A tsunami of great new DVDs have been hitting store shelves lately. I can’t keep up with all the great new releases, but this week there are some really terrific films finding their way onto DVD for the first time and I couldn’t resist mentioning them here.
Criterion is releasing Lindsay Anderson’s brilliant British drama If…. (1968) and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it for months. If…. has long been one of my favorite films after I first saw it playing in a theater as part of a double bill with Peter Brook’s wonderfully disturbing Lord of the Flies (1963) when I was just a teenager. Oddly enough I saw both movies as part of a class field trip. I was stuck in a sort of reform school for troubled teens at the time and for some reason the school supervisors thought the movies would be helpful to the students “psychological development.” The only thing I really wanted to do after watching both films was burn down the school and spit in the face of every authority figure that got in my way. I don’t think that was the outcome the school supervisors wanted, but I can’t imagine what kind of a reaction they were expecting from a bunch of rebellious teens?
Most of the other students who watched If…. with me left halfway through the film to go smoke cigarettes outside the theater much to our chaperone’s distress, but I was transfixed by what I was seeing on the screen. Lindsay Anderson’s film spoke to me in ways that no movie ever had before and I listened. I’m sure my own troubled youth spent in reform schools and shelters made it easy for me to quickly respond to the film’s anti-authority message since I was obviously questioning the adult world around me and often acting out in agressive ways. Even though the young British men in If…. would seem to be completely different creatures from the angry American girl I was at the time, I easily found common ground with them and developed a huge crush on the movie’s star, a very young Malcolm McDowell. The film has haunted me ever since and it always manages to find its way onto any list I put together of my favorite films. I suppose I have my old school supervisors to thank for that so they must have been doing something right.
I own a video copy of If…. that I recorded off of TV in the late 80s, but I look forward to replacing it with the new Criterion DVD which is loaded with terrific extras.
Also worth a look is Marlon Brando and Stephanie Beacham in Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers (1972) which is an unusual take on one of my favorite horror stories, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Lots of critics and film fans seem to have issues with Winner’s films, but I happen to think he’s an under-appreciated director. I’ve only seen The Nightcomers on TV and I caught it late one night after it had already started. I’m not sure if I missed anything and the version I saw was undoubtedly cut up, so I look forward to finally seeing the film in full.
The gritty drama Panic in Needle Park (1971) is another interesting movie finding its way onto DVD this week. The film features Al Pacino in his first starring role as a troubled small time criminal whose heroin addiction is slowly destroying him. I’ve seen this once on television many years ago so I’m looking forward to seeing it out again.
My vote for the week’s best DVD re-release has to go to Jean Herman’s entertaining crime film Honor Among Thieves (a.k.a. Adieu l’ami, 1968) which features Alain Delon and Charles Bronson in their first film together. I think Delon & Bronson work well as a team and if you enjoy good heist films Honor Among Thieves is worth a look. Both actors became friends on the set and would later go on to make the great 1971 western Red Sun (a.k.a. Soleil Rouge) together with Toshirô Mifune.
Last but not least Criterion is also releasing two films by Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev, W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Sweet Movie (1974). I haven’t seen either myself, but I’ve read a lot about them and they both sound really interesting so I’m looking forward to giving them a look in the future.