Bukovsky [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th July 2016).
The Film

BFI is releasing the highly ambitious and anticipated Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC. There is a choice of the following:

- Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989) - a 13 disc set of 11 Blu-rays and 2 DVDs.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 1: Dissent (1969-1977) - a 6 DVD set.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 2: Disruption (1978-1989) - a 6 DVD set.

Due to the massive amount of the content, the set will be covered in 13 separate reviews, which later will be combined into a singular review after the completion of all 13 reviews.

This review covers DISC SEVEN of the “Dissent and Disruption” set.

“Bukovsky” (1977) (50:01)

Soviet activist Vladimir Bukovsky was an opponent of his own country’s regime. Frequently arrested for spreading anti-communist propaganda around the country as well as trying to inform the western world about the ongoings in the Soviet Union, he famously criticized the government of labeling independent anti-communist thinkers as “insane” by inept psychiatrists, imprisoning them, drugging them, and suppressing them. As freethinkers and activists outside of the Soviet Union started to gather for increasing protests and demonstrations with his name, freedom came for Bukovsky in 1976 when he was forcibly deported to the UK under huge media hype with his arrival. One particular figure that was helpful in voicing concerns for his freedom and for human rights issues was English actor David Markham who helped Bukovsky settle in the UK.

Alan Clarke was dating Markham’s daughter Jehane Markham at the time, and set out to document the release, arrival, and settling of Bukovsky intercut with interviews - Bukovsky talking about his experiences, David Markham talking about political and moral views, along with words from protesters at Trafalgar Square and David’s wife Olive in the kitchen at the cottage. Clarke had unprecedented access, as he was able to film with his tiny three person crew a moment that was very strong in the public eye. Although titled “Bukovsky” the film is equally about Vladimir Bukovsky and about David Markham. Markham was always about doing what was right - he famously refused to fight in World War II and was imprisoned for a year. He was part of CAPA (Campaign Against Psychiatric Abuse) to raise awareness of misuses of psychiatry for political purposes, being exactly what Bukovsky went through. The documentary doesn’t trace a linear line from start to finish and is not a complete story of what the men went through or what lengths, so audiences not familiar with the background of Bukovsky or Soviet imprisonments of political activists might have a little issue catching up and puzzling the pieces together.

The finished documentary of “Bukovsky” was never shown on television and was screened only a handful of times to a small groups of people. As the film had long gone into obscurity, it was only in 2015 that Clarke’s daughter Molly Clarke uncovered a 16mm print of the film for inclusion for the boxset. The print was complete, in color, and in a watchable state, but unfortunately there was no soundtrack available. Cameraman Grenville Middleton was able to find rushes, outtakes, and soundtrack elements through his own archive of materials, but the soundtrack was still incomplete. Luckily, just two weeks before finalized masters a full soundtrack was discovered and was quickly resynched to the footage. Audiences should be very fortunate that the film can finally be seen after many years in obscurity.

“Nina” (1978) (75:50)

Nina (played by Eleanor Bron) is a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in the Soviet Union. One of the patients is Yuri (played by Jack Shepherd) is a political activist who has been arrested by the government and declared “insane” by government psychiatrists, as was often the case for anyone “anti-communist”. Nina knows that there are many people in western countries that are supporting for Yuri’s freedom and for changes to happen. Nina becomes helpful in Yuri’s steps toward freedom, as she also believes in him and the cause for political change. Living an unhappy life in an unhappy marriage in an unhappy country, they plan for personal changes as well - Nina decides to get a divorce, get married to Yuri and so she and her son could start a new life outside of The Soviet Union. But will they be able to find true freedom? Or will the effects of a new marriage tear things down?

If the outline of “Nina” sounds echoingly familiar to ”Bukovsky”, it should be no surprise. David Markham’s daughter Jehane Markham wrote the screenplay for “Nina” based on the experiences of Soviet dissidents she knew and had talked with. Vladimir Bukovsky’s arrival in the UK was filled with time in front of cameras, interviewed by the media, and being made aware by the public making “freedom” an extremely busy and pressuring time. Dr. Marina Voikhanskaya who was also featured in “Bukovsky” had a very similar experience to the character of Nina - marrying an activist also named Yuri and having a son detained in The Soviet Union while she was able to experience “freedom”. Whether she had an unhappy and troubling marriage was up to the fiction writer. “Nina” is more about a man and a woman and the troubling effects of environment and circumstances on marriage. Rather than a political film about injustice, the film is closer to a John Cassavetes directed drama with crumbling realism displayed - arguments, intense drama, and emotional breakdowns are devastating to watch. There are still comedic elements to lighten the mood such as when Yuri puts on Nina’s panties unknowingly, but overall this is a breakdown of a marriage from start to finish with an ambiguous ending. In the end what really is freedom when you feel trapped inside? ”Nina” first aired as part of the “Play for Today” series on October 17th, 1978.

