Film Round-Up: Here Be No Dragons

Christopher Fowler
One of the problems besetting film collectors who have ended up owning redundant DVDs is the increasing unplayability of the discs. Finally settling down to watch the four-hour version of 'Mysteries of Lisbon', Raul Ruiz's remarkable last film, I discovered the discs were so covered in scratches that they wouldn't play. I mostly use portable peripherals, which are far more sensitive and temperamental when it comes to scuffed discs. So I checked a boxful of other rarities and found that hardly any of them could now be enjoyed. And here's the problem. I am what could politely be termed 'an outlier'. I and my friends tend to be drawn toward stories created by the other 95% of the planet. We love Mexican, South American, African, Korean and even a couple of Russian films because they haven't been created by committee. I'm not fussed about fantasy stories because they all fall into predictable templates. I'd be happy watching a double bill of 'Hannah Arendt' and 'Dr Petiot' (might need a drink after) but it's not only impossible to find most of my films on streaming services, it's impossible to find them anywhere. A kind reader once burned me a copy of 'Dr Petiot' because it was completely unavailable, and miraculously that still works. Which brings me to the forgotten 'Dictado' ('Dictation'), a title that turns out retroactively to be rather clever. Regular readers know I'm a little in thrall to Spanish films and TV shows, which go for cumulative power rather than shock effects, even if they do occasionally lean into the Latin temperament a little hard. 'Dictado' was barely released outside of Spain (it was released in the US under the nonsense-title 'Childish Games'). It concerns Daniel and Canguro, a teacher and his wife who are childless (medical issues for once, not a past tragedy). Daniel is visited by a childhood friend with whom he lost contact, who, oddly, wants him to visit his young daughter, because 'then you'll know'. Soon after this, the friend kills himself while bathing his daughter. Canguro, Daniel's wife, senses that they have a chance to adopt the melancholy little girl, who quickly warms to the mother but shuns the father. What happened to Daniel that makes him so wary of adoption? Everything points to a ghost story - reincarnation, perhaps, but the truth is more realistic and more startling.  Another rescued disc exists under three titles; 'Bienvenue à Cadavre-les-Bains', 'Der Knochenmann' and 'The Bone Man', only the first title of which hints at the film's sheer bonkersness, although at a push I'd describe it as 'the Coen brothers go totally Fargo in Austria'. It's a mix of death, love, cannibalism, transsexualism and missing digits, with a villain so trapped that you almost want to root for him. The director, Wolfgang Murnberger, is popular in Europe but his films don't travel - a pity, because his lugubrious, knackered chain-smoking ex-cop is a hoot. He and his sidekick turn up in another of Murnberger's films; 'Silentium'. My first thought was that they'd be great to remake. My second was the realisation that they would lose too much in the process. Not everything has to go global. Although Mads Mikkelsen's 'Another Round' and 'Riders of Justice' did well internationally, I don't want to see them retold. It seems that the only place to find such films in the future will be on an obsolete technology - DVDs. Too peculiar for the high-end arthouse streamers like BFI Player or MUBI, they require hard work to track down. At least rare paperbacks still turn up in charity shops from time to time. But I'm happy to join the ranks of weird old guys (never women, I note) creeping around boot fairs on the search for treasure. Actually I'm not doing that, quite. I live in central London. There are no boot fairs. But you get the gist. Happily, books still startle and thrill. So excuse me while I pass by the GoT and LOTR spinoffs in favour of something genuinely heartfelt.    


Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 19:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@admin There are various dyi approaches to removing or ameliorating scratches on DVDs. Some swear by white toothpaste or metal polish on a lint-free cloth (after a cleaning with washing up liquid). Some swear by dedicated DVD/CD cleaning products. Others swear by actual repair devices (Amazon would love to sell you several). And many others --- just swear after attempting disc resuscitation --- me among them.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 20:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@admin Yes, it's me again. You mean (gasp!) --- you mean you would eschew the LOTR supposed prequel and purportedly the most expensive TV series ever produced --- 'The Lord of the Rings: King of the Rings' --- premiering on Amazon Prime Video in 15 days (be still my beating heart) with its first two episodes (one each to follow weekly thereafter). Worldwide roll-out as follows:

6 p.m. US/Canada PDT — Thursday, September 1
9 p.m. US/Canada EDT — Thursday, September 1
10 p.m. Brazil — Thursday, September 1
2 a.m. UK — Friday, September 2
3 a.m. Central European Summer Time — Friday, September 2
5:30 a.m. India Standard Time — Friday, September 2
10 a.m. Japan Standard Time — Friday, September 2
11 a.m. Australia — Friday, September 2
1 p.m. New Zealand — Friday, September 2

Markus Rinderknecht (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 20:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A few werks ago I mentioned in your blog Austrian writer Wolf Haas as one of my favourite crime writers... and now you mention two of the Murnberger films based on his (in all nine) Brenner books. There are actually two more movies with Josef Hader playing Brenner: Komm, süßer Tod (2000) and Das ewige Leben (2015). The films are great, the books even better. (I read them all.) I hope you are able to find copies of those two movies.

snowy (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 22:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Slimline DVD drives [as used in portables/laptops] are notoriously bad, they only have a lifespan of about 600 hours use, [the heat generated in such a small enclosure causes early failures].

A sign a drive is starting to fail is when the spin-up time on a disc goes beyond 1-2 seconds, [technical explanation to dull to type - let alone read - about the TOC being near the hub and thus semi-protected].

Before purchasing any patent nostrums or smearing the contents of the bathroom cabinet on anything, try a new external drive, they are only £10.

... How to wrestle this back to relevance/on topic?

