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.