Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Mourning our financial situation, as well as the instability of my health and how both have contributed to my inability to attend Cannes this year (which is the best line-up I can imagine for one year), I have spent an abundant amount of time the past few weeks seeing what DVDs are selling for how much and where. Most of the sites I've been examining are in the UK or elsewhere in Europe (where the currencies are much stronger than either of the two in our meager bank accounts). So when I saw the seemingly outrageous priced KINO label's sale on Deep Discount, it was a pleasant surprise. Usually the annual KINO sale at Deep Discount is 20% (plus Deep Discount's free shipping on everything anywhere in the US), so this 50% is a rarity and I wanted to point anyone's attention who wasn't aware but interested, as I don't know how long it will last.

There are some sets which have been on my list for a long time, and I wanted to point a few out for anyone interested.

The American Film Theatre as a project is not only a marvel in production and distribution (that Mormon filmmakers, producers and distributors, should passionately and quickly take an interest in), but an example of excellence and artistic vision. Ionesco's Rhinoceros starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, may be the greatest achievement from my viewing thus far, but it is the only film from the first box set (there are three box sets in all) which is essential on my list—though I'll admit I haven't yet seen the John Frankenheimer-directed The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill and starring Lee Marvin.

Almost every film in the entire second set, however, has left me unable to think of much else for weeks after seeing them. The highlights are A Delicate Balance (the play for which Edward Albee finally won awards) starring Katherine Hepburn and Paul Scofield, and directed by Tony Richardson, along with a Laurence Olivier directed/acted Three Sisters by Chekov, and The most devastating is Harold Pinter's The Homecoming. I'm convinced that nothing could fully prepare a viewer for that experience, even reading the play. As negative a term "filmed theatre" has become, it might be easy to write off these masterpieces as mediocre. But I believe they have accomplished a pinnacle of what film is capable.

Aside from the second American Film Theatre box set and the single disc of Rhinoceros from the first, several other box sets stand out. There are two Griffith collections (who is most commonly referred to as the "father of the narrative film," but whose films have much more to offer than mere historical perspective.

Additionally, there are box sets from Paradjanov, Wong Kar-Wai, and Kieslowski. Kieslowski's being by far the most-for your-money purchase running just under $50 for 6 films. I'm tempted to call both Wong and Paradjanov greater filmmakers though more than once Wong has paid homage to Kieslowski in his films. However I think this box set represents the greatest of Kieslowski's works (the four main features preceding his Dekalog and two being expansions of films which were part of the Dekalog. Previously I have posted a quote from Jonathan Rosenbaum speaking about the moral complexity of one of these two films in particular, A Short Film about Love). So much has been made of Kieslowski's 3 colors trilogy, and his Double Life of Veronique has also received praise since that film's Criterion Collection release, but it is the films in this box set that determine his status as a powerful and morally concerned filmmaker.

Other box sets and collections are dazzling as well. A collection of specific Chabrol films, and a complete collection of all of Buster Keaton's works. The latter seems essential for families with children as well as adults. and at 19 features and a few dozen shorts $99 seems like a steal... alas it is still $99.

Some one on the Criterion discussion board wrote that if anyone doesn't have the 2 KINO Early American Avant-Garde sets, that there is now no excuse not to get them. And I agree that they are important and a great deal, but I'll have to wait and pay for it.

There are other regrets, like the production of the South African Existential play Boesman and Lena starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett (the adaptation of which I have only seen part, but it was uniquely cinematic and riveting), as well as films and collections about which I'm not yet sure, like the Lang and Murnau collections (since almost all these Lang and Murnau releases are now available from the UK-based Masters of Cinema series. The MoC series is by far the higher quality release, but with the pound to dollar comparison as it is, and these sale prices, the KINO releases can come out at a third the price. But as most of the films are silent, the selection of scores is of the highest importance to me, and MoC has a better track record than KINO). The only exception to availability on the MoC series that I can recall is Lang's Die Niebelungen, a five-hour epic whose filmmaking outdoes even the dazzling storytelling and special effects of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have pretty consistent fantasies of watching this with our children years down the road. But I guess this release will also wait.

But by far the greatest regret is that I won't be able to purchase Yeelen. Yeelen is often described as the greatest African film ever made, and I have repeatedly thought that it is one which LDS filmmakers as well as audiences could learn massive amounts from. While maintaining the complete lack of pretension one might expect from an African film (and I'm assuming that most readers aren't experts on African film, and myself having seen less than five), this film manages to have more energy than Tarantino, and more sincerity and feeling than even Malick's or Scorsese's films. I will also add that the special effects, despite the lack of any kind of special effects department, does in fact impress the pants off Star Wars (I know I read that somewhere before I saw the film, though I can't remember where—either David Bordwell, Jonathan Rosenbaum, or J Hoberman— but I was surprised to find how true it was). The film is rooted in Magic, Myth, and sincerity of the highest metaphysical order. But no where to be found is a stitch of pretension. There is no need to declare devotion or to prove that this myth or magic is real, because the film believes it so whole-heartedly and purely, that no real viewer could deny it outright. More essential than I have words for. And this is the only edition in the world as far as I'm aware (and I've looked).

The link to the sale is here.

For those hesitant about editions or whatnot, Gary Tooze's DVD Beaver is the most amazingly informative and helpful site I could imagine. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in film or just a home movie collection. Also, if anyone buys from any division of Amazon, I'd make a personal request to use the links from DVD Beaver to make those purchases. It is an amazing site and the only way it is maintained is by use of those links for Amazon purchases. There is also a link to the Beaver in the top side bar on this page.

I'll add the obvious in closing. The purpose of this post has very little to do with my mourning over not being able to purchase these discs. I write it obviously to encourage interest in these films. I believe that our culture and our art would be fuller and more mature if we added these films to our common vocabulary.

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