I have been trying to put this column back in the journal proper for a few weeks; we’ve been inundated with reviews of new movies and other priority feature films.
I still get the chance to talk about anything every week in the On Film video, and a few of the columns I intended for this space have ended up elsewhere in the newspaper. You learn to save in this trade.
But before I get too deep into shopping season, I wanted to draw attention to a few DVD movies that have recently been released. As our collective appetite for physical media declines – our Home Movies column now focuses primarily on streaming functionality – there will always be a class of curators who want to own something tangible. The fact that almost every song you can think of are available with just a few keystrokes doesn’t necessarily eliminate the desire for vinyl records. Many of us would love to keep DVDs in jewelry cases, even though we have access to movie libraries from Netflix, Apple, and Amazon Prime.
My case is not typical – I keep a lot of DVDs for quick reference as I show them to classes, and for purely sentimental reasons. We have a weekly movie night that allows me to browse the stacks and pull out my old favorites. (Our most recent showings – John Sayles “https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/19/to-have-and-hold-onto-dvd/” Matewan “from 1987, and Norwegian from 1997 thriller “Insomnia” – are both titles in the Criterion Collection.)
I tend to keep DVDs that somehow matter beyond entertainment. For example, I just received new copies of Warren Beatty’s films “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) and “Reds” (1981). We can see them both again, but I doubt that “Heaven Can Wait” – a pleasant enough film, if I remember correctly – will end up in the permanent collection. “Reds” could, in part because of the fortuitous arrival of a copy of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1927 silent film “October (Ten Days That Shaken the World)”. Both were based on the 1919 book by American journalist John Reed on the Russian October Revolution of 1917.
I could keep “Reds” and “October”; I could decide to write about them in depth or use them in a class. “Heaven Can Wait” may appear in the Home Movies column before being transmitted.
Likewise, I will be keeping a new copy of George T. Nierenberg’s award-winning and inspirational 1982 documentary “Say Amen, Somebody” (Milestone Films / Kino Lorber). Nierenberg, a white man, delves deep into the roots and history of gospel music in America, focusing primarily on the lives of two of its pioneers: Thomas A. Dorsey (known as “the father of gospel”) and Willie Mae Ford Smith (“the mother of the gospel”).
The film is as entertaining as it is uplifting, with standout barn-burning performances by the Barrett Sisters, the O’Neal Twins and Zella Jackson Price. While I have the movie on DVD, I want to keep this new Blu-ray for its bonuses including audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and shots.
The same goes for the new Film Movement Blu-ray edition of “Deep Blues,” Robert Mugge’s 1992 documentary about his journey with Robert Palmer, the famous critic and musician from Little Rock, in the heart of northern Mississippi. Hill Country and Delta to study the best rural blues performers. The film – originally released in concert with a groundbreaking soundtrack album and Palmer’s accompanying book “Deep Blues” – is one of the most important musical documentaries ever made. I got to see a series of films where these two films could be screened back to back, perhaps with Les Blank’s “The Blues Accordin ‘to Lightnin’ Hopkins” in 1968 and “Buena Vista Social Club” in 1999.
Another likely Guardian of Film Movement is its set “The First Films of Lee Isaac Chung”, which includes director’s debut feature “Minari” in 2007, “Munyurangabo”, “Lucky Life” from 2010 and “Abigail Harm” ( 2012). Part of my interest in these DVDs stems strictly from Homeism – Chung, as anyone reading this section probably knows, grew up in rural Arkansas. (We wrote a lot about “Munyurangabo” at the time; there was a screening in Arkansas.)
All of these films are the work of sophisticated and original cinematographic intelligence, with “Munyurangabo” – shot as part of a film class that Chung taught Rwandan street children in 2006 – maybe a bit more accessible than “Lucky Life”, a quietly disturbing and lyrical contemplation of the nature of memory based on a poem by Gerald Stern, and the experimental “Abigail Harm”, which presents Amanda Plummer as a middle-aged woman living in a modified version of New York City falling in love with a mysterious man (Will Patton, who also collaborated with Chung on “Minari”) who may well be an alien. The program notes indicate that the film is based on the Korean folk tale “The Woodcutter and the Nymph”.
Arrow Video, which looks like the Criterion collection for horror and cult films, releases a deluxe 4k edition of Wes Craven’s 1977 cannibal clash “The Hills Have Eyes”, as well as the first volume in a multi-part series. volumes of “Giallo Essentials” which consists of “The Possessed” by Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini (1965), “The Fifth Cord” by Bazzoni (1971) and “The Pajama Girl Case” by Flavio Mogherini (1977), loosely based on an unresolved Depression-era Australian murder case.
I probably won’t keep the Arrow Video discs forever; which is a mistake. Arrow’s “Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy”, released in 2016 with a list price of $ 49.99, sells for between $ 350 and $ 500 online.