Monday, November 03, 2008

The Rossellini Corrective

The work of Roberto Rossellini has been vastly underrepresented not only on DVD but going back years into the VHS market. While many important filmmakers are unjustly relegated to obscurity on DVD, Rossellini perhaps ranks among the most notable when you consider the quantity and significance of his output, as well as his influence upon the original Cahiers du cinéma writers.

Since the early days of DVD here in the U.S., only Rome: Open City (1943), in what I remember as a fairly poor DVD, and much later, the in-and-out-of-print Germany Year Zero (1948) (it's out of print now, although Netflix seems to have it) have been available. These are landmarks from his first prominent period as a leading filmmaker of the Italian Neorealist movement. Then came the first baby step in expanding beyond these two meager releases when Criterion released the transcendent The Flowers of St. Francis (1950). Now it seems a corrective to Rossellini's DVD availability is finally coming to fruition.

First up, from the previously spotlighted Lionsgate, is Roberto Rossellini: Director's Series, which packages together Dov'è la libertà...? (Where Is Freedom?) (1954) and Era notte a Roma (Escape by Night) (1960). The quality of the set gets a less than enthusiastic review from DVD Beaver here, but I am still encouraged that these films are seeing the light of day at all. (Let me know if there was a prior VHS release I missed.)

Far more significant is the commitment Criterion is making with their upcoming releases of The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966) and, via their Eclipse label, a box set of The Age of the Medici (1973), Blaise Pascal (1972), and Cartesius (1974). You can find the Eclipse set here. What's especially noteworthy is these are from his potentially unmarketable educational television films period. The only place I've ever seen a copy of any of these films is at the heroic Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles, in VHS versions of questionable origin (I'm not sure if they were even unsubtitled).

It's quite a different proposition from releasing his more marketable works starring Ingrid Bergman (Stromboli (1950), Europa '51 (1952), Viaggio in Italia (1954)), or any of his other late '40s, early '50s work. At least those were available on VHS, but these TV films have not been available anywhere in the U.S. (with the exception of Louis XIV), and we're not just getting one but four complete films. Add to that the two Lionsgate films, and you have a fairly dramatic corrective to the previous unavailability of the film work of Roberto Rossellini.

I personally have had great curiosity about this exact period of Rossellini's work since reading the perhaps unhinged enthusiasm from Godard and the Cahiers du Cinéma critics in the '60s*. I can't write here anything to support the actual value or quality of these films myself, since I have not been allowed to see them until now. I will be diving in with enthusiasm as these sets are released. Come on, doesn't "Rossellini's dry, educational television period" spell excitement to you?! I know it does for me! (Difficult cinema is the greatest cinema!)

Now all we need to do is get all his more traditional landmarks released on DVD! In addition to the Bergman films and late-1940s Neorealist classics, the modernist landmark Viaggio in Italia (Voyage to Italy) (1954) desperately needs to be made available on DVD in the U.S. I am lucky enough to have a U.K. release and a region-free DVD player, but this film is as significant as any major Godard work or Last Year at Marienbad, and I'm probably understating its importance since it predates them. Hopefully the sales of these radically different TV films won't be so low as to sour future distributors on the prospect of releasing his more well-known international film classics. But for now I am thankful, and we should all get educated and watch these films.

*If my memory serves. They seemed to rave about all his different periods, so I may have mixed them up. In a quick search I did find Rossellini speaking highly of his goals in television in the translated pages of Cahiers du cinéma.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Une Catastrophe" (2008, Jean-Luc Godard)

The new film by Godard premiering here!
Let's see how much cinema Godard can squeeze into 1:10.

video


Technically it's not premiering here, but I couldn't resist showcasing it. It's actually his trailer for the Viennale. Original location is here (at bottom left corner "Viennale Trailer 2008").

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Compañeros vs. Compañeros

Here are two very different trailers for the exciting spaghetti western film Compañeros (1970, Sergio Corbucci).

