Baba Yaga

Discussion in 'High Def' started by Chunkblower, Mar 26, 2012.

  1. Chunkblower

    Chunkblower Member

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: Chunkblower
    Review Date: March 26, 2012

    Format: Blu-ray
    Released by: Blue Underground
    Release date: February 28, 2012
    MSRP: $29.98
    All Regions
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: AVC, 1080p
    Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
    1973


    inline ImageWe’ve been so inundated by adaptations of Marvel comic superheroes that’s it’s understandable that’s what we think of when we hear “comic adaptation.” Yet, comics have proven far more diverse a medium than we often think. Both Road to Perdition and A History of Violence got their inspiration from graphic literature. Long before all those, however, there was Euro oddity Baba Yaga. Based on the work of Guido Crepax, Baba Yaga is actually part of a miniature wave of comic adaptations from the late 60s and early 70s. Crepax had been publishing his adult oriented strip in Europe since the late 60s but didn’t break in North America until the late 1970s publication of his strip in Heavy Metal magazine.

    The Story

    inline ImageIt’s Italy in the early 1970’s and the air is ripe with social upheaval. Protesters and armed police uneasily stand shoulder to shoulder in the streets and the government is bringing the full force of its censors down on artistic mediums. Photographer Valentina (Isabelle De Funes) and her filmmaker boyfriend Arno Treves (George Eastman) exist in the smoke filled rooms of pretentious art circle parties, observing the world from a position of detachment.

    inline ImageOn her way home from one such party late at night, Valentina saves a dog from being hit by a car. The driver, a mysterious and strangely hypnotic woman in black, steps out from behind the wheel. Her name? Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker). Baba offers Valentina a ride home, which she reluctantly accepts. In the comfortable and familiar surroundings of her apartment, Valentina tries to shake off her encounter with the strange woman, but later that night her sleep is troubled by disturbing dreams of being sexually humiliated by Nazi captors.

    inline ImageThe next day, Baba Yaga returns to Valentina’s apartment under the pretense of returning an object of Valentina’s but it seems she’s more interested in Valentina herself. When her none-to-subtle advances are rebuffed, Baba Yaga curses Valentina’s camera. The camera causes harm to Valentina’s subjects and her dreams get wilder and more realistic to the point where it gets difficult to discern between reality and fantasy. To end her waking nightmare, Valentina must confront Baba Yaga on her own turf.

    Or, at least that’s as much of a story as I can discern. Baba Yaga is not real big on narrative, trading instead on style and surrealistic imagery. It’s not entirely successfully at what it seems to be attempting but still manages to keep the viewer entertained throughout its 83 minute running time.

    inline ImageBaba Yaga touches on a lot of subjects but it’s not really about anything. The characters like to talk a lot about big subjects: government censorship or striking the balance needed to make art commercially successful, but they seem to be talking about these issues in the abstract. There’s never any sense that these characters lives are effected by anything other than what is immediately happening to them.

    inline ImageBaba Yaga, far from being the product of Crepax’s mind, is a character from Slavic folklore. The character has been appropriated many times before and after Crepax’s use, most recently familiar to anime fans as one of the main characters in Miyzaki’s Spirited Away. Again, one would suspect that this particular legend had been appropriated from some greater purpose and again it never really pans out. The film could have just as easily been called Wicked Witch of the West and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. Like the social issues it touches on, Baba Yaga invokes the subject matter but always seems to be trying to stay at arm’s length from it at the same time. The result is strange: every scene is tinged with a sense of awkwardness or unease, like the actors had rocks in their shoes at all times or something. I’ve never really seen a movie quite like Baba Yaga.

    inline ImageDirector Corrado Farina seems to be striving for a sort of dream logic. The problem is that even dream logic has an internal coherence and consistency. From Bosch to Dali to David Lynch, the artists best able to evoke dream logic are the ones who understand that no matter how outlandish or disparate the elements are, they need to be connected by a common unifying thread. Corrado Farina throws everything that he can into the witches brew that is Baba Yaga but he isn’t able to pull the incongruent elements together though, to be fair, he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. When, at the eleventh hour, the film takes a detour into unpleasant S&M imagery the film’s overindulgence has already thoroughly diluted its own capacity to shock or surprise. As a result, the film doesn’t linger in the back of your mind the same way a potent dream can, and that is probably its biggest shortcoming.

