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
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
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
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
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...