First, here's the trippy Italian trailer, which shows you very little of the film, but showcases the awesome Ennio Morricone title song:



Then the American trailer, which features scenes:



Having seen the movie, I like the first trailer better—it's almost a satisfying short film in its own right—but I wonder if only the second could get anyone to actually see the movie, since the first one is kind of vague. In any case, check out the movie, 'cause it's really good (if you like spaghetti westerns, or have only seen the Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood ones). It's on good quality DVD, available from Netflix, etc.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The André Téchiné Collection






















In an earlier post I mentioned there was a possibly important André Téchiné film (Hôtel des Amériques, 1981) buried on a Catherine Deneuve set from Lionsgate, but now Lionsgate has released the André Téchiné Collection with that same film included. With four films in total, the Téchiné set is clearly the one to get, for the director-oriented cinephile.

There's a review of it here on DVD Beaver, which is also who I can thank for pointing out this new set. The set contains:
Hôtel des Amériques (1981)
J'embrasse pas (I Don't Kiss) (1991)
Ma saison préférée (My Favorite Season) (1993)
Les Roseaux sauvages (Wild Reeds) (1994)

In that earlier post, I jumped through some hoops listing the Téchiné films that were formerly on DVD but seemingly out of print, but now that is corrected on this set, with two of them, Ma Saison préferée (My Favorite Season) (1993) and Wild Reeds (1994), being made available again.

Lionsgate has released some interesting director box sets of late, consistently in black, gray, and white packaging. Here are a few of them that are well worth checking out, especially the Godard one:





















Contains:
Passion (1982)
Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen)
(1983)
Détective
(1985)
Hélas pour moi (Oh, Woe Is Me)
(1993)






















Contains:
The Ring
(1927)
The Manxman
(1929)
Murder!
(1930)
The Skin Game
(1931)






















Contains: Gran Casino (1947) and The Young One (1960)
DVD Beaver review.

















Contains:
La Fille de l'eau (Whirlpool of Fate) (1925)
Nana (1926)
Sur un air de Charleston (Charleston Parade) (1927)
La Petite marchande d'allumettes (The Little Match Girl) (1928)
La Marseillaise (1938)
Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (The Doctor's Horrible Experiment) (1959)
Le Caporal Épinglé (The Elusive Corporal) (1962)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Good Eye

I found these accidentally on YouTube. Seems like they're from a collection of home movies (109 at the moment!), but the guy has a really good eye.

If you are the patient sort of viewer, these will appeal as minimalist cinematic exercises. All our home movies should be this good! Also enjoy the fact that almost no one has seen these, as each film (clip?) has only around 20 viewings or so.

T-Boston Collegue (Metro)


La nouvelle maison de Ksenia 2 (28-06-2008)


Le chien qui nages à L'Ile des Soeurs (11-05-2008)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Free Rare Silent Films Online! Free! Free!

Here it is, high-quality preserved/restored rare, rare, rare silent films uploaded by the best European film archives:

EUROPA FILM TREASURES









Including Bucking Broadway (1917, John Ford) starring Harry Carey, 52 mins.















Yes, there is full-screen mode.

All thanks go to the amazing Bioscope for bringing this to our attention here. (I encourage you to read the Bioscope post for help in pointing out some of the more interesting films to start with.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fun Diversions

In lieu of a proper post, here are two interesting items from other blogs I enjoyed recently:

A short film called "Frames of Reference" from Cinema Styles.
(Original post here.)



Trailer for Heavenly Bodies (1984, Lawrence Dane) from Cat's Blog.
(Original post here.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Téchiné and De Sica Uncovered

Browsing DVD Beaver has again helped me uncover works by great directors hidden in packaged box sets. This time it's the Catherine Deneuve Collection, from Lionsgate, which quietly hides a film by the excellent French director André Téchiné.

Hôtel des Amériques (aka Hotel America) (1981)

This time the Amazon page doesn't even list the individual film titles. (They have them run together in one long run-on sentence with no spaces in some tiny section of the page.)

