We have reviewed 1978’s classic La Cage Aux Folles before, so if you’re just interested in the movie, you can click here to see what we had to say about it. The movie has just had a Criterion Collection release in the UK, so here we’ll concentrate on this first Blu-ray appearance in Britain.
As the film opens it seems like the HD upgrade isn’t going to be worth it as the first few shots in the drag club are quite soft and grainy. However, as soon as the action moves into gay couple Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin’s (Michel Serrault) apartment, things improve considerably, with the picture getting sharper and more detailed.
There are continuing issues with the image at time, but that’s more to do with the original film stock producing ghosting on the candles and having difficulty in low light than the HD transfer and restoration the film has undergone for this release. Mostly it’s pretty good, bringing out the colours of the movie and giving us a better view of the eclectic collection of homoerotic art that furnishes the apartment.
It also ensures we get a good view of just how cute Remi Laurent is as Renato’s son.
It’s certainly a step up from the previous DVD and a good way to watch a film that may on the one hand trade in old-fashioned camp gay stereotypes, but on the other still feels fresh and modern in how it treats gay families. It doesn’t even question two men having raised a son together, or that Renato and Albin’s relationship is as valid and strong as any other couple. In 1978 that was almost unheard of, and even nowadays it’s not often done as unquestioningly as it is here.
The movie follows Renato and drag queen Albin, who find out their son, Laurent, is engaged to the daughter of someone high up in a moral rectitude society. They know the dad wouldn’t accept his son in law having gay dads, so they get Albin to agree to tone down his campness for the visit. However, Albin ends up meeting the self-righteous parents in drag and introduces himself as Laurent’s mother. And from there the farce only increases.
Alongside the HD edition of the movie is a decent selection of special features. For this release Criterion has filmed a new interview with director Edouard Molinaro, who’s had a career spanning over 60 years, but whose biggest hit (particularly internationally) was La Cage Aux Folles. It’s an interesting look back at the making of the movie and how such as unusual movie came about.
Adding to the features’ interest in the film’s genesis is archival footage of Michel Serrault and Jean Poiret, who wrote and starred in the original stage production of La Cage (when it was adapted for the screen, Serrault still played Albin but Poiret was replaced by established movie leading man Ugo Tognazzi). The disc includes a couple of skits starring Serrault and Poiret from before the created La Cage, showing their chemistry and understanding of one another. There is also 10-minutes from a 1973 TV recording of the original stage version, which again displays two comic actors who really know what they’re doing.
Also interesting is a new interview with Professor Laurence Senelick, author of The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre. He offers a brief history of drag and how it’s been perceived at different times and in different cultures, before talking about how La Cage Aux Folles fits into that. As he suggests, the movie is an interesting mix of drag as something purely comic and as an expression of personality. In 1978 it was incredibly unusual to present a character who actually liked dressing as a woman, particularly as a hero and not just as a fool to laugh at. While it would have been nice to hear a bit more from Senelick about the context La Cage emerged from, it’s certainly an interesting potted history.
It may not be the most extensive selection of features, it is a worthwhile one. They’re all worth a look once you’ve finished the fun film.
Overall Verdict: The HD transfer may not be perfect but it’s still a big improvement on the DVD, and with a good selection of special features, this Criterion Edition is a good Blu-ray debut for one of the classics of gay cinema.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac