DVD Round-Up: 5.24.06

Judging from the uptick in visitors and from the comments it received, my post about my watching 14 hours of student films was apparently of interest to a lot of people. So, in the interests of giving the people what they want, here's a special short film edition of DVD round-up. Cinema 16. Produced in Great Britain, Cinema 16 (not to be confused with first film society in the USA) is a new series of short film compilations on DVD. There are three editions (so far), and alongside more recent festival favorites, each DVD features early short films by contemporary masters. Please note: These are Region 2 PAL discs; you'll need a region-free player to watch them in America.

Cinema 16: European Short Films, for example, features early shorts -- in some cases the very first films -- by Lars von Trier, Jean-Luc Godard, Tom Tykwer, Nanni Moretti, Lukas Moodysson, and Jan Svankmajer. Godard's entry, "All The Boys Are Called Patrick" (written by Eric Rohmer) is found commonly found elsewhere, but I can't think of any other place to find many of these films.

Cinema 16: American Short Films. The American edition similarly collects some noteworthy works. The two that have me most curious are D.A. Pennebaker's "Daybreak Express" and Gus Van Sant's "The Discipline of D.E." If this doesn't interest you there are also student films by Tim Burton, Todd Solondz, Alexander Payne, and George Lucas, among others.

Cinema 16: British Short Films. With the British edition you get a strong lineup headlined by Ridley Scott (directing his brother Tony Scott), Peter Greenaway, Christopher Nolan, Lynne Ramsay, and Mike Leigh. The only downside here is that the shorts by Greenaway ("Dear Phone"), Ramsay ("Gasman") and Leigh "The Short and Curlies") have all been released elsewhere -- the latter two on Criterion editions of Ratcatcher and Naked, while the Greenaway is on the compliations mentioned below.

Their First Films. Another treasure trove of early films is Their First Films, a Korean DVD (Region 3 -- like the ones above, you'll need a region-free player). The films found here are not always, as the title suggests, the first films by the included directors, but if you can look past the inaccuracy of its title, this is worthwhile viewing. Indeed, if you're a fan of the French New Wave, this disc is probably a must-have. Included are early works by: Maurice Pialat, Jean-Luc Godard (here, it's "Charlotte et son Jules" from 1958), Jacques Rivette, Francois Truffaut & Jean-Luc Godard ("Histoire d'eau"), Patrice Leconte, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Jean-Pieree Melville's "24 Hours in the Life of a Clown" from 1946. The best of the bunch is Alain Resnais's "Le Chant du Styrene", a comissioned film about polystyrene shot in color cinemascope. Jonathan Rosenbaum has rightfully called it "easily the most beautiful 'industrial' ever made." To the best of my knowledge it's not available on any other compilation. Their First Films can be found at various Asian DVD retailers around the net like this one and this one.

Greenaway - Early Films Box Set. I saw Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover in the theater, and I remember being mesmerized by the whole thing. It was as strange as anything my seventeen year-old eyes had ever seen up until that point in a movie theater. Later Greenaway films, like Prospero's Books, interested me less -- I always ended up respecting them more than I actually appreciated them. Still, I'm very curious about these short films, which are available for the first time on DVD here in the US. It's a two-disc set. Disc one collects the shorts "A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist", "H is for House", "Windows", "Dear Phone", "Water Wrackets", and "Intervals." The centerpiece of disc two is The Falls. If you're not interested in the box set, the two dvds are available separately, though purchasing them together brings a bit of a discount. Region 1.

The Journal of Short Film. Recently named by Library Journal as one of the Best Magazines of 2005, The Journal of Short Film aims to collect some of the better shorts circulating at festivals (and elsewhere) four times a year. The Journal's website promotes the fact that it is "peer-reviewed by filmmakers and scholars of film theory", as well as "non-corporate", "ad-free" and has an "open and free submission process." Good things, indeed. Volume 3, which was just released (and which I have viewed), is a grab bag of narratives, documentaries, animations and things in-between. Among the highlights are Cindy Stillwell's "High Plains Winter", an experimental documentary, which captures the isolation and adventure that winter in Montana can inspire, and Josh Hyde's neo-realist inflected "Chicle." Volume 3 also featured a few too many of those clever, over-produced "calling card" films for my tastes, but variety is the spice of life, I suppose. Some other viewers, no doubt, will warm to the very films I wasn't fond of and vice-versa. One way or another, The JSF is worth investigating, and libraries, especially those of universities with film programs, would be smart to add it to their collections. (Filmmakers interested in submitting to The Journal of Short Film should read the information on submissions The JSF's website.)