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Blu-Ray Review: Deaf Crocodile’s The Pied Piper (Collector’s Edition) 

The Pied Piper

Those mad geniuses at Deaf Crocodile are at it again.  This time their Eastern European Animation fetish takes a darker more sinister turn with the stunning restoration of Jiří Barta’s The Pied Piper.  New to Blu-Ray.

The Film 

It’s fitting that the fine folks at Deaf Crocodile have taken on Jiří Barta’s pitch-black take on The Pied Piper.  There’s a bit of sorcery in Barta’s films that takes any filmgoer to the wonderful land of fairy tales, though the type that are from the old country (or wherever you are from).  The ones that are more akin to horror, teaching you lessons.  It feels endemic to what DC does as a whole… taking films of substance that we’ve forgotten or never known about and giving them the best possible foot forward.  

Running at a brisk 53 minutes without a word of dialog, other than the gibberish that is spoken but never “understood” BUT is very understood.  Barta’s film is one of purely visual and cinematic construction.  It thrives in a way that literal handmade and carved imagery can with the sort of wonder and astoundment that recalls what cinema must have felt like in its infancy.  Though never simple in an aspect.  There’s a complexity here in not only visuals but thematics, characters, and emotions that go beyond what Western audiences consider in animation.  

The Pied Piper is a film that needs to be experienced in all of its dark, cynical, and brilliant glory.  One that has inspired the likes of FX Legend Phil Tippet to Travis Knight and LAIKA Studios to the Brothers Quay to even the recent Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.  

The Transfer

The new restoration of The Pied Piper by Craig Rogers of Deaf Crocodile with Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion is a stunner even by Deaf Crocodile standards.  The image is crisp and near flawless.  The transfer itself is imbued with a beautiful grain structure giving it a wonderful filmic look that works in tandem with the “handcrafted/carved” imagery of the film.  There isn’t a fault, blemish, or scratch through the run time.  Make this a priority purchase for the image alone.  DC has truly outdone themselves with a Blu-ray that truly pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in the format. 

The Extras

They include the following;

  • New Audio commentary by Czech film expert Irena Kovarova of Comeback Company and film critic & historian Peter Hames.
  • Jiří Barta’s “The Vanished World Of Gloves” (Zaniklý svět rukavic)
  • “Chronicle Of The Pied Piper” (Kronika Krysaře)
  • New video interview with director Jiří Barta, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile.

The all-new Audio commentary by Czech film expert Irena Kovarova of Comeback Company and film critic & historian Peter Hames.  Some of the details include begin with both personal feelings about the film itself and giving us a historical context for the film and director Jiří Barta; the reasons for lack of output from Barta; Barta’s newest film that is to begin soon (as of 2023); the development of the script and story – including how dark and horror fueled the theme and story really is, and definitely not for children; the other adaptations of the rat catcher/pied piper story; the title in other languages being The Rat Catcher; the novel that the film is based on; the visual influences that Barta took from including expressionism, real life areas like Prague, and German, and other sources; the various scales that Barta worked in; a detailed discussion about the creation of the various puppets, props, and sets; the use of live animals (the rats) and also the puppet rats and how they were achieved; a conversation about the production itself and how this worked in Communist Czechoslovakia – including some very crazy anecdotes about Producer/Writer Kamil Pixa; and much more.  Kovarova and Hames deliver a truly informational and arresting commentary track that goes beyond just the production and film’s place in cinema but a look into the history and politics of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) when the film was made.  

Jiří Barta’s “The Vanished World Of Gloves”/Zaniklý svět rukavic (17:27) – DC has included a new restoration Brata’s rarely seen short film from 1982.  The film itself is an arresting concept – a pair of gloves guides us through the history of cinema.  Barta’s unique visuals here take the styles of the various eras from silent film to the present (the 1980s at the time) and replace them with gloves as the actors in some of the most famous and infamous film scenes.  The result is a charming, fun, terrifying, and strange piece of filmmaking that is as unique an ode to cinema as anyone has made.  In Czech with English subtitles.

“Chronicle Of The Pied Piper”/Kronika Krysaře (13:13) – is an archival (from 1985) behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of The Pied Piper.  This featurette directed by Miroslava Humplíková is shot-on-film giving real weight to the importance of what they’re giving us a glimpse into.  The doc in its all-too-brief 13-minutes manages to show us every aspect of this production.  Not merely b-roll footage there is a true purpose to the way that this is shot that separates it from your run-of-the-mill featurette.  This is a truly worthy companion to this very special film.  In Czech with English subtitles.

New video interview with director Jiří Barta (51:39) – this all-new interview with the director is moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile and translation assistance by Irena Kovarova.  As it is with all of Bartok’s long-form interview there is literally no stone left unturned when it comes to covering the subject’s work.  Barta is no different.  Some of the details include his early childhood and life; how he was introduced to film after 1968 – and the types of films he was introduced to and attracted to; when he began to work in animation and filmmaking; his work with film during his days at university; his feelings about fellow Czech animation director Jiri Trinka – and his relationship with the legendary director; the way he came to the project; a discussion about the choice to not use dialog; the influence of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; a larger discussion of the modeling, creation, and animation of the various puppets, and sets; and much more.  The interview does not disappoint.  Anyone that’s a fan of animation or this film needs to watch this interview, Barta is open, transparent, and honest about the work that he has every right to be proud of.  

The Final Thought 

I’ll keep saying it until everyone knows it … Deaf Crocodile is one of the best if not the best, curated boutique labels working in the home video market.  The Pied Piper is another example of not just their tastes, but their skills in restoration and revealing special features.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!! 

Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-Ray edition of The Pied Piper is out now 

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