Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Grey Gardens (Dir. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1976)

The mother/daughter relationship is a profound one and not often placed under the microscope. In 1976, two filmmaker brothers Albert and David Maysles (co-directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer) chose to do just that with their documentary, Grey Gardens, which the Criterion Collection restored a few years back, and released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

The Grey Gardens of the title is a 14-room house in the Georgica Pond neighbourhood of East Hampton, owned by Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her then-husband Phelan. Upon divorce, Phelan provided his wife, Big Edie and their daughter Little Edie with living costs. Once those funds had dried up, the house fell into disrepair and in ’72 the Suffolk County attempted to evict the two women and demolish the property. The press’ interest lay in whom the Beale’s were related to, one-time First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Like with all documentaries, there is a level of manipulation, almost certainly, voyeurism and a vested interest in the subjects viewed. This is one of the few that appears to have no ulterior motive other than depicting Big Edie and Little Edie just as they are/were. It is a wonderfully weird piece of work; a character study of almost morbid fascination about privilege, crumbling Patriotism, and those two extraordinary women who thrived amongst reclusive squalor and the crumbling detritus of their lives.

There is a home-video quality to Grey Gardens which although beautifully restored still contains a graininess which adds to its authenticity and intimacy. Often filmed outside, the natural lighting means that colours within the frame are stunning as Little Edie takes centre stage in her colourful ensembles and jewellery adorned headscarves. At times, it is hard to avert one’s eyes from what is onscreen, their eccentricities are, initially, hard to comprehend but both women have such warmth and veracity that the audience is soon taken in. One of the most beautiful aspects of the film is the lack of narrative time – the only indication is the dilapidated wall within the large expanse of foyer in the house and the noticeable hole in the wall gets bigger as the raccoon they share the house with (along with some 52 feral cats) makes itself a home.

Observing these two amazing women are the Maysles brothers who strike up such a seemingly genuine rapport with our main ‘characters’ that it is truly a joy to experience. In one of the disc extras, within the confines of the
scrapbook, it is stated that: “A few years ago, two brothers fell in love with a mother and her daughter.” Thanks to Criterion’s 4K restoration of the original negative we get to experience this visually beautiful love story first hand, sound quality is sublime and the mono track reproduces Little Edie and her mater’s dulcet singing voice to perfection.

Grey Gardens shows us a tender, loving and, at times argumentative, mother-daughter relationship; full of ups and downs and yet their commitment to each other and their way of life never faltered. Both are unapologetically wonderful and weird in equal measure. We should all embrace a Little Edie.

Blu-ray Review

Limited Edition Blu-ray Review: Carrie (Dir. Brian De Palma, 1976)

School is the worst place to hide in plain sight when you’re different and bullies are unforgiving and relentless, it’s one of the reasons why Stephen King’s first novel has stood the test of time and why Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Carrie still remains the best of its kind and resonates with an audience. Released just in time for Christmas (a Carrie White Christmas, no?) Arrow Video has pulled together a pretty decent limited edition boxset complete with a new 4K restoration from the original negative, replete with a whole host of new and archival extras, and new writing on the film.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is the only child of a religiously maniacal Gothic seamstress mother. Margaret (Piper Laurie) is a woman who insists on spreading the word of the Lord whether others like it or not. Her daughter wants nothing more than to fit in and be a regular teenager, however, the girls at school: Helen (Edie McClurg), Norma (P.J. Soles), and Sue (Amy Irving) led by Chris (Nancy Allen) have no intention of letting that happen. Even the teachers are mean. From that opening scene on the volley ball court in which our eponymous heroine is isolated and invited to “eat shit” after missing the ball to the following in the changing room. As Carrie’s pleasurable moment in the shower is interrupted by the violent and visceral experience of her first period. The original mean girls are at their most feral in their vicious hysteria as they launch sanitary pads and tampons at their vulnerable and terrified peer.

