Fassbinder epic arrives; MGM restores 3 lesser-known musicals

[13 November 2007]

By Terry Lawson

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Like a lot of film lovers who didn’t live in New York, I saw Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 15-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz” in 2-hour chunks on PBS.

In New York and a few other cities, it was shown theatrically in two-day marathons, and I remember envying those who could attend. Fassbinder’s adaptation of Fred Doblin’s novel was so darkly beautiful I wanted to see it on a large screen.

Only later did I learn that it was made for German TV and actually shot on 16mm.

The digitally restored version, according to cinematographer Xavier Schwarzenberger’s analysis in the booklet accompanying the first DVD release of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (4 stars, Criterion Collection, $124.95), looks far better than the originally broadcast prints, and because my memory is of the overall experience as opposed to certain frames, I’ll take his word for it.

The epic is a complex story of a paroled wife killer (Gunter Lamprecht) who is attempting to adjust to Weimer-era Germany with its contradictions and lurid temptations

Though Fassbinder’s films tended to dwell on the fringes of life and in its darker corners, his biographers say he had a great affection for American musicals.

MGM has released new digitally restored editions of three of its lesser-seen titles on disc this week.

The best known is 1952’s “With a Song in My Heart” (3 stars, $19.98) starring Susan Hayward as real-life vocalist Jane Froman, who is determined to make a comeback after a crippling plane crash. Alfred Newman won an Oscar for the film’s score.

“The Girl Next Door” (3 stars, $19.98) stars June Haver as an actress who moves next door to, and falls in love with, cartoonist Dennis Day, which allows the filmmakers to insert some animation between the songs in a story that is complicated by the cartoonist’s son’s resistance to a new person in his dad’s life.

It’s was Damon Runyon’s tales of New York high-livers and low lifes that provides the material for “Bloodhounds of Broadway” ($19.98), starring Mitzi Gaynor as a singing gal from Georgia who catches the eyes and ears of bookie Scott Brady. He makes the biggest bet of his life by bringing her to Manhattan to make her into a Broadway star.


Also new this week:

Advance copies of “Shrek the Third” were available for review only for those agreeing to legal stipulations, a policy this paper does not indulge. We can tell you it has a number of extras, and is available in four formats: wide-screen and full screen (both $29.99), HD DVD ($39.99) and as part of a box ($54.99) that also contains the first two installments in the series.

Also arriving fairly fresh from the theaters are:

“Ocean’s 13” (3 stars, Warner, $28.98), the third chapter in the Hollywood-hunk-heist series.

“Amazing Grace” (3 stars, Fox, $29.99) the story of 18th Century British abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffud).

“La Vie En Rose” (2 stars, HBO, $27.95), a biography of Edith Piaf who is expertly brought to life by Marion Cottilard, who could get an Oscar nod for her trouble.

Paul McCartney fans will undoubtedly appreciate the care that has gone into “The McCartney Years” (3 stars, Rhino, $39.99), which devotes two of its three discs to a chronological revisit to all the music videos he has made over the last 38 years. The third disc is mostly live footage from various concert tours.


TV on DVD:

“Perry Mason” is one of the few classic TV series that does not rely on nostalgia or unintended campiness to be enjoyed by both old fans and contemporary audiences. “Season Two, Vol. 2” (Paramount, $38.99) collects the last 13 episodes of the 1958-59 season.

Camp, however, is the primary appeal of the “The Addams Family: The Complete Series” (MGM, $69.98), containing all 64 episodes of the series, originally shown on ABC from 1964 to 1966, and inspired by Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons about a spooky family of ghouls.


Family pick of the week:

For more than a decade, Frank Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” was in the public domain, its copyright having been allowed to lapse. That’s why it was aired on TV constantly and why everyone seemed to have it on videotape.

The copyright issue was rectified a few years ago, and the prickly poinsettia perennial, starring Jimmy Stewart as the suicidal banker who is given an angel’s-eye look at how life in Bedford Falls would have been without him, was restored and remastered. It now, naturally, gets a two-disc “Collector Set” treatment (Paramount, $24.99) where it is presented in its original black-and-white, and for kids who won’t get near that stuff, a colorized version.

To differentiate it from last year’s “60th Anniversary Edition,” it also includes two documentaries, two surprisingly informative mini-docs, a 22-minute look at the making of the film, and the 14-minute “Frank Capra: A Personal Remembrance” by his son Frank Jr.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/fassbinder-epic-arrives-mgm-restores-3-lesser-known-musicals/