Blu-ray review: Valentino

Starring: Rudolph Nureyev, Michelle Phillips
Director: Ken Russell

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Ken Russell’s account of Valentino’s rise from penniless dance instructor to icon of the silent cinema sees the director at his most Fellini-esque, with lush Art Deco set-dressing, outstandingly lavish costumes and a dreamy silvery-pastel colour palette.

As you’d expect with Russell co-writing, the script – which uses the framing device of the star’s funeral and the reminiscences of the various women who knew him to tell his rags to riches story – feels more like a series of lurid tabloid headlines than an in-depth probing of character. But the whole thing has great energy, with much of the story played for laughs, and Nureyev has a good stab at the lead role, hoofing his way elegantly through Valentino’s pre-Hollywood cabaret act and throwing himself with gusto into several nude scenes.

And as always with Russell, there are the fascinating incidental oddities – Felicity Kendal doing an American accent as a powerful talent scout, Leslie Caron chewing the scenery as a silent era diva who takes the rising star under her wing, and the very whitebread Michelle Phillips (from ’60s pop group The Mamas and the Papas) giving a shrill but quite effective turn as Valentino’s wife, who immediately starts alienating everyone around him by acting as his de facto manager and spiritual guru. Zipping along spryly, the film is less tortured and more high spirited than Russell’s other biopics, and people with a taste for the director’s work will be very glad to have in on this well-packaged Blu-ray. 7/10

TRANSFER
The transfer wrings plenty of detail out of the rather soft film stock. The scene where Leslie Caron sweeps into Valentino’s lying-in wearing a cape of frothy white flowers looks absolutely spectacular, with its lush contrast of colours. You can count the sequins on Phillips’ glittery gowns, and the scenes replicating the famous moment

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inside the tent in Valentino’s hit The Shiek are a riot of exquisite rugs, tassels and beads. 8/10

EXTRAS
A very nice archive interview with Ludovic Kennedy quizzing Nureyev, only 9 minutes long but covering a lot of ground. Speaking fluent English, the star emerges as very humble and intelligent, talking about Russell’s “predisposition to unpluck the feathers from the bird, to unmake idols”. ~ 22 min piece in which Dudley Sutton (of Lovejoy fame) chats in garrulous, uninhibited fashion about working with Russell on this film and The Devil. ~ Audio only interview with Ken Russell, made around the time of Gothic, in which he talks about his return to Britain after working in America. ~ Audio commentary with Tim Lucas – the Video Watchdog editor does his usual thorough job, supplying actor bios and lots of background to the production. 8/10

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Blu-ray review: Wild Orchid

Starring: Carre Otis, Mickey Rourke, Jacqueline Bisset
Director: Zalman King

Zalman King’s follow-up to Two Moon Junction was the film that finally did for Mickey Rourke’s career, and it was pretty much hello and goodbye for its debutante leading lady Carre Otis as well. But in retrospect the critics’ treatment of this erotic psychodrama seems rather harsh.

Otis plays a lawyer with a gift for tongues who accompanies high flying real estate developer Jacqueline Bisset to Rio, where she falls under the sway of Rourke’s mystery man entrepreneur. Rourke essentially reprises his control freak character from 9 ½ Weeks, only this time with a deep-frozen libido which causes him to play twisted mind games and a mahogany tan that would raise eyebrows even in TOWIE.

The chemistry isn’t quite there between the two leads, mainly down to Rourke, who’s a bit too blue collar macho in the sort of chilly, reptilian role that would be eaten up by any number of British actors. As for Otis, she has a slightly reedy voice but otherwise gives a perfectly decent performance, believably tremulous and inhibited. Meanwhile, Bisset puts in solid work as the comic relief, and there’s a gutsy turn from Assumpta Serna (one of Sean Bean’s girlfriends in Sharpe) as a frustrated housewife who gets drawn into their erotic play.

Compared to the really rather good Two Moon Junction, Wild Orchid feels a little compromised – there are some rough edges, especially towards the end, which suggest some heavy-handed interventions in the cutting room, while King (or someone) seems to have sharply dialled down the nudity (the heavy petting is much tamer than the film’s reputation would suggest) and dialled up the travelogue. Despite this, though, the director’s flair for sultry atmospherics, exotic locations and striking compositions shines through. Flawed though it can be, King’s work has dated much less than that of many 80’s directors, and on Blu-ray releases such as this, it’s appeal can be pretty irresistible. 7/10

TRANSFER
A little soft and grainy in a few of the early New York scenes, but on the whole well up to the standard of 88 Films’ release of Two Moon Junction. Skin tones are delicate, close-ups are vividly detailed, the various interior and exterior shots of the dilapidated hotel which serves as a central location are sharply textured, and there are some lovely pops of colour, as with the parrots in the foyer of the restaurant where Otis and Rourke schmooze. 8/10