“Bukovsky” and ”Nina” are a perfect pairing of a double feature on the seventh disc of this set even if “Bukovsky” is more like a supplementary feature of “Nina”. Both features are equally fascinating in differing ways.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only be played on region B or region free Blu-ray players

Video

BFI presents the productions in 1080i 50hz in the original televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. As these were UK TV productions broadcast in the 25fps PAL format, the films are transferred in the 50hz signal to preserve the PAL runtime.

“Bukovsky” was transferred in HD from a 16mm color print from Alan Clarke’s private collection. As the print was not kept in ideal conditions, there are scratches, dust, specs, and other damage all over the print with the most common portions being the beginning and end reels. Colors are good with very minor issues with color fluctuation and clarity is quite good with shots in focus and detail very clear. It’s obvious that this film hasn’t gone through a restoration process like the other productions in the set, but we should be lucky to have the film at all.

“Nina” was transferred in HD from the 16mm A/B roll negatives and this transfer looks gorgeous. I was very sure this was a 35mm production with the transfer on this disc - gorgeous colors, minimal grain - I was a bit surprised to see that the credits list the original elements as 16mm. As stated, reds, greens, browns look beautiful and bold. There is very minimal damage on the image and you’ll need to look incredibly carefully to spot them out. One of the best looking films in the set by far.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono tracks are presented in lossless mono sound. “Bukovsky” had the serious issue of the 16 mm print having no sound. The soundtrack was meticulously reconstructed and synched with magnetic audio tracks provided by cameraman Grenville Middleton and additional missing portions were taken from a recently discovered VHS copy from the private collection of Corin Campbell Hill. The image has its issues but the sound is actually quite good with no major issues of audio errors or hard to understand portions. The soundtrack for ”Nina” sounds just as good as the image with no issues of damage and dialogue sounding clear throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the productions.

Extras

Audio commentary on “Bukovsky” with Jehane Markham, Grenville Middleton, and Sam Dunn
Newly recorded for this set, Sam Dunn from BFI hosts this commentary with David’s daughter Markham and production cameraman Middleton. Topics such as David Markham’s involvement, Clarke’s involvement, the technical issues, and the issues of Middleton being Alan Clarke’s landlord are all covered. During the commentary it’s mentioned that they are watching it without sound so it’s apparent that it was recorded prior to the discovery of the full audio elements to film.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

“Bukovsky” Outtakes (50:55)
Taken from Middleton’s archives, the outtakes are as long as the finished documentary. There is unedited black and white footage at Trafalgar Square, with picture running out while sound remaining on some shots, extra footage at the Markham family cottage, and footage of Clarke as well.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

David Markham Interviewed by Alan Clarke (19:23)
This is an audio interview by Clarke during the making of the film. Whether this was audio with picture missing or if this was meant to be an audio-only interview for reference or voice over use is not certain. The audio track was taken from Middleton’s archives. Some of the dialogue is hard to hear and unfortunately there are no subtitles to caption the audio.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Alan Clarke’s Letters to the Markhams” featurette (6:29)
Two letters from Clarke to the Markham family are read out loud by Jehane Markham while the letters are shown on the screen. They are both handwritten by Clarke, with the first letter addressed to David about piecing “Bukovsky” together and the second is his experience and disillusionment of being in Los Angeles in 1979.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light” documentary (Part 7) (18:12)
The newly created 270-minute documentary on Alan Clarke has been divided into 12 parts with each part covering the productions reflected on the first 12 discs of the “Dissent and Disruption” boxset. Part 7 covers the two productions on DISC SEVEN. Personal stories of Clarke and his legendary drunken behavior is talked about, the illegal drugs involved, as well as Jehane Markham talking about their short relationship and eventual breakup, and in addition to the two films and the production. The entire 270 minute documentary is comprised of interviews with 50 people who worked with Clarke, knew Clarke, and looked up to Clarke. The interviews come from wildly differing sources. Some are slighty old 1.33:1 standard def video, some are hi-def 1.78:1 video. Some are lit too brightly, some are a bit dark. Some have clear dialogue, some sound echoey. It’s very inconsistent in how it looks and sounds edited together, but presentation wise, it is top notch.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Packaging

The ”Dissent and Disruption” 13 disc set includes a 200 page booklet with essays, photos, credits, and film information. “Bukovsky” has an essay by head of BFI Video Publishing and audio commentary moderator Sam Dunn and “Nina” has an essay by BFI curator Lisa Kerrigan. Also listed are full film credits, extras credits, and restoration information.

Note the extras score of A represents this disc only and not for the entire set and the overall score of A+ is for the entire set.

Overall

BFI’s work on the thirteen disc “Dissent and Disruption” (1969-1989) set is nothing less than an amazing collection of works by one of the most controversial and influential directors who pushed the boundaries of broadcast television. Absolutely recommended.

The Film: B Video: B- Audio: B Extras: A Overall: B

 


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