Blu-ray Review: Shadows and Fog - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog is such a depressing film, one that—in retrospect—feels like a harbinger of artistic decline, that one must bask in the beauty of the late Carlo Di Palma's cinematography in order to accentuate the positive. A frequent Allen collaborator (from 1986-1997), Di Palma's evocative black-and-white visuals (which make the most of the film's titular elements) are the best thing about this chaotic, grating mess. Another big positive: Shadows and Fog has come to Blu-ray for the first time, with a high definition transfer courtesy of boutique label Twilight Time. As per usual with TT, this is a strictly limited edition (only 3,000 copies are available).

shadows and fog BOOKLET (220x280).jpgThe label has done an exemplary job of bringing numerous Woody Allen films to Blu-ray that I suppose might've been otherwise neglected. They've issued classics including Love and Death and Broadway Danny Rose as well as much more minor works like Alice and A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. As a Woody fan, I personally welcome any Blu-ray reissue from Allen's filmography. But Shadows and Fog (1991) is the first of Allen's truly negligible films to receive Twilight Time's Limited Edition Series honor. Completists will surely want it, but I have difficulty imagining many people pulling this one off their movie shelf very frequently.

After an only occasionally-spotty '80s, during which Allen's output was mostly sparkling, Shadows and Fog serves as the point of entry for a rash of indulgent, shallow, and quite frankly boring Allen films that would follow. Not all of them fall into this category. In fact, the director seemed to return to form immediately with Husbands and Wives, the Diane Keaton re-teaming Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Bullets Over Broadway. But following the sterling '70s and '80s, Shadows now feels like a real signpost.

At any rate Allen stars as the meek Kleinman, who is roused one night from the depths of slumber and enlisted by a vigilante mob to help track down a strangler who's on the loose. The all-star cast, which includes Mia Farrow and John Malkovich as circus performers, at least provides a bit of 'spot the cameo' interest (even Madonna turns up briefly). The trouble is, unlike so many superior Allen films, the talented cast is mostly wasted. In fact, as Kleinman becomes a suspect in the search for the murderer, the whole movie quickly unravels into one big waste. It's all in the name of paying tribute to German Expressionists like Fritz Lang, not to mention writer Franz Kafka, but to what end? The plot is convoluted and only a certain segment of cineastes will get much of a thrill out of ID'ing the various influences. 
shadows and fog BD (301x380).jpg A quick comparison to the old DVD edition shows just how much improvement the Twilight Time Blu-ray offers in terms of image quality. There's a bit of print debris (black and white flecks popping up) that gets a bit distracting on occasion, but overall this is a nice presentation. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is, quite honestly, about what we've come to expect from a lossless mix of a Woody movie (i.e. reliably good). The audio is clean, though you may need to boost your volume a bit.

Predictably for a Woody Allen film (released via Twilight Time or anywhere else), Shadows and Fog is lacking special features, with only Twilight Time's customary isolated score track and the theatrical trailer as supplements. There are so many better Allen films to discover (or re-visit) that it's hard to recommend a botch like this. Don't miss critic Owen Gleiberman's blistering review of the film, written in the form of an open letter to Allen (published in Entertainment Weekly).

Visit Screen Archives for ordering information of the Shadows and Fog limited release.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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