Losing Ground (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD) – If you’ve never heard of American playwright and filmmaker Kathleen Collins, don’t feel bad. At least not for yourself. Collins succumbed to cancer in 1988 at the age of 46 after completing just one feature. The independently-made Losing Ground (1982) was produced before the American Indie film culture established itself with the successes of Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Wayne Wang, the Coen Bros. and others. It played a few screenings but never received any real distribution or a theatrical run and remained unknown outside of scholarly circles for decades. You can feel bad that the film never received the recognition it deserved in Collins’ lifetime but better to celebrate its revival and rediscovery.
Losing Ground is one of the first features directed by an African-American woman. That alone makes it worthy of attention but Collins proves to be an intelligent, insightful, and nuanced filmmaker. She tells the story of Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a professor of philosophy at a New York City college, and her husband Victor (Bill Gunn, director of Ganja & Hess), a painter who is suddenly compelled to reconnect with his art on a more immediate, passionate level. When he decides to move out of the city to get in touch with his muse with a summer sublet of a gorgeous rural home, Sara’s objections mean little. She has no say in the matter, a sign that things are not well in their marriage. So while he searches for his ecstasy (and finds it in a young Latina he finds dancing in the streets), she decides to find hers by acting in a student film.
Ecstasy is the operative term here. Sara is writing a scholarly study on the origins of ecstasy in religion and art but there is precious little of it in her own well-ordered existence, a life of ideas and scholarship and intellectual pursuits, while Victor is all about aesthetics and expression. Victor’s journey is authentic and his drive to find his voice authentic—Collins communicates his passion beautifully and the color seems to explode on the screen as we see his new world through his artist’s eye. He just fails (or perhaps refuses) to take into account his wife’s journey. After all, art is more pure than knowledge in his self-centered odyssey, an attitude that begins driving her away.
The racial and sexual politics are present—even Sara’s philosophy students think of her in terms of her relationship to her husband—but more importantly this is a portrait of committed professionals facing the limits of defining oneself through what you do instead of who you are. And as Sara begins that discovery in front of a student film camera, acting out a fantasia of life as a vaudeville dancer with a flirtatious and charming actor (Duane Jones of the original Night of the Living Dead), Victor isn’t prepared for her self-discovery. It’s a film of conversation and argument, of relationships and self-knowledge, and its sexual politics are as sophisticated as its personal odysseys.
The film was shot in 16mm by Ronald K. Gray, a filmmaker in his own right and Collins’ co-producer, and Milestone’s restoration shows the rough, textured grain of the small-gauge format, as well as the saturated colors and documentary immediacy; the textures suggest news reportage and experimental cinema as well as indie moviemaking of the seventies and eighties. Milestone presents the home video debut of the film with a generous collection of supplements to provide context.
The 50-minute The Crux Brothers and Miss Malloy (1980), directed by Collins and produced by Ronald Gray (mastered for disc in HD), and Gray’s 1976 student film Transmagnifican Dambamuality are presented on the second disc of the two-disc set, along with an archival interview with Collins conducted in 1982 and new (and very substantial) video interviews with Gray, actress Serena Scott, and Collins’ daughter Nina Lorez Collins, who supervised the restoration. The film itself features commentary by professor Lamonda Horton Stallings and Terri Francis.
Read The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody on the film in his 2015 piece “Lost and Found,” written for the film’s revival and first theatrical run anywhere in the U.S.: “The movie is a nearly lost masterwork…. Had it screened widely in its time, it would have marked film history.”
Also new and notable:
Cutter’s Way (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), starring Jeff Bridges as an easy-going beach boy and John Heard as a damaged, angry Vietnam vet who get tangled in a murder mystery, is an American classic that got lost during its 1981 release and is constantly being rediscovered by new audiences. The Blu-ray debut by Twilight Time should help the next generation find it. It co-stars Lisa Eichhorn and Nina Van Pallandt and Ivan Passer directs. With commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, an isolated score track, the trailer, and a booklet with notes by Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies.
Bride of Re-animator (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD), the Brian Yuzna-directed sequel to Stuart Gordon’s witty Lovecraft splatter-horror, is a black comedy of squirting blood, squirming limbs, and an extreme case of tissue rejection. The three-disc limited edition features newly remastered versions of both the unrated and R-rated versions on Blu-ray (the DVD only features the unrated cut), three commentary tracks (including one brand new track by Yuzna), and new and archival interviews and featurettes.
Village of the Damned (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) is John Carpenter’s remake of classic British horror film about a very creepy generation of children conceived during blackout. The Blu-ray debut features three new featurettes plus vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) continues the run of direct-to-disc DC Universe animated original movies with a battle between the two superhero teams. The Blu-ray edition includes three featurettes and two bonus cartoons and the limited edition gift set features a collectible figure.
Only Angels Have Wings (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Howard Hawks’ 1939 romantic adventure of American flyboys in the Andes who live, love, and risk all to fly the mail over the hazardous mountain pass, come fog, blizzard, or buzzard, stars Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, and a young Rita Hayworth. It’s a blast of Hollywood moviemaking at its most enchanting. Full review coming.
Classics and Cult:
Suspicion (Warner Archive, Blu-ray)
Sex Murder Art: The Films of Jorg Buttgereit (4 films) (Cult Epics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Schramm (Cult Epics, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Prayer For the Dying (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Chato’s Land (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
In the French Style (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Julia (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Twilight Time, Blu-ray reissue)
TV on disc:
Heroes Reborn (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Grace and Frankie: Season One (Lionsgate, DVD)
Prisoners’ Wives: Complete Collection (Acorn, DVD)
London Spy (BBC, DVD)
A Tale of Two Cities (1980) (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
The Bible Stories: Samson and Delilah (1996) (Shout! Factory, DVD)
The Bible Stories: David (1997) (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Sisters: Season Four (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Power Rangers Wild Force: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD)
More new releases:
The Forest (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD)