Now at FilmStruck – Streamline

In case you haven’t noticed, the Turner Classic Movie’s Morlocks blog has been renamed Streamline and is currently part of the new TCM & Criterion film streaming service at

What is FilmStruck? Here’s an excerpt from a Time Warner press release:

“Developed and managed by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in collaboration with the Criterion Collection, FilmStruck will feature the largest streaming library of contemporary and classic arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films as well as extensive bonus content, filmmaker interviews and rare footage, making it a must-have service for serious film lovers. Later this year, FilmStruck will also become the exclusive streaming home to the world-renowned Criterion Collection library, where die-hard film aficionados can gain access to the Criterion Collection’s entire streaming library through FilmStruck’s exclusive premium add-on tier, The Criterion Channel. FilmStruck will be available exclusively on Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and Android devices at launch, and on Apple TV and other platforms and devices in the coming months.”

I am still writing for TCM regularly in association with FilmStruck and Criterion and my weekly contributions to the Streamline blog will continue to be posted every Thursday, but there will be some notable differences. You’ll notice a focus on FilmStruck programming as well as Criterion releases and I’m no longer responsible for posting my own images, which are selected by an editor.

This change is a bit problematic for me and will be difficult to get used to because if you’ve been following my film writing for the last 10 years, you would notice that images often play a big part in it. I enjoy curating my own content and some of my most popular posts for the Movie Morlocks were photo and poster galleries. I also enjoy sharing my own film stills, which I typically put as much care and thought into as my writing whenever possible. Simply put, film is a visual medium so I think the images associated with film writing can often be just as powerful as the writing itself. However, having an editor on board is something I’ve wanted for a long time and I hope they’ll be able to correct my occasional typos, misspellings, and grammar errors!

Despite working numerous jobs and other responsibilities, I’ve managed to write one blog post a week for The Movie Morlocks for the past 6 years. I’ve only missed posting twice and both times were due to serious illness. Having to pump out a post week after week can be daunting since that gives me very little time to research, thoughtfully consider and write about a particular topic but the challenge has been very rewarding and I hope the results have been worthwhile.

If you followed my work at the Movie Morlocks I hope you’ll continue to follow my work at the new Streamline blog. I don’t know what the future holds, but FilmStruck promises to be an interesting addition to TCM’s programming and I’m happy to be a part of it.

My first post for Streamline is a brief overview of one of my favorite film topics; The British New Wave. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart that I’ve discussed here before and at the Movie Morlocks. From my latest piece:

“The style and attitude of these aspiring filmmakers merged with the burgeoning writers of the period as Anderson, Richardson and Reisz began adapting the work of Osborne, Sillitoe, Delaney and their contemporaries for the screen. In the process, the two camps created a new type of British drama known as kitchen-sink realism that was often grittier and more unforgiving than much of the British cinema that had come before it. This New Wave of British films were typically shot in stark black and white, populated by characters that were not particularly likable or even conventionally attractive. A tangible sense of loss existed amid the urban squalor on display and the dialogue was surprisingly frank, refusing to shy away from unsavory topics such as an unwanted pregnancy or spousal abuse.”

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) Directed by Tony Richardson Shown: Tom Courtenay (as Colin Smith)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
Directed by Tony Richardson
Shown: Tom Courtenay (as Colin Smith)

…these films contain powerful central performances by bruised, edgy and unpredictable actors. The critically acclaimed roles they inhabited solidified the ‘angry young man’ persona for film audiences and gave voice to a generation forced to settle for less, but desperate for something more. They also bluntly and poetically challenged the social order, throwing aggressive and graceful punches at an established class system that expected them to know their place and remain there.” – Kimberly Lindbergs for Streamline

You can find my entire piece “Angry Cinema: The British New Wave” here.


Spy Games: MATCHLESS (1967)

For my fourth installment of Spy Games I decided to highlight the funny Italian spy spoof MATCHLESS (1967) directed by Alberto Lattuada. Criterion’s released a couple of Lattuada’s films including MAFIOSO (1962) and VARIETY LIGHTS (1950), which he co-directed with Fredrico Fellini. But I hadn’t seen any of Lattuada’s other films until I came across his two silly & stylish spy spoofs currently streaming on Netflix. I recommend both films in my review of MATCHLESS, which you can find at the Movie Morlocks.

“Spy Games: Matchless (1967)” @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

I’ve also compiled a gallery of images from MATCHLESS that you can find on Flickr.


Images from Seijun Suzuki’s Everything Goes Wrong (1960)

Last week I shared some of my thoughts about Seijun Suzuki’s Everything Goes Wrong (1960) over at the Movie Morlocks. This excellent neo-noir is one of Suzuki’s early films that isn’t available on DVD in the US yet but you can currently watch it on if you’re a member. Criterion has made an exclusive deal with Hulu that allows them to stream many Criterion releases and other hard-to-see films that haven’t been released yet. You can read more about Everything Goes Wrong and my experience with Hulu by following the link below.

Seijun Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG (1960) @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

I’ve also created a Flickr Gallery of images from the film that you can find here.


Monsieur Hulot vs. The Modern World

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)
Images from Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958)

I recently caught up with Jacques Tati’s delightful French comedy Mon Oncle (aka My Uncle; 1958). I had previously only seen one Tati film, Les Vacances de M. Hulot (aka Mr. Hulot’s Holiday; 1953) and frankly it didn’t engage me as much as I wished it had so I put off watching other Tati films, but that was a mistake. Mon Oncle completely won me over thanks to the brilliant color cinematography, incredible set design, wonderful performances and sentimental storyline involving a unconventional uncle who has trouble finding his footing in the modern world. The film is really a feast for the senses and a whole lot of fun to watch. You can read my further thoughts about Tati’s Mon Oncle at TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog.

