Thursday, January 03, 2008
TEN BEST DVDs of 2007
1. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1972) - dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky. -- All the rest of this boxed set really does is show you the genius Jodorowsky's progress towards this amazing film. EL TOPO was the original midnight classic, but it looks like just a dry run compared to the wild LSD-saturated brilliance of HOLY MOUNTAIN. Basically a surrealist exercise centering around a hippie thief who gets mistaken for Jesus and eventually comes into contact with a really out-there sorcerer who takes him on a journey to said mountain, it's pointless to describe the plot further. Sometimes the sophomoric "penis and vagina" symbolism gets old, but regardless, wade it through and eventually you'll want to wade into his even earlier, cruder works. But if you want to be frugal, you really could netflix the others; HOLY MOUNTAIN however is a must own, if only for the beautiful flower entrails and war toys. If I'd seen it 20 years ago I'd be a different person now. It was worth the wait though, as I'm sure it never looked better than it does projected on my groovy canvas screen. No matter how many times I see it over the coming years, I can't imagine THE HOLY MOUNTAIN ever getting boring.
2. The THREE-PENNY OPERA (1929) Dir. - G.W. Pabst. (pictured above) If ever there were a time and place where decadence truly reigned supreme, it would be post-WW1, pre-WW2 Berlin. And here we have a great cross section of German filmwerkers and actors all seething with that mix of Teutonic health, righteous arrogance and truly decadent relish for vice, corruption and pleasures of the flesh, all tempered with Bertolt Brecht's acidic worldview. There's a feeling of revolution and dehumanization under the heel of industry like all good expressionist works of the period, but Brecht (and Pabst who later had to wrest control of the screenplay) also keeps the existential derring-do and free-spiritedness of John Gay's original. It's the sort of winking gallows humor and anarchic good spirit that would live on through the Marx Bros, the Goon Show, John Lennon and Richard Lester - and hence there's music, lots of great music from Kurt Weil: "Mack the Knife" of course plays uber alles but the highlight is Lotte Lenya singing "Pirate Jenny."
3. THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Dir. Alfred Hithcock
Kudos to Criterion for going ahead and re-releasing improved versions of their earlier discs this year. In addition to LADY there was THE THIRD MAN and M. I can vouch for the new THIRD MAN looking pretty nifty, but it always looked good. THE LADY VANISHES, on the other hand, always looked pretty bad. A public domain wreck with a hissy soundtrack and fade-to-white blurs, it was a foggy mess that the previous Criterion edition tried real hard to clear up. They did the best they could but with this new double disc all other versions recede into the distance. Adding to the allure is a second disc with CROOK'S TOUR, a sort-of sequel starring the two chaps who are always on about cricket through the main attraction. I took a peak at it so I can at least tell you it looks sharp, but as I say, the real corker is LADY, who finally sparkles like a shiny new farthing: the fur coats glisten and the sound of the steam whistle rings clear and proud. Now if Criterion will just pick up the slack and dare to do what all the other companies are too lazy too: clean up all the public domain British Hitchcock and give us equally zesty transfers of currently dust-caked gems like SECRET AGENT, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and YOUNG AND INNOCENT.
4. THEY LIVE BY NIGHT / SIDE STREET - the first of the Warner Brothers Film Noir sets was packed with classic gold; the second two were mixed bags of b-filler and minor gems. Volume Four got it oh-so-right, doubling the films, two on each single-sided DVD, and delivering the goods as far as releasing only great (or at least riveting) crime films. Most notable: the double feature of Farley Granger- Cathy O'Donnell pics: THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and SIDE STREET. To watch a beautifully restored print of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT is to understand why the French New Wave fell over itself over old Nicholas Ray. And I never understood Farley Granger's appeal before-- having only seen him cling to his foolish morals in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. After digging his weird electric chemistry with the feral young Cathy O'Donnell, I'm a straight man swooning.
5. MATADOR (Almodovar Box)
I was itching and scratching to finally see Almodovar's amazingly lurid MATADOR in US DVD release, and now, after my heartache was all mended and I'd moved on, Viola! This nine-disc set includes not only MATADOR but LAWS OF DESIRE, FLOWER OF MY SECRET and a bitch-slap-fest of others.
6. PERFORMANCE (1968) - Everyone remembers this as the one with Mick Jagger mixing it up with James Fox. They're both great, but what the widescreen brilliance of this DVD reveals is an amazing set design, and the great overload of sexual-intellectual current that is Anita Pallenberg. This is the chick that steered the Stones from being skiffle-nosed punters to being the toast of cool 60s London. First Anita duded up Brian Jones, then when he couldn't keep the pace, she dumped him for Keith. She was dating Keith while sleeping with Mick in this film. Only God and her dealer know what she was on during the shoot, but she's blazing, sexy and brilliant. Clear-eyed views into a persona-warp of this magnitude don't happen often. Thank god this one was saved from the producer anxiety scissor and censorial fuzz.
7. W.C. FIELDS BOX Vol. 2 - It's great to finally see POPPY for the first time, too bad it's such a bupke. At least it's got a talking dog! And the great line of wisdom from Fields' soused croquet playing carny to his adopted daughter who turns out to be the heir, etc: "Poppy," he says. "Never give a sucker an even break."
8. UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984) - John Huston. Even a fearless death-eyed drunk like John Huston clearly didn't quite now how to bring fellow drunk Malcolm Lowry's harrowing novel to the screen: moments of chilly alcoholic embarrassment and rationalization are treated as if Merchant Ivory auction items, with lavish attention to period detail and all sorts of blazing symbolism. Finney is dynamite though, and the film is better seen under the influence, as I hazily recall. It's steeped in death.
9. LA CAJONE DEL KUBRICK STANLEY - Pointless to write about this in just one blurb. It would take whole sites of furious scribble! There's nothing better...to sober one up... than beer. Oh wait, that's the other movie.
10. FORD AT FOX - This is important too, though the more I see of Ford's films the more I realize that he's the culprit behind American society's double-faced accommodation of alcoholic macho behavior and shameless heartstring tugging. See the accompanying documentary to learn what a mean drunk he was! But all is forgiven with the sterling brilliance of his best Fonda work, such as: MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, GRAPES OF WRATH and now, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (though Claudette Colbert is clearly uncomfortable in her frilly bonnet and technicolor.)
Did I forget anyone? So sorry! Runners up include of course the 10 best films of 2007 nominees, not included here for sake of not boring them who read lots of film blogs.
Special shout out to the under-served BLACK SNAKE MOAN, however. One day that's gonna be "the" American Christmas movie, you wait and see. Even if there aint no Xmas in it, it's a gift from all cinema to all you sinners! Hallelujah!