Criterion, Things To Come (1936) Blu-ray


I first read about the Bauhaus design movement after reading Danny Peary’s Cult Movies entry on The Black Cat (1934). Low-budget film maestro Edgar Ulmer was a fan of the minimalistic style; with a paucity of distractions and rectilinear compositions the design of Hjalmar Poelzig’s (Boris Karloff) castle is pure Bauhaus. Peary remarks that the staircase at Poelzig’s domicile seems to belong in a Fred Astaire Ginger Roger’s film rather than in a Universal thriller. The look of The Black Cat is unmistakeable -it is a remarkable movie to look at. Ulmer even names Karloff’s satanic protagonist after real life architect Hans Poelzig.

I appreciate films for different reasons. I have had more than a few comments that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is not a very good film (Tarantino allegedly hated it). I rank it right up there a notch below Blade Runner and Alien -the cliched characters and dumb portrayals of scientists didn’t bother me. For me, the look and spectacle of the film compensated for the weaknesses. I watch movies for entertainment. I also appreciate the look of a film. I think that is why I love the Toho-Honda-Tsuburaya films of the 50’s and 60’s. Nothing looks like them. Of the modern films I think Guillermo del Toro certainly captures a distinct feel. I consider Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) the finest fantasy film the last 20 years.

Oddly, I am not a huge fan of Alexander Korda’s Things To Come (1936). Wells socialist precepts seem buried under stark and impressive special effects, and typical of British films of this era the characters talk and talk endlessly ad nauseum. To me the film is preachy but doesn’t deliver a message. The look of the film is impressive and the depiction of future devices (e.g. flat screen televisions) is extraordinary.

The new Criterion HD-BR print of the film is the best I have seen. I particularly like film historian David Kalat’s commentary (we’ve heard him before on the Criterion Testament of Dr. Mabuse disc) and Christopher Frayling’s commentary on the look of the film. We learn a bit about the influence of the Bauhaus movement on the film’s design. Also watch the unused special effects (double exposures predominate) developed by László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus.

This is a disc I picked up as a completist. I recognize that the film is a masterful triumph on the use of miniatures and photo-stacking optical effects. But it is also one where I will use the scan option. For genre purists only. Fans of the Bauhaus should also check out People on Sunday (1930).

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