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    Shadows Play

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Following the moral quagmire of Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and the magical whimsy of Alice (1990), Woody Allen next visited another recurring subject for him: death. That is, his one-act play Death, which would be expanded into one of his most offbeat films: the ravishingly black-and-white Shadows and Fog (1991), which The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called “a pastiche of references to the works of others, but it's a brazen, irrepressible original in the way it uses those references." Those include the German Expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the malevolent urban dread of night from Fritz Lang’s M and, for some laughs and social commentary, the shady underworld types of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill musical The Threepenny Opera. (Indeed, Weill’s music from Threepenny and The Seven Deadly Sins comprises a large chunk of the soundtrack). Lensed on a huge soundstage at New York’s Kaufman-Astoria Studios, Shadows and Fog unfurls on an elaborate 26,000-square-foot set (designed by frequent Allen collaborator Santo Loquasto), consisting of cobblestone streets, claptrap offices, winding alleyways, nooks and crannies, grubby boarding houses, dimly-lit doorways, a church and a small river, undoubtedly created on a budget that vastly dwarfed those of its cinematic forebears. Allen makes his awkward way through this murky metropolis as Kleinman, a nebbish clerk recruited (reluctantly, of course) by vigilante townfolk to aid in the search for a Nosferatu-esque serial killer. His oddball odyssey leads him to a nearby circus, where the plight of a runaway sword-swallower (Mia Farrow) who’s deserted her lover/clown (John Malkovich) distracts him and draws him closer to the monstrous murderer than he’d like. Sharing the screen as a motley crew of big-top performers, prostitutes and self-important rabble-rousers is one of the starriest ensemble casts ever: Kathy Bates, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Fred Gwynne, Julie Kavner, Madonna, Kenneth Mars, Kate Nelligan, Donald Pleasence, Lily Tomlin and more. (We do mean more, whether in brief shots or extended scenes.) The razor-sharp precision of 1080p will showcase Carlo Di Palma’s striking black-and-white cinematography as never before, and amidst all the chills and chuckles, might just make you rediscover your movie love, as surely as Allen did on set. Joining Twilight Time’s Allen array of Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Front, Love and Death, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and The Purple Rose of Cairo on hi-def Blu-ray, Shadows and Fog will envelop you on November 10; pre-orders open on October 28. More Allen titles are on tap for 2016 too.