Do You Auteur?


About 5 or 6 months ago I joined The Auteurs. The Auteurs is a Criterion sponsored film site where each member has their own Profile Page and you can watch films, rate films, add films to your “Favorites” and “Watch” lists, and chat with other members in the community forum. I haven’t participated in many forum discussions there, but I do enjoy the ongoing Fake Criterion DVD Covers thread, which I even contributed to. And recently I enjoyed reading someone’s passionate defense of one of my favorite directors, Michelangelo Antonioni.

Now there’s a new reason to visit The Auteurs. The generous and apparently tireless David Hudson has joined up with The Auteurs and will now be providing the cinema obsessed with a steady stream of film news and information there through The Auteurs Twitter micro-blog and a roundup of sorts at The Auteurs Notebook simply called The Auteurs Daily.

I started using Twitter in February and I think it’s become an extremely useful blogging tool for sharing tiny bits of news and information that isn’t necessarily worthy of a lengthy blog post. I also like the fact that I can embed my “Tweets” into Cinebeats so regular visitors to my blog can easily find out what I’ve been up to lately if they take a look at my sidebar. This easy to use blogging format seems tailored made for David Hudson so I look forward to following him on Twitter.

David Hudson previously wrote for the GreenCine Daily as well The IFC Daily and he’s also a longtime Cinebeats’ supporter. I’m extremely grateful for the encouragement that David has offered me directly and indirectly in the past couple of years so I wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors!

Convenient Link Roundup:
The Auteurs
The Auteurs @ Twitter
The Auteurs Daily
Cinebeats @ The Auteurs
Cinebeats @ Twitter
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Favorite DVD Releases of 2008: Part II

Apologies for the long delay! My annual list of Favorite DVDs always takes longer to compile than I expect it will. You can find the first part of this list here. Now on to Part II #11-20 . . .

Cornel Wilde in The Naked Prey (1966)

11. The Naked Prey (Criterion)
You can read my my thoughts about The Naked Prey here.

Bette Davis in The Nanny (1965)

12. The Nanny (20th Century Fox)
You can find my lengthy look at The Nanny here.

Yoshiko Tsuruoka and Yukio Mishima in Patriotism (1966)

13. Patriotism (Criterion)
One of the most surprising and unexpected Criterion DVD releases last year was this short film made by the celebrated Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Before Criterion’s official release of Patriotism (aka Yûkoku; 1966) the film was often hard to see and rarely shown anywhere. This 27-minute long movie contains no dialogue and it’s based on a short story written by Yukio Mishima, which was also performed as a modern Noh drama on stage. It’s a rich and deeply moving piece of work full of striking images that reflect the film’s stage origins and explore the writer’s obsession with Japanese nationalism and romantic ideals. Those who are unfamiliar with Mishima’s writing, as well as the Japanese view of death and national honor, may find Patriotism a bit muddled, but the film can be enjoyed as a historical document or an important work of art. It showcases Mishima’s artistic skills and foreshadows the author’s actual suicide, which makes for fascinating as well as thought provoking viewing. The Criterion DVD is beautifully packaged and comes with extensive notes including Mishima’s original story and details about the film’s production. It also includes interviews with Yukio Mishima and a short documentary on the making of the movie. Patriotism is essential viewing for anyone who is interested in Mishima, but it’s also an important Japanese film and Criterion should be applauded for releasing it. If you’d like to read more about Yukio Mishima please see my lengthy piece on the 1968 film Black Lizard, which he also appeared in.

Phase IV (1974)

14. Phase IV (Legend Films)
This interesting science fiction film was the only feature-length movie directed by the legendary Saul Bass who is mostly remembered by film fans for his graphic design skills. Throughout the ’50s and well into the ’90s, Bass was responsible for some of the most amazing credit sequences and movie posters ever created. His design work for directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, John Frankenheimer and Martin Scorsese is instantly recognizable and hard to top. Saul Bass also had directing ambitions and made many short films, but Phase IV (1974) was the only full-length motion picture he directed. The film’s plot involves a strange occurrence in space that seems to only affect the Earth’s ant population. Phase IV owes quite a bit to previous science fiction films such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain (1971), but it’s still a fascinating entry into the “nature-run-amok” genre that was made popular in the ’70s. Bass’ choice to use lots of macro photography in an effort to humanize the ants in the film really make’s Phase IV stand apart from typical genre exercises. Mayo Simon’s script is also notable for the way it manages to dehumanize the scientists trying to cope with the ant problem and it smartly mixes hard science and speculative fiction to good effect. Unfortunately Legend Films released the DVD with no extras, but I’m glad that the movie is now easily available and the print looks sharp.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in Pierrot le Fou (1965)

15. Pierrot le Fou (Criterion)
You can read some of my thoughts about Pierrot le Fou here.

Paul Jones in Privilege (1967)

