We didn’t know it at the time but The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) was the end of a distinctive mode of cinematic engagement for Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami. He had won the Palm d’or at Cannes in 1997 for A Taste of Cherry and had become the figurehead for Iranian cinema for his unusual mix of fiction and documentary and gently self-reflexive filmmaking. After The Wind Will Carry Us, however, he entered into a period of documentary and experimentation that lasted a decade until Certified Copy.
The Wind Will Carry Us: 15th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) revives this landmark film with a newly remastered edition and a Blu-ray debut. Like his previous films, he mixes professionals with amateurs and draws character from his location, here a remote village in the mountains where a TV crew arrives to film a funeral ceremony of a dying woman. A three day trip stretches into two weeks as the old woman begins to recover and the filmmaker (Behzad Dourani, the only professional actor in the cast) gets anxious as he’s eaten away by twin impulses: his wish for the old woman’s recovery and the mercenary hope for her speedy death so he can complete his project.
Kairostami’s rigorous style has always been sensitive to the rhythms of people and the details of day to day existence, and like his best films The Wind Will Carry Us unfolds with a remarkable fidelity to (or a convincing facsimile of) real time. What may be surprising to fans of his films is the dry humor that permeates the picture. To Western eyes the pace may seem glacial, yet it’s the very embrace of the time it takes to walk through the village or scramble up a hillside “short cut” that allows Kiarostami to explore the spaces between the words and the landscape that envelopes his characters’ lives. The culmination of such astounding visions is a celebration of the human spirit is nothing short of sublime. (If that final sentence looks familiar, it might be because it’s quoted on the back of the disc case from my original 2000 review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; I was inspired to revive it from this review.)
Features newly-recorded commentary by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and Iranian scholar Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, a 90-minute Q&A with director Abbas Kiarostami hosted and moderated by New York Film Festival director Richard Peña at the University of Indiana and a booklet with an essay be Peter Tonguette.
Ginger Snaps: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD) is one of the best horror films of the new millennium that hasn’t really gotten its due. Think Carrie by way of A Canadian Werewolf in Suburbia: Gloomy teenage goth sisters Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) have made a pact to die together before puberty hits, and they practice by staging bloody mock deaths for a series of photos. When Ginger, the elder, is mauled by a mysterious wolf the very night of her first period, her body starts changing in ways she’s not remotely prepared for. Before she knows it, Ginger is the class tramp with a glint in her eye and an animalistic hunger that mere sex can’t satisfy. Director John Fawcett layers his marvelously evocative and inventive metaphor for the changes brought on by puberty with black humor and tender sisterly solidarity. As teen horror exploitation it satisfies the expectations–blood, bodies, sex, smart dialogue, and good old fashioned monster movie scares–and then twists them into the most insightful and inspired piece of female-centered horror since A Company of Wolves. This time Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf are one and the same, and she kind of likes it. Mimi Rogers co-stars as their dotty Mom whose response to it all is unexpectedly sensitive and sacrificial: blood and blood ties have never been more evocative.
Shout Factory releases the Blu-ray debut on a combo pack set with the new hour-long-plus documentary “Ginger Snaps: Blood, Teeth and Fur” featuring new interviews with actors Emily Perkins and Jesse Moss and members of the production team and a new half-hour “Women in Horror” panel discussion with a quartet of women writers and filmmakers, along with supplements carried over from previous disc releases, cinluding two commentary tracks (by director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton), deleted scenes with optional filmmaker commentary, archival featurettes, and cast auditions and rehearsals.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance: Ultimate Revenge Edition (Palisades Tartan, Blu-ray, DVD), the first in Park Chan-Wook’s vengeance trilogy (the notorious Oldboy was his second), is laced with deadpan humor around the edges but there is nothing ironic in the title. Except for the fact that there are two vengeance-fueled protagonists — the desperate deaf-mute (Shin Ha-kyun) who resorts to kidnapping only after he’s robbed by black market organ pirates and the corporate CEO (Park Dong-jin) whose kidnapped daughter dies in his care — whose blood-soaked odysseys finally converge. Park is neither glib nor pedantic as he charts the vicious circle that leaves victims in their wake, both unintentional and premeditated, and takes its dehumanizing toll on his increasingly brutal heroes. Park’s deliberate direction is full of serene scenes and lovely images for a film so full of violence and death, and his sympathy for both men is sincere. That may be the only real irony of the film. Tartan released it DVD years ago and on Blu-ray exclusively in a box set in 2010. This stand-alone release is identical to the edition from that box set, with director commentary and an English language profile of Park Chan-wook (made for British TV by Jonathan Ross) among the supplements.
