Witches, The: Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorLuchino Visconi/Mauro Bolognini/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Franco Rossi/Vittorio De Sica
Release Date(s)1967 (January 30, 2018)
Studio(s)Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica/United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
The product of five Italian directors and a talented and beautiful actress, The Witches (aka Le streghe) is a 1967 anthology film featuring five stories starring Silvana Mangano. The Witch Burned Alive is an up close and personal look at how a movie star’s public persona is unmasked, then reconstructed. In Civic Duty (aka Civic Spirit or Civic Sense), a woman coming across a car accident uses it to her speedy advantage. In The Earth as Seen from the Moon, a father and his son search for a new mother, landing upon a deaf mute woman with otherworldly qualities. In The Sicilian Belle, a young woman with a voodoo doll is discovered by her father, quickly admitting to an unwanted gentlemen caller as bloodshed ensues. And finally, in An Evening Like the Others, a house wife fantasizes about her reactions to her apathetic husband during a common evening at home.
The Witches, as a title, implies something much different than what it actually is, which is an episode by episode study through artistic expression of the various qualities of women; their roles in society, their wants and desires, and their reactions to the opposite sex (all of that is a gross oversimplification, obviously, as the film is more textured than that simple description of it). Only one segment enacts any of sort of “witch” behavior, being less bombastic and more thematic springboard than literal. The Witches is also not an overly successful film in what it’s trying to achieve, coming off a bit more negatively towards women than perhaps intended.
Silvana Mangano gives unique and magnetic performances, but The Witches is also highly unusual in that it features Clint Eastwood as Mangano’s husband in the final segment. Although obviously miscast, Eastwood was a big star in Italy at the time, as well as a rising star in the U.S., so his participation makes sense. The fact that the film was never given a proper release stateside, even to exploit Eastwood’s presence in it, just goes to show how much United Artists actually cared about it at the time. My personal favorite of the five segments is The Earth as Seen from the Moon by Pasolini, which I would venture is most viewers’ favorite upon seeing it for the first time. Not only is it the most positive, but it’s also bittersweet and comedic as well.
Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray release of The Witches comes armed with a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm interpositive element. It’s an incredibly natural presentation with a variety of styles, meaning that there are different lighting schemes, methods of cinematography, and even an opening animated credit sequence. Because of this, there are variances in visual quality throughout. Many moments of differentiation include out of focus sequences and opticals. The Earth as Seen from the Moon is perhaps the most even presentation as it contains almost no inconsistencies, while adversely, the final segment, An Evening Like the Others, features the most inherent visual flaws. Grain levels tend to spike during this sequence, which is well-resolved for the most part elsewhere. Detail is also a bit all over the map, but appears precise and innate to its corresponding story. Color reproduction is often quite lush in many sequences with hues that really pop, including natural skin tones. Black levels can sometimes be crushed, but overall brightness and contrast is excellent. No digital anomalies or enhancements seem to have been applied, but there is some occasional leftover damage mild scratches and speckling, as well as sporadic instances of film gate debris, which hasn’t been touched up.
The main presentation is presented in Italian mono LPCM, but alternately included in the extras is an English language presentation, also offered up in mono LPCM, both containing optional subtitles in English SDH. While these are extremely narrow and boxy presentations, they represent the film quite well. Dialogue is clear, but the overdubs on the English track are a bit more pronounced. Sound effects, which have many vintage qualities (including the Dollars trilogy-era shotgun blasts) are also thin but clear. The various musical score materials by Piero Piccioni and Ennio Morricone are mixed in well with the rest of the presentation. There are no major distortion problems, nor are there any hiss, clicks, or pops to be heard. I actually found the Italian track to be the more naturally-sounding of the two, even though both tracks are ultimately limited.
Other than the aforementioned alternate dubbed and shortened version of the film (which is only missing about 7 minutes and is a lower quality presentation than the Italian original, utilizing alternate elements to complete it), there’s also an excellent audio commentary by author and critic Tim Lucas, which is always an entertaining listen on every film he accompanies. He offers a copious amount of background information and insight into many of the film’s main players, as well as my favorite bit, a personal moment of him relating his childhood to one of the film’s musical numbers. Also included in this release is a 32-page insert booklet with the essays “Omnibus Films, Italian Style” by Pasquale Iannone and “The Manifestation of Dreams & Desire: Commedia all’italiana, The Witches and the Female Perspective” by Alexander Jacoby and Kat Ellinger, as well as restoration details.
I would classify The Witches as more of a curiosity than a film worth recommending. It’s for a very specific audience, which is not a horror crowd wondering if they’ve stumbled upon an unknown Italian portmanteau with Clint Eastwood in it. It’s far from that, but devoted film fans, especially fans of Italian cinema, will find something of value here. Between the excellent A/V presentation and Tim Lucas’ illuminating audio commentary, Arrow Academy’s release of the film is a wonderful new discovery.
- Tim Salmons