16. Privilege (New Yorker Video)
When you’ve seen as many films as I have, you tend to become a little jaded so whenever I discover something new that really excites me and makes me fall in love with the possibilities of cinema all over again there is reason to celebrate. Last year I was exposed to the work of director Peter Watkins for the first time after seeing his impressive 1967 film Privilege as well as Punishment Park (1971) and I knew I had stumbled onto something really special. Peter Watkins is a controversial director who likes to use non-professional actors in his pseudo-documentary style films. His work has won him many awards, but his films have also been banned due to the politically charged content and in turn very hard to see. Thankfully that’s changed in recent years and New Yorker Video has given many film enthusiasts like myself the opportunity to see his work on DVD. In Privilege, we’re introduced to an enigmatic pop singer named Steven Shorter (played by the real-life musician Paul Jones) living in a futuristic alternative London in the late ’60s. Like many pop stars and movie actors today, Steven Shorter is controlled by his “handlers” who make almost all of his decisions for him. Steven’s sterile world begins to crumble when his handlers decide that they want him to start promoting conservative values to the youth who adore him. Privilege becomes more dark and cynical as it progresses and we’re left with a smart and creative look at the effects of social conditioning filtered through popular culture. Watkins’ experimental docudrama directing style works really well here and it’s complimented by the film’s great production design and Peter Suschitzky’s excellent cinematography. Suschitzky has worked with some of my favorite directors including Joseph Losey, Ken Russell and David Cronenberg so I was excited to see his early efforts on display in this fascinating film. The performances all very good and Paul Jones does a nice job of playing the deeply troubled pop star. I also enjoyed seeing the beautiful Jean Shrimpton in her first major film role. She shows that she’s got some acting ability in Privilege so it’s a shame that she didn’t go on to appear in more films. I liked the subtle approach she took to playing Steven Shorter’s love interest and I wondered if Shrimpton had followed some acting suggestions from her real-life boyfriend at the time, Terence Stamp. New Yorker Video really did a great job on this DVD release. The film looks terrific and it comes with some interesting extras including a short documentary chronicling the career of American pop idol Paul Anka called Lonely Boy (1962) that inspired Peter Watkins to make Privilege, the film’s original trailer, a stills and poster gallery and a nice collector’s booklet.

War of the Gargantuas (1966)

17. Rodan/War of the Gargantuas (Classic Media)
I love a good giant monster movie and Classic Media packaged two of director Ishirô Honda‘s best monster movies together for this impressive DVD release. Rodan was Honda’s popular 1956 follow-up to Godzilla and it’s a classic in its own right, but I personally like the unforgettable craziness that can be found in the director’s 1966 effort War of the Gargantuas much more. War of the Gargantuas has never been available on DVD before and if you enjoy ’60s style monster mayhem complete with psychedelic flourishes and a catchy musical number, then you’ll enjoy this sequel to Honda’s Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). The film stars cult icon Russ Tamblyn in one his most unforgettable roles as a young doctor trying to help a group of Japanese scientists figure out why giant monsters are attacking Tokyo. Are the Gargantuas just unexplainable giant anomalies with bad tempers or are they man-made creatures with a personal vendetta? You’ll have to watch to find out! This 2-Disc DVD set comes with lots of worthwhile extras including two versions of War of the Gargantuas (the uncut Japanese film with English subtitles and the English-dubbed U.S. version) as well as an interesting original documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down to Size.

Andrew Prine in Simon, King of the Witches (1971)

18. Simon, King of the Witches (Dark Sky Films)
Simon, King of the Witches (1971) is not the best film that made my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list, but there’s something undeniably appealing about this unusual American horror film that has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years. The plot revolves around the rise and fall of one Simon Sinestrari (Andrew Prine). Simon is a charismatic magician who uses his abilities to charm a group of wealthy and influential L.A. residents who shower him with praise and money. Unfortunately, none of them are really prepared to dance with the devil so when things start to go horribly wrong, Simon is forced to take drastic actions. The film was written by Robert Phippeny, a practicing magician who brought a lot of his own experience to the script, but the film never takes itself very seriously. Simon breaks the fourth wall in the movie’s opening minutes by looking straight at the camera and telling us who he is and as the film unfolds the underlying black humor becomes more and more apparent. Andrew Prine is great as the cocky and charismatic Simon and he manages to hold the film together even during its dullest moments. Warhol superstar Ultra Violet even shows up as the leader of some naked Wiccan ritual that Simon ridicules mercilessly. Director Bruce Kessler worked mostly in television during the ’60s and ’70s and there is a static look to the film that screams “made for TV movie” but don’t let that discourage you! The film also features some creative special effects and a great psychedelic scene involving Simon’s trip through a mirror that makes up for how dreary the rest of the film looks. Dark Sky Films really did an outstanding job on their DVD release of Simon, King of the Witches. It includes a nice looking widescreen print of the film, the original trailer and radio spot, as well as insightful interviews with director Bruce Kessler and the film’s star Andrew Prine. It’s a shame that the major studios so rarely put the same kind of effort and care into releasing their films on DVD.

Patrick Wymark and Peter Cushing in The Skull (1965)

19. The Skull (Legend Films)
The Skull (1965) has long been one of my favorite British horror movies from director and award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, so I was thrilled to find out that Legend Films would be releasing it in widescreen on DVD. The Skull was adapted from a short story by the talented horror writer Robert Bloch called The Skull of the Marquis de Sade and it tells the dark tale of Dr. Christopher Maitland played to perfection by the late great Peter Cushing. The good doctor likes to collect unusual esoteric relics and when he gets offered the chance to own the skull of the famed Marquis Des Sade naturally he jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately for him the skull is haunted by the spectre of the malevolent (according to the film) De Sade who begins to take control of the unsuspecting Dr. Maitland. The Skull is one of Freddie Francis’ best color films and also one of the best British horror films ever produced by Hammer rival Amicus. The direction is tops and Francis conjures up some impressive visuals that are sure to please even the most discriminating horror fans. All the performances in the film are solid, but horror regulars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and the under appreciated Patrick Wymark deliver some of their best work in The Skull. The movie also includes a memorable score by the talented Elisabeth Lutyens. Lutyens was the first female composer to create soundtracks for British film and she made her mark working on great horror movies and thrillers such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), The Earth Dies Screaming (1965) The Psychopath (1966) and Theatre of Death (1966).This bare bones DVD release doesn’t offer anything in the way of extras except for the original trailer but the widescreen uncut restored print of the film does look fantastic, which makes this disc well worth owning.

