When freedom is for the taking, what happens now?
The professional mercenary Sir William Walker, played by Marlon Brando instigates a slave revolt on the Caribbean island of Queimada in order to help improve the British sugar trade. Years later he is sent again to deal with the same rebels that he built up because they have seized too much power that now threatens British sugar interests.
In a game of politics, Walker must play his cards right, even if it means at the cost of something far greater and more important than him... freedom.
Coming off my recent review of 'Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains', also courtesy of Imprint Films, I was already keen to dive into and review another release of their's due to their consistent track record in not only what films they release, but the effort that goes into releasing said film. And never did I expect that Gillo Pontecorvo's political epic 'Burn!' would get not only a proper Blu-Ray treatment, but a two-disc rigid deluxe box set!
Having watched both cuts a day apart, so I could correctly compare the two, without a doubt the preferred cut has to obviously be the original Italian cut. Though the one negative being Brando's voice being completely absent from the film, the original and director-preferred release gives the film more time to breathe and executes various moments and events in Burn! that i feel the Exported English cut can at times fail at. It also sheds more fantastic scenes of Brando at his political diplomatic shenanigans.
Before I dive in to the film itself, I'm heavily interested in briefly outlining some key notes of external topics around the film. Its hard to know if this film would have ever received such a generous budget and even wide release if not for Brando's incredible interest in the film and it's suggested political edge that Pontecorvo portrayed in preproduction. Brando even supposedly turned down 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid', 'The Arrangement' and even a role in 'Ryan's Daughter' due to scheduling conflicts and delays with the filming of Burn!. This film even effected Hollywood's perception of Brando as quote on quote 'Box Office Poison', as Burn! sadly bombed at the box office with its initial release even with notable critical acclaim from various outlets.
Marlon Brando is one actor regarded as having a larger number of career defining performances, but in the opinion of the man himself, Burn! appears to be one of, if not THE career defining performance.
Though various poor weather and working conditions arose throughout the shooting of the film, to the point where production was postponed and moved from Columbia to Morocco, its abundantly clear Brando was working not for a buck, but for passion, when one could argue that his motivation in many of his other films are not approached in this way.
Anyway, onto the film!
Even with Burn's carious original poster art, crowds of people, a supposed war or perhaps an uprising? One does not prepare themselves for how amazingly grand and epic this movie feels, not only due to its large and incredibly impressive cast of actors and extras, but of its sets and above all, the film making and cinematography by Marcello Gatti and Giuseppe Ruzzolini. The films boasts large slow panning wide shots taking full advantage of the filming locations of Columbia and then when they finished filming in Morocco. A truly impressive and quite honestly breathtaking long shot taken on the fictional Caribbean island of Quiemada happens roughly halfway through the film, as two rebelling sugar cane plantations of enormous size in extras, approach each other with open arms, further growing into the slave revolution motivated to overthrow the Portuguese government.
Though Brando's acting and even overall presence in the film hypnotizes you into a trance, especially in the export cut pushed by Brando dubbing himself, it goes without saying that Evaristo Márquez's performance as rebel leader José Dolores is one of amazement, an almost underdog story if you will, considering having never acted before the film. Márquez was a poor villager from San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, whom director Gillo Pontecorvo discovered while scouting locations. And to go from that to working with the likes of Marlon fucking Brando, it had to have been at least the slightest bit surreal.
Ennio Morricone. That is all I have to say on the matter of the soundtrack. Seriously though, the guy just does not disappoint. The spine tingling main track 'Abolisson' might just be one of my favorite pieces of music in any motion picture. I'm not joking! The simple, organ key them, followed by beautifully hopeful choir vocals repeating said song name keeps me in a state of chills and further hammers down the feeling of how large and grand this fantastic motion picture is.
Though at times the film can feel long and might I say slow 'Burn'ing in a way that might overstay its welcome at some points, it draws you back in at almost the second your mind might decide to wander. Each frame a painting, each performance tragic and comfortable as characters rise and ultimately fall at the hands of politics, pain, and the cost of freedom. Watch this movie, preferably in the original cut, or why not both cuts!
