News and Commentary – 2017 Roundup: The Best New Home Video Releases
‘Tis the season for year-end “best of” lists, so we thought we’d play along with a focus on our favorite home video releases of 2017. A few ground rules – we’re valuing the merits of the release, not simply the movie, so there is an emphasis on discs that offer valuable extras and those that make available the otherwise hard to find and obscure. With that, in alphabetical order by title, our top five:
Blow-Up. Antonioni’s 1966 film was a landmark on the road to the New Hollywood, which we recently discussed here on the occasion of its fiftieth birthday. The Criterion Collection edition offers a sparkling image and comes with some very fine extras. An important influence on Francis Ford Coppola’s New Hollywood masterpiece The Conversation, Blow-Up is a must-own, and remarkable for how well it holds up. This is not always the case for groundbreaking films, which decades later can suffer from a disappointing “you had to be there” discount to appreciate why it was so influential in its day.
Every Picture Tells a Story in Antonioni's Blow-Up
Mickey One. Another here-comes-the-New-Hollywood feature, and also one that we revisited here on the occasion of its fiftieth. Arthur Penn’s ambition to make a full-blown European New Wave film in Hollywood was ahead of its time—if by just a few page-turning years. We maintain that had Mickey One been released in 1968 instead of 1965, it would have been commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and in retrospect recognized as a milestone. Instead, then too cool for school, it languished. Despite starring Warren Beatty, for decades the nervy, black-and-white allegory for a compromised America (and Hollywood) was out of circulation—the first time I saw it was reel by reel, having received permission to view the copy held by the Harvard Film Archive. But now it’s available from Powerhouse Films, in a fine new edition featuring a generous set of extras.
Warren Beatty on his own in Arthur Penn's Mickey One
My Journey Through French Cinema. Mid Century Cinema favorite Bertrand Tavernier spends three-plus hours, not offering a proper history of French cinema, but – re-read the title – of French cinema as seen through his eyes over the course of a lifetime, from childhood screenings to fringe player to accomplished auteur. Tavernier has always had the instincts of a historian (even in his fiction films), a love of the movies of course, and impeccable taste—and he treats here with clips and stories about his favorites and an endless supply of irresistible anecdotes. An additional ten-episode series is in the works for French television—so start the write-in campaign now to convince Cohen Media Group, which brought us the home edition of Journey, to distribute the series as well.
Tavernier, sharing another great story in My Journey Through French Cinema
Jean-Pierre Melville box Set. Oh man . . . Melville’s centennial has coincided with numerous most welcome screenings and appreciations (including our own here), and this release admirably marks the occasion as well. This set of six great movies comes with a slate of terrific extras – some of which, like the very fine feature-length documentary Code Name Melville are available elsewhere, but others, including three more documentary features, are newly available in this set. Ours is still in the mail (this European import only hit the streets last week)—but we can’t wait.
Tavernier on the notoriously difficult Jean-Pierre Melville
Othello. Another gem from the Criterion Collection, this packed-to-the-rafters special edition of Orson Welles’ Othello includes the European cut that won the grand prize at the Cannes film festival in 1952, the American release from 1955 (extras include a discussion of the differences between the two versions), and the first proper release of Welles' last movie – the legendary Filming Othello – which the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has described as “Welles at his spellbinding best.” As for Othello itself, filmed intermittently over the course of several years as Welles was forced to stop the production in order to raise more money, it features some of his most breathtaking and inventive shots. Othello remains our favorite of Welles’ Shakespeare adaptations, a sentiment we acknowledge is blasphemous to those who consider Chimes at Midnight his masterpiece.
Orson Welles' Othello
Finally, an honorable mention for five more most-welcome 2017 home video releases: We have not yet seen Ken Burns’ mammoth Vietnam War documentary, but have heard much enormous praise for the effort and look forward to catching up with it. Also still-new-to-us is Kino Lorber’s spectacular collection of Fritz Lang silent films. The Criterion Collection’s special edition of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon offers a new opportunity to appreciate that film’s stunning beauty and comes with just a boatload of fantastic extras that any Kubrick fan will treasure. And Powerhouse Films has done all seventies aficionados an enormous service with the attention it lavished on two gems that have until now mostly kicked around in indifferent DVD issues: The Last Detail, directed by Hal Ashby and written by Robert Towne, with Jack Nicholson and a fine cast (look for Carol Kane), and John Huston’s small treasure, Fat City.