    Image Quality

    inline ImageI have to admit my experience with Blue Underground’s releases has been fairly limited, but I’ve always been aware of their reputation for stellar presentations of obscurities that wouldn’t warrant lavish treatment from other companies. Among the Blue Underground discs I have watched, however, Baba Yaga ranks among the best transfers I’ve yet seen. Struck from what seems to be pristine source material, Baba Yaga boasts bold, eye-popping colors, rich blacks and strong grain reproduction. Due to the soft focus style in which it’s shot, fine detail is somewhat lacking in some backgrounds but that’s to be expected. Honestly, can’t think of a genuine criticism of the transfer that’s not due to the source material. This is top flight work.

    Sound

    inline ImageBoth English and Italian DTS-HD mono tracks are included and they’re about equal in quality. Dialogue is slightly sharper in the English track while the music sounds a bit more robust in the Italian track. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Either way, you’ll be getting a strong audio track, free from the sort of hiss or clipping that you’d expect from a film of this provenance.

    Supplemental Material

    inline ImageA very frank interview with director/co-writer Corrado Farina is the aptly titled Farina & Valentina (21:40). Covering quite a great amount of material in such a short amount of time, his recounting of the production of Baba Yaga is nothing short of exhaustive. Refreshingly, Farina makes no bones about what he thinks did and did not work in his adaptation of Crepax’s strip. Actress Anne Heywood was originally cast in the titular role before backing out after shooting had started to do a bigger budgeted American film and star Carroll Baker was brought in last minute to fill the role. The film’s ruminations on art and censorship proved prescient, as Baba Yaga ran into trouble with the censors and two nude scenes had to be cut.

    inline ImageThe inaccurately titled, vintage documentary Freud in Color (12:06) serves as an informative primer on the history of comic strips in Italy. It does a good job of helping set the stage for Crepax’s emergence in the mid 60s. Of particular interest is the in depth manner in which the layout of Crepax’s comics are compared to film editing. I’m not sure exactly when this feature was produced but I find it strange that Crepax’s pioneering work in Europe isn’t compared to the similar groundbreaking work Robert Crumb was doing in America at the same time.

    inline ImageA collection of Deleted and Censored Scenes (10:01) in pretty rough shape, including the nude scenes that fell to the shears of the censors, are the obvious highlight of this disc. Even forgetting the nudity, the other scenes are packed with potent dream imagery, as well. Considering the film’s Spartan running time, some explanation behind the deletion of these scenes would have been nice.

    A very European, very 1970’s Theatrical Trailer (3:33) doesn’t do a helluva great job letting audiences know what the film is about but, like the film itself, it’s silly, retro fun. There’s also a very brief clip of Carroll baker’s deleted nude scene that’s in much better shape than the footage in the deleted scenes section. Skin hounds, take note and be ready with the pause button.

    inline ImageThere’s a poster and still gallery. It’s not very comprehensive; there are only three posters, four video covers and a few dozen production and promotional stills, but it’s here for completists to enjoy.

    Finally, the Comic Book-to-Film Comparison is a bit of a let down. It’s so small it’s difficult to appreciate the similarities. Really, the main menu and the sections of the Freud in Color documentary do a better job at comparing the two than this feature does.

    Final Thoughts

    inline ImageThe film is messy, stylish euro trash nonsense. Luckily, it’s also entertaining euro trash nonsense. I’m kind of the fence about it. On one hand, I enjoyed watching it, on the other, I can’t exactly recommend it, either. Here’s a good litmus test: if you find the screen caps included with this review interesting, amusing or in any way fascinating, then you’ll probably find value in Baba Yaga. If not, then not. If you do partake of this obscure slice of comic book history you’ll be rewarded with the exceptionally fine presentation of this Blu-ray release. Film aside, this disc is an unequivocal homerun.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - B-

    Image Quality - A

    Sound - B+

    Supplements - B


    Technical Info.
    • Colour
    • Running time - 1 hour and 23 minutes
    • Not Rated
    • 1 Disc
    • Chapter Stops
    • English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
    • Italian Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
    • English SDH subtitles
    • English subtitles for the Italian version
    • French subtitles
    • Spanish subtitles
    Supplemental Material
    • “Farina & Valentina” Interview with Co-Writer/Director Corrado Farina
    • “Freud in Color” Guido Crepax Documentary
    • Deleted and Censored Scenes
    • Theatrical Trailer
    • Poster & Still Gallery
    • Comic Book-to-Film Comparison
    Other Pictures

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