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November 24, 2015

The Mask

Mask lc.jpg

Julian Roffman - 1961
Kino Classics BD Region A

Not to be confused with other films with the same title, this film was also known as The Eyes of Hell. I had to opportunity to see The Mask, part of it, when it was revived in the early 1970s in an attempt to lure the youth audience of the time with the "psychedelic" visuals. The audience at the late night show at the New York City theater was having none of it, bellowing loudly enough to force the theater to discontinue The Mask in favor of a documentary on Jimi Hendrix.

Without the 3D sequences, The Mask would probably of moderate historical interest, as both the first Canadian horror movie and the first Canadian 3D movie. I was able to see Julian Roffman's previous film, The Bloody Brood, mostly notable for showcasing a then unknown Peter Falk. That earlier film, about Toronto beatniks, and The Mask similarly frame the act of murder as some kind of intellectual adventure. Of interest is that Roffman's cinematographer on The Bloody Brood was Eugen Shufftan, who had worked with Georges Franju before and after working with Roffman. Why this is worth noting is because the masked characters in the 3D sequences have some similarity to Edit Scob in Franju's Eyes without a Face, with cinematography by, yes, Eugen Shufftan. There is also the more obvious similarity to Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and the probable influence of William Castle.

For most cinephiles, the selling point of The Mask is the contribution of Slavko Vorkapich. Known for his montages, primarily during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, Vorkaphich's contribution here is listed as writing the dream sequences. As it turned out, most of Vorkaphich's ideas were not used by Roffman due to the complexity, as well as budgetary considerations. The Blu-ray includes a montage of montages by Vorkapich, and based on the evidence, images of skulls, or in this case, the titular mask, flying towards the audience, was a favorite visual motif. While Vorkapich's participation in The Mask was a little less that has been advertised, one wonders what we might have had, had Roffman been able to use Vorkapich's ideas, or those of experimental filmmaker Len Lye, who sketched out a flying blade capable of beheading victims.

The story itself is about a scientist who stole the mask, an ancient South American artifact, from a museum, and is suffering from the nightmarish images when the mask is worn. He tries to convince a psychiatrist that the mask is the source of his troubles. Prior to committing suicide, the scientist mails the mask to the shrink, who in turn makes the mistake of wearing the mask, releasing his own murderous tendencies. For the viewer seeing The Mask theatrically, an off-screen voice would command, "Put on the mask now", which would signal the viewer to wear 3D glasses during the three special sequences.

Now about watching those 3D sequences - I don't have a 3D Blu-ray player so I can't tell you how that stands as a viewing experience. I do have a pair of the old fashioned red/green 3D glasses that were provided as part of another DVD, so I was able to see the 3D sequences pretty much the way as the original theatrical audience. However, those sequences are shown as separate supplements. The entire feature can be seen in 2D, with the dream sequences seen flat for those without glasses. The more ideal situation would have been for an option to allow The Mask to be seen in 2D with an option for those with two color glasses to see the 3D sequences as part of the feature for a truer theatrical experience.

The supplement about Julian Roffman should be of interest to cinephiles. Significantly, Roffman's earliest work of note was as a documentarian for the Film Board of Canada, with John Grierson as his mentor. There are some clips of Roffman's work from the Thirties and Forties. Additionally, the Blu-ray includes the famed experimental short Slavko Vorkapich made with Robert Florey, The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra. The commentary track by 3D specialist Jason Pichonsky discusses some of the technical aspects in making The Mask, as well as more historical information regarding the cast and crew. There is also a bonus supplement of a very entertaining 3D animation piece, One Night in Hell, that features music and the appearance of Queen's Brian May.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 24, 2015 09:37 AM