Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes

No one works as hard as Gary Tooze, the DVD Beaver, to let the world know about imminent DVD releases, and to help us sort between the wheat and the chaff, down to the finest little decibel of audio quality and the slenderest little margin of image cropping. I'm not as exacting a DVD shopper as Gary, and I wouldn't even begin to know how to be as comprehensive as he is, but so much pure gold has been dropping on the market lately, with even more looming on the horizon, that I felt I needed to say something.

For all of you Barbara Stanwyck fans, or for anyone who wanted to believe my raves about Executive Suite but had no way of verifying them for yourself, Warner Home Video is dropping The Barbara Stanwyck Collection at the end of October. That's a while away—ask any academic, or any student, and we'll scream at you that the beginning of fall is still an eon from now—but it's never too soon to gear up for Barbara. I haven't seen any of the other films in the collection, but Robert Wise's thrillingly tense and sensationally acted boardroom thriller (that's not an oxymoron, if it sounds like one) doesn't pull any punches. Barbara helps, Fredric March is efficiently insidious, June Allyson comes vividly if briefly to life, and Nina Foch actresses at every possible edge, without once making a show of herself. Exquisite.

Even though I dislike their new logo and redesigned packaging (who picked Rancid Mustard for the color on the spines?), I must admit that the Criterion Collection has been exceeding even their own high standards of late. They've honored my three favorite Japanese directors already this summer, with deluxe editions of Mizoguchi's Sanshô the Bailiff (my rhapsodic review here), Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine, and a box-set of Hiroshi Teshigara masterpieces, so I can finally stop cruising used DVD stores in pursuit of the out-of-print Milestone imprint of Woman in the Dunes, one of the greatest films of all time. (Am I supposed to insert a personal qualifier here?) As if this all weren't enough, coming soon from Criterion are Mala Noche, the highly elusive debut of Gus Van Sant, and a director-approved re-release of Days of Heaven (original review and quick tribute after seeing the restoration in 35mm).

Auteur delights, or at least they delighted me: David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, which scared the bejesus out of me in cinemas all three times I paid to see it, arrives with even more scarifying footage on August 14th; and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (reviewed here) gets the 2-disc treatment it always deserved on October 23rd, as do several other Kubrick titles.

My two favorite films of 2007 so far, Ray Lawrence's unnerving and trenchant Jindabyne and Robinson Devor's courageously and compellingly cryptic Zoo, will both reach wider American audiences on DVD than they ever enjoyed in theaters; Zoo arrives on Sep. 16 and Jindabyne on Oct. 2.

On the other end of the historical spectrum, the archivists and the deep-pocketed among you will be ecstatic to hear that those unbeatable compilations of early-cinema rareties and esoterica, Treasures from American Film Archives and More Treasures from American Film Archives, shall be followed in October by the National Film Preservation Foundation's Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934. The thematic rubric is new for this series (the other collections are purposefully and wonderfully eclectic), but there's still plenty of variety included in this new package, despite its pointed and fascinating emphasis on politics. I'll study up on How They Rob Men in Chicago, in case history ever repeats itself, but I'll be even more excited for Cecil B. DeMille's The Godless Girl, the entire disc devoted to female suffrage and "The New Woman," and virtually every other snippet, sideshow, epic, and episode. Here are the full contents, and here's where you can pre-order at the greatest savings (though Amazon has a prettier page). The NFPF has already announced that they'll be hosting another theme party for next year's Treasures IV set, which will be devoted to the American Avant-Garde between 1945-85. (On that same page, you can watch selected clips from the first two anthologies; select Disc 1 to see a full minute of Watson & Webber's mindblowing The Fall of the House of Usher, and try to figure out how two amateurs made this in 1928!)

Finally, apologies for burying the lead, but if you've got a multiregion player—or even if you don't, because here's a reason to buy one—Chantal Akerman's legendary feminist opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which has never appeared in any home format anywhere in the world, is now available as part of a French-Belgian DVD package called The Chantal Akerman Collection. "A woman in trouble" if ever there were one, Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig, of Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel and Buñuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is a Belgian housewife like countless others, preparing breakfast and cleaning her kitchen, and devoting her morning to countless other errands around the apartment...except that Akerman makes us feel the scale of these semi-mindless occupations, their essential fusion of tedium and fascination, by capturing these household tasks in huge 35mm and with unrelenting attention for almost four hours. Three days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, in what would feel like three years in the life of the audience if Seyrig weren't so subtly and unpredictably entrancing, and if Akerman's political platform weren't so fully realized within clear, confident, brilliant aesthetics. And I haven't even said anything about the gentleman caller. Or the ———... because I don't want to spoil them.

See Jeanne Dielman... on a big screen if you ever get any opportunity in your whole life to do so; it makes sense, despite the intense frustration, that Akerman has withheld her legendary masterpiece for so long, because the hugeness of her images in relation to their subject is deeply essential to the project. Still, not everyone is going to have that big-screen opportunity, and those of us who have certainly want to revisit Jeanne Dielman... and figure out how Akerman, Seyrig, cinematographer Babette Mangolte, and editor Patricia Canino pulled it off. If I know you love Todd Haynes' Safe, and by his own admission, that film, like so many others, is impossible without this one. I refer you again to my personal list of the greatest films ever made, and I insist (insist!) that, Treasures III and other anthologies aside, The Chantal Akerman Collection, which also includes the deliriously great Rendez-vous d'Anna and three other titles, is the DVD release of the year.

(Image from Jeanne Dielman c/o this Finnish-language bio of Chantal Akerman)

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Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i'm happy to hear about EXECUTIVE SUITE. now it'll be more people than just two (you and me) singing its praises

1:47 PM, August 10, 2007  
Blogger tim r said...

I will be forwarding this post to my DVD Stack co-editor forthwith. I think you've practically just written our third edition!

Thanks for the tip-off on Akerman, particularly -- though I think I'll take your advice and wait to see Dielman in 35mm, should the opportunity ever present itself.

T-minus a month! ;)

8:29 AM, August 15, 2007  

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