Richard Harris in This Sporting Life (1963)

20. This Sporting Life (Criterion)
I’d really like to write a more lengthy post about this terrific Lindsay Anderson film and hopefully I’ll find the time to in the future, but in the meantime you can read my brief comments about This Sporting Life (1963) here.

Honorable mentions: The Deadly Bees (1967), Girl Boss Revenge (1973), Last House on the Beach (1978) and Tragic Ceremony (1972).

A few films that might have made my list if I had the opportunity to see them: Ken Russell at the BBC (collection), Blast of Silence (1961), Le Deuxième Souffle (1966), Mandingo (1975) and The Wolves (1972).

And that concludes the third year of Cinebeats annual Favorite DVDs of the year report! Legends Films really made its mark on my list this year and as usual, Criterion dominated it. 2009 is shaping up to be an interesting year for DVD releases and next month I hope to start sharing My Favorite DVDs of the Week with readers once more.

Next month also marks Cinebeats third year anniversary and I want to make it special so if all goes well you can expect to see a flood of activity here in April! In the meantime, you can still follow Cinebeats at Twitter where I often share bits of film and TV-related chatter.


20 Favorite DVD Releases of 2008: Part I.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but overall 2008 was somewhat of a lackluster year for new Region 1 DVD releases of ’60s and ’70s era films when compared to the previous two years (See: 2006 and 2007). Some of my favorite DVD companies such as BCI Eclipse and most recently New Yorker Films have folded. Boutique DVD companies are releasing fewer products and what is being released is often of questionable quality. With the failing economy and the rise in popularity of Blu-ray discs, it seems like the number of new worthwhile DVD releases might continue to drop dramatically in 2009. Many companies such as Blue Underground and Criterion are choosing to re-release films that have already been available on DVD, while big studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount seem to be focusing a lot of their energy on re-releasing titles on Blu-ray instead of releasing old films from their vaults.

Even with this disappointing turn of events, fans of ’60s and ’70s cinema were still offered some great DVD box sets from companies like Lions Gate as well as Criterion. Sony Pictures has also released an interesting batch of DVDs under their new “Martini Movies” label. And with curiosity about Japanese pink films on the rise, companies like Mondo Macabro and Media Blasters took full advantage of this and released some unexpected gems last year. 2008 was also a great year for British horror fans. Besides multiple Hammer DVD releases including the Icons of Horror: Hammer Films Collection and the Icons of Adventure Film Collection, there were also some great Amicus films released such as Freddie Francis’ The Skull and The Deadly Bees.

In previous years I’ve shared a list of my Top 30 Favorite DVD releases, but this year I’m narrowing my list down to my favorite Top 20 releases. This is mainly due to my disappointment with last year’s DVD offerings and I wanted to focus on a limited selection of new releases that I really enjoyed. As always, my list only features films that were originally released between 1960 and 1979 on Region 1 DVD. I tried not to include any DVD re-releases on my list or TV shows, but there were plenty to choose from. My selections are listed in alphabetical order and I’ll be posting them in two parts in the coming week. Below are selections #1-10.

Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in La Piscine (1969)

1. Alain Delon – Five Film Collection (Lions Gate)
Anytime an Alain Delon film finds it’s way onto DVD for the first time there’s a celebration in my home! The Lions Gate Alain Delon DVD boxset was a real treat and offered viewers the opportunity to see five films starring my favorite French actor. I thought the best films in the collection were easily La Piscine aka The Swimming Pool (1969) and Diaboliquement vôtre aka Diabolically Yours (1967), which I reviewed back in 2007. But The Widow Couderc and Notre Histoire also make for some worthwhile viewing. Le Gitan aka The Gypsy (1975) is a bit like sitting through Zorro II, but it’s missing the catchy theme song. I actually enjoy Delon’s original Zorro (1975) film, but Le Gitan left me a little cold. For more information about this DVD release please see my previous comments about it here.

Christopher Walken, Stan Gottlieb and Sean Connery in The Anderson Tapes (1971)

2. The Anderson Tapes (Sony Pictures)
The Anderson Tapes (1971) is one of the hidden gems that can be found in the recent batch of “Martini Movies” released by Sony Pictures. This ’70s caper film was directed by Sidney Lumet when he was at the top of his game and it’s based on a novel written by Lawrence Sanders. The movie features a great cast that includes Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Alan King and a very young and incredibly cute Christopher Walken in his first major film role. The premise of the film involves a group of con men that Anderson (Sean Connery) brings together in order to pull off a major heist at an upper-class apartment building in New York. Unfortunately for Anderson everyone he contacts is under surveillance for different reasons, so every move he makes is being carefully monitored. Sidney Lumet does an impressive job of filming the events as they unfold through the use of surveillance cameras and sound. And I really liked the adult way that Connery’s relationship with Dyan Cannon was handled. The film was released a year before the Watergate scandal made headlines and three years before Francis Ford Coppala’s seminal film The Conversation, which tackled similar themes. I was surprised by how much The Anderson Tapes had obviously influenced Coppola’s later films and I’m not just referring to The Conversation. Clearly writer Lawrence Sanders and director Sidney Lumet were well aware of the way surveillance was starting to play a role in modern society and the film does a terrific job of exploring the way it invades the life of one unsuspecting man. Quincy Jones created the film’s soundtrack and I think is one of the composers most experimental and unusual efforts. Jones used electronic sounds and noise to convey various emotions and ideas in the film and it works really well with the way Lumet handles the material. The film is presented in widescreen and the print looks terrific. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of extras on the DVD besides the original trailer and the Martini Movie features which come with every one of their releases.

Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976)

3. Assault! Jack the Ripper (Mondo Macabro)
This is not an easy film to recommend and many will undoubtedly be shocked by the film’s subject matter. Some hardened horror fans will even shy away from the graphic nature of the film, but Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976) is easily one of the most transgressive and fascinating violent pink movies I’ve seen and in turn, one of my favorite DVD releases of last year. Assault! Jack the Ripper was directed by Yasuharu Hasebe who has made some of my favorite Japanese films including Black Tight Killers (1966), Bloody Territories (1969), Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song (1973) and the Stray Cat Rock films. The movie centers around the violent and erotic adventures of young working couple who accidentally discover that they get sexual satisfaction from torturing and murdering other women. The film used true crimes such as the notorious Chicago nurse murders committed by Richard Speck for inspiration. It’s propelled by an incredible Euro-flavored soundtrack and some breathtaking cinematography. Assault! Jack the Ripper is not light viewing and audiences should be prepared to watch the DVD extras that come with the film in order to get a deeper understanding of the movie’s subversive themes, but it’s well worth the effort for adventurous viewers. The DVD extras include an insightful interview with author Jasper Sharp who wrote Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, extensive notes about the film and a great documentary called The Erotic Empire which discusses Nikkatsu Studios “Romantic Pornographic” aka Roman Porno films.

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973)

4. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Special Edition) (BCI / Eclipse)
A lot of Paul Naschy films found their way onto DVD last year, but Carlos Aured’s Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973) was my favorite of the bunch. In this Spanish giallo Paul Naschy plays a deeply troubled ex-con who gets hired as a caretaker for a lavish estate owned by three beautiful sisters who seem to all vie for Naschy’s affections. After Naschy takes the job, a serial killer begins terrorizing the countryside and removing the eyes of his blue-eyed victims. Is Naschy the cold-blooded killer or is someone else to blame for the horrible murders? You’ll have to watch the film to find out! No one in Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is particularly likable, but I found that aspect of the film strangely compelling. Carlos Aured does a good job with the dream sequences in the film and Paul Naschy ‘s script features plenty of unusual twists and turns to keep viewers entertained. Fans of European thrillers should find the film enjoyable. The DVD comes with some great extras including audio commentary with Paul Naschy and director Carlos Aured.

Reiko Oshida in Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970)

5. Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (Media Blasters)
For more information about this release please see my lengthy review of the film here.

Serge Gainsbourg, Delphine Seyrig and John Abbey in Mr. Freedom (1969)

6. The Delirious Fictions of William Klein – Eclipse Series 9 (Eclipse / Criterion)
This Eclipse/Criterion DVD collection was one of the best things the company released last year and for my money, possibly the best DVD film collection of 2008. Previously William Klein’s films were incredibly hard to come by and the prints that were floating around from various sources were often very poor. Criterion’s choice to release three of William Klein’s films was a real surprise and a treat for anyone like myself who enjoys avant-garde cinema from the ’60s. Director William Klein was a fashion photographer and an American expat living in Paris when he made these films, which satirize the fashion industry, pervading cultural values and American political policies. Although some may see the films as mere products of the times that they were made in, I think they’re still extremely relevant today. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? aka Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966) and Mr. Freedom (1969) are the standout features in this three film set and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite from the two. Both films feature some incredible visuals and lots of dark humor. The Model Couple (1977) is also well worth a look even if it’s lacking the style and intellectual punch of the other two films in the collection. This terrific set of films deserves a lot more attention than I can give it now but I briefly mentioned how excited I was about this DVD release last year and you can find that post along with a clip from Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? here. Unfortunately like all the Eclipse/Criterion DVD releases this DVD collection is very bare bones, but still well worth owning.

The Gorgon (1964)

7. Icons of Horror: Hammer Films (Sony Pictures)
I’m always happy to see any Hammer horror films finding their way onto DVD and the 2-disc Icons of Horror collection contained one of my long-time favorite Hammer productions, Terence Fisher’s The Gorgon (1964) as well as Seth Holt’s exceptional thriller Scream of Fear (1961). This four film collection also featured Michael Carreras’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960). I hadn’t had the opportunity to see Terence Fisher’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll before this DVD release and I was really surprised by how well done the film was. I personally think it’s one of the better films based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story thanks to Paul Massie’s excellent duel performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is definitely the weakest film in the collection, which still means it’s better than most of the horror films you’ll find playing at your local multiplex right now. All the films look terrific and are presented in widescreen. Terence Fisher and Seth Holt were two of the finest directors that worked with Hammer studios so it’s nice to see them both represented in this great new DVD set. Unfortunately it suffers from a lack of extras which plagues many Hammer DVD releases, but it’s hard to complain when you can currently purchase all four films for a mere $16.99 at Amazon (see link above).

Oliver Reed and Carol Lynley in The Shuttered Room (1967)

8. It!/The Shuttered Room (Warner Home Video)
I have so much I want to say about these two joint British/American productions that I hate trying to sum up my feelings in one paragraph so I may revisit them later, but in an effort to get this list finished up I’ll try and formulate a few quick thoughts. It! (1966) is a highly entertaining horror movie directed by Herbert J. Leder and it stars the talented Roddy McDowall. McDowall plays a mentally disturbed museum curator (playing homage to Anthony Perkins) who finds himself in all kinds of trouble after he displays a strange statue at the museum where he’s employed. The highly improbable plot gets more and more ridiculous as the film unfolds, but I won’t spoil it for potential viewers. It! is a really fun movie that has to be seen to be believed and Roddy McDowall is terrific in it. The second film in this two movie set is David Greene’s The Shuttered Room (1967) and it’s the real reason you should purchase this DVD. The movie features a great cast and two exceptional performances from the film’s star Carol Lynley and her co-star, the late great Oliver Reed. The script is based on a story written by August Derleth, who was H. P. Lovecraft’s posthumous collaborator and Derleth used many of Lovecraft’s own notes and ideas to compile his tale. The finale result may seem a little uneven to some, but I think The Shuttered Room is one of the few films that successfully captures the unsettling mood found in some of Lovecraft’s best fiction. David Greene’s direction is impressive at times, but the film is really elevated by the experimental avant-garde score composed by controversial British jazz musician Basil Kirchin. Kirchin composed music for other British horror films such as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and The Mutations (1974), but his score for The Shuttered Room just might be his most effective. Unfortunately this is another bare bones DVD release with no worthwhile extras, but it’s great to see these deserving horror films finally being made available. I’d previously only seen washed out and cut-up prints of The Shuttered Room on television so I was thrilled by the print quality of this new DVD from Warner.

Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos (1963)

9. Le Doulos (Criterion)
Le Doulos (1963) is one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s earliest crime films (aka “policier”) and while it’s missing some of the polish of the director’s later efforts, it’s still an exceptional film featuring a truly memorable performance from the great Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo charms his way through the film playing a surprisingly ruthless gangster named Silien, who may or may not be a police informant referred to as a “Le doulos” in French slang terms. The film borrows from many classic noir films, but Melville brings his own trademark style and edginess to the proceedings, which gives Le Doulos lots of modern appeal. Criterion did an exceptional job on their release of Le Doulos and one can only hope that they’ll continue to release more of Melville’s films on DVD in the future. Besides a beautifully restored print of the film, the new DVD comes with some great extras including archival interviews with Melville and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, audio commentary by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, the original theatrical trailer and a thoughtful new essay by film critic Glenn Kenny.

Helmut Berger in Ludwig (1972)

10. Ludwig (KOCH Lorber Films)
Few directors know how to create epic historical dramas like Luchino Visconti and Ludwig (1972) is one of the director’s most ambitious efforts. This four hour film is not without its flaws, but if you take the time to watch this dramatic retelling of the life of the “mad” Kind Ludwig II of Bavaria you’ll be rewarded with some lush cinematography, grandiose set designs, fabulous period costumes and great performances from the film’s impressive cast. Like many of Visconti’s previous efforts, the film offers viewers an intelligent critique of the powerful and wealthy, while celebrating their extravagances and mourning the passage of time. One of my favorite actors is the Austrian born Helmut Berger who stars as King Ludwig here and this film offered him one of his most expansive and fascinating roles. Visconti and Berger were long-time lovers and they work extremely well together. Visconti indulged Berger during the making of Ludwig and gave the actor plenty of freedom to bring the mad King to life, but he also knew when to rein him in. The film also features Trevor Howard as composer Richard Wagner, Silvano Mangano as Wagner’s mistress Cosima Von Buelow and Romy Schneider was smartly cast as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The lovely and talented Romy Schneider had previously become a star due to her sympathetic portrayal of the young Empress Elisabeth in the popular Austrian Sisi films and she brings a lot of experience and skill to her role. This impressive two disc DVD set from KOCH Lorber Films features a digitally restored and re-mastered widescreen print of the film and it’s loaded with extras including a documentary about director Luchino Visconti, a profile of actress Silvano Mangano and an interview with costume designer Piero Tosi. I wish one or two of the extras included with the DVD focused a bit more on the film’s star Helmut Berger, but that’s a minor complaint. This release is a real treat for Luchino Visconti fans like myself.

The second half of my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list can be found here.

DVD of the Week: Pierrot le fou (1965)

I’ve been trying to write out my thoughts about Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965) for days, but even after watching the film twice and enjoying all the wonderful extras included with the fantastic new Criterion DVD, I’m finding words inadequate to describe how much I’ve fallen in love with this wonderful movie in so short a time. My love for Pierrot le fou is so fresh, so passionate, so alive and so completely unabashed that I feel a little like a silly schoolgirl with a terrible crush on the cute new boy in class.

I’ve been curious about seeing Pierrot le fou for about 15 years after I came across still shots from the film featuring Jean-Paul Belmondo with his face painted bright blue. I also saw brief clips of the party scene from Pierrot le fou a few years ago in the fascinating Samuel Fuller documentary The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera (Adam Simon; 1996) and became even more intrigued, but for one reason or another I never got around to watching it. I had hoped to attend the theatrical revival of the film last year, but sadly I wasn’t able to. As far as I know Pierrot le fou was never shown in the San Francisco Bay Area last year and the official Janus site seems to confirm this.

Thanks to Criterion’s recent DVD release of Pierrot le fou I was finally able to experience this amazing film for the first time and now I deeply regret not seeing it sooner. Pierrot le fou manages to combine everything I love about my two favorite Godard films (Contempt, 1963 and Week End, 1967) into one brilliant piece of work, while referencing every film the director had made before and predicting many of the more radical films he would make afterward. The basic plot of Pierrot le fou involves an unhappily married man named Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who meets up with an old flame named Marianne (Anna Karina) and the two abandon their old lives and begin a life of violent crime together. Unfortunately their combustible relationship begins to unravel under the stress of life on the run, but between their verbal sparing and love-making the audience is treated to a smart political and social satire with slapstick style comedy and an occasional musical number.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Pierrot le fou borrows elements from classic crime films such as Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948) and Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950), but the film also takes a lot of inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s own Breathless (1960). It’s also worth noting that Pierrot le fou pre-dates Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty’s less interesting and more conventional Bonnie and Clyde (1967) by two years. For my money, none of the previously mentioned films come close to matching the offbeat magic conjured up in Pierrot Le fou by Godard and his two incredibly charming stars, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina.

