DEC 29 ― This has been a crazy year for new Blu-ray and DVD releases, so crazy that even an addict like me found it hard to keep up with it all.
So far I haven’t been able to afford the year’s two outstanding boxsets, both released by Universal ― their Universal Classic Monsters collection (which includes classic Universal horror titles like Frankenstein and Dracula, all on Blu-ray for the first time ever) and their Alfred Hitchcock boxset, which collects classics like Vertigo, Rear Window and The Birds... all also released on Blu-ray for the first time.
I can even make a whole list just of titles released by The Criterion Collection, with their David Lean Directs Noel Coward boxset, Anatomy Of A Murder, Harold And Maude, Rosemary’s Baby, Jean Luc-Godard’s Weekend, La Promesse, Rosetta, Certified Copy, The Gold Rush and Vanya On 42nd Street all released in beautiful Blu-ray editions this year.
My other favourite DVD label, Cinema Guild, also had an outstanding year with Blu-rays of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia and The Turin Horse, and Masters Of Cinema came out with Ruggles Of Red Gap, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, The Gospel According To Matthew and lots more.
So with all the riches that came this year, it’s really hard trying to narrow them down to ones that I really love, but finally here they are!
Heaven’s Gate (Blu-ray)
A notorious box-office and artistic flop in 1980, this film was cut down from the 219 minutes that played for one week in New York to the 149 minutes that people finally got to see because the reviews were absolutely vicious.
I’ve never seen the 149 minutes that passed for this film exactly because of that. And what a miracle this Blu-ray release by The Criterion Collection is, as the director Michael Cimino finally gets to let the world see his original vision in a wonderfully restored 216-minute director’s cut, and it’s really one of the most glorious and beautifully melancholic Westerns that I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with the best of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh. Watching it feels nothing less than a revelation.
Man Of The Story (Kathapurushan) (DVD)
DVD releases (at least English-friendly ones) of films by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, my second favourite Indian director after Satyajit Ray, are really few and far between.
And this release by UK label Second Run is truly a gift as not only is the film a stunner, an epic yet intimate chronicle of the idealistic and political awakening of a young boy from India’s higher castes, but the high-definition transfer itself is gorgeous in its colours and sharpness.
And the interview with Adoor included as a bonus feature is really one to treasure as well, especially when he cracks up reminiscing about his mother and when he makes the point that it’s idealism that brings man forward, and is what differentiates us from other animals.
Margaret (Blu-ray & DVD combo)
Films rarely get second chances, especially so soon after their release. But Margaret has definitely won big time after being buried by its studio with limited screenings in only two cities last year.
Word of mouth and an active online campaign from film critics have meant that when released on home video, not only do we get the compromised 150-minute theatrical version but also the director’s 180-minute extended cut of the film, which is much closer to the screenplay that was published online and is quite simply magnificent.
Park Row (DVD)
I think I can safely say that I’m a borderline obsessive fan of Samuel Fuller, and for years the unavailability of this film on home video was one painfully big hole that was partly filled by a bare-bones DVD-R release by MGM last year.
The film finally gets the treatment it deserves on this DVD only release by Masters Of Cinema, as we also get English subtitles for the hearing impaired in addition to the same print that MGM used on their DVD-R, and a host of bonus features and a 56-page booklet.
This Blu-ray release is practically a box set of films made by almost forgotten director Paul Fejos at Universal, as not only do we get the already mythical silent-talkie hybrid Lonesome from 1928, but we also get his two other films at Universal, the 1929 silent film The Last Performance and a reconstructed sound version of Broadway, his 1929 musical. That’s three films for the price of one, all in beautiful high-definition (with some print damage of course, these are after all almost forgotten old films from the 1920s).
Mundane History (DVD)
Second Run gives us another gift, this time in the form of female Thai director Anocha Suwichakompong’s 2010 Rotterdam Tiger Award winner Mundane History. Passed on for theatrical release despite the many awards it won and its many travels on the international festival circuit, the film’s simple plot about a paralysed young man and his caretaker, is made special because of the film’s unannounced and unflashy non-linear narrative strategy.
Two sequences elevate the movie a truly outstanding debut ― a sequence showing the death and birth of the universe (that predates the famous sequence in The Tree Of Life) and very graphic footage of a Caesarean section that somehow will make you feel that you’ve just witnessed a miracle. And the song “Hush, The Dead Are Dreaming” by Malaysian band Furniture that’s used in the movie’s centrepiece is just perfect.
I’m also a John Cassavetes addict, and Husbands is my favourite Cassavetes film. So even though I already own the full-length original version released on DVD in the USA in 2009, you know I will not pass on the opportunity to buy a 3-disc release of Husbands, albeit on a French label called Wild Side Video, which not only includes the long version but also the shorter theatrical version and two hours of new bonus features. It’s a good time to be alive for Cassavetes fans now.
Moses And Aaron (DVD)
Films by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniel Huillet are never easy to watch, but they’re also always fascinating; living and reverberating in your mind long after your viewing’s over. And just to have their uncompromising adaptation of Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone opera on DVD is already a cause for celebration.
When it’s packaged with this much care, including a short film by the directors and a 40-page booklet containing the libretto in German and English as well as essays about the film and the opera, then you know that you have a winner on your hands.
The Day He Arrives (DVD)
A lovely and playful film by Korean arthouse darling Hong Sang Soo. I got a friend to purchase the DVD from Korea earlier this year. And just a few weeks back Cinema Guild released a DVD in the USA, which includes a 70-minute interview with Hong at the British Film Institute amongst its other bonus features.
Shot in striking black and white, even the Korean DVD is a beauty in terms of picture quality, and when you couple that image quality with the bonus features offered by Cinema Guild, then this is one sweet package that is hard to top. Come to think of it, there is a way to top it, the people at Cinema Guild should’ve put out a Blu-ray as well!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist