Thursday, September 7, 2017

First reviews of the new Beggars of Life DVD from Kino Lorber (starring Louise Brooks)

Here are some of the first reviews of the new Beggars of Life DVD / Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. I've highlighted what each reviewer or publication said about the film in general, as well as any comments (please forgive me) about my audio commentary. Clicking on the hyperlinks will bring you to the full review, so those interested can read more.

Nathan Cone of NPR's Texas Public Radio noted, "Kino Lorber’s reissue of the film is welcome ... The transfer to Blu-ray is about the best you can hope for from the surviving 35mm print. In all, this is a satisfying chapter in a great Hollywood director’s career... Gladysz, who’s the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, also goes into great detail about the studio production of the film, and the stories of its stars."

Mike Spring of the Albany Times Union (8/22/2017) said, "I love Blu-ray releases of obscure classic Hollywood cinema, and Kino Lorber’s new debut of Beggars of Life ... is a surprisingly effective film. I like silent movies but I’m not a blindly-loyal viewer who will proclaim every silent film a masterpiece, but Beggars of Life is a really strong film that holds up very well."

Jack Garner of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (8/20/2017) stated, "Beggars of Life... getting a superb Blu-ray release... was one of two best silent films of director William Wellman.... Gladysz, a Brooks scholar and the head of the Louise Brooks Society... provides input to our understanding of Beggars of Life in two ways. First, he performs one of two commentary tracks... Second, Gladysz has written a brief but informative book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film."

On Flavorwire, Jason Bailey (8/22/2017) noted, "This 1928 silent drama has somehow never made it to DVD or Blu-ray before, in spite of the presence of the great Wallace Beery and every cinephile’s crush, Louise Brooks. But Kino-Lorber has finally gotten the job done.... Beery is tough and charismatic as ever, but this is Brooks’s show, and she crushes it – her comparatively modern acting style (naturalistic and simple) keeps the story from veering into cartoon territory, though even in her pageboy caps and boy clothes, she’s still a stunner."

Mike Clark of Home Media Magazine (9/4/17) offered, "... it’s a pleasure to see it here in a decent print and, in fact, the first watchable one I’ve ever been able to catch of it. The non-Wellman commentator here is Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society (a noble calling). He’s one of those welcome guys who knows how many miles to the gallon the 87th supporting player got on his car, and his contribution is welcome."

Critic Jeffrey M. Anderson wrote on Combustible Celluloid (8/23/2017), "But even amidst all this artistry, Wellman and his cast and crew still create a richly entertaining tale, effortlessly coaxing the audience to thrill to chases and train jumping, to root for the lovers, and, eventually, to find sympathy for Red. Kino Lorber is responsible for delivering this gem into our lives -- originally a Paramount title, and still bearing the Paramount logo -- on a newly restored Blu-ray. I found little fault with the picture quality, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provides a lively, full-hearted score. William Wellman Jr. and noted Louise Brooks expert Thomas Gladysz (he has been running the Louise Brooks Society at least since the early days of the web) each provide commentary tracks."

Luigi Bastardo of Cinema Sentries (9/3/2017) called Beggars of Life a "compelling and beautifully photographed character drama" which "makes a triumphant return to the rails via a new HD presentation from Kino Lorber," as well as a "another stellar rediscovery from the Silent Era which is not only worthy of your attention, but is deserving of your affection, too." Bastardo adds, "Two distinctively different audio commentaries ‒ the first from William Wellman, Jr. and a secondary track from Louise Brooks Society co-founder Thomas Gladysz ‒ are included with this release, neither of which disappoints. While Wellman's track covers informative ground from an older, classy perspective, Gladysz' commentary tends to dive into juicier tidbit about the history of the film and its makers."

Writing on High Plains Reader, Christopher P. Jacobs (8/30/2017) thought "Beggars of Life is a powerful, often grim, but ultimately hopeful story of poverty, and seeking both happiness and redemption.... It now stands as one of the masterpieces of the Hollywood studio system, sound or silent.... Bonus items include a pamphlet and two different audio commentaries, one with numerous interesting anecdotes by the director’s son William Wellman, Jr., and the other a more detailed historical and stylistic analysis by Louise Brooks expert Thomas Gladysz, who recently wrote a companion book to this film. Wellman tends to have quite a few pauses in his commentary but remains consistently interesting with his first-hand information. Gladysz also has a few pauses, but gives a very engaging and in-depth background on the film, plus plenty of details about Brooks and quotes from her own essays and letters. Both commentaries are excellent additions to the Blu-ray."

From the Front Row (8/24/2017) opined, "Wellman's epic war film, Wings, went on to win the very first Oscar for Best Picture the same year, but Beggars of Life is perhaps a more impressive artistic achievement. While Wings is filled with stunning aerial photography and action sequences, Beggars of Life strikes a much deeper emotional chord.... Kino Lorber's new Blu-Ray features a gorgeous restoration that perfectly captures [Henry] Gerrard's lovely framing and melancholy imagery. It's one of Kino's best Blu-Discs yet, featuring an in-depth essay by Nick Pinkerton, as well as two audio commentaries featuring William Wellman, Jr., and Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society. They offer illuminating insight into a forgotten gem of the silent era that is now ripe for rediscovery."

Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant / Trailers From Hell (8/8/2017) wrote that the new Beggars of Life DVD was "A happy discovery!" and "a major late-silent-era gem on the order of Von Sternberg’s Docks of New York," adding it "has a rich pre-Code feel." Erickson noted, "It’s also a key movie in our education/adoration of the maverick actress Louise Brooks, the erotic sensation too hot and too independent for Hollywood," and stated, "Kino and their producers Robert Sweeney and Bret Wood have given us an exemplary disc of a great silent movie." Regarding the bonus material, Erickson added, "Two academic commentaries are in place. William Wellman Jr.’s track is of course centered on his father’s career, while Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society, takes his commentary into star-worship mode. Gladysz also contributed a track for Kino’s Diary of a Lost Girl, and is no slouch with the facts. It’s a very good listen."

Gary Tooze of DVDBeaver (8/4/2017) also reviewed the new KINO Lorber release, stating that Beggars of Life was "An American silent film classic" and "an essential American original," while adding " I was very impressed. I thought it was quite brilliant.... Very strongly recommended!" DVDBeaver had this to say about my contribution: "Kino adds two commentaries - the first by William Wellman, Jr. who discusses his director father and the making of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed all the details exported in the second commentary by Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society. It is fascinating."

Stuart Galbraith IV of DVDTalk (8/22/2017) stated, "... the film still packs a pretty powerful punch in numerous ways.... Arlen is fine and while Brooks doesn't convince as a boy there's no question she lights up the screen and is a more nuanced and sensuous actress than most of her generation." Galbraith adds, "The fine supplements include two good commentary tracks, one by William Wellman, Jr., and the other by Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society. An excellent booklet essay by Nick Pinkerton puts the film into historical context."

Brian Orndorf notes on (8/6/2017) that "Beggars of Life is largely considered to be one of Louise Brooks's finest motion pictures. The material asks quite a lot of the actress, portraying a haunted character in the midst of interstate travel and personal turmoil.... Beggars of Life is better with character than spectacle, and more interesting with wounded hearts than hardened ones, but most of it comes through vividly, making something compelling out of this strange journey."

On The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog, Dan Day Jr. (8/29/2017) said "Beggars of Life is a combination of gritty realism and old-fashioned sentiment.... Two audio commentaries are provided--one by William Wellman Jr. (which I have not listened to yet) and the other by Thomas Gladysz from the Louise Brooks Society. Gladysz's talk is an excellent one, going into all the relevant details of the production and the various adventures Louise Brooks had during the making of the film."

On Next Projection, Stacia Kissick Jones (8/17/2017) penned "With an exciting yet romantic script, delightful visuals, and what is arguably Louise Brooks’ best performance in an American film, Beggars of Life is a must-see film of the silent era.... Wellman’s son William Wellman, Jr. delivers audio commentary on Kino Lorber’s upcoming home video release of Beggars of Life, which utilizes the best print of the film known to exist, the 35mm version preserved at George Eastman Museum. Another audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz, founder of The Louise Brooks Society, is included, as well as a new score by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra which uses some of the original 1928 music composed for the film."

On Coffee Coffee and More Coffee, Peter Nellhaus (8/22/2017) said "With Louise Brooks more popular now than she was in her lifetime, and honored as much for her independence as for some of her surviving films, dressing in masculine garb may well be more fitting the actress remembered for playing women who usually refused to be domesticated.... The chamber group, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, performs the soundtrack, based on the 1928 cue sheets. There are also two commentary tracks, from the director's son, William Wellman, Jr., and Thomas Gladysz, who has a book on the making of Beggars of Life. Additionally, there is a booklet with notes by Nick Pinkerton. Between the three contributors, one gets a good picture of the effort required to make Beggars of Life amidst the sometimes fractious relationships between the various collaborators."

More reviews can be found elsewhere, including one by Samm Deighan in Diabolique Magazine (August 2017), and another by Jim Tudor on ZekeFilm (8/24/2017). A piece on Jim Tully and the film also appeared in the print edition of the St. Marys Evening Leader (in Saint Marys, Ohio) on Saturday, September 2. As well, their was a piece on the Nitrateville Radio podcast, which can be heard HERE.

The new Kino Lorber release was also reviewed by customers on And among the reviews were these comments:

Mark Hite thought it "A stunning restoration" and "A thrill to see."

Ron Wise stated "I'm thankful that Kino Lorber has released this important silent film in an excellent blu-ray edition. I've seen this film many times, and finally owning this edition is like seeing it for the first time. Kino Lorber has done an amazing job with the entire package. This new blu-ray release is well worth buying, enjoying, and adding to any film collection."

Chip Kaufmann wrote "Beggars of Life is quite remarkable for its vivid portrayal of hobo life in a pre-Depression America.... All in all a top notch release of an American silent film classic than can finally find the larger audience it deserves. A must for Louise Brooks fans or for Wallace Beery fans like myself."

Michael Gebert noted that "There are two commentary tracks—one by William Wellman Jr., which based on a spot listen seems to be mostly historical about the production (with some personal reminiscences thrown in), and one by Thomas Gladysz which has more of a focus on Brooks but also covers hobo author Jim Tully and the history of turning his book into this movie."

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