Oh! Dr Petiot was probably me, after all the faffing around with 'Le Magasin des suicides'.

Roberta (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 23:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My local library has a good collection of foreign films, and they ALSO have a disc cleaning machine to keep the collection in good condition. Maybe you could ask around to see if that exists near you. My library built that collection precisely because there wasn't any kind of Art House theater for miles around us. The disc cleaning gizmo means that those DVDs will be on the shelf for a very long time.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 21/08/2022 - 23:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@admin I trust you've learned your lesson about trying to impress your guests with esoteric film DVDs as drink coasters.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 04:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That Amazon LOTR prequel should be 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' for the two of you who wanted to know the real title. And for the same two of you --- dyi should be, of course, diy although, in my case, diy usually does mean dyi --- d oing y ourself i n. That should end today's erratum.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 06:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Prequels are generally a sign that someone can't think of anything more to do with the core, enthralling, audience grabbing material but really needs some more money and is willing to do whatever it takes to get those characters back on the screen. They did it (probably with original intent) with Star Wars and now are doing it with Game of Thrones and, Lord save us, with the Ring trilogy (no, the newer Ring). There is no need, no artistic rationale, no justification.
The peculiar success on television is what happened with Mr. Dexter's Morse - followed by the prequel of Endeavour. Perhaps that one works because everything was a new creation, no crossover characters and only the fact that Morse cannot marry or have a long term relationship carries over from the original.

Christopher Fowler Mon, 22/08/2022 - 09:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ah Snowy - it was you! Now I will never be able to rid myself of the image of Dr Petiot riding his tricycle through tunnels at night, his cape flapping - the stuff of nightmares.

Roger (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 09:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

‘Mysteries of Lisbon’ wasn't just remarkable - it was wonderful! I'm only sorry I never saw the six-hour TV version.

Gregory (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 15:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've had a copy of DIE KNOCHENMANN for a number of years now, and repeatedly put it on our always planned but rarely achieved Christmas Film Festival list. One year we watched *everything*, then it dwindled to a few and later to none. The problem is my partner likes to read, read more than watch, and I have become a watcher rather than reader, for anything in the realm of fiction anyway. (Though tbh she does a very good job of promoting your Bryant&May books and I may yet give in.

I immediately checked a few places for Silentium and amazingly it is on YOUTUBE. Not a great definition file but better than nothing. A Murnberger double bill this year, yes no maybe... From what I can gather about Dr Petiot I think maybe not yet (I'm more reluctant about really lurid body horror as I grow older.) I shall check up on the others that Markus mentioned - maybe find subtitle files somewhere if not already embedded. Not impossible.

I'm kind of horrified by your scuffs and scratches - I know I can be a bit meticulous about things but I;ve been using optical discs for 30-odd years now and this has never happened to me.

Anyway, we do appreicate your fascination with the unusual; at the moment we are very into Korean, Japanese and Chinese tv series, mostly crime or detective. They;re very satsisfying s apart from anything else they are so well-made, excellent production values, good scripts (though I am sure we miss a lot - especially the jokes - being subtitle-bound) and all tround excitingly unusual just because they're a window into a different culture. I'm sure you undertand that.

Colin (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 15:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Cinema Paradiso is a great dvd postal rental club, has lots of obscure titles! Well worth a look

Joan (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 16:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I get frustrated because often I can’t buy a DVD I want because it isn’t in our Playback Region, North America is 1. Australia and Europe etc are 2 for most Blu-Ray discs. I guess they only get a Region 1 copy if they could be popular here, so forget the small films!
I recently purchased a new 4K HD Blu-Ray Player and it is awesome with the 4K discs.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 17:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Joan Joan --- There are several ways to 'hack' your DVD player to make it region-free. I won't go into details here because they pretty much depend on your player model. Would suggest you make an internet search for 'how to change DVD region' or similar.

Christopher Fowler Mon, 22/08/2022 - 17:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Gregory - sorry to horrify you about the scratches. It's because I had to get rid of all the boxes. 'Dr Petiot' is not at all gory but its implications are all the more frightening for it being 1. true and 2. utterly enigmatic.

Joan (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 18:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Stu you are bad!!
But thanks for the info!

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Mon, 22/08/2022 - 22:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Charity shops, in obscure locations still contain dvd films.

Keith (not verified) Tue, 23/08/2022 - 11:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well - we have always loved foreign films starting from our earlier days in the 60's....
Crime obviously being high up on our list.... Our UK - what ever happened to Great Britain.? - 4th channel has some foreign series but our main source is purchasing from European online shops...
DVD's - Well try the series of books from Jussi Adler-Olsen. Not the easiest to watch but when was life easy.?
Could do with Bryant & May on DVD's....? but then how could anybody portray all those characters as so well as they have come to life while listening to the Audio Books.... There are some things best left ... the perfection already attained could only be destroyed.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Thu, 25/08/2022 - 19:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think my comfort film is Spirited Away, I love the radish god.

Just recently I saw a US horror from 2019 The Vigil, it had a very European feel, possibly because it was set in the Jewish community. A shomer watches over a dead body, and of course strange things happen, there is plenty about being haunted by the past and guilt. It doesn't pull up any trees but a good thoughtful film.

The Dr. Petiot is new to me, seems to have a fair bit in common with H H Holmes. I did read he was a member of 'The Pond', I guess secret services will use anyone and anything to meet their goals.

Best for playing old dvd's is a cheap dvd player and easier to create a non area machine too. I still have VHS tapes and a player, watched some of The Addam's family series with my daughter earlier this year on VHS.

In Portugal they do show some of the Brazilian and they have to be seen to be believed