinemaScope ratio and its 1955 premiere length.
Lola Montès Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.55:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Max Ophuls' Lola Montes arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the beginning of this newly-restored transfer of Lola Montes:
"Released in Paris on December 23, 1955, Lola Montes, directed by Max Ophuls, caused an unprecedented scandal. Faced with the commercial failure of the movie, the producers decided to cut out some scenes, to translate part of the German dialogues in French and remix the sound. At the end of 1956, against the director's wishes, the film was cut further and re-edited chronologically.
In 1968, the producer Pierre Braunberger bought the movie rights and produced a version which was close to the original. In 2008, thanks to digital technology, the Cinematheque francaise is able to release a completely restored version, faithful to Max Ophuls' wishes, with the colors, the stereo sound and the format originally intended."
Anyone who has previously seen Lola Montes, theatrically or on SDVD, will be overwhelmed by this newly restored high-definition transfer. I certainly was. The depth, clarity and improved colors are quite unbelievable. Furthermore, practically all of the stability issues that plagued previous transfers of the film have been addressed. Contrast is also improved dramatically. Many of the dark scenes - such as the one where we see Lola alone on the ship, after her mother sends her back to her cabin - look clearer and not as noisy (as they are, for example, on the French SDVD). Film grain is also very much intact. Additionally, flecks, scratches, cuts, warps and large debris are nowhere to be seen. Frankly, aside from some very mild background color pulsations that pop up here and there - likely due to the poor condition of the original elements - such as the ones seen in Chapter 15 (01. 06. 42), I could not be any happier with the presentation. It is marvelous! (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Lola Montès Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I am probably going to surprise some of you here, but I feel that the audio presentation is far more impressive than the video presentation. According to the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc, the original 3.0 soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit and edited together from the original 4-track magnetic tracks of the two surviving CinemaScope prints, as well as a later mono soundtrack print that was used to fill one small part of the track. What this means is that Lola Montes now has as complete of an audio track as there ever was one. Gone are the pops, hiss, unevenness and "voice tremblings" that plagued older releases of the film. Georges Auric's beautiful score has also never been this clear. To sum it all up, the folks that did all of the audio restoration work deserve an enormous amount of credit, as the improvements are simply phenomenal.
For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
Lola Montès Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Cineaste de notre temps - in this installment of the French television series Cineaste de notre temps, many of Max Ophuls' collaborators discuss working on Lola Montes. Actors and crew from earlier Ophuls films, including Danielle Darrieux and Simone Simon, also make appearances. The Episode originally aired on October 26, 1965, and was directed by Michel Mitrani. In French, with optional English subtitles. (54 min, 1080i).
Max by Marcel - in this moving 2009 short film, Max Ophuls's son, Marcel - the award-winning director of the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity - pays tribute to his father and discusses his role as an assistant director on Lola Montes. Also included are excerpts from new and archival interviews with many of Max Ophuls's key collaborators. In French, with optional English subtitles. (33 min, 1080i).
Martine Carol Hair Tests - silent footage showing actress Martine Carol briefly demonstrating the glamorous hairstyles worn in Lola Montes. It was first presented on French television on August 3, 1958. (2 min, 1080i).
Rerelease trailer - the rerelease trailer created by Realto Pictures for the 2008 U.S. theatrical run of Lola Montes. (3 min, 1080p).
Audio commentary - recorded in 2008, this commentary features film scholar Susan White, author of The Cinema of Max Ophuls. This is the same audio commentary that appears on the R2 SDVD by Second Sight.
Booklet - a 28-page illustrated booklet containing Gary Giddins' essay "Loving Lola" (Mr. Giddins is the author of several books about music, including Visions of Jazz, Bing Cosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, and the recent Jazz).
Lola Montès Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
February has to be a very special month for film aficionados. The three films Criterion are releasing -- Max Ophuls' Lola Montes, Steve McQueen's Hunger, and Gotz Spielmann's Revanche -- are clearly three of the very best in their Blu-ray catalog. There has never been a better time to collect great films, folks. Enjoy it! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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