This girl is crying out for a mother and when she returns home it should be a place of comfort, somewhere she can feel safe, not a place where she has to repent in a closet for a biological function. However, with an abusive mother like Margaret – school is respite for her. A maternal figure comes in the unlikely form of gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) and then the unexpected happens and Tommy Ross (William Katt) – who is supposed to be going with Sue Snell – asks her to Prom. Sue feels, that by asking Tommy to take Carrie to the biggest night of the school year, it will assuage her guilt for attacking the timid girl in the shower. Tommy, much like the majority of the males in this film (and there aren’t many) is a pawn; a conduit for the girl(s) to use to get their way. See also Billy (John Travolta) and Chris’ relationship and her pig of a plan for Carrie. The women are the ones in control – Carrie just has extra ability to play with.

De Palma’s adaptation bypasses the epistolary structure of the novel entirely and combines the weighty issues with satire. While there are brief moments which homage Psycho – some references are subtler than others – the score which should have been Bernard Herrmann’s instead went to Pino Donaggio who created a wonderfully atmospheric accompaniment and found the best way of repurposing the late Herrmann’s work (by isolating individual notes from the shower sequence and using the high-pitched shrill strings during the times when Carrie loses control). It is in those moments the film comes into its own – although, Arrow really missed a trick not including the soundtrack.

Carrie was not the first (or last) to conflate questions of femininity and the supernatural. If anything it paved the way for more male filmmakers to attempt to get their heads around the abject notion of menstruation. The text also subverted the idea of the American home as a safe space, instead its white picket fence and asymmetrical visage became a place of dread, fear and anxiety. Helped immensely by the religious iconography and paraphernalia invading the oppressive domestic space and aiding the sexual repression enforced my mother – there’s that Psycho link again.

The film created a bit of a feminist backlash too, particularly in relation to the shower scene and the alignment of pigs blood and women’s blood – women as pigs (?) and the monstrous female body as the site of transgression. Certainly, there are some interesting readings in relation to Carrie and it will, of course, depend on your perspective. Carrie is “othered” (like almost every other monster in horror) because, as Alexandra Heller-Nicholas states (citing Carol Clover) during her audio commentary: “horror is a female genre” – our protagonist is the literal outsider and yet we are invited to identify with her. Her fury at the world and those who punish her is fully justified, as frightening, irrational and uncontrollable that power is in its force; Carrie stands up to her bullies, and well, there’s something rather empowering in that.

The Prom, its framing, use of space, split screens, Dutch angles, colour filters and the composition of each shot is superb (and a nice nod to Argento). Those blue and red filters and the scenes they colour are the greatest aspect to come from the restoration, they are visually amazing and, for me, the peerless part of the film. Even 40 years on, it holds up as one of the filmmaker’s best, if not the best (although, I’ll have to rewatch Sisters and get back to you on that). Carrie still resonates, we’re aligned with the “monster” of the piece and identify completely with this girl and her need/want of acceptance. Despite the fact that we know how the film ends, it’s easy to watch and still wish for a different outcome.

Special Features

Audio commentary provided by writers-critics-authors and all round good eggs, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Lee Gambin. These Aussies are authoritative (you can always trust these two when it comes to horror), knowledgeable and, better than anything, fun to listen to as they watch and examine Carrie; its themes, composition and their mutual love of it.

Acting Carrie (42 mins) – This 2001 featurette contains interviews with De Palma, art director Jack Fisk and the cast including: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Priscilla Pointer, William Kat, P.J. Soles, Betty Buckley and Nancy Allen. They discuss the casting process which took place at the same time of Star Wars (Katt auditioned for Han Solo and Irving, Princess Leia). Spacek only auditioned following husband (and the film’s art director) Jack Fisk’s involvement and Laurie came out of retirement to play Margaret – it worked out well, they were both nominated for Academy Awards for their respective roles. Remember the last horror film to do that? Exactly. It’s an entertaining feature as we’re taken through the filmmaking process, story boarding details, and that shower scene. A building frenzy which Irving describes as “beautiful” and Allen, “disturbing. Ladies, it is indeed both.

More Acting Carrie (20 mins) updates on the previous extra by having a lot of the same cast members interviewed in 2016. There are new stills and images in this, however, a lot of anecdotes are repeated but it’s nice to see the cast in their advancing years. The addition of Edie McClurg is new (though the typo in the credits change her to ‘Eddie’) as we discover the real fire which broke out on the soundstage during filming and Soles’ perforated ear-drum following fire hose hi-jinks. Visualising Carrie: From Words to Images (41 mins) is a mini-feature which details Lawrence D. Cohen’s script brandishing in pre-production hell before securing a director. The Jack Fisk interview is the most interesting part as he details the process in making the White household which is known as “father, son and Holy Ghost” architecture due to its asymmetrical style, how he fashioned the Saint Sebastian statue in Carrie’s closet and the other religious icons he acquired for the set dressing. There’s a beautiful mention of the late Bill Paxton who put Fisk onto the pig farm.

Singing Carrie: Carrie the Musical (6 mins) – Although short lived, there was a 1988 musical production of Carrie which was written by Lawrence D. Cohen and starred Betty Buckley as Margaret White. Both she and Cohen discuss it and surmise why it failed on stage. In a 2016 interview Cohen is back in Writing Carrie (28 mins) as he discusses his process from receiving Stephen King’s manuscript, finishing it in one sitting and reviewing it for the paper he worked for. He believed even back then it would make a great film and upon seeing Obsession (1976) he knew De Palma was the man for the job. Cohen speaks warmly of his director and the success they both had with Carrie. He launches into discussing Carrie the musical, which seems a little redundant as the previous disc feature has already given us the lowdown.

A 2016 interview with cinematographer Mario Tosi follows in Shooting Carrie (14 mins), in which he describes the wonderful experience of working with “difficult communicator” De Palma. Tosi speaks in stilted English and uses cue-cards, not sure why he couldn’t have spoken in his mother tongue given the subtitled Donaggio interview later on. Cutting Carrie (24 mins) is a 2016 interview with editor Paul Hirsch in which he repeats a lot of information that has gone before. The monotonous tone of the man’s voice adds to the tedium of this extra as he describes the “painful” process of cutting the film. Not sure why he mentions Allen and  Irving’s subsequent marriages either. This is worth skipping.

Although not drastically different from the very first feature, Casting Carrie is 15 minute long interview with casting director Harriet B. Helberg about her first screen credit which she loved every second of working on (from what she can remember). She’s a big fan of the remakes too. Bucket of Blood (24mins) – a 2016 interview with composer Pino Donaggio is one of the disc’s highlights as he recollects how De Palma changed his life and took him from the canals of Venice to Hollywood. It’s a charming interview and nowhere long enough as he takes us through his score; from the homage to Herrmann and his use of strings to create suspense to the more melodic music, like Carrie’s theme. For a musical genius, the man is so very humble and such a lovely interviewee. Horror’s Hallowed Ground is a 10 minute, low-budget episode of a TV series which began in 2006 (a lot are available on YouTube) where host Sean Clark visits locations from classic horror films. It crosscuts from Clark to the locations/scenes in the film. It’s harmless and well put together if amateurish.

The last of the big features is a brand new visual essay Comparing Carrie in which writer-editor Jonathan Bygraves compares the three screen versions of Carrie from 1976, 2002, and 2013. He examines time periods, production, structure, the characterisation of Carrie (Sissy Spacek, Angela Bettis, Chloe Grace Moretz), the different versions of Margaret White played by Piper Laurie, Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore respectively. There is one small mistake in which one image is labelled as 2002 when it belongs to 2013 and I can’t say I’m a fan of the font used. It’s all written in blood-red capital letters and would have been so much more readable in lowercase (and therefore referencing the 1976 credits). That said, the strains of Donaggio’s melodious score over the top of the essay is wonderful.

Alternate TV Opening – Details the main differences in the censored TV version.

