Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (15th October 2017).
The Film

"Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask" (1995)

Frantz Omar Fanon was born on the 20th of July 1925 on the French island of Martinique. Growing up on a colonized island in a middle class family of mixed black, Indian, and white blood, he was fortunate enough to be educated at the most prestigious school in Martinique which led to Fanon studying medicine and psychiatry in France. In 1952 he wrote his first book, "Black Skin, White Masks" ("Peau noire, masques blancs"), about colonialism and the psychological effects on black people. Deeply anti-racist and anti-colonial,it was a monumental work that was not fairly appreciated on first printing. Fanon was a man of science while also an activist. He joined the liberation army of Algeria during their war for independence and also serving as ambassador to Ghana in his life. In 1961 his book "The Wretched of the Earth" ("Les damnés de la terre") was published, again dealing with colonization, but this time about the effects of independence. Sadly it would be his last work to be published as he died on the 6th of December, 1961 from Leukemia. He was only 36 years old. What Fanon did for chronicling independence movements and bringing a new view to psychology was revolutionary, still continued to be studied to this day.

English Filmmakers Isaac Julien and screenwriting partner Mark Nash took the challenge in making a documentary on Fanon's life and work with the film named after his first book, "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask" withe the notion that the "s" from the original title's "Masks" would be made singular - as it was a film about him rather than the book about people. Though it is filled with interviews from family, friends, scholars and historians, this is not a traditional form documentary chronicled with talking heads and photographs. Actor Colin Salmon would play Fanon in reenactment scenes of him as an adult, with newsreel footage from World War II and the Algerian revolution, plus scenes from "The Battle of Algiers" used throughout the hybrid documentary film.

While interesting as it is with a strong performance by Salmon and visually stunning reenactment scenes, the film's focus is more on the abstract art side rather than that of a biography and there are times where the focus on the subject isn't tight enough. It is still fascinating to see what family and friends recall the man and who he was personally. The scholars that place the works of Fanon with the historical context is very interesting as well. Racism and injustice, homosexuality, indigenous culture vs. European culture, interracial marriage. The topics are on the serious side and they are topics that can still be discussed more than 50 years after his death.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

The BFI presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The original 16mm negative was remastered in 2K for the 2016 restoration. The picture quality looks excellent for the most part. The interview segments and the reenactment segments show great color and depth with a healthy amount of grain. Dust, specs, and other damage has been digitally removed and there is not a soec of damage to be seen in those portions. Note that the film also includes a large amount of news footage and also scenes from "The Battle of Algiers" which look quite weak, coming from standard definition sources and they suffer in visual quality. Overall it is an excellent looking remaster.

This is the longer theatrical version, rather than the UK televised shorter version. The runtime is 71:51. The credits have been redone with even a dedication to Stuart Hall 1932-2014 and credits for the 2016 restoration.

Audio

English/French LPCM 2.0 stereo
The film is presented in lossless stereo. Although the booklet says the film was originally released theatrically with a 5.1 soundtrack, only a stereo track is available on the disc. The interviews and dialogue sections are center based and the left and right separation is used for the very active score, which includes classical, French music, jazz music, and Caribbean music fully. It's a wonderful soundtrack but a curious note as to why the original 5.1 could not be used.

There are optional English (for French portions), English HoH, French (for English portions), French HoH subtitles for the main feature, all in a white font. The English and French is divided to about 50/50 while there are some minor portions in Arabic as well. The subtitles are well timed and easy to read, with no issues of spelling or grammar problems.

Extras

The BFI’s release of “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask” is a dual format Blu-ray+DVD release, with the film and extras presented on the Blu-ray disc and repeated on a region 0 PAL encoded DVD.


DISC ONE

Stills Gallery (11:24)
An extensive running gallery of black and white stills of the real Frantz Fannon, photos of Martinique including vintage photographs and also Fanon's gravestone, Fanon's family, notebooks, posters, on-set production stills, and more. There is text accompaniment though no sound or music for this extra.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Between Two Worlds" 1992 short film directed by Mark Nash (27:54)
This 1992 short by Nash features Jason Durr as the homosexual young male Graham undergoing psychoanalysis. Shot on 16mm film for the BFI New Directors series, the film was remastered from the 16mm positive print for this release. The picture is quite dark and grainy but there is very little damage to be found in the new transfer. The sound also has been remastered but note that the original audio is a little on the echoey side.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

DISC TWO (DVD)
The film and the extras are repeated in standard definition PAL. Also included on the DVD is the DVD-ROM portion with additional text material.

Booklet
A 40 page booklet with essays, photos, cast and crew credits, biographies, and more are included. The first essay is "Skin" by the director Isaac Julien which was first printed in 2013 on the making and importance of the film. Next is an excerpt of "Reimagining Fanon" by screenwriter Mark Nash who talks about the making of the film and its reception. This is only a part of the essay in the booklet, though the DVD has the full essay as a downloadable PDF. This was also first published in 2013. The essay "The After-life of Frantz Fanon: Why Fanon? Why Now? Why Black Skin, White Masks?" by cultural theorist Stuart Hall who was also an interviewee in the film is also printed, in which he talks in depth about Fanon's life and works. Cast and crew film credits, biographies on Fannon, Julien, Nash, Hall, Homi K. Bhabha, and Francoise Verges are printed, a list of festivals where the film was screened, additional reading lists, notes on special features, transfer information, and acknowledgments follow.


The extras as great as they are in content, does seem a bit on the lacking side, as there aren't any interviews, commentaries, or even additional newsreel footage to be included.

Overall

"Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask" is a fascinating if somewhat uneven biography on an intriguing and challenging figure of Frantz Fanon. The film does not have all the answers and does not cover everything in the man's life in the relatively short runtime, but the stories told through the cinematic style is unique. The BFI release features and excellent transfer, though the extras are slightly lacking. The release still comes as recommended.

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

 


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