[box cover]

Burn!

The story of Gillo Pontecorvo's career is an unfortunately familiar one: A director makes a film that causes a huge international splash (1965's The Battle of Algiers), which allows him to deliver a bigger follow-up with international money and stars (Marlon Brando). The picture, 1969's Burn!, is interesting, but not exactly what was hoped for. So it gets cut down and dumped, while the director ends up in "movie jail" (Pontecorvo didn't make another film until 1980). And yet, much like other titles that were mishandled upon release, time has turned the picture from an oddity into an underdog that gets championed for being so poorly treated while being a far more interesting film than most of its contemporaries. Burn! (also known as Queimada) is as timely as ever, and audacious though obviously compromised. Brando stars as Sir William Walker, who comes to the Caribbean island of Queimada to incite the locals to revolt against their Portuguese rulers in hopes of gaining a control of the territory (and its sugar) for England. The land is known for uprisings — it was previously burned down by the Portuguese to remove all the dissenters, after which African slaves were brought in to do the field-work. After seeing José Dolores (Evaristo Marquez) act out against the ruling class, Walker picks him to lead his fellow islanders into insurgency with the promise of the abolition of slavery. Walker's plan is carried out, and it even convinces José to let the British help his people. Thus, Walker leaves the island for 12 years. But in the interim, it becomes apparent that the islanders have only traded masters, leading José to revolt now against the British — causing Walker to return in order to annihilate the revolutionaries he created. Though Burn! warrants the breathing room of its longer cut (which both Brando and Pontecorvo championed), the theatrical release is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. It's a film about the nature of oppression and revolution that has some obvious contemporary analogies. It's also a gripping story with a strong central performance from Marlon Brando. By 1969, Brando had grown weary of Hollywood's mediocrity, which meant he often was found "phoning it in." In this picture, it's great to see him fully engaged in the material — Brando would say that it was his favorite of his later works, and it shows. Unfortunately, Sony/MGM's DVD release is not the entire story — the director's cut (running 20 minutes longer, and in Italian with English subtitles) has been screened Stateside. Though the longer version loses Brando's delivery to dubbing (and he was an actor who knew how to use his voice), it also is the director's preferred version. Not including it on this release a shame. In fact, the DVD seems like a stop gap — the film is presented in a good, but non-anamorphic, transfer (1.66:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 English audio. Bonus trailers are the only extras. Keep-case.
—DSH



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