Monday, March 30, 2009

Lost Island of VHS...

I'm starting a column of films that are not available on DVD in R1 but are available on VHS if you can find them.

Stage of Siege - Costa-Gavras - 1972
State of Siege is political cinema at its most potent and [some would say] heavy handed. It's both dynamic and talky but never less than engaging and is frequently suspenseful. The setting is Uruguay and the time is the 1970's when Leftists were fighting well-funded right wing dictatorships.
A group of underground leftists have create a 'state of siege' whereby they kidnap a few key political figures. One of them is a diplomat played by Yves Montand. While kidnapped he is taken to a dark hideout where he is questioned by hooded guerrillas who know everything there is to know about him. But he holds his own with questions with a right leaning reasoning as to why things are the way they are.
Much like some of the films of Francesco Rosi the film starts with the death of the main character [Montand] and then goes back in time to show us what lead to the death. Stylistically I was struck by the editing choices and use of zoom shots, which were common the in the 70's. But here the zooms serve a narrative function rather than just add an aesthetic mood. Whether zooming in on the action as vans kidnap people or on a pair of eyes that stare at yet another diplomat walking off a plane to try and control the social and economic future of another South American country.
The film's message is that even though the guerrillas may not win they are watching, they are planning and they will not compromise their position. Costa-Gavras empathizes with them. In this regard, the film is not politically correct to the world we live in today. In fact, I don't think a film like this would be made today unless - like Marco Bellochio's Good Morning, Night [on DVD] or Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst [not in R1] - the message was about the folly and mistakes of such far left groups. Still it is hard to find fault with Costa-Gavras' criticisms of the atrocities of Latin American dicatorships.

I watched this on an old VHS tape that was full-frame and dubbed[!]. It was one of those heavy ones and it seemed it would fall apart at any moment. Fortunately, it held up fine.
Z is coming soon and Missing was released by the Criterion Collection recently so let's see if they will put this out too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WB releases many classics

Warner Bros. have released 150 classic titles from their archive that are only available at
Each title is 19.95 if you want the actual dvd or 14.95 if you want to download it yourself into your computer.
A partial title list of the pre-1970 titles can be seen here.
Discussions of the whole enterprise can be seen here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rare movies that aren't

There are so many good rare films available now on DVD that it can be tough to parse the good from the bad. Back before video you would have had to wait years to see good films come back around. And while there are still a lot of films not on DVD there is plenty to keep any cinefile occupied for a while.

Here are five 'rare' ones that are relatively easy to get on Amazon or for rent at places like Greencine.

Wildcat [Kino] - A very funny, uniquely shot German silent film made in 1921 by Ernst Lubitch. This film has the makings of a landmark film but for some reason it is only mentioned in obscure silent film books. It should be taught in every film school. Once you see it you'll know why. It is also one of Peter Bogdanovich's favorite comedies.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Image] - A 1926 animation masterpiece made by Lotte Reiniger using a silhouette cutout technique it tells an enchanting Arabian night tale. This film is rare in the sense that no one made films like this then and no one [or very few] makes films that this now.

Drole de Drame [HVE] - A wonderful 1936 farce by Marcel Carné [written by Jacques Prévert] about a rich man and wife who try to fool a visiting guest but only land themselves in hot water. Odd film that keeps the laughs coming. Look for it to be release at some point again under Criterion's Eclipse box sets.

Moontide [Fox] - This is one of those rare 40's suspense films [not technically a noir] starring Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin - only it's not rare anymore. Directed by Archie Mayo, it is one that people talked about in the past but few had seen. Tense, humorous, well shot by Charles G. Clarke and an interesting pairing of two stars. After seeing it you'll know why it has a cult following.

Gumshoe  [Sony/Columbia] - All but forgotten Albert Finney seventies comedy/noir directed by Stephen Frears. Just released on DVD. When you watch it you will feel like you have really made a find. Don't tell your friends you got it used at Amazon for $5.99.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Americans flunk science

This is discouraging.
These people need to go back to school!

Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.
Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

The test is here.

They were not looking for exact answers - just general answers.
For instance, the earth revolves around the sun in...well one year! 365 days was acceptable and 365.25 days was even better - but the survey didn't ask for these choices - so a year was right.
Obviously, they were not looking for dates on when the dinosaurs disappeared or when humans first existed. Approximately 65 million years passed between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the evolution of humans.
And the last question can be tough to get exact but the survey people say anything between 65% to 75% was an acceptable answer. I was taught as a kid that 2/3's of the Earth's surface is covered in water. That would be 66%. The correct answer is really 71%.

Less than 1% know how much of the Earth's water is fresh. The correct answer is 3%.
This is one I did not know. I guessed 4% to 10% So maybe I need some schooling?
The other two questions dealt with evolution and, actually, upwards of 70% surveyed believed in evolution.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Check, mate?

"Hi I'm selling this DVD for $2,000.00 even though it is still in print and can be bought for $20.00 from other sellers."

Are these guys nuts or did one seller mistakenly price this DVD for $2,400.00 and another seller try to undercut him by a penny?
[Now if someone comes along to buy one of these then I guess the seller will be a genius]

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thursday, March 05, 2009


'Yesterday Girl' was one of the first important films of the New German cinema. The most well known [and talked about] directors were Wim Wenders, Ranier Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. But not mentioned as much is Alexander Kluge. I don't know the exact reason except that it probably has to do with the tepid [and naive] response by the New York Times to his first two films here in the US. But in Europe he was much more appreciated. 'Yesterday Girl' won the Silver Lion in Venice in 1966.

Shot in black and white and edited in a dynamic way that jumps from scene to scene the narrative style of 'Yesterday Girl' is very much like a Jean Luc Godard film from the sixties. And, as Peter Cowie mentions in his book Revolution!: The Explosion of World Cinema in the Sixties, the main actress [Alexandra Kluge] would be right at home in a Godard film from the period.
In the film the woman has moved from East Germany to West Germany but cannot find a way to fit in. She is alert, attractive but confused and cannot get a good job or meet anyone who is friendly. She moves from place to place, job to job, school to school - usually in a skirt and with a suitcase. It's not necessarily a literal film so much as a film with metaphors and impressionistic scenes that give the viewer the feeling of alientation. The film is about 89 minutes in length but has a fresh feel throughout and is over before you know it mainly because there is a terrific energy to the whole thing.

Kluge is still not well known in cinema circles. His first two films 'Yesterday Girl' and 'Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed' aren't even mentioned in this Wikipedia post.
And they are very hard to find on DVD. Facets put out a few of his films last fall and they are already out-of-print. I searched and noticed that 'Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed' is available on Ebay. [But I cannot vouch for their quality since they may actually be copies of Facets DVDs rather than the real thing].

I have yet to see 'Artists...' but from reviews I have read it seems to be even more abstract in its editing style. Which means I cannot wait to see it. But I recommend watching 'Yesterday Girl' if you can find it.

Here's a good write-up on the film from Film Ref.
Here's a cinemascope article on Kluge and here's one from Senses of Cinema.