By Jeff T. Dick
In the face of dwindling DVD sales, most movie studio video divisions have cut back on their catalog output—except for prestigious titles worth the expense of a spruced-up Blu-ray release—leaving smaller distributors to pick up the slack.
One such up-and-coming company is St. Charles, IL–based Olive Films, which has not only released a significant portion of Paramount’s library but has also put out cult films and foreign and art-house fare from Germany’s Bavaria Films, France’s Gaumont, among others.
“Olive Films was born out of our passion and commitment to cinematic art,” said owner Farhad Arshad, in an interview with LJ. “We feel our contribution is in distributing films that address social and political ideas. Films help us transcend our never-before-questioned truths and place us squarely against our previously unexamined beliefs. Home viewing offers the [environment] for an intimate exchange of ideas, and we believe it will continue to remain strong.”
As for the future of physical formats in a growing video-on-demand (VOD) environment, Arshad firmly believes in “holding artwork in our hands. We can download a picture ‘efficiently,’ but we really miss a good deal when we do not allow our other senses to be engaged in the process of that experience.” And from a practical standpoint, a film owned on disc can’t be revoked without notice like the availability of a VOD title. Licensing may expire in either case, but irreplaceable discs have some degree of permanence—at least until they “go missing,” aren’t returned, or become damaged.
Time Out Chicago recently dubbed Olive Films the “Criterion of the Midwest,” which Arshad appreciatively acknowledged: “We have extraordinary respect for [classic and indie films distributor] Criterion [Collection] and what they have achieved. We feel quite honored when compared to such an outstanding organization with a commitment to art that is second to none.”
Where Criterion holds an edge is picture quality and bonus features, as Olive has moved into Blu-ray, those deficiencies have been addressed. A pair of classic Republic Pictures titles—High Noon and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers—appear practically pristine. And Noon includes a look back at the film’s production, hosted by veteran film critic Leonard Maltin, though it was not newly produced for Olive’s edition.
The recently released political thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977) sports both a sterling transfer and a 69-minute making-of documentary. Coming in January is a fully restored high-def release of the 1958 French version of Les Miserables, nicely timed to coincide with the new musical adaptation of the long-running play already generating Oscar buzz. In a big coup for Olive, John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) makes its newly remastered—from a 4K scan of the restored Technicolor negative—debut on DVD and Blu-ray, with a making-of featurette and a biographical booklet on the director. The Irish countryside, along with stars Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, ought to look fresh as a daisy. For a complete list of titles, go to www.olivefilms.com.
Here are 20 titles representing the best of Olive’s diverse catalog:
Body and Soul. b/w. 106 min. Robert Rossen. 1947. DVD UPC 887090045100. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090045209. $29.95.
John Garfield earned an Oscar nod as an ambitious prizefighter whose ruthless pursuit for a shot at the title threatens his personal relationships in this knockout boxing drama. (LJ 11/1/12)
Bound. color. 108 min. Wachowski Bros. 1996. DVD UPC 887090044509. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090044608. $29.95.
A tough-as-nails ex-con (Gina Gershon) and her paramour (Jennifer Tilly) hatch a dicey scheme to take $2 million of mob money in this sexy and violent contemporary film noir.
Dark City. b/w. 98 min. William Dieterle. 1950. DVD UPC 887090025904. $24.95.
Charlton Heston cuts an impressive figure in his first starring performance as a war hero–turned–two–bit hustler mired in the fallout from a crooked card game in this sturdy noir. (LJ 10/1/10)
Face to Face. color. 136 min. In Swedish w/English subtitles. Ingmar Bergman. 1977. DVD UPC 887090024402. $29.95.
Liv Ullmann gives an Oscar-nominated performance as a psychiatrist suffering from depression and mental illness whose plight worsens after an affair in this wrenching drama.
Force of Evil. b/w. 78 min. Abraham Polonsky. 1948. DVD UPC 887090045308. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090045407. $29.95.
An amoral attorney (John Garfield) for a numbers-racket kingpin is torn between loyalty to his protective older brother and pursuing a lucrative numbers-racket plan in this classic noir. (LJ 11/1/12)
High Noon. b/w. 85 min. Fred Zinnemann. 1952. DVD UPC 887090037006. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090037204. $29.95.
