Time Encapsulating: The Best DVDs of 2006 Part 2
Dazed and Confused: Criterion Collection
Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey, Wiley Wiggins, Michelle Burke, Parker Posey, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams
Dazed and Confused is a perfect movie. It flawlessly captures the spirit of the ‘70s while arguing for the universality in the high school experience. It is a film that expertly illustrates that clichéd concept called ‘coming of age’ while wrapping the usual elements in the era’s cultural make-up within the typical teen dynamic of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Perhaps writer/director Richard Linklater said it best when he commented about wanting the movie to feel “like a camera had just dropped down in the middle” of this specific day at a typical Texas high school. Thanks to the inclusion of a true profusion of added content (commentaries, documentaries) what we end up with is a true motion picture masterwork.
Grey Gardens / The Beales of Grey Gardens: The Criterion Collection
(Maysles Films; US DVD: 5 Dec 2006)
Documentaries don’t get more spellbinding than this look at wealth in decay and the lives of two women, both lost within their own insular universe of privilege and pain. Brothers Albert and David Maysles struck subject matter gold when they discovered Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale (cousins of famed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) living in reclusive squalor in the title estate on the Hamptons. Eager for the attention they once held as members of high society, the pair was happy to “perform” for the directors, letting down their guard just enough to see the substantial sadness inside. The 1975 masterpiece is now supplemented with an amazing contemporary companion piece, arguing for the timelessness of both the Maysles moviemaking prowess and the Beale’s quiet desperation.
Double Indemnity: Universal Legacy Series
(Paramount Pictures; US DVD: 22 Aug 2006; UK DVD: 22 Aug 2006)
For many, it’s one of the last DVD Holy Grails, a classic Billy Wilder film noir unconscionably left off the digital domain for far too long. In fact, devotees feel they have waited for what seems like eons to get this multifaceted mystery featuring spectacular turns by Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray on their favorite home theater medium. But the fact of the matter is, Image Entertainment released a version of the seminal crime thriller back in 1998. This time around though, Universal does the title right, tossing in a pair of commentaries, a documentary, and even a TV movie version from 1973. Whatever the presentation parameters, this is one timeless example of Hollywood’s heyday that deserves to be on every film fans shelf.
Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection
(Criterion; US DVD: 5 Sep 2006; UK DVD: 5 Sep 2006)
Akira Kurosawa elevated Japanese cinema into an internationally recognized art form, and this is, arguably, his greatest achievement. A masterpiece of tone, detail and performance, this influential fusion of modern moralizing and typical Eastern traditions makes for a classic examination of duty and honor. Setting up layers of interaction—the samurai vs. the farmers, the collective vs. the oncoming attackers—and then heightening the cinematic possibilities via the inherent drama supplied within his mesmerizing monochrome cinematography, Kurosawa creates a tragedy of epic proportions, an incredibly human saga expanded out across the entire Asian cultural horizon. And thanks to a new transfer from the classic film conservators, this director’s dynamic vision has never looked better.
Homicide Life on the Street - Complete Series Megaset
(A&E; US DVD: 14 Nov 2006; UK DVD: 14 Nov 2006)
Suitably grim, designed with a dark current of humor, all seven seasons of this highly acclaimed, addictive drama, winner of two Emmy Awards, three Television Critic’s Awards, and three Peabody Awards, comes packaged in a grey “file drawer”. Pull the drawer open, and each season has a file tab identifier, with a summary of the contents in plain, courier font: episode title, a snapshot of some critical facts, and a very brief description per episode. Sums it up perfectly for someone in a hurry to find the right file. The Complete Series is packaged as no-nonsense as the lives of the detectives in inner-city Baltimore and the murdered whose cases they try to solve, and it’s packed with enough extras to stuff a file cabinet, including three Law & Order crossover episodes and Homicide: The Movie. “Homicide: our day begins when yours ends”, says Detective John Much. You would just die for this.