Pierrot le fou combines some of Jean-Luc Godard’s best writing and directing with stunning color photography by Godard’s longtime collaborator Raoul Coutard. The film manages to effortlessly mix comic-book style aesthetics with a painterly eye and the outcome is so wonderfully modern that Pierrot le fou still feels fresh and alive some 45 years after it was made.

Criterion’s magnificent two-disc restored widescreen DVD presentation of Pierrot le fou looks absolutely stunning and it’s loaded with fantastic extras, including a new video interview with actress Anna Karina who’s now 68 years old, and she offers some wonderful insights into the making of the film. The DVD also includes a new video program with audio commentary by filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin called A Pierrot Primer, a fascinating fifty-minute French documentary about director Jean-Luc Godard and his personal & working relationship with Anna Karina called Godard, L’Amour, La Poesie, a wonderful archival interview with the young and extremely adorable Jean-Paul Belmondo conducted while he was shooting Pierrot le fou and a brief archival piece about the Venice Film festival in 1965 that features interviews with Godard and Anna Karina. The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer and a nice booklet with a new essay by critic Richard Brody, a 1969 review by Andrew Sarris and a 1965 interview with Godard. Pierrot le fou retails for $39.95 and it’s currently available from Amazon for $29.95. Criterion has really kicked-started 2008 by releasing some truly wonderful films on NTSC Region 1 DVD in recent weeks and I applaud them for it.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

If you would like to see more screen shots from the film please see my Pierrot le fou Flickr gallery. I’ve also uploaded the wonderful song Ma ligne de chance that was sung by Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot le fou for anyone who would like to hear it.

Ma ligne de chance (Anna Karina & Jean-Paul Belmondo)

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part IV.

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part IV. – Top 30 DVDs #21-30

Brian Stirner in Overlord (1975)

Overlord (Criterion)
Please see my review of Stuart Cooper’s Overlord (1975) HERE.

Performance (1970)
James Fox in Performance (1970)

Performance (Warner Home Video)
I spent a lot of time writing about Performance (1970) last year and you can find links to all my posts below:
The British Are Coming to DVD!
Performance: VHS vs. DVD
James Fox: Subverting Sexual Identity & Social Class in British Cinema

Marisa Mell and Elsa Martinelli in Perversion Story (1969)

Perversion Story (Severin)
Please see my review of Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (1969) at Cinedelica HERE.

Rika Aoki in Rica (1972)

Rica 1-3 (Exploitation Digital / Media Blasters)
I hope to write a more detailed review of the Rica (1972-73) series in the future, but in the meantime please see my overview of pinky violence cinema that makes reference to the first film HERE.

Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo (1976)
Tattooed Flower Vase (1976)

Tattooed Flower Vase (KINO)
Please see my review of Masaru Konuma’s Tattooed Flower Vase (1976) HERE.

The Third Secret (1964)
Pamela Franklin in The Third Secret (1964)

The Third Secret (Starz / Anchor Bay)
Please see my review of Charles Critchon’s The Third Secret (1964) at Cinedelica HERE.

The Face of Another (1966)
The Face of Another (1966)

Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara: Pitfall / Woman In The Dunes / The Face Of Another (Criterion)
These brilliant Hiroshi Teshigahara’s films had previously been available individually on PAL Region 2 DVD from Eureka Entertainment in Britain, but Criterion released all three films on Region 1 DVD last year for the first time along with some of Teshigahara’s shorts as part of their impressive 4-disc Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara collection. Hiroshi Teshigahara is truly one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers and if you only purchase one DVD collection on my list, make it this one! The director seamlessly weaves thoughtful social commentary into his stylish avant-garde films and manages to mask their origins in science fiction and horror cinema with evocative surrealist imagery. I had previously seen Woman In The Dunes and The Face of Another, but Teshigahara ‘s short films and his masterful existential ghost story Pitfall were new to me. Seeing Pitfall for the first time last year was undoubtedly the highlight of my DVD viewing in 2007 and I hope to write about the film a bit more in the future. In the meantime, please see my lengthy review of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face Of Another and my write-up about one of the film’s minor stars (Bibari Maeda) linked below:
The Face of Another
The Face of Bibari Maeda

Ken Ogata in Vengeance Is Mine (1979)

Vengeance Is Mine (Criterion)
Please see my review of Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance Is Mine (1979) at Cinedelica HERE.

Vincent Price in Witchfinder General (1968)

Witchfinder General (MGM)
Please my brief write-up about Witchfinder General (1968) and the Vincent Price MGM Scream Legends Collection HERE. You’ll also find links to many different reviews there.

