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Silent Era Films on Home Video
Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Body and Soul
(1925)

 

Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux convinced Broadway star Paul Robeson to make his film debut in this story of an escaped criminal, wanted for extradition to England, hiding in a small town while posing as the Right Reverend Isiaah T. Jenkins.

The drinking and thieving Jenkins has designs on young Isabelle, who is in love with Jenkins’ twin brother Sylvester. Isabelle’s mother, who blindly favors Jenkins, won’t give a blessing to Isabelle’s marriage to Sylvester.

On the pretext of saving her soul, Jenkins is alone with Isabelle. Later that day, something has happened, and in hopelessness Isabelle leaves Tatesville, watched by a gloating Jenkins.

Months later, her mother finds Isabelle in Atlanta living in poverty. Isabelle reveals that earlier Jenkins had raped her during an outing, then on the day she left town that he tortured her into revealing the hiding place of the family savings. Overcome by starvation, Isabelle soon dies.

During a rather comic sermon by Jenkins, Isabelle’s mother bursts in to accuse him of killing her daughter. Later, hunted by the townspeople, Jenkins begs forgiveness of the mother, which she reluctantly grants.

Worth noting is the none-too-subtle differences in the characters’ speech patterns that Micheaux deliberately made in the film’s intertitles. What might be seen by reactionaries today as prejudical stereotyping of ethnic speech is nothing more than Micheaux’s indication of the differences in the education and social levels of the film’s characters. — Carl Bennett

coverKino Classics
2016 Blu-ray Disc edition

Pioneers of African-American Cinema (1915-1946),
black & white and color, 1266 minutes total. not rated,
including Body and Soul (1925), black & white, 93 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K20601, UPC 7-38329-20601-7.
Five single-sided, dual-layered, Region A Blu-ray Discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; one cardboard wrap with three plastic BD trays in cardboard slipcase, $99.95.
Release date: 26 July 2016.
Country of origin: USA
This Blu-ray Disc edition has been mastered in high-definition from a 35mm print from George Eastman Museum.

The film is accompanied by a music score by Paul D. Miller (AKA DJ Spooky).

The collection is supplemented with an 80-page booklet that includes notes on the films and essays by collection curators Charles Musser, Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, and others.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverKino Classics
2016 DVD edition

Pioneers of African-American Cinema (1915-1946), black & white and color, 952 minutes total. not rated,
including Body and Soul (1925), black & white, 93 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K20600, UPC 7-38329-20600-0.
Five single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) progressive? scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; one cardboard wrap with three plastic DVD trays in cardboard slipcase, $79.95.
Release date: 26 July 2016.
Country of origin: USA
This abbreviated DVD collection has been mastered in high-definition from a 35mm print from George Eastman Museum.

The film is accompanied by a music score by Paul D. Miller (AKA DJ Spooky).

The collection is supplemented with an 80-page booklet that includes notes on the films and essays by collection curators Charles Musser, Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, and others.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverThe Criterion Collection
2007 DVD edition

Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist (1925-1979), black & white and color, 586 minutes total. not rated,
including Body and Soul (1925), black & white, 79 minutes, not rated.

The Criterion Collection, unknown catalog number (spine number 371), unknown UPC number.
Four single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD discs, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; four cardboard wraps with plastic DVD trays in cardboard slipcase, $99.95.
Release date: 13 February 2007.
Country of origin: USA
This quality DVD edition has been our recommended edition of Body and Soul (1925) for years. Now, we recommended the Kino editions above.

This film is accompanied by a music score by Wycliffe Gordon.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverCascadia Entertainment
2003 DVD edition

Body and Soul (1925), black & white, 103 minutes, not rated.

Cascadia Entertainment, CCE-630, UPC 6-25882-92630-1.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.20:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $7.99?
Release date: 2003.
Country of origin: Canada

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.

This DVD edition has been mastered from a VHS videotape copy of the 1998 Kino International home video edition of Body and Soul that features a too-jazzy and dissociated musical accompaniment by Honk, Wail and Moan, composed by Brian Casey and Stephen Perakis.

The disc’s picture occasionally has a twitchy warping that continues throughout the first half of the disc at the top of the image, caused by the maladjusted tracking of the VHS videotape machine used for playback during DVD mastering (as is seen in the top of the still frame above). A simple adjustment of the machine’s playback-head tracking could have corrected this problem. Also apparent is the smeary and coarse loss of image detail due to the limited resolution of the VHS video format. Use of a commercial VHS copy of the film to master this disc indicates either a lack of quality concerns on the part of Cascadia producers or an illegal edition produced from Kino materials without their knowledge or authorization. (We also wonder why a Canadian company would run an FBI notice at the beginning of the disc.)

The 35mm print utilized for the transfer is very good, with moderate speckling, dust, scuffing, scratches, emulsion chipping, some blasted-out highlights, and a couple of moments of sprocket damage to the image area of the print. Brief sections of missing film are represented by still frames in durations that approximate the length in time of the lost footage. Pausing the disc reveals a number of video compression artifacts that confirms the overcompression of the encoded video information. A reevaluation of the DVD only serves to downgrade our rating of the disc for the above-noted shortcomings that are all too apparent on high-definition equipment capable of upscaling to a 1080p signal.

Of note is evidence that Kino International’s edition was apparently produced from a sound reissue print of the film, indicated by some loss of picture information on the left-hand side of the frame (the area excised for a reissue print’s added optical soundtrack). To maintain proper framing of the film’s intertitles, the picture has been transferred offset to the right as if the area masked out for the soundtrack weren’t missing.

We cannot recommend this poorly mastered DVD.
Other AFRICAN-AMERICAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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