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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

L'il Adam's Holiday Wish List

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

L'il Adam's Holiday Wish List It's Thanksgiving time here in the States. A time to pause, reflect, and (as the holiday's name indicates) give thanks for what we have. And as DVD fans, we've got plenty to be thankful for. What began as an it'll-never-fly niche format has exploded into the home video system of choice for millions worldwide. New titles are being released at such a clip that only the richest and most idle among us can keep up with them all. Yep, all things considered, right now is a mighty fine time to be addicted to DVD.

Of course, Thanksgiving also means that Christmas is right around the corner. A time to pull out the old Sears Wish Book and a magic marker and let your greediest impulses take over, circling all the Star Wars action figures and playsets you know deep down you'll probably never own. In that spirit, I've decided to compile my own Wish List of movies that need to be on DVD. Ten movies that I think about quite a bit, that I watch when they turn up on TV or that I still hang on to some crummy old VHS copy out of fear that they'll never be released on disc. I've tried to steer clear of movies that are known (or heavily rumored) to be in production. For instance, there's no movie I want on DVD more right now than King Kong. And I'll get it, too, with or without my whining about it here. The ten unreleased movies here aren't necessarily household names. With a little luck, this column might let the powers-that-be know that they're sitting on some undiscovered gems. Let's hope they decide to be Santas instead of Grinches.


TEN MOVIES THAT NEED TO BE RELEASED

After Hours - Martin Scorsese's 1985 up-all-night comedy of errors is nobody's pick for his crowning achievement but does that mean it should be ignored on DVD? Of course not. Anyway, I've always had a soft spot for this weird little cult movie that follows milquetoast Griffin Dunne through one hellish night in New York City. In addition to boasting Dunne's finest performance, After Hours features an all-star supporting cast, (including John Heard, Teri Garr, Catherine O'Hara, Rosanna Arquette, and no less than Cheech and Chong), a great soundtrack, and some of the funniest moments in Scorsese's filmography. Sort of an East Coast version of John Landis' Into the Night (which coincidentally came out at about the same time), After Hours is arguably a minor footnote in Scorsese's career. But it's an enervating, highly original comedy that could be ripe for rediscovery given a proper DVD release.

La Comunidad - Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia is quite simply the best working filmmaker whose movies aren't being seen. Why in the name of all that is holy have this man's films gone unreleased in this country for so long? The only one that's available at all in Region 1 is Dance with the Devil, an edited, compromised version of Iglesia's great Perdita Durango. I want every single one of Iglesia's movies on DVD but if I could only have one, it would have to be La Comunidad. Carmen Maura plays a realtor who discovers a hidden fortune in a dead man's apartment. She moves in with plans to take the cash. Only trouble is, everybody else in the building also knew about the loot and have just been waiting for the old guy to die so they could move in and divvy it up amongst themselves. La Comunidad is a wild, crowd-pleasing comedy that could be a huge hit in this country if only it was released. This and other Iglesia movies have received the collector's edition treatment in other regions. It's past time he got his due in the USA.

Delicatessen - With the release of the Alien Quadrilogy, all of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet's films have been treated with great care on DVD. So what about his debut, co-directed with his City of Lost Children partner Marc Caro? Seeing Delicatessen theatrically in 1991 was one of those rare revelatory film-going moments when you realize that you're discovering a filmmaker you'll want to follow for the rest of his career. Unique in every respect, from its opening credits to its earthen-toned cinematography to its musical score, Delicatessen cries out for a making-of documentary or, at the very least, a commentary from Jeunet and Caro.

The Double Life of Veronique - With the exception of The Decalogue and the Three Colors trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski is seriously unrepresented on DVD. And while there are plenty of equally excellent, more obscure titles to choose from (including Blind Chance and No End), the title that most deserves to come out next is the one that won him international renown. A gorgeous, mesmerizing riddle of a film, The Double Life of Veronique demands attention and multiple viewings... and no format allows for such things better than DVD.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Russ Meyer owns the distribution rights to most of his movies himself and, slowly but surely, they're trickling out onto DVD. So I have no doubt this movie will be released sooner or later. Perhaps then this space would be better occupied by the Fox-owned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But as much fun as that movie is, it pales in comparison to Meyer's "ode to the violence in women". Endlessly quotable and blessed with the single best movie title of all time, Faster Pussycat should be on anybody's short list of cult movies that need to be released on disc.