For me Téchiné is worth a look because of Les Voleurs (aka Thieves) (1996), Ma Saison préferée (My Favorite Season) (1993), both with Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil (Les Voleurs also features the excellent Laurence Côte),and Rendez-vous (1985) with Juliette Binoche. (All are on DVD except for Les Voleurs, which is on VHS, although Ma Saison préferée is apparently out of print.) Alice et Martin (1998) is also on DVD, although I was disappointed when I saw it in the theater. Perhaps I need to see it again. (Although it appears that, too, is out of print. Where's the love for Téchiné?) Téchiné has a very evasive style and perhaps can be too elusive at times. Maybe that caught up with me on Alice et Martin, but in any case, I will be excited to check out Hôtel des Amériques on Netflix. Téchiné is usually most well-known for Wild Reeds, which I still haven't seen.

Another Lionsgate set, The Sophia Loren Collection, hides I Girasoli (aka Sunflower) (1970, Italy), by Vittorio de Sica, that costars Marcello Mastroianni! Wow, I wish I had time to watch all these. As further evidence of how these films can slip by you, IMDB's handy DVD link is grayed-out for this film, so if you were researching De Sica via IMDB you might not realize this one was available.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pinoy-Pinay

In lieu of a post, here is another short film I made.
(4 ½ mins long.)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Film Is Supposed to Look Like Film








There is a very important article up at The Digital Bits about film grain and blu-ray. Apparently some customers are not understanding film grain, now more prominent in high-def, and it's causing complaints. According to Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits, New Line scrubbed Pan's Labyrinth clean of its theatrical film grain for blu-ray. Bill is ready to circle the wagons to make sure the studios do not start "cleansing" classic films of their film grain through excessive digital noise reduction.

I have seen some older movies ('80s) broadcast on HD where the film grain was quite strong, and I think it does take some getting used to. The grain feels more prominent than how we experience it in the theater. In any case, I don't want to see any releases scrubbed, because, as Bill Hunt points out, it is often a stylistic choice, and different film stocks and shooting conditions yield different levels of graininess. Scrubbing to the point that other visual information is lost, and that the faces look "waxy," as Bill mentions, is obviously not acceptable.

I usually only notice or love grain in the movie theaters when I see certain older black-and-white films. I don't recall getting enthusiastic about grain too often at film screenings, nor do I remember being distracted by it. The film I watched (part of) on HD broadcast was Wise Guys (1986, Brian De Palma), and it was very grainy. I certainly don't have memories of grain from '80s film-going experiences, especially color films. I am sure the grain was there—the evidence is clear in the HD broadcast—but something about HD is rendering it more prominent. I suspect this is something that just takes getting used to. I also think that no matter how great the technology, you are transporting something from one medium to another and perhaps there will never be a perfect solution.

I highly recommend you read the article here at the Digital Bits.
Here is the pertinent section:

Finally today... while we're talking about the possibility of older classic films coming to Blu-ray Disc... there's a very important and related issue I wanted to address today. We've been getting a few e-mails a week (over the last month or so) from readers who are new to Blu-ray, who say they're disappointed in the quality of older catalog titles on the format. They disappointed not so much the selection, but the actual video quality. One person said the colors weren't as vibrant as they were expecting. Another thought the image looked too soft. Several have complained of "noise" on their TV screens when they watched certain older films. It actually took me a while at first to understand what they meant, but now I've figured it out... and as a serious film enthusiast, it's troubling to say the least. That noise some are complaining about? It's film grain! It seems that many people who came to home theater more recently via DVD, and so who may never have seen older films in an actual movie theater before, simply don't understand what film grain is. They don't realize that it's SUPPOSED to be there.

Now, if you're one of those people... look, don't feel bad. It's okay that you didn't know what that so-called 'noise' was, because having grown up seeing older films only on DVD or cable TV, how could you know otherwise? That's why The Bits is here - to fill you in on such things. Here's what you need to understand: Film grain is an inherent part of the texture and character of older movies, which of course were shot on photochemical film stock (
see Wikipedia's entry on the subject). The grains are tiny bits of metallic silver that are part of the actual physical structure of a piece of film. The amount of grain you see in the image may be the result of a stylistic choice by the director and cinematographer, as determined by their selection of film stock used during the production, or it's the product of the aging process of the film itself, the chemical composition of which changes over time. Often, it's a little of both. DVD didn't always have enough resolution to render grain properly, but Blu-ray does. So now many people are seeing it for the first time, and those who don't understand the nature of film think it's a defect in the disc! It's not, folks. Just like those black bars are supposed to be there on 2.35 (Scope) films - yes, even on your new widescreen HDTV sets - that grain is part of the film medium itself. Unfortunately, it seems that all too many people are expecting older films on Blu-ray to look like Ratatouille or Star Wars: Episode III. In other words, perfect - super-clean, super-clear, super-vibrant. No 'noise.'