Gallery – 45 slides showing posters, stills, publicity shots including some of the prologue that was shot but never used.

Trailer – Spoilery trailer which they’d never get away with today because… Film Twitter.

TV Spots (3 mins) – Five of them in total. All of which stating “If you have a taste for terror, you will have a date with Carrie” which is a “chilling blend of American Graffiti and Psycho.”

Radio Spots (1min 30sec) – Same voiceover used as in the TV spots.

Carrie Trailer Reel (6mins) – Combines trailers from 2002 TV movie Carrie (dir. David Carson), The Rage: Carrie II (1999, dir. Katt Shea) and 2013’s Carrie (dir. Kimberly Peirce).

Reversible Sleeve featuring original and new artwork by Laz Marquez (see featured image).

Limited Edition 60-page booklet (unavailable at the time of review) featuring new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell, author of Devil’s Advocates: Carrie, a reprint of The Final Girls’ 40th anniversary Carrie zine, and an archive interview with Brian De Palma.

I’m loathe to describe something as the “definitive” version of anything, however, if we’re talking about editions of Carrie, then this one is as near as damn it. It repurposes a lot of extra features which appear on the 2016 Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and archival bits and pieces from 2001’s MGM Special Edition DVD but my main gripe (and I’m really searching for one, honest), the thing that would have made it absolutely perfect – or “definitive” if I have to put a label on it – is the missing soundtrack.


Ai no corrida

(1976) Dir. Oshima Nagisa


During the first ten years of the Showa period (1926-1989) in Japanese history, the Militant Faction of the Army staged a coup. This endeavour to overthrow Imperial power resulted in the assassination of Finance Minister Takashasi Korekiyo and after a three day revolt the military rebellion ended. An incident that would coincide with the rebellion was of individual magnitude – three months after the failed coup, a prostitute named Sada Abe was apprehended by Japanese authorities for her role in the death of Kichizo Ishida. Upon her person were Kichizo’s severed penis and bloody testicles, organs she had removed after he was dead. Her personal rebellion and revolt also lasted three days.

Forty years later, filmmaker Oshima Nagisa whose oeuvre consists of many keiko-eiga films, produced and subsequently released Ai no corrida [In the Realm of the Senses] (1976). Its suji (described in its crudest form) is based upon Abe’s exploits of 1936 and her sexual affair with former master Ishida. Oshima was regarded as a New Wave filmmaker, iconoclastic with his subject matter and techniques and had a tendency to establish a strong correlation between political and sexual repression, Ai no corrida is no exception. In creating the film text, Oshima rebels against Japanese tradition, not least the cinematic conventionality which viewers of Japanese narrative cinema had grown to expect; a veritable representation of what it was like to be truly ‘Japanese’.

These new stories could not be told in the old ways; new content demanded new forms. Traditional forms – the old classical style of conventional studio filmmaking – reflected the political and cultural status quo. To critique and reform a corrupt society, to change the way people think and act, would require a change in how they see and hear.  (Nelson Kim, Senses of Cinema, 2004)[1]


In order to accomplish what Kim describes – the art of the New Wave filmmaker – the director must rebel. This is clearly evident in the film’s form and content, namely its transgression and explicit depictions of sexuality. Ai no Corrida in its entirety sees scene-upon-scene of penetrative sex, fellatio, autoeroticism, rape and abjection; taboos which are rarely broken in mainstream, progressive cinema. Sexual activity is, universally a private activity, one which is usually performed behind closed doors; an act of intimacy which is played out, much like a theatrical performance  and one which is central to the film’s mise-en-scène (Turim, 1998)[2]. Oshima invites the spectator into the couple’s clandestine domain, their ‘realm’ and encourages voyeurism alongside unequivocal exhibitionism. With his use of tight framing and enclosed, claustrophobic settings and locations, the viewer has no choice but to look; to embrace the visuals and read-between-the-sex, as it were, for a deeper political reading. Pornography it is not, as no frame serves for pleasure or titillation.


