In 1969, Professor Richard Brown’s Movies 101 class began as a tiny gathering of NYU film students examining contemporary film as cultural discourse. Exemplifying the zeitgeist of “the film generation”, Movies 101 quickly evolved into phenomenon unto itself. Not only did studios begin to take notice and supply him with pre-release films to test their market potential, but, Brown was also able to wrangle the stars and directors into his classroom to discuss their respective projects. Movies 101 invites you to audit the course with a Special Edition four-DVD box set with interviews with recent guests including Martin Scorsese, Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Willem Dafoe, and Julianne Moore—and its certainly cheaper than tuition.
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Comprising seven of the best documentaries ever crafted for the small (and later, big) screen, The Up Series is a monumental achievement in cinema and DVD. It is hard to describe in plain and simple terms the impact and the power that these films really have. From their time in a bottle barometers of popular styles and changing social philosophies to the remarkable insight one gains in how people develop and adapt, each and every installment in this landmark undertaking deserves praise and reward. Though it’s hard to imagine how the chronicle of a dozen or more kids from childhood to adulthood could resonate with such colossal themes and universal platitudes, The Up Series is indeed such an exalted exhibition. But it is also much more. It is riveting human theater, the drama of lives fulfilled and dreams dashed, played out over the ambitious possibility of time and space.
The only thing possibly more fascinating than each and every gorgeous, vivid, mind-bogling episode of this award-winning BBC series is the “making of” short that followings each episode. Even the most casual viewer will lose herself in the beauty, violence, and fragility of this planet as conveyed in these stories of life on Earth in places where few humans can or should go. At some point she’ll realize that a few brave and talented humans did go to such places, and went to considerable effort to bring these stories to her TV set. An obvious choice for nature lovers, this exceptional series will also appeal to visual artists, armchair adventurists, and anybody who likes well-told stories of epic scale. (Available for $59.95 at Discovery Channel store)
Selection from cave episode
The layout of Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding makes for a disc that’s as much a heartfelt tribute as it is a documentary. Rather than delving a great deal into analysis of Otis’ place in the pop landscape, Otis’ career, starting with the Stax Records story is told through interviews with those close to him. Otis’ wife Zelma and his daughter are interviewed, as well as Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs, horn player Wayne Jackson, and rarely filmed Stax Records founder Jim Stewart, in between footage of Otis’ classic live performances. Instead of pushing technical and conceptual boundaries like Hendrix, the boundaries Redding pushed were ones of feeling, the way he attacked simple love songs with furious soulful sincerity. It’s interesting to think, had Otis Redding lived, how he would have deepened and widened the intangible elements of popular music, its spirit and its soul.
Everything most people know about silent films is wrong. Now, we lucky denizens of DVD are in a golden age of appreciation for silent movies, as many are beautifully restored or digitally refurbished, tinted, and shown at their correct speeds with sensitive musical accompaniment. We understand that the talkies offered nothing thematically or aesthetically that hadn’t already been known in the silent era. As this double-disc set proves, that includes sound and color. The extras are many and splendid with all sorts of vintage promotional films and paper materials and dozens of photographs of the actor’s houses, pets, and memorials. This is a treasure for any self-professed film geek.
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