To quote Han Solo, "I've got a BAD feeling about this." I suspect THIS issue is going to be the new anamorphic widescreen, the new black bars. This is the issue that enthusiasts and the studios are going to have to make an effort to explain to consumers who are new to Blu-ray and high-definition in general. Unfortunately, what seems to happening right now is that the studio marketing folks are conducting focus groups with new Blu-ray consumers, who are saying they want perfect pictures every time. As a result, a few of the Hollywood studios are currently A) using excessive Digital Noise Reduction to completely scrub film grain from their Blu-ray releases, or B) not releasing as many older catalog titles as they might otherwise for fear that people will complain about grain. Some studios are even going so far as to scrub the grain out of NEW releases that have been shot on film. Case in point: New Line's Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray Disc. When I saw this film in the theaters, it was dark and gritty. The grain was a deliberate stylistic choice - part of the artistic character of the film. New Line's Blu-ray, on the other hand, is sparkly and glossy - almost entirely grain-free. So much fine detail has been removed that the faces of characters actually look waxy. Everyone looks like a plastic doll. It's worth noting that the European release doesn't suffer the same fate. One can only assume that there are fewer marketing fingers in the pie over there?


This isn't just a Blu-ray issue, it's going to affect ALL high-definition presentations of older films, if we allow it to. Film enthusiasts (and those at the studios who actually CARE about and respect the integrity of older films) need to really start educating people on this subject - new Blu-ray consumers, friends and family, fellow studio employees. FILM IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE FILM. Older titles on Blu-ray are NOT supposed to look perfect, as if they were shot today on video! The Blu-ray presentation should replicate, as closely as possible, the best original theatrical experience of the film. THAT'S the goal. I'll tell you right now, this is an important issue, just as anamorphic enhancement and presenting films in their original aspect ratios on DVD were before it. As we did with those issues, you better believe it's something the staff here at The Digital Bits will take up as a crusade with the Hollywood studios if it becomes necessary. So you studio folks... let's just say that you'd better get this one right, or you'll definitely be hearing about it from us in the months ahead (and, we suspect, from many others as well).

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Michael Powell Under the Radar













A favorite topic of mine is finding buried treasures by great directors amongst the current trend of packaged DVDs. For example, a Cary Grant set hides a possible treasure by Raoul Walsh (Big Brown Eyes from 1936), and a Randolph Scott Western set quietly features two André de Toth films (Thunder Over the Plains [1953] and Riding Shotgun [1954]). Or how about a Classic Western Roundup Vol. 2 featuring The Man from the Alamo (1953, Budd Boetticher) and The Cimarron Kid (1952, Budd Boetticher)? In many cases, the directors aren't mentioned on the packaging. Even on Amazon the information is frequently missing, and I have to look the titles up individually on IMDB.

Recently I spotted another, courtesy of DVD Beaver's upcoming releases section, which does the great work of preventing these from slipping through the cracks. Classic British Thrillers features two early Michael Powell films flying in under the radar: The Phantom Light (1935) and Red Ensign (1934), plus The Upturned Glass (1947, Lawrence Huntington). In this case, the films are probably in less good hands with MPI than Universal or Warner Bros., but the release of these rare films is significant and the title "Classic British Thrillers" and cover art do not let you know what potential treasures are hiding inside.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Wayward Cloud (2005, Tsai Ming-Liang)

One of the most fun musical scenes in recent movie history, from Tsai Ming-Liang's The Wayward Cloud (2005):



Ah, yes, so pleasant and wholesome. The entire movie is just like this.
(For those who have seen the movie, don't reveal my deception!)