Ultimately, it is the objectification of the representational – both vigorous and at times inventive – sex which functions in alienating and distancing the viewer. This can be read as both an element of political modernism or a clever and distinct filmmaking technique in which the spectator experiences the same isolation and disjunction Sada (Matsuda Eiko) and Kichi (Fuji Tatsuya) are subjected to. Perhaps it is both or neither, one thing is clear and that is the protagonists’ segregation, from themselves, from thirties’ militant Japan and complete rejection of the ideological hegemonic structure which threatens to oppress them.

To dismiss Ai no corrida as a film about sex is an injustice. Granted, Sada and Kichi do spend the majority of their time (and film) inside four walls and each other’s body and mind and it would appear that they are incapable of any other form of communication, however, there is so much more beyond their passion. During their brief excursions in the outside world, Sada and her lover are set against Japan’s industrialisation. The sterility of the landscape of ‘new’ Japan is juxtaposed with their outdated kimono dress cut in garish colour set against the grey, sterile landscape. Children are visual representations of the future and can be seen carrying the new design of national flag, thereby indicative of the difference between militarist and imperialist Japan. A division which was in existence at the time of 1936 and, by extension, the Japan Oshima was attempting to unburden in the mid seventies at the time of production. The children throw snowballs (another indication of the politically ‘cold climate’) at the elderly – here, in the form of a male suffering from erectile disfunction. This, while depicting the cruelty of youth also symbolises how the aged are now ineffective within society, aided further by the old(er) geisha’s incontinence later on in the film.

Every individual has character duality, something Nelson Kim describes as ‘the social being and the ‘ everyday self’ and these aspects of character allow Sada and Kichi to ‘fuck their way to freedom’. This idea of sexual liberation was very much a Western ideology culminating in a sexual revolution which ran from the mid-sixties through to the mid-seventies. A movement which coincided with the production of this film and, it would seem, influenced it with other imported Western ideals including those contributing to values governing sexuality. If this modernity of the West did in fact influence Japanese values; specifically those associated with sexuality, then Oshima’s influence in depicting his iconoclastic vision of Japan clearly came from the West – namely France, a country which provided finance for the film’s production and a safe haven for editing.


In a Japan, which is seen as destructive and offering little in the way of liberation, Sada and Kichi, in their activity articulate their emancipation through their sexual desire, “[a] desire [which] mocks the notion of will and rationality”.[3] Kichi, however mocking is repression personified, walks in the opposite direction to marching soldiers in one of the film’s iconic moments. While many critics have interpreted this as rebellion, another perspective may suggest defeat. He will never be a part of the society they represent and, just like them, he is destined to die, at the hands of an oppressor no less. For that is what Sada essentially becomes, her activity and aggressiveness relegates Kichi to submissive male; provider of pleasure. He is no longer a man but sexual object, while it is the female who is the dominant and controlling one. Furthermore, the last scene in which Sada chokes him can be read as suicide; he cannot sustain or fulfil his lover’s voracious sexual appetite and his death which occurs in the midst of performing his duty causes him to surrender. Only in death is Kichi truly free.

Ai no corrida remains a timeless, highly stylised and transgressive critique of the corruptive influence of patriarchal ideology and of its implications on Japanese society. Oshima maintained that a film can only be truly political when it moves the spectator and his direction and style is certainly persuasive in altering viewer perception, even evoking attributes of the Lacanian model. In this case a piece of filmic art which is particularly acquiescent in its keiko-eiga ideal, yet at its heart displays a representation of civilisation and the oppresive hegemonic structures which allegedly keeps the human race ‘civilised’. Running deeper than its political theme, however, is a depiction of Eros and Thanatos and a fight for freedom – some may say the human condition.


[1] Kim, Nelson, Nagisa Oshima, [accessed 5.11.2006]

[2] Turim, Maureen, The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast (California/England: University of California Press, 1998).

[3] ibid, p129.