Harry & Tonto - With the recent passing of Art Carney, many people were probably surprised to learn that he won the Best Actor Oscar for this little-seen 1974 road movie. If they could see it, they'd discover that he deserved it, too. The story of an old man and his cat journeying across country, Harry & Tonto is the kind of quiet, quirky movie that would never get made today but was a hallmark of the 1970's. Carney's performance is funny, touching and heartfelt and shouldn't be as hard to find as it is.

The Kingdom & The Kingdom II - I could devote an entire column to TV productions I'd like to see on DVD, from Chris Carter's Millennium (the first two seasons, anyway) to the various unreleased BBC films by Dennis Potter. But there's nothing I'd like to see more than a Region 1 release of Lars von Trier's Danish TV mindbender. The two series of The Kingdom have frequently been compared to Twin Peaks but even David Lynch didn't go so far as to feature a grotesquely oversized infant with Udo Kier's head. And something tells me that the upcoming American remake won't be quite so aggressively bizarre, either, despite being written by Stephen King. I just hope the remake is successful enough to spur a release of the original. I mean, come on... if there's room for the complete My Big Fat Greek Life on DVD, surely there's room for The Kingdom.

Nightmare Alley - For some reason, this 1947 noir has never been released on home video in any format. Too bad because audiences are missing out on one of the great, genuinely odd American movies of the decade. Tyrone Power stars as a carny who cons his way into a career as a phony psychic, bilking the rich and gullible. Shot in stark black and white that at times recalls the sideshow scenes of The Elephant Man, Nightmare Alley is one of the darkest, most sordid noirs you'll ever lay eyes on. Let's hope that whatever legal issues have tied up its release for so long get resolved.

Pennies from Heaven - Back in 1981, it didn't seem like people quite knew what to make of Herbert Ross' elaborate, ambitious remake of Dennis Potter's BBC miniseries. Now's the time for a reevaluation. Steve Martin delivers one of the most impressive performances of his career as a miserably unhappy sheet-music salesman who escapes into elaborate musical fantasies. Also starring Bernadette Peters, Jessica Harper and, in a brief but unforgettable role, Christopher Walken, Pennies from Heaven doesn't quite coalesce into a masterpiece but it comes a lot closer than most movies could ever hope. The extraordinary cinematography of Gordon Willis and production design of Ken Adam need to be restored to their original glory... as only a properly formatted DVD can do.

Stairway to Heaven (a.k.a. A Matter of Life & Death) - Like a lot of movie buffs, discovering the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger was something of a minor revelation. But nothing prepared me for the breathtaking accomplishment of Stairway to Heaven, my choice for their crowning achievement. David Niven plays a pilot killed in World War II. Arriving in heaven, he argues before a celestial court that it wasn't his time to die and he should be returned to Earth. Shot in a stunning combination of color and black and white, Stairway to Heaven is one of the finest fantasy films ever made. If any of the movies on my wish list deserve the Criterion treatment, it's this one.

--

In addition to these movies that have never seen the digital light of day, I've also got a list of half a dozen movies that need to be reissued. We've all grown pretty numb to the fact that studios will double-dip on any movie they think they can turn a profit on. If they're going to do it anyway, I figured why not point them towards a few movies that really need an upgrade?

So what makes a studio decide to re-release a title in the first place? Well, as far as they're concerned it's probably just a question of money. Did the movie sell well enough in its original incarnation to warrant the expense of creating a new transfer, bonus features, and all the fun stuff we've come to expect from a special edition? And does the movie have enough of a potential audience to get people to buy it again?

Because I'm not an executive counting credits and debits on a spreadsheet somewhere in Hollywood, I don't really care about all that. Yes, I believe the movies on my re-release list could do well... maybe even very well, if done properly. But the primary concern here is the movie itself. In some cases, these movies were treated poorly the first time around, in full frame or with subpar transfers. Some of them are out of print and need to get back into circulation. A few may be readily available and might even look and sound just fine but are interesting enough to warrant some extra features. In every case, they deserve better than what they've received so far.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why six and not ten? Well, it's because there's nothing I hate more than buying the same movie twice or even thrice. And the last thing the studios need is help in figuring out how to drain blood from stones.