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

Who Can Kill a Child? (Dark Sky Films)
Over the years I’ve read a lot about Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Spanish thriller Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quién puede matar un Niño?, 1976), but I finally got the opportunity to see the film when it was released on Region 1 DVD for the first time last year by Dark Sky Films. Who Can Kill a Child? did not disappoint, and I was frankly rather surprised by the film’s overt political themes, creative direction and interesting script based on a novel by the Spanish horror author Juan José Plans. Most of the film takes place on a small remote island in Spain where a British couple has decided to vacation. When they arrive at the scenic seaside village they discover that the adults have vanished and all that remains are some children whose erratic behavior hides a deeper and more sinister motive. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s direction is really impressive at times and I liked the way he weaved political and social commentary into his script. The film opens with a disturbing montage featuring news footage gathered from all over the world of dead, starving and wounded children that is still startling some 30 years after the film was first made. The director also does a terrific job of capturing the beauty of the the Spanish coastal towns in the film, which stands out in stark contrast to the horrific themes found in Who Can Kill a Child? This unusual horror film is definitely not for everyone and I’m sure some viewers will be immediately put off by some of the violent acts in the film that feature children portraying victims as well as villains. The Dark Sky Films DVD contains a great looking uncut widescreen print of the film with two optional audio tracks (English and Spanish with subtitles) and extras include a still gallery as well as in two interesting interviews with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

Links to the first, second and third part of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 list can be found below:

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part I. – The DVD Year in Review – An Introduction
Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II. – Top 30 DVDs #1-10
Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part III. – Top 30 DVDs #11-20

And that’s it folks! I hope I’ve encouraged a few people to seek out some of these terrific films. Most of them were released on DVD for the first time last year and many of them were never theatriclly released in the U.S. These important DVD releases often give western audiences the first opportunity to see these neglected films and I’m really grateful for that myself.

Naturally my list is limited by the films I’ve had the opportunity to see and some of the DVD titles that might have made my list if I had seen them include The Blood Rose (Mondo Macabro), La Jetee / Sans Soleil (Criterion), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Criterion), Cria Cuervos (Criterion), Sweet Movie (Criterion), Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection (New Yorker Video), etc.

It’s also worth noting that my list only contains films, but there were also some terrific TV shows released on DVD in 2007 including Land of the Giants (20th Century Fox), Jason King (Image Entertainment), The Mod Squad (Paramount) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Time Life).

Last but not least, there were also many noteworthy films re-released on DVD last year often in deluxe editions or as part of a collection such as The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 and 2 (Starz/Anchor Bay), Stanley Kubrick – Directors Series (Warner Home Video), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Media Blasters/Shriek Show), Help! (Apple Corps Ltd.), Chinatown (Paramount) and Taxi Driver (Sony). I’ve haven’t had the chance to pick up any of these myself or view them, but they are well worth a look if you don’t own any of these films yet or just want to replace your previous DVDs with these superior new releases.

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II.

Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part II. – Top 30 DVDs #1-10.

Black Test Car (1962)

Black Test Car (Fantoma)
Yasuzo Masumura is one of my favorite Japanese directors, but unfortunately many of his films are unavailable on DVD and have never been seen outside of Japan. Thankfully Fantoma has been making an effort to release many of Masumura’s films and in 2007 they released his brilliant and extremely dark satire Black Test Car (Kuro no tesuto kaa, 1962). The film takes a rather unflattering look at the corruption and greed behind the burgeoning car industry in Japan and anyone who’s familiar with the director’s earlier film Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu, 1958) will immediately spot similarities between the two movies. Masumura was a director who was clearly interested in critiquing Japan’s economic boom and exploring the ways in which American capitalism was affecting Japanese society after WW2. As much as I enjoyed the director’s colorful satire Giants and Toys (1958), I personally think Black Test Car is a more effective film dealing with similar themes and I’m grateful that Fantoma has made it available on DVD. Black Test Car features some stunning black and white photography, and Masumura’s direction is top-notch here. All the actors involved with the production deliver some great performances, but I found Jiro Tamiya and Junko Kano especially effective as a young couple whose relationship becomes deeply strained throughout the course of the film. The Fantoma DVD contains an excellent widescreen transfer of the film along with the original theatrical trailer, a biography on the director and still galleries.

Peter O’Toole in Becket (1964)

Becket (MPI Home Video)
I enjoy well-done British historical dramas and many great ones were released on DVD for the first time last year including the wonderful Anne of the Thousand Days (1968), which I also considered including on my list. But my favorite film of the bunch was Becket (1964), which is based on the Tony Award-winning play written by Jean Anouilh. The film plays somewhat free and loose with historical facts, but still manages to be an engaging and thoughtful take on the important events surrounding the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas Becket (the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170). Becket was directed by the gay filmmaker Peter Glenville and he injects the film with a wonderfully subversive edge that hints at a deeper relationship between Becket and King Henry II, who are played brilliantly by Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. The film can be viewed simply as a great historical drama and I first saw it presented as an education tool when I was in high-school, but I also think Becket is one of the most sentimental and moving films ever shot about unrequited love shared between two men. Watching Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton struggle with their feelings for one another is what really keeps the film interesting and adds weight to the political power plays in the film and its dramatic conclusion. The DVD features an audio commentary from Peter O’Toole, the original trailer, an impressive still gallery and archival interviews with Richard Burton as well as composer Laurence Rosenthal and editor Anne V. Coates.

Doris Day in Caprice (1967)

Caprice (20th Century Fox)
Like movies such as Last of the Secret Agents? (1966) and Skidoo (1968), Caprice (1967) is a film often talked about disparagingly by people who’ve never actually seen it and it’s nowhere near as awful as you’ve been led to believe. Yes, the film has its problems and its stars (Doris Day and Richard Harris, who’s rarely looked so good) don’t seem to have much chemistry on screen, but this entertaining spy satire also contains some really funny bits, well-done action scenes, fantastic Ray Aghayan costumes and a wonderfully polished pop-art look thanks to director Frank Tashlin and Oscar winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy. I never expected Caprice to get a DVD release, much less one as wonderful as this, but 20th Century Fox really went all out last year. Besides a spectacular restored widescreen transfer of the film, the DVD also includes commentary tracks by film historian John Cork and Pierre Patrick, a fascinating interview with costume designer Ray Aghayan, radio interviews with Doris Day and Richard Harