Secret Ceremony - Secret Ceremony(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse Films - 2019]
From the late 1960s, Secret Ceremony is a decidedly haunting, at times unsettling and grimly moody psychological thriller. The film features a small if impressive cast taking in Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchem, and Mia Farrow. Here from PowerHouse films is a much welcomed Blu Ray reissue of this lesser-seen film- taking in a high definition remastering of the film, a commentary track, and a good selection of other extras.
Released in 1968 Secret Ceremony is a British production, filmed in & around London, and briefly in France. It was directed by Joseph Losey- who between 1939 & 1985 helmed thirty-three feature-length projects- going from odd family fantasy films like The Boy With Green Hair, Noir thrillers like M and The Prowler, onto The Dammed- the 1962 Hammer released film that blended together sci-fi, creeping dread horror and punchy 1960’s drama. With Secret Ceremony he made a wonderful unbalancing & odd film- that utilizes it’s often grand London location in a great eerier and off-kilter manner.
The film begins with Leonora(Elizabeth Taylor) making her way by London Bus to a church/ cemetery- on the bus Cenci (Mia Farrow ) a strange & sullen young women sits down next Lenora, then starts following her as she makes her way to the cemetery to put flowers on a grave. Fairly soon Cenci starts speaking, claiming that Lenora is her lost mother- and she takes her back to her grand, yet decidedly bleak large London house. As the film unfolds ones unsure whether Lenora is really the troubled Cenci mother, or either one or the other or both are confused/ disturbed. Then around a quarter way in up pops Albert( Robert Mitchem) who claims to be Cenci's Step Father, and this starts to send things decidedly awry.
Secret Ceremony unfolds at a slow, often decidedly eerie pace with the feeling of disquiet & bleakness purveying much of the films just under two-hour runtime. The whole thing is very effectively sound tracked by creepy music box tones, off-angle piano or string elements. Though at times Losey strips the soundtrack back to just distant environmental sounds to great moody effect. Both Taylor & Farrow are great in their roles- with each skilful moving between been fraught, troubled, and confused. Mitchem is also in fine form as brutish & sleazed American who sakes both of the pairs world up. On the whole Secret Ceremony is an extremely effective, and subtly unsettling psychological thriller- that's uneasily scoped & presented, with great casting choices & settings through-out.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray reissue, and the print looks wonderful- with a great mix of gloomy shades, & fleeting sudden bright reds & oranges- it also highlights the great smaller details Losey placed in the background of many scenes. On the extras side, we have a commentary track from Australian authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas- this is a nice balance of facts, observations, and opinions- with the pair put the film in the context of Taylor’s other work, and her on-off relationship with Richard Burton. Before moving onto discuss the differences between the story the film was based on and the film it's self. Going on to talk about Losey UK based films, locations of Secret Ceremony and the different US TV cut of the film- which added in the characters of a judge & lawyer in an attempt to make the whole thing more easily plotted/ tried up. It’s a most enjoyable track.
Next, we get a twenty-four-minute interview with Gavrik Losey- the son of the director, this sees him discussing his father's career in general- before going onto focus in on Secret Ceremony. We get the around eighteen minutes of alternative & redubbed footage from the US TV version of the film.
And from the archive, we get a fifteen-minute interview with Joseph Losey from 1969, a trailer commentary from 2015, the original trailer, and an image gallery.
This release, and the excellent fourth volume of Hammer Films where the last two new reissues from Powerhouse of this 2019- and they’ve certainly gone out on a high note- I can’t wait to see what we get from the label in 2020. So in finishing if you enjoy uneasy & unbalancing psychological thrillers, with glum & very troubling edges you really have to pick up this great release.Roger Batty