Archive for the ‘DVD’ Category

DVD Roundup #3

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Chacal De Nahueltoro
Of all the works of Third Cinema I have seen, this is one of the most brutal and poetic. Miguel Littin’s film — Chile’s first feature — concerns the life and eventual death of an illiterate man who murders a widow and her five children when drunk. I’ve only seen the film once — thirteen years ago in a course in Latin American cinema (taught by Christine Holmlund). The film has been unavailable for years — I’ve searched for it on vhs and, later, DVD, all to no avail. Recently I found a bootlegger who was going to score it for me… when he ran across this, its first appearance on video. For me this is the most exciting DVD release to-date this year.

Country Blue
The Tallahassee Film Society has recently released Jack Conrad’s “groundbreaking saga of crime and punishment in the rural South.” While the film is pretty standard sub-Corman drive-in fare on one level (car chases, T&A, etc), its status as an early (1973) stab at Southern cinema might make it a curio of interest to historians of independent and/or regional film. Film critic Mark Hinson’s introduction does a nice job of providing a historical context and some enjoyable trivia about the movie. Legendary soundman Richard Portman worked on the film and provides audio commentary with mixed results — his interviewer repeatedly interrupts him. Transfer quality is well below average, but this might be the best we can hope to get from a regional film of this era. You can read more about the production history here.

Depending on the circles you run in, this film’s primary claim to fame is either a) that it stars Courtney Cox or b) that its Sundance award-winning cinematography was done with the Panasonic DVX-100A. If you have an interest in digital cinematography, it’s worth a look — both because there are some great images, and also because it’s instructive to see that venerable camera pushed past its limiations. Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie more by listening to the commentary by DP Nancy Schreiber and writer-director Greg Harrison. Courtney Cox has more range than her stint on TV would suggest, but if that’s why you’re here you might just rent this again.

Room to Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker
This is a promotional DVD put out by DigiDesign touting Avid non-linear editors. What sets it apart from other corporate propaganda is that the chief touter is David Lynch. Mainly, Lynch talks about how his filmmaking has been revolutionized by using DV, and there’s quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage of Lynch shooting with a PD-170 (or 150). Lynch is famously tight-lipped about his films and working methods, so it’s intriguing to see him at work, even if the scene being filmed is, as David Lowery notes, a stinker. What Lynch has to say about the filmmaking process itself isn’t nearly as weird, hallucinatory, or eye-opening as his movies can be. Indeed, the oddest thing about the DVD is the soft sell, at least for infotainment: The pitch for Avid products doesn’t come until very late in the program, and even then it can be skipped. Now, that‘s surreal. Click here for a free copy.

A Textbook Example?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

It appears as if Gina, An Actress, Age 29 is set to be included on a DVD supplement to the 2nd edition of Richard Barsam’s Looking at Movies. (My agreement with the publisher is non-exclusive, so Gina will still be for sale on its own even after the book/dvd come out.) If you want to get the book with the DVD it will be out sometime… in the near future. That’s all I know at the moment.

Anyway, as part of all this, yesterday I got an email from the publisher asking if I want to do a director’s commentary for the DVD. I’ve always been reluctant to do something like this because I think they have the risk of coming off as boring or pompous or both. (Exceptions: Anything by Paul Verhoeven, most of the stuff on Criterion, and a few others.) But since this is for “educational purposes” and, I guess, since someone has requested it from me, I’m weighing it out now.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Has anyone done one? Was it fun? Worth it? Do you cringe when you listen to it now? Also, how did you do it? Was it just you blabbing away, or did you have a sidekick feeding you questions and lines like “It’s a genre film, but it’s very untraditional.”? Anyone have any inventive ideas about how to make it interesting? If not, maybe I’ll just politely decline. I’m not sure I even have the time — it has to be done by the beginning of April and I’m pretty busy right now.

Diana King on DVDs for Libraries

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

My friend Diana King, who is a media librarian at University of California-Davis, has an interesting blog post concerning the headscratching that can occur when surveying the prices that libraries must pay for DVDs.


DVD Round-up #2 — January/February

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Time for another DVD round-up. This one covers new releases and a few that have yet to be released. My reasoning in pointing out the not-yet-released DVDs is that Amazon is giving nice discounts on the pre-orders (especially the Free Cinema boxset). All releases are Region 1 unless otherwise noted.

Eraserhead and The Short Films of David Lynch — Released on January 10
David Lynch’s first feature, Eraserhead took five years to make, was rejected by the first US (later Sundance) Film Festival, and is inarguably a seminal American film, independent or otherwise. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, it is essential viewing. The short films, released on DVD the same day, make a nice companion piece for fans, but probably only for fans.

Hustle and Flow — Released on January 10
While Hustle and Flow might not be the definition of a “self-reliant film”, we’ll use the occasion of its release to lobby the DVD powers-that-be to release writer-director Craig Brewer’s first feature, The Poor and Hungry . That film, made for $20,000 on a Digi8 camcorder with a skeleton crew, has some great writing, shooting, and editing (all by Brewer). In the meantime, check out Hustle and Flow. Craig writes killer dialogue, and the well-directed cast is deserving of all the praise and Oscar-talk.

Chan is Missing — Released on January 23
Wayne Wang’s first solo feature (he co-directed A Man, A Woman, and a Killer with Rick “Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices” Schmidt) follows two cabbies searching San Francisco’s Chinatown for a mysterious character who has disappeared with their $4000. Made for $20,000 in 1982 — two years after The Return of the Secaucus Seven and two years before Stranger than Paradise — the film was selected for the National Film Registry.

David Holzman’s Diary Release date: January 30
Just years after the advent of cinema verite and the Direct Cinema movement, Jim McBride created this, the first mockumentary and still a classic of the genre. Also included in the release is McBride’s My Girlfriend’s Wedding, as well as an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Nice! NOTE: Region 2.

Edvard Munch — Release date: February 21
One of the most riveting and exhausting moviegoing experiences I had last year was seeing Peter Watkins’ (Punishment Park) one-of-a-kind film biography of the tortured Norwegian painter Edvard Munch at Philadelphia’s International House. Watkins calls this film “the most personal film I have ever made.” This is demanding, intense, and rewarding. The DVD features a director-approved high-definition transfer of the restored film.

Free Cinema Box Set — Release date: February 27
In all honesty, I can’t tell you much about this release, but I’m as excited about it as any on this list. It’s a box set of short films from Britain’s Free Cinema movement, which predated (and anticipated) the French New Wave. The shorts are a mix of documentary and fiction, but I confess that I’ve not seen any of the them. After reading about the movement on the BFI site, I can’t wait. NOTE: Region 2.

DVD round-up: 12/21/05

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Instead of making individual postings whenever a worthwhile DVD comes down the pike, I’ll start doing a catch-all posting every now and then. I’ll stick to the ones that make the most sense within the context of this blog and ignore other jaw-droppingly great releases, like Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu monogatari. So, without further ado, here’s the first DVD roundup:

Su Friedrich Box Set

My friend Diana King alerted me that Su Friedrich’s complete works have just been remastered from the original negatives and released on DVD by Outcast Films. A box set of five DVDs to be precise. Scratchy dreams. Messy break-ups. Lesbian nuns. Thirteen films, including her masterpiece, Sink or Swim. The price might seem a little steep ($150) for casual fans or the uninitiated, but it’s hard to fault small distributors for charging a little bit more if you consider the filmmaker is probably getting a fairer cut of the profits than they would with some megacorp.

Ross McElwee Box Set

Another five DVD set, this one from Ross McElwee, who was documenting his life, friends, and family long before the advent of “reality” TV. These are wry, smart, and sometimes heartbreaking films. McElwee’s biggest claim to fame, I suppose, is Sherman’s March (it’s on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a “cinematic treasure”), but Time Indefinite (its sequel of sorts) is even stronger. Now you can have those two, along with four others, including his most recent, Bright Leaves.

Punishment Park
Peter Watkins’ work has long been absent on DVD, so the release of Punishment Park (1971) is a promising step in the right direction. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this since it arrived at my local video store a couple of weeks ago. It’s been rented every single time. Thirty-four years after its release, could it be the world is catching up with Peter Watkins? Better late than never, I suppose.

Black Girl
Black Girl (1966), Ousmane Sembene‘s first feature, was a seminal film in the history of sub-Saharan African cinema. I haven’t seen it in a dozen years, but I still remember the ending. The New Yorker DVD release also includes Sembene’s short Borom Sarret (1963). Sadly, some DVDs on New Yorker (like the Bressons) are less than stellar but, according to DVD Beaver, this one passes muster.