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WHITY ($30) is without question one of the most bizarre motion picture experiences that Iíve ever had spin up in my DVD player. The film left me amused and totally confused and I can honestly say that I really donít know how categorize this movie. WHITY is a melodrama about an eccentric wealthy family with all the trapping of the western genre. In fact, the film was actually shot the same sets as Sergio Leoneís spaghetti westerns. However, the setting and costumes are where the similarities between WHITY and a typical western end. First of all, the film is in German, yet the characters sing American period songs in English. Second, the characters are so strange; one would think they dropped out of the weirdest of David Lynchís movies. While Iíve seen a large number of foreign films, I have to admit that I am unfamiliar with the works of filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, so the off-the-wall characters in WHITY may be a regular part of the directorís universe.

The plot of WHITY is reminiscent of a trashy novel, yet Fassbinder takes an almost surreal approach to the material. WHITY stars GŁnther Kaufmann as the mulatto manservant called Whity, who is also the illegitimate son of the master of the household, Ben Nicholson (Ron Randell). Although he is treated like a slave, Whity still tries to attain some sort of approval from the other family members. Why he would want their approval defies reason, since Whity is about the only normal member of the household. Ben Nicholsonís mind is somewhat unhinged, his wife is a nymphomaniac, one son is a homosexual who likes to dress in womanís undergarments and the other son is mentally retarded. Adding to the soap opera like environment, is the fact that every family member is plotting against the others, with each trying to enlist Whityís aid in their schemes. The only respite Whity finds from the insanity that surrounds him is his relationship with a saloon singer/prostitute named Hanna (Hanna Schygulla). The cast of WHITY also includes Katrin Schaake, Harry Bšr, Ulli Lommel, TomŠs Blanco, Stefano Capriati and Elaine Baker.

Fantoma Films has done an absolutely amazing job with their DVD release of WHITY. Although released in 1970, the film element used for the transfer doesnít betray any signs of being that old. Perhaps the American Zoetrope DVD Lab, where this DVD was produced, worked some special form of digital magic on this release or perhaps there are still pristine materials on this film in Germany. Anyway, the transfer is great and it certainly shows cinematographer Michael Ballhausí work to the fullest. WHITY is presented in its proper 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The image is sharp, clear and displays a solid level of detail. Colors are clean and well saturated, without a sign of bleeding amongst the more intense hues. Flesh tones vary wildly because of the makeup applied to the actorís faces- trust me itís intentional. Blacks are a beep black and the picture demonstrates very smooth contrast. Shadow detail is decent, but nowhere near the levels of new movies. There are no problems with digital compression artifacts on this well authored, dual layered DVD.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has the limited fidelity of a 1970 film, but I didnít notice any severe distortions in the sound. The German language dialogue sounded fairly natural to my English trained ears. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English.

The interactive menus are a step above, containing full motion video and sound. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as an audio commentary with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and producer/actor Ulli Lommel. The commentary is English and goes a long way in introducing one to the motivations of the late director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who from the descriptions here, must have been quite a character. Ballhaus and Lommelís talk also gives one a good deal of information on the history of this filmís tumultuous production, which was the inspiration for another Fassbinder film- BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE.

As I stated above, WHITY is a bizarre movie. However, the DVD is first rate and I am guessing that Fassbinder fans will want to add this disc to their collections.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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