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Allen Ginsberg revisited in updated documentary

Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

In decades of filmmaking, only occasionally had directors gone back to "fix" or restore films that they felt had been compromised by technical or time limitations, or by studios that tampered with the filmmaker's vision. DVD has made it a regular, if not common, occurrence, and in coming weeks we will see Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott taking their third cracks at "Alexander" and "Blade Runner" respectively.

The practice has been less common in documentaries, though there have been deluxe editions of films like DA Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back" and "Monterey Pop," that added footage as bonus materials or reworked it into companion features.

Now, director Jerry Aronson has taken the concept a step farther with a new version of his fine 1994 doc "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg" (4 stars, New Yorker, $34.95). The second disc, titled "Memorial and Interviews," essentially is a "Part 2" update of the original.

The original documentary -- shown on PBS' "American Masters" series the year after Ginsberg's death in 1996 and now presented in a crisp, remastered version -- was a traditional, yet personal look at the singular life of an avant-garde poet whose work spoke to everyone. Initially, though, he was viewed as perhaps the strongest voice of writers who would be known as "The Beats."

The film employed the usual mix of newsreel footage, photographs and testimonials from contemporaries, admirers and critics -- from Ken Kesey to William Burroughs to William F. Buckley. It includes a hair-raising reading of the masterful "Kaddish" and interviews with Ginsberg.

All that is now appended by a 28-minute account of his memorial service, and recently filmed interviews focusing on Ginsberg's continuing impact on poetry and culture. The filmmaker talked with modern admirers like musicians Beck and Bono, actor Johnny Depp, filmmaker Jonas Mekas and the late Hunter Thompson.

The abundance of extras includes a music video made of Ginsberg's music collaboration with Paul McCartney, called "Dance of the Skeletons," and the clip of Ginsberg and Bob Dylan visiting Jack Kerouac's grave in the daring and still officially unavailable Dylan-directed feature film "Renaldo and Clara."

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Also new this week:

Jim Jarmusch's 1984 deadpan, road trip comedy, "Stranger than Paradise," was released on DVD before, but this pioneering indie film gets the respect it deserves in a remastered 2-disc edition from the Criterion Collection (3 stars, $39.95). It adds commentary by the director and Jarmusch's debut, 1980's "Permanent Vacation. " Getting its first North American release is the director's 1991 film, "Night on Earth" (3 stars, Criterion Collection, $39.95), in which dramas unfold in five taxicabs in five cities.

If you missed the recent, brief theatrical run of last year's Cannes Film Festival grand- prize winner, Ken Loach's IRA drama "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (IFC, $19.95), it's available with Loach's commentary.

Cheech & Chong's stoner comedy "Up in Smoke" is out in a "High-larious Edition" (2 stars, Paramount, $14.98) .

This year's comedy "Georgia Rule" (1 star, Universal, $29.98) makes one wish Jane Fonda had stayed in retirement.

Then there's "Delta Farce" (1 star, Lionsgate, $28.98), with Larry the Cable Guy.

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TV on DVD:

The fact that "The Office -- Season 3" (Universal, $49.98) is the No. 1 preorder on Amazon would seem to bode well for the upcoming season of the Steve Carell comedy. The sitcom improved week to week, a process that can be seen more rapidly with this release. For those on a budget, or seeking specific episodes, the shows are also available as "Vol. 1" and "Vol. 2" ($26.98 each).

Also out:

"Desperate Housewives -- The Complete Third Season" (Touchstone, $59.99).

"Nip/Tuck -- The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner, $59.98).

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- Seasons 1 & 2" (Fox, $39.98)

"Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars" (Acorn Media, $24.99)

"Robot Chicken" (Warner, $29.98)

"Rules of Engagement -- The Complete First Season" (Sony-TriStar, $29.95)

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Family film of the week:

We might have expected that the most successful direct-to-DVD producer has been Disney. The studio has had amazing success with lower-budgeted yet well-animated sequels and new stories that feature its biggest "stars."

"Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams" ($26.99) is the latest in a series aimed at young girls who want to see more inspirational adventures of their favorite female characters. This one adds new chapters to the stories of Jasmine from "Aladdin," and marks the first appearance of Aurora since she was awakened by the prince in 1959's "Sleeping Beauty."


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