It's finally coming to DVD from Strand Releasing:





















For more song-and-dance fun, see this blog where there is a "dance movie blogathon" going on:
Ferdy On Films, Etc.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hong Kong Movie Trailers from the '80s and '90s

Just for fun:

God of Gamblers' Return (aka God of Gamblers 2)



A Better Tomorrow 2



Yes, Madam



Police Story



Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star



Righting Wrongs



Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cinefamily vs. The Steve Allen Theater

L.A.'s excellent repertory and specialty moviegoing opportunities are approaching supernova status. We've had the Egyptian Theatre, LACMA, UCLA and the New Beverly for quite a while, and not too long ago, the American Cinematheque expanded from the Egyptian by adding the Aero Theatre on the West side. But now Cinefamily has come into existence at the Silent Movie Theatre, with a full slate of programming equal in volume and perhaps even exceeding (at least in these early months) in imagination to the Egyptian. Having been at my share of sparsely attended esoteric screenings, can the city really absorb and keep afloat this many amazing screening venues?




With my head nearly ready to explode already, I then noticed signs at my local coffee shop advertising a fairly aggressive slate of films at... The Steve Allen Theater. Yet another repertory film venue in L.A.?!? I can't believe it. I am not certain they are attempting to become a regular screening venue, but it seems like it, since they have a "Mystery Movies" program every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. for just five bucks.

The other indication, and the highlight for me, is their upcoming "Cronenberg Retrospective", which starts this Saturday April 12 at 8:00 p.m with a 20th anniversary screening of the essential Dead Ringers (1988). And it's free admission! (The rest of the series is eight bucks a pop.) Here's the rest of the schedule:

April 19 - Scanners
April 26 - Videodrome
May 3 - The Fly
May 10 - Naked Lunch
May 17 - Crash
May 24 - Existenz
May 31 - Spider (closing night) with the American premiere of his latest short film "At the suicide of the last Jew in the world in the last cinema in the world." (It's actually his segment from the multi-director film you'll find at the link.)

In any case, back to the real behemoth on the scene, the Cinefamily. If you didn't already know, in addition to the traditional single tickets available for any show, you can alternatively buy a membership for just $25 a month, which entitles you to attend unlimited screenings. With the regular price being $10 a show, you only have to see three films in a month and your membership has paid for itself. But with their extremely aggressive and amazing screening schedule (there are a lot of separate admission double features you could sit through), you could put your mind to it and easily see 10 or, heck, even 20 films in a month—a $200 value!! And what's more, there are often surprises in store. I went to see Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and Dennis Hopper attended, holding an impromptu Q&A after.

I also commend them for maintaining a highly committed silent film slate as well, given the historic venue. They've been doing Russian silents recently, and this weekend they are hosting the world premiere digital restoration of Abel Gance's almost five-hour La Roue (1923), a film which I'd only seen in a two-hour very rough VHS version. So, if you live anywhere close to the Silent Movie Theatre, you really have no excuse but to pony up $25 and at least try it for one month and gorge yourself on the awesome cinema there. The only thing that gives me pause is, with such an outstanding slate of film offerings all over the city (e.g., the Egyptian is just starting its reliably entertaining 10th Annual Festival of Film Noir!!), how can one commit to only a single L.A. theater?!




In all this excitement, don't forget the Dante's Inferno festival at the New Beverly Cinema, where film director Joe Dante is programming the theater with his favorites for a special run, with several significant in-person appearances. (Thanks to Dennis at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for making me aware of this in his post here.)

Basically, I'm saying it's all amazing, and you must go see everything. Sorry, there are no excuses. The filmgoing opportunities here in L.A. have always been outstanding the whole 10 years I've lived here, but they have now reached a fever pitch level that we may never see the like of again. As always, check my sidebar of L.A. Film Calendars to plan your week's moviegoing schedule for maximum participation and enjoyment.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971)










Sorry for the late announcement, but tonight only, Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971) will be screening at the Silent Movie Theatre (aka Cinefamily) at two showings, 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
Click here for info. (No, it's not a silent movie.)

Directed by Dennis Hopper just after Easy Rider (1969), this time Hopper directs alone without collaboration from Peter Fonda. The result is a masterpiece of that American '70s-style filmmaking that flourished during a decade when the influence of the French and Japanese New Waves (and American cultural changes) had pushed American film to its peak of free-spirit artistic creativity. It ranks up there with the better known Zabriskie Point (1970, Michelangelo Antonioni) as one of the best films to come out of this amazing decade, and shares some of the free-spirit '70s DNA of Zabriskie. For me, it far outstrips Easy Rider as a work of art.