We’re in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerate Filmmaker (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray, DVD) collects two documentaries and a handful of “itinerate films” from the first half of the twentieth century for an unusual anthology disc dedicated to often unexplored film history. Palace of Silents: The Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles (2010) shows that even the most seemingly benign and uncontroversial aspects of film culture fandom can have its dark side and salacious twists. The Silent Movie Theater of Los Angeles was built and launched by film-lover John Hampton in 1943 as the only exclusive silent movie theater in the country. Apart from a closure between 1979 and 1991, it remained so through 1997 when its new manager, Lawrence Austin, was murdered in a contract killing. The tawdry details of Austin’s private life and shady dealings give the documentary a fascinating story but the film is really about a life of dedication to silent movies and how subsequent owners have kept the theater going (it is now run by a non-profit known as Cinefamily) by expanding its offerings.
When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose (1983) looks back at the origins and production of the short film “The Lumberjack” (1914), made in Wausau, Wisconsin by an itinerate production company that used local citizens and locations to create a production specifically for the local community. Director Stephen Schaller (who also restored the original The Lumberjack, which is included on the disc) interviewed senior citizens where were around during the production to get memories and stories, making it an interesting time capsule and a spotlight on a specialized quarter of the early film industry not well known today, if not exactly a riveting piece of filmmaking. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo release also includes six examples of itinerate filmmaking from both silent and sound eras, including The Lumberjack and a new restoration of the 1937 film The Kidnapper’s Foil, which was selected for the National Film Registry in 2012. Both formats features all of the programs and the silent films are accompanied by lively original music. An accompanying booklet features essays by David Shepard and David John Slaughter.
I received the last batch of Twilight Time discs after my column went live. Among the five discs released was Violent Saturday (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), the Blu-ray upgrade of the company’s second disc release, when it launched as a DVD label. Richard Fleischer’s 1955 daylight heist thriller is not technically a film noir, but it has a toughness, an edge of violence and a distinctively-drawn crew of criminal professionals that drops in a distinctive subgenre of criminal violence in rural settings. In full color and widescreen, it takes place almost entirely in the bright light of day and intercuts the crime story with little melodramas that play out among the citizens of the Arizona mining town, a southwest Peyton Place that is not nearly as innocent as it appears on the surface. Victor Mature is the ostensible lead, the loving husband and father and loyal company man who is frankly a little stiff and out of place in the gallery of compromised or corrupted townsfolk, and Stephen McNally heads the criminal crew, casing the small town bank while his cohorts arrive by train, but it’s the supporting cast that makes it so much fun: Lee Marvin as the sneering gang member who stomps the hand of little kid on the street, J. Carrol Naish as the cautious veteran who tries to keep the garrulous Marvin in line, Ernest Borgnine as the moral patriarch of an Amish family taken hostage in the getaway.
This is Fleischer’s first film for Fox and he meets the house CinemaScope style—handsome, roomy sets, strong color, open spaces and long, fluid takes (the better to drink in the widescreen images)—with careful staging and frames filled with little dramas. But he also puts an edge to the stories that play out in the glossy spaces and punctuates the imagery with grotesque grace notes in the otherwise elegant imagery, from bank patrons doubling up in death throes when the trigger-happy robbers fire on the bystanders to the Amish family trussed and taped and lined up like victims of some perverse torture.
Twilight Time release their DVD in a non-anamorphic widescreen edition. This Blu-ray finally corrects that compromised release (which, at the time, was all that Fox had available) with this new 1080p transfer of widescreen release (2.55:1), and it adds a commentary track by Twilight’s resident film historians, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, along with the isolated score track and 8-page booklet with an essay by Kirgo.