OldBoy: Three-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition
(Egg Films; US DVD: 14 Nov 2006; UK DVD: 14 Nov 2006)
As complicated a game of cat and mouse as the cinema has ever seen, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy stands as a testament to the Nu-Asia genre of film, and South Korea’s domination of same. As part of his brilliant Vengeance Trilogy (including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) Park’s middle act marries Western ideas of violence as vindicator with Eastern elements of honor, status and cruelty. In a stunning new three-disc tin box collector’s set from Tartan Video, the process behind this provocative motion picture is laid bare, with the director divulging as many behind the scenes processes as possible to amplify the theme—the purposelessness of payback—of his movie.
When the Levees Broke
A Requiem in Four Acts
Harry Belafonte, Terence Blanchard, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Douglas Brinkley, Eddie Compass, Michael Eric Dyson, Paris Ervin, Herbert Freeman Jr., Glenn Hall III, Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, Wynton Marsalis, Mayor Ray Nagin, Soledad O’Brien, Wendell Pierce, Sean Penn, Garland Robinette, Al Sharpton, Kanye West
Regular airtime: Premiere 8pm 21 and 22 August 2006; all four hours re-air 7pm 29 August 2006. Also airing on HBO and HBO2 throughout September.
(HBO; US: 21 Aug 2006)
The year’s best fact-based film. Spike Lee, who worked his moviemaking magic on the story of 4 Little Girls (about the bombing of an Alabama church during the Civil Rights movement) and Jim Brown: All American, takes on the Federal Government, George W. Bush and the lack of effective emergency relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and provides a ballsy blueprint for EVERYTHING that’s wrong with America circa 2006. Moving, infuriating and loaded with unconscionable criminality, the most shocking thing about this visual essay is how unfinished and open-ended it feels. Indeed, Lee has publicly stated that he will continually follow-up on the New Orleans story, similar to how Stephen Spielberg used Schindler’s List for the Shoah Project. This masterful movie is a sensational start.
Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier
(Paramount Pictures; US DVD: 15 Aug 2006; UK DVD: 15 Aug 2006)
Or, actually, the “incomplete” dossier. Still MIA in this otherwise stellar presentation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam via Joseph Conrad masterwork is the equally sublime and definitive documentary companion piece Hearts of Darkness. Said warts and all look at the production, featuring amazing behind the scenes footage and audio recordings of the filmmaker’s frequent meltdowns, has long been rumored to be part of a comprehensive Apocalypse package. Its absence here continues to fuel speculation that Coppola no longer appreciates the film’s portrait of him as director/demagogue. Or maybe the memories are still too fresh and painful to revisit, even 20 plus years later. Thankfully, we have both versions of the finished epic (original and expanded cut) and a wealth of extras to keep us occupied.
Apocalypse Now—Opening Scene
Astaire & Rogers Ultimate Collector’s Edition
(Warner Brothers; US DVD: 24 Oct 2006; UK DVD: 24 Oct 2006)
It’s enough to make fans of the famous dance team swoon with song and dance possibilities—10 films, a bonus CD, another disc featuring a comprehensive documentary and a startling array of complementary features. Just having the ability to own every film this dynamic duo made (Flying Down to Rio / The Gay Divorcee / Roberta / Top Hat / Follow the Fleet / Swing Time / Shall We Dance / Carefree / The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle / The Barkleys of Broadway) should be motivation enough for an instantaneous purchase. But Warner Brothers hedges it bets by providing the best possible print of each film possible, and then larding each entry with enough extra goodies to seal the cinematic deal.
Pandora’s Box: The Criterion Collection
(Criterion; US DVD: 28 Nov 2006; UK DVD: 28 Nov 2006)
Criterion uncovers yet another gem with the release of this legendary Louis Brooks vehicle. The tragic story of a prostitute/performer named Lulu, this is the film that made her a star, and the toast of the jumping jive jazz age. Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst combined his acclaimed insight into actors with the artistry of German Expressionism to forge an epic dissection of the human spirit. With many of Hollywood’s silent stars forgotten or forced into post-modern pigeonholes, it’s important to keep their true memory alive. And nothing guarantees immortality better than a perfect DVD package providing the proper balance between entertainment and context. As they do with all their products, Criterion proves the possibilities—and the pleasures—that can be achieved within the digital medium.