Gary Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor in this classic Western story of a lawman who stands alone to defend a town of craven citizens against a gang of killers seeking revenge. (LJ 10/1/12)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. b/w. 80 min. Don Siegel. 1956. DVD UPC 887090034302. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090039000. $29.95.
A small-town California doctor (Kevin McCarthy) has to deal with hysterical patients in the face of alien pod people replacing humans in this allegorical sf classic. (LJ 10/1/12)
Johnny Guitar. color. 110 min. Nicholas Ray. 1954. DVD UPC 887090044707. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090044806. $29.95.
This unconventional Western stars Joan Crawford as a saloon owner in a feud with local townspeople who hires an old flame (Sterling Hayden) who hung up his gun for a guitar.
Letters to Father Jacob. color. 75 min. In Finnish w/English subtitles. Klaus Haro. 2009. DVD UPC 887090027106. $29.95.
A hardened female convict serving a life sentence for murder is granted a pardon when she accepts a job answering letters sent to an elderly blind priest in this Bergmanesque drama. (LJ 5/15/11)
Long Day’s Journey into Night. b/w. 170 min. Sidney Lumet. 1962. DVD UPC 887090046305. $24.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090046404. $29.95.
Starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell, Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play about familial strife gets a successful screen adaptation.
Macbeth. b/w. 107 min. Orson Welles. 1948. DVD UPC 887090043908. $24.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090044004. $29.95.
Restored to its initial director’s cut from an 89-minute theatrical release, this Shakespeare adaptation offers an unconventionally cinematic, if technically rough, take on the classic tragedy.
Me Too (Yo, también). color. 103 min. In Spanish w/English subtitles. Alvaro Pastor & Antonio Naharro. 2009. DVD UPC 887090027601. $29.95.
A college graduate with Down syndrome falls for a sympathetic but messed-up coworker at his new job, setting up a touching but not overly sentimental story of unrequited love. (LJ 10/15/11)
1900. 3 discs. color. 315 min. In Italian w/English subtitles. Bernardo Bertolucci. 1977. DVD UPC 887090034401. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090034500. $39.95.
Spanning seven decades of Italian socioeconomic history, this intimate epic follows the lifelong friendship between a peasant (Gerard Depardieu) and a landowner (Robert De Niro). (LJ 7/12)
Nothing Personal. color. 85 min. Urszula Antoniak. 2009. DVD UPC 887090027700. $29.95.
A peripatetic woman hitching rides through the Irish countryside strikes up a strained relationship with an isolated man (Stephen Rea) similarly plagued with a troubled past.
Playing for Time. color. 150 min. Daniel Mann. 1980. DVD UPC 887090026901. $29.95.
A group of classical musicians (Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Alexander, Christine Baranski, et al.) imprisoned in Auschwitz play for their captors to spare themselves in this Emmy-winning drama.
Pursued. b/w. 101 min. Raoul Walsh. 1947. DVD UPC 887090042307. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090042406. $29.95.
A conflicted rancher (Robert Mitchum) haunted by his parents’ murder finds himself the relentless target of a mysterious one-armed avenger (Dean Jagger) in this moody Western. (LJ 12/12)
Rio Grande. b/w. 105 min. John Ford. 1950. DVD UPC 887090044905. $19.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090045001. $29.95.
The last film in Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy” stars John Wayne as the estranged father and tough commanding officer of a raw recruit (Harry Carey Jr.) sent on a dangerous rescue mission. (LJ 12/12)
The Sterile Cuckoo. color. 107 min. Alan J. Pakula. 1969. DVD UPC 887090043304. $24.95; Blu-ray UPC 887090043403. $29.95.
In this touching love story, Liza Minnelli creates a memorable character in Pookie Adams, an oddball coed who falls for a shy student (Wendell Burton) who eventually leaves her.
Visions of Eight. color. 110 min. Arthur Penn & others. 1973. DVD UPC 887090029704. $24.95.
The 1972 Munich Olympics as seen through the lens of eight international directors capturing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the world’s most prestigious competition.
WUSA. color. 115 min. Stuart Rosenberg. 1970. DVD UPC 887090026505. $24.95.
An out-of-work DJ (Paul Newman) stumbles into a job at a right-wing Southern radio station peddling a hateful brand of patriotism in this well-ahead-of-its-time drama.