Directed by: Gillo Pontecorvo
Starring: Marlon Brando, Evaristo Márquez, Renato Salvatori, Dana Ghi
1969 / 244 min (total) / 1.66:1 / Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono & English LPCM 2.0 Mono
No. of discs: 2
Languages: English & Italian
Release Date: 10 Dec 2022
Disc One – Original Cut (Italian)
- 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan
- Theatrical Trailer
- Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
- Audio Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono
- Optional English subtitles
Disc Two – Export Cut (English)
- 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K scan
- NEW Audio commentary by film historians Alain Silver & Jim Ursini
- NEW The Brando Interregnum: The Decade of Marlon’s Dirty Dozen (1962 – 1972) – Video essay by filmmaker Daniel Kremer
- NEW Author Neil Sinyard on Burn!
- NEW The Stalwart Rebel: Brando in the 1960’s – documentary with author/Brando biographer William J. Mann
- NEW Of Oppressors and Oppressed – interview with film historian Ivelise Perniola
- NEW Gillo and Me – interview with editor Mario Morra
- NEW A Family Affair – interview with Picci and Marco Pontecorvo
- Archival interview with director Gillo Pontecorvo
- Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
- Audio English LPCM 2.0 Mono
- Optional English subtitles
In terms of packaging, Imprint don't disappoint. Their obvious fetish for top loading rigid hard boxes is apparent and most certainly welcome especially when comparing a few other Australian studios/labels that seem to hate their customers. I am at points a little confused at the decision to include two cases with some of their deluxe one-film box sets. A disc for each case seems unnecessary and overkill? But its far from an issue honestly.
The longer Original Cut 'Queimada' comes with a trailer and that is it, which is disappointing at first, until you take the Export cut case out of the box and give the list of special features a look. The Export Cut Burn! is oozing with content. An excellent and informative audio commentary by Alain Silver and Jim Ursini. A NEW video essay, The Brando Interregnum: The Decade of Marlon’s Dirty Dozen (1962 – 1972) by filmmaker Daniel Kremer. A NEW discussion courtesy of Author Neil Sinyard on Burn!. The Stalwart Rebel: Brando in the 1960’s documentary with author/Brando biographer William J. Mann a NEW documentary which is fantastic and easily my favorite of the bunch . A NEW Of Oppressors and Oppressed interview with film historian Ivelise Perniola. A NEW Gillo and Me interview with editor Mario Morra. A NEW A Family Affair interview with Picci and Marco Pontecorvo. And finally, an archival interview with director Gillo Pontecorvo, which was the first feature I was drawn toward. I'm attracted to archival content, especially when the interviewee's information is fresh in their mind.
ADDITIONAL IMPRINT FILMS INFORMATION
THE MAN WHO SELLS WAR. THE BLOODIER THE BATTLE – THE HIGHER THE PRICE. HE’S GOING TO MAKE A FORTUNE ON THIS ONE.
A Caribbean Island in the mid-1800’s. Nature has made it a paradise; man has made it a hell. Slaves on vast Portuguese sugar plantations are ready to turn their misery into rebellion – and the British are ready to provide the spark. They send agent William Walker (Marlon Brando) on a devious three-part mission: trick the slaves into revolt, grab the sugar trade for England…then return the slaves to servitude.
Gillo Pontecorvo, the acclaimed director of The Battle of Algiers, explores colonialism and insurrection in the searing epic Burn! Marlon Brando delivers a complex, intelligent portrayal of a man who is both gentleman and scoundrel, revolutionary and colonialist and always considered his performance in Burn! as one of his finest. Ennio Morricone’s (The Untouchables, The Mission) haunting music memorably underscores the almost overwhelmingly powerful story.
Starring Marlon Brando, Evaristo Márquez, Renato Salvatori & Dana Ghia.
Limited Edition 2 Disc Hard box. 1500 copies only.
You can order the Blu-Ray via the link below; Otherwise, a standard edition is scheduled for release sometime in the future;
Reviewed and edited by Joel Brady