La Sirene Des Tropiques
Mario Nalpas' and Henri Étiévant's Siren of the Tropics (1928), starring Josephine Baker, has arrived on DVD in a complete edition that is unexpectedly handsome, as well as being a delightful and exciting adventure film. Mastered from generally sharp materials and illuminated by beautiful tints, the movie looks as good as any late-era silent that you would care to name, and with Donald Sosin's rousing score accompanying, this is a bracing viewing experience, in which Baker's magnetic screen persona is only one of an array of virtues. The full-screen image (1.33-to-1) is a delight to the eye, and there's enough to enjoy in the presentation of the movie alone to justify the purchase (especially as Siren of the Tropics, as a silent, hasn't been nearly as widely seen or shown as Baker's other two movies (from the sound era), Zouzou and Princess Tam Tam). For supplements, the producers have included the 20-minute documentary Josephine Baker: The Performer, featuring comments by actress Lynn Whitfield, critic Margo Jefferson, historian Elizabeth Kendall, and Baker's biographer and adopted son Jean-Claude Baker, all of whom put Baker's entire career into context with history on both sides of the Atlantic. We also get one piece, "Oh, Papitou," written for Baker in connection with Siren of the Tropics and performed here by cabaret performer Steve Ross at New York's Chez Josephine; "The Fireman of the Follies Bergere, an eight-minute silent short depicting the drunken revelings of an off-duty fireman -- with lots of female nudity -- that marked Baker's earliest film appearance; a clip of Baker performing "The Charleston"; and a 1927 video clip of Baker shot at an interview during the filming of Siren of the Tropics, coupled with a stills gallery. The disc opens automatically on a multi-layer menu that is very easy to maneuver around, offering easy access to each of the features.