Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 15th, 2017
BluRay released: August 30th, 2016
Approximate running times: 58 minutes (English Version), 51 Minutes (French Version)
Aspect Ratios: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: LPCM Mono English, LPCM Mono French
BluRay Release: Criterion Collection
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $39.95
Synopsis: A wealthy man named Mr. Clay is on the verge of death. He is told an old sailors tale by his accountant. In said tale where a wealthy man in need of an heir pays a sailor five guineas to father a child with his wife. Seeing several similarities between his own life and the story, Mr. Clay decides to make the story by having his accountant hire actors to portray the sailor and the wife characters.
The Immortal Story was co-written and directed by Orson Welles, a filmmaker who quickly rose to prominence with his first feature film, Citizen Kane and just as quickly was sent into exile as a director after his second film The Magnificent Ambersons. Outside of a handful of films, he would spend the rest of his career as a director making the majority of his films outside of Hollywood.
Key collaborators on The Immortal Story include, screenwriter / novelist Louise de Vilmorin (The Earrings of Madame De…, The Lovers) and cinematographer Willy Kurant (Trans-Europ-Express, Masculin Féminin). The Immortal Story was adapted from author Karen Blixen’s (Out of Africa) short story of the same name.
The story at hand takes place during the 19th century in the Portuguese colony of Macao. Of course the production design is impeccable as Welles was always someone who paid great attention to detail. Also the meticulously constructed narrative keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. And when it comes to the characters they are well defined persona’s which further bolster the story at hand.
Without a doubt the most durable asset this film has is the pitch perfect performances from its cast. With this film’s most memorable performance coming from Norman Eshley (See No Evil, The Confessional) in the role of the sailor. After all it is his character that is given the least to work with. Another performance of note is Jeanne Moreau (The Trial, The Bride Wore Black) in the role of Virginie Ducrot. It is her character that has been hired to portray the wife character in the story that the wealthy man is trying to recreate and bring to life.
When he is not deliver another stoic performance. Welles direction creates an utterly tangible world that is filled with a tremendous amount of atmosphere. And though there are several moments throughout this film which remind just how extraordinary of a filmmaker that Welles was. The moment that stands out most visually in this film is the scene where the wife character and the sailor make love in a bed with curtains partially obscuring them from the outside world. This scene is easily amongst the best moments Welles ever shot as he frames with the utmost precision and care every inch of Moreau’s character’s naked flesh.
For a film that originally began its life as a project for television. The Immortal Story is yet another classic example from Welles where the sum of the parts far exceed the limited resources that he had to work with.
The Immortal Story comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. This is a well authored disc that takes full advantage of the format and the source looks to be on very good shape. This release presents two versions of this film, the English language version and the French language version. Quality wise these two transfers are on par with each other.
This release comes with two audio options, one for each version French and English languages. Both audio mixes are presented in a LPCM Mono and included with this release are removable English subtitles. Both audio mixes sound clean, clear and balanced throughout. It should be noted that this film was shoot without sound and the soundtrack was created in post-production. And because of this range wise things tend to sound rather limited.
Extras for this release include, an archival French documentary from 1968 titled Portrait of Orson Welles (42 minutes 33 seconds – in French and English with English subtitles), interview with actor Norman Eshley (14 minutes 17 seconds), an interview with director of photography Willy Kurant (15 minutes) and interview with Orson Welles scholar François Thomas (25 minutes 14 seconds) and an audio commentary with film scholar Adrian Martin.
The documentary titled Portrait of Orson Welles is no so much a look at Welles the filmmaker, as it is look at Welles outside of his life in cinema. Don’t go into this one expecting to expand your knowledge about Welles and his cinema. Fortunately, no matter what Welles is up to he always manages to find a way to engage those he is speaking too.
Topics discussed in the interview with Norman Eshley include, his casting and what is was like to work with Orson Welles, how he was a theater trained actor who had limited experience working in the film industry, dying his hair for this film and how his dialog was all post dubbed.
Topics discussed in the interview with Willy Kurant include, why he was brought in to replace the original DP after only two days of shooting and the look of the film and the equipment / techniques that was used for this film.
Topics discussed in the interview with François Thomas include, the origins of the film, Welles and Jeanne Moreau their collaborations, locations featured in the film, the look of the film and his thoughts about the film.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, Welles European phase as a filmmaker, how The Immortal Story was shot for French television, Welles and Shakespeare, Welles cinema obsessions, the cast and information about them, the look of the film, the score and his thoughts about the film.
Rounding out the extras is a ten-page leaflet with cast & crew information, an essay about the film titled Divas and Dandies written by Johnathan Rosenbaum and information about the transfer. Overall The Immortal Story gets a definitive release from Criterion Collection, highly recommended.