Films in Need of a Better DVD Release
Criterion has the power to rescue a film from the bargain bin. The following titles deserve better than their current, subpar home video releases.
Though it came first, Phantom of the Paradise has for decades lived in the shadow of that other ‘70s rock opera: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, in 2013, Brian De Palma’s deranged horror-comic opus appears primed for its cultural moment. Earlier this year, the members of Daft Punk hailed Phantom of the Paradise as “the foundation for a lot of what we’re about artistically”. Just look at those masks. Daft Punk’s omnipresent new record even features Paul Williams, Phantom’s costar and the maestro behind its music. All this is to say: Criterion should ride those “Get Lucky” coattails with a re-release of this underseen acid trip of a musical. The company has already resurrected two De Palma films (Blow Out, Sisters), and Phantom’s current DVD is a minimal affair from 2001. Like Rocky Horror, Phantom makes for great group viewing. The film has inspired costumes, festivals, musical covers, and other cult marginalia. An entire community of fans exists around Phantom of the Paradise. That community deserves, at last, a definitive home release of its beloved film.
It’s surprising that there wasn’t a DVD release of Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin in the early 2000s, perfectly timed to capitalize on Viggo Mortensen’s star status following The Lord of the Rings. Instead, the film languished in obscurity in the U.S. until 2011, when Echo Bridge Home Entertainment put out a bare-bones DVD (i.e., no special features). It’s the unfortunate fate of one of the great, disturbing art-house oddities of the 1990s. The Reflecting Skin is a dark, sweeping vision of the death of innocence in the Midwest—think Andrew Wyeth collaborating with David Lynch—and it would be great to have a Ridley audio commentary to accompany his haunting film. Because the driving force of The Reflecting Skin is the overactive imagination of its young protagonist, some might draw comparisons to Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. Ridley’s story is much more nightmarish, however. The elements of fantasy in The Reflecting Skin are not charming forms of self-defense but a glum, internal child-logic that adds greater chill to this landscape of memento moris.
The Criterion Collection is already home to two of the best long movies ever made: Masaki Kobayashi’s three-part, nine-and-a-half-hour epic The Human Condition and Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour-plus Holocaust documentary Shoah. Why not add another Mount Everest of cinema, and one of the most important art films of the ‘90s: Béla Tarr‘s Sátántangó, a seven-hour-plus black-and-white work of poetic misanthropy? This is probably Tarr’s best known film simply given its ungodly duration and its average shot length of two-and-a-half minutes. (The average shot length in a contemporary Hollywood film is four to six seconds.) The result is a movie that’s less like watching paint dry and more like watching a town crumble from the effects of weather, greed, and human stupidity. Current DVDs of Sátántangó are marred by poor image quality and possibly some missing scenes. The Criterion Collection could improve the transfer and gather several critics to tag team an audio commentary. Perhaps Sátántangó could also be packaged with the book of the same name by László Krasznahorkai, a frequent Tarr collaborator.
Those who chance upon this cult classic often feel as though they’ve discovered some wonderful lost artifact. The brainchild of Talking Heads front man David Byrne, True Stories is a freewheeling musical, a mockumentary, and a gentle portrait of small-town America. The movie resembles the cine-essays of Jean-Luc Godard, only swap the jagged-edge polemicism with something infinitely more fun. Byrne shares his thoughts on fashion, computers, TV, capitalism, religion, urban planning, everything. He even explores the occasional dead end (i.e., “I have something to say about the difference between American and European cities, but I forgot what it was. I have it written down at home somewhere”). The results are as joyous and scatterbrained as a Talking Heads record. Byrne’s stature has only grown as an avant-pop tastemaker and public intellectual since the film’s release in 1986. Despite his lasting cultural relevance, True Stories, his sole feature film, remains fairly unseen. Warner Home Video put out the no-frills DVD in 1999, and it’s still the only way to purchase True Stories. This “completely cool, multi-purpose movie” (its actual tagline) deserves better.