"The best of this kind are but shadows..." -(Midsummer Night's Dream)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sandahl Bergman's SHE (1984) comes to Blu-ray, Swingin'


Finally the great "SHE" starring Sandahl Bergman comes to Blu-ray in a flawless edition from Kino, released the other week. The Image and Sound are sublime, it's never looked better, and with a great interview given for the disc by director/writer Ari Nesher (yes that Aris Nesher), its pedigree as a cult rock-and-roll intellectually distaff comic book adventure can at last loom as medium large as it deserves. Finally we can examine the film in the light of what it is, a wildly imaginative, comic book-style adventure mixing all sorts of genres together to form an idea of what a post-apocalyptic renaissance faire might look like if its inhabitants roamed around and infiltrated other early 80s genre movies. It's a land where boxes of cereal are sold as antiques and one can wander from an underground mutant kingdom to a rich young werewolf pool party dinner/dance orgy in a few connecting woodsy shots, finding themselves captured by a bewigged 18th century naturalist and his tutu-wearing flunky; a war-torn city run by vicious warlords who regularly raid the countryside for women, a faux-Christian telekinetic Christ mutant and his funky monks, and so forth. There's a kinky edge, to be sure, with Bergman's goddess "She" and her right hand warrior woman enduring whippings and other torture, and all sorts of wildly imaginative Alex Raymond-style violence, but feminism always looms larger than sex (there is none). I kind of like that, as in the end, sisterhood wins out, as She goes back to her --but I can't spoil it.

Validating its worth as a great cult film, a kind of cross between Alphaville and Flash Gordon (1980) is an extra interview with Nesher, an Israeli film critic-turned-director/writer who made this in his 20s once out of his obligatory military service. Turns out he's an intellectual Cahiers du CinĂ©ma type who went on to a distinguished career making 'serious' films in Israel like Rage and Glory, but also enjoying keeping his hand in with American genre junk like Doppelganger and Timebomb. -A handsome well-spoken guy who shot the extra while in New York for a retrospective of his Israeli films at (I'm guessing) Lincoln Center, the fact that he spoke so highly of his time making the film (a great anecdote his lunch with Fellini, who was shooting a film one soundstage over and had complained about the constant blaring heavy metal they were playing.)

There's a kind of Parsifal hero's journey that, when I originally caught only the last 2/3 of this back when it was on Netflix and seemed nothing more than a bargain basement Conan copy-cat, but Blu-ray and HD have been kind to such things, especially the ones made in Italy (as this was) which really hum along from wild set-piece cliffhanger to cliffhanger, with a little more than a little sex thrown in. (There's no sex here,

 Finding it to be a great post-modern melange, with mighty Bergman as the goddess of her little slice of the post-'cancellation' wasteland, wandering to the north with a handsome idiot (since it's pre-ordained by her oracle) and running into scrapes with everyone from New Yoahk-accented mutants to crazed warriors in a ruined city, acolytes of a 'one god' mutant boy who can control matter with his green flashing eyes; a powdered-wig naturalist and his tutu-wearing henchman, who are collecting and notating the flora and fauna and treating their captives like butterflies pinned to the wall. There's also a rack, flogging, the old trash compacting wall cliffhanger, and a lot of cool feminist force (Nesher wanted to make sure women weren't objectified, but man do we become thankfully acquainted with Bergman's incredibly lithe dancer legs. Symbols of great strength as well as lithe dancer grace and beguilement. )

This is what it looked like before the Blu - murky.
Nesher says Bergman spurred the stunt people on, to using real swords and cutting it real close, getting physical like she trained for for Conan.  Nesher says it was great fun, and he loved working with Bergman, and we believe him. Apparently it did well enough the producers wanted him to do a sequel, which is odd since I, a Bergman fan, never heard of it until a chance catch on Netflix back in 2012 (which I tied in with Meet John Doe here).

In its past incarnations it looked kind of cheap and rundown but now, on this solid Blu-ray transfer the witty genius of the film can really be felt. Bits like Sandahl's being startled into sword out readiness by the squeak from stepping on a stray rubber duck by the werewolf elite's swimming pool; David Brandon as the ridiculously gorgeous Sebastian Venable. It's all very well paced, relentlessly entertaining and packed with crazy songs, rock anthems galore, reflecting the style of the time, but in Europe, when prog and metal was taking the edge to the limit and avoiding the slick empty synth sounds the AOR guys in the States were convinced every artist needed to have. Similarly, the much bigger-budgeted groupthink-bespoiled Red Sonja seems to have, alongside Conan the Destroyer derailed the Conan train (thanks be to director Richard Fleischer--"great" choice in director--and his PG-minded producers). If only SHE had been freely avail when I was a smitten-by-Sandahl Conan worshipper back in the day, but as far as I know this never made it to the rental store... or other... 'til now.

Anyway, Blu-ray of the year!

Runners-up:  HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (Kino), THE PSYCHIC (Scorpion) and PORT OF SHADOWS (Kino) and PAGANINI HORROR (Severin).

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