SIX MOVIES THAT NEED TO BE RE-RELEASED

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - Poor Terry Gilliam. Few filmmaking stories are quite as fascinating as those revolving around his misery. For proof, check out Lost in La Mancha or the Battle for Brazil documentary on Criterion's elaborate Brazil set. But of all the films he's made (well... those he's completed, anyway), few have been as plagued by misfortune as this lavish 1989 fantasy. Even if Munchausen weren't as good as it is (and it's right up there with Gilliam's best work), the story of its creation would be well worth telling. Given that it almost bankrupted its studio, it's not too surprising that Columbia doesn't seem all that eager to go into the gory details. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the kind of movie that makes you long for the good old days when studios didn't see DVD as a cash cow and were only too happy to license movies like this out to companies like Criterion.

Bram Stoker's Dracula - Speaking of the relationship between Columbia and Criterion, laserdisc collectors will remember the sumptuous Criterion edition of Francis Ford Coppola's elaborate retelling of Dracula. Unfortunately, it too is now nothing more than a highly prized eBay collectible. Coppola threw everything up to and including the kitchen sink into this one, with gorgeous costumes, phenomenal sets, and visual effects trickery that went back to the silent era. The Superbit version of Dracula presents the film the way it's meant to be seen but the behind-the-scenes stuff is essential... about a thousand times more interesting than the making-of info on CG-heavy blockbusters like Hulk. Given that Dracula had a happier (i.e., more profitable) ending than Munchausen, perhaps Columbia will go back to the drawing board and give Coppola's vampire epic the multi-disc treatment it needs.

Duck Soup - "This is a gala day for you." "Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don't think I could handle any more." Indeed, it would be a gala day for all of us if the Marx Brothers' classic comedies were re-issued on DVD. Originally licensed to Image by rights-holders Universal and now out of print, movies like Duck Soup and Animal Crackers are part of the comedy canon, endlessly hilarious no matter how many times you've seen them. I hope the Universal DVD team gets Warner's Chaplin box set for Christmas, so they can get an idea how to repackage the Marx Brothers.

The Jerk - All I need to do to figure out if I'm going to get along with someone or not is toss out one of the zillion endlessly quotable lines of dialogue from The Jerk. "The new phone book's here!!! The new phone book's here!!!" "He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!" "I was born a poor black child." If they recognize it, they're OK in my book. The existing DVD of The Jerk is representative of the shabby treatment a lot of studios have given comedies on disc. Full frame only and not a single extra. Time for Universal to figure out what the rest of us have known all along. The Jerk is one of the funniest movies of all time and ought to be treated as such.

The Road Warrior - I certainly can't blame Warner Bros. for wanting to get George Miller's The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2 as it's known everywhere else in the world) out on DVD as soon as possible. After all, it's only one of the best movies of the 1980's and arguably the single greatest action movie ever made. But come on… the letterboxed VHS release has more extras than this disc. I know Miller has been busy of late trying to get Max 4 kickstarted but it doesn't look like that's going to be happening anytime soon. Maybe now that he's got some time on his hands, Miller can take a look back and help Warner give The Road Warrior a shot in the arm.

Sorcerer - By and large, American remakes of foreign classics are a colossal waste of time and talent. William Friedkin's underrated Sorcerer, based on H.G. Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, is the exception. Roy Scheider leads an international cast as one of four criminals hired to drive tanker trucks full of nitroglycerine over miles of impossibly treacherous jungle roads. Sorcerer isn't in the same league as Wages of Fear. Few movies are. But it's head and shoulders over most contemporary thrillers. Unfortunately, this is another full frame only DVD. Friedkin in pan and scan? Give me a break. Universal, bring Sorcerer back to its original aspect ratio! And while you're at it, why don't you throw in a music-only track of that ultra-cool Tangerine Dream score. And see if you can't round up Friedkin and Scheider for a commentary, too. Thanks bunches.

Well, let's see if this works. Sometime in 2004, I'll check back with a progress report to see if any of my Christmas dreams came true this year. And if they do... or even if they don't... I've got plenty more where these came from. In fact, I've got a birthday a few months before Christmas...

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com
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