This is definitely not to be missed!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Houdini the Movie Star
























This often comes as a surprise to people, so it's good that the situation will soon be rectified with this release from Kino.

Wow, Kino is getting smart. They even have a trailer for it. I forgot to mention that the little I've seen already was extremely cheesy. But it's fun cheesy. I'm really glad this has the tin-can robot so you can see what I'm talking about:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh0F1glgKBk

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Making of Killer iPod Comment















Is this brilliant or insane? I lean towards brilliant.

Keep in mind that this is "The Making of Killer iPod Comment", followed immediately by the actual film itself "Killer iPod Comment." And in total it is only 2:23! That's a lot of cinema in one short time span.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuqLcBlk0gE

For the record, I'm unclear on the "Comment" part of the title. When I saw a screening with the filmmakers IN PERSON (Can you believe it?! I am soooo lucky!!), I thought they introduced it as simply "The Making of Killer iPod."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mike Gilbert on Cinema















Wasn't that another fun world premiere movie event?!
Thanks again to Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for hosting it and to everyone who participated by watching and commenting!

For posterity, here is the updated link to Dennis's broadcast and comments section:
http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2008/03/now-playing-mike-gilbert-on-cinema.html

Here also is the direct YouTube link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4LQqGVcwXQ
(It's helpful to go there and rate it and comment so it gets more attention.)

Spread the word on Mike Gilbert and this movie if you enjoyed it!

Dennis has got another great post up right now about all the amazing cinema events going on in L.A. His post reminded me that I had been considering doing a weekend roundup of the best screenings to go to as a weekly feature here. I may still do that. In the meantime, check out my hopefully useful L.A. Film Calendar links on my sidebar.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

World Premiere Movie!

My latest short film, "Mike Gilbert on Cinema", will debut tomorrow, Wednesday March 5 at noon (Pacific time) on my friend Dennis Cozzalio's Web site, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

Be sure to tune in there tomorrow at noon in order to see the film, and feel free to leave a comment.

Here's the official announcement:

http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2008/03/premiering-tomorrow-mike-gilbert-on.html

Thanks to Dennis for hosting yet another zany sight-unseen premiere!

Monday, March 03, 2008

1906 Color Film About Scottish Tartans!

Yes, that's right, a complete 2-and-a-half-minute 1906 color film about Scottish tartans. It has a soothing, meditative effect. Enjoy!



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbWtviN4BG0

The film is from the BFI's YouTube page (which came to my attention courtesy of The Bioscope). The fascinating technical aspect is the very early color film process, which The Bioscope has recently dedicated a lot of posts to. Here is the blurb about the tartan film from the BFI's YouTube page:

It's common knowledge that Scotsmen are macho enough to pull off wearing a skirt - perhaps it's all that caber-tossing. This disarmingly simple film concentrates on the tartan cloths of various clans rather than the men who wore them, and is an early filmic reminder of their huge importance to both Scottish national identity and the thriving tourist industry north of the border.

The film's unique selling point was that pioneering filmmaker G. A. Smith showed off the vibrant designs in Kinemacolor, among the earliest colour film processes that didn't involve meticulous hand-painting. And no dangly bits in sight. (Simon McCallum)

For more information about filmmaker G. A. Smith see http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people...

You can watch almost 1000 other complete films and TV programmes at the Mediatheque at BFI Southbank - http://www.bfi.org.uk/mediatheque

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Mystery of the Creeping Cheeses!


At The Bioscope, a fantastic source for silent cinema news that I recently discovered, I was excited to learn of the release of a lavish new Georges Méliès box set coming out from Flicker Alley. Far more elaborate than the previous sets released, it will feature about 170 of his (very) short films. Here are the earlier releases:












The advertising says it's a comprehensive "survey", so even at five discs it doesn't seem to promise to include every one of his extant films, but I am sincerely hoping that one of my personal favorites, "Les Fromages automobiles," (1907) (aka "The Mystery of the Creeping Cheeses", I believe) will be included. I saw this at an Egyptian Theatre screening of very early cinema, and it had me laughing and my mind tripping at its unbridled absurdity.

Cross your fingers that Netflix carries this large Méliès set!

If you don't know Méliès yet, here is a good starter.
Cinema was about six years old when he made this, and you can see one of the early pioneers in action as he discovers cinema's unique magic. From 1901, here is "The Man with the Rubber Head":

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

How Do You Find Your Movies?

How on earth do you find the movies worth watching in the sea of new and old DVD releases?
Are you gripped with terror about letting one amazing one slip by?!
Were you aware that the John Ford silent film DVDs from the Ford at Fox box set are available on Netflix? Had you even heard of the Fantoma Yasuzo Masumura DVDs mentioned in the post below?

One nifty way to keep track of at least new releases, if you are a Netflix customer, was to peruse their "releasing this week" page, which you had to surf one extra step to, past the initial "new release" tab, and which was conveniently categorized by genre, such as "foreign" and "classic". It was the equivalent of doing that walk down the Blockbuster new release wall. Now they've eliminated it completely and replaced it with an obnoxious scrolling bar of DVD covers that displays only four at a time, and the selections of which seem incredibly random and uninspired. I tried it once, scrolling vigorously in an attempt to see... I suppose something other than what they wanted to show me. Something interesting.

I didn't rely on this page, but it was a convenient tool that I occasionally used to find interesting foreign releases (like Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's The Twelve Chairs [oops, didn't watch it yet]) or obscure silent films that I hadn't realized were coming out on DVD. Now they only want you to see what they want you to see. They are hiding things. They make some earnest attempt to show you what they think you'll like based on your ratings or rental behavior, but that is horribly inaccurate, and what's more, if they'll have trouble delivering it to you within their famous one-day turnaround period (oh, say, if it's a popular new release title that they can't keep up with demand on) they just aren't going to show it to you.

For the complete brouhaha, visit their blog entry here, which is up to a whopping 1280 comments already! Another victim would be my recommendation Black Test Car, mentioned below, which I found out about by randomly visiting Fantoma's site and which was a Netflix "short wait" item that had to ship from a far-flung shipping center. This means it's on their "hide" list, so the only way you're going to find out about films like Black Test Car is if you stay tuned to this blog! :) In other words, you have to already know what you're looking for. (They haven't gotten so evil that they'll hide movies you directly search for yet.)

Now that the ability of important or fun films to slip through our fingers has been unnecessarily increased by Netflix's hiding techniques, the discerning movie buff has to be proactive about searching for films in other places. Does anyone have any suggestions they want to share of where you find your movies? (Not just new DVD releases, but old ones too.) For new releases, what I strongly desire is to read a fairly short list that I can scan in order to quickly spot the title of a long-awaited Buñuel film. I suppose the ideal list for me would be just the title, with the director in parentheses (and year of original release would be helpful).

One method I use is to check in with DVD Beaver's release calendar on a regular basis. This is a filtered calendar of what they consider noteworthy releases, geared towards cinephiles. I also bookmark important DVD companies' Web sites, like Kino, Criterion and Fantoma and check in with them from time to time. Or even Koch Lorber, although the latter's site does not invite friendly perusal like the former three, and it's more the quality of the directors they release than the quality of the discs. I used to also love Film Comment's section at the back of each issue, which spotlighted noteworthy DVD releases. But I don't pick that magazine up regularly anymore.

I don't entirely love DVD Beaver's calendar format, so does anyone have anything else out there? I guess it's probably fend for yourself: Pick a filmmaker, research their movies, and see which are on DVD or Netflix. But this is how we miss stuff!

I'll do my bit at least, with posts like the one below, to spotlight great films and filmmakers that are on DVD that might be below the radar. For the John Ford silents, just enter John Ford on Netflix and browse through his list to find the new silent releases, such as 3 Bad Men and The Iron Horse, amongst others. Still, any blogger's spotlighted DVD releases are going to be sporadic, and I'm really looking for something more comprehensive (yet only those films of interest to cinephiles). Also, any search I've done on Amazon has been horrible. Ugh. Anyone tried that? It's absurdly bad.