As reported last week, Twilight also released the Blu-ray debuts of four other films. Brannigan (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), with John Wayne as a Chicago cop in London, features commentary by co-star Judy Geeson with film historian Nick Redman and behind-the-scenes home movie footage by Geeson.
The 2012 Australian cricket comedy Save Your Legs! (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), about an aging team that wants to go out with one last tour, features commentary by the filmmakers and stars and two featurettes. Woody Allen’s sweet and nostalgic Radio Days (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) and the original Born Yesterday (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Judy Holliday and William Holden are basic releases with the usual Twilight extras. All discs are limited to 3000 copies and include the Twilight Time trademark isolated score track and a booklet with notes on the film by film historian Julie Kirgo. Available exclusively from Screen Archives and the TCM Shop.
The Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion, Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format set) just arrived this week. I’ve only had a chance to see one disc so far – the American home video debut of Une Chambre en Ville (1982), another bittersweet Demy musical that is entirely sung to an operatic score, this one set during a worker’s strike in 1955 Nantes – but it is a superb disc filled with excellent supplements. The rest of the 13-disc set is filled out with his more well-known earlier classics – Lola (1961), Bay of Angels (1963), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), and the slightly perverse Donkey Skin (1970) – and a great wealth of documentaries, interviews, and new and archival supplements. All make their respective Blu-ray debuts here from new digital masters, most of them from new restorations. A more comprehensive review is in the works. Stay tuned.
The first wave of Kino Classics releases from the vaults of the current MGM/UA studio (mostly United Artists pictures) arrives this week with two great films by Billy Wilder – Witness for the Prosecution (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) – plus Burt Lancaster in The Scalphunters (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) and the spaghetti western Sabata (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) with Lee Van Cleef. I’ll be tackling them, along with the rest of the Kino Classics slated for the month of July, in a later piece. Until then, rest assured that I like what I’ve seen in the discs I’ve looked at so far.
Also new and notable:
Armored Attack / The North Star (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) curiously puts the re-edited 76-minute version of Lewis Milestone’s World War II drama, about a Ukrainian village under attack by the Germans, over the original 106-minute 1943 release, which played up the American alliance with the Soviets in the war. The 1957 revision turns it into an anti-communist tract. Both versions are included on the disc as well as the 1944 radio adaptation, with several of the film’s stars (Anne Baxter, Walter Huston, Farley Granger and Jane Withers) reprising their roles.
Arch of Triumph (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), also from Lewis Milestone, is a 1957 thriller set in 1938 among refugees in Paris fleeing the Nazi threat in Europe. Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Charles Laughton star. Also from Olive this week are the Forever Female (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), a Broadway comedy with Ginger Rogers and William Holden, and The Other Love (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), a melodrama starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven.
Love in the City (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) is the 1953 anthology film featuring six short contributions from Italian directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, Carlo Lizzani, Dino Risi, and Francesco Maselli and Cesare Zavattini. It makes its American home video debut in an edition featuring commentary on all six episodes and three bonus interviews.
Scanners (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), David Cronenberg’s breakthrough hit about a generation of telekinetic warriors, was a sensation thanks to the exploding head featured in the opening scene. It debuts on Criterion, which also upgraded two previous DVD releases with newly mastered Blu-ray+DVD editions: Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD) and the original Swedish Insomnia (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD).
The Hobbit (1977, animated) (Warner, Blu-ray)
The Return of the King (1979, animated) (Warner, Blu-ray)
The Little Foxes (Warner, DVD)
Ball of Fire (Warner, DVD)
Dead End (Warner, DVD)
Detour (Film Chest, DVD)
Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
I Escaped From Devil’s Island / The Final Option Double Feature (Shout Factory, DVD)
Action Adventure Movie Marathon: Shake Hands With The Devil / The Final Option / I Escaped From Devil’s Island / Treasure of the Four Crowns (Shout Factory, DVD)
Donnie Brasco (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
The Legend of Billie Jean (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
The Last Action Hero (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
Anaconda (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
Flatliners (Mill Creek, Blu-ray)
The First World War: The War To End All Wars (The War Zone: Centennial Anniversary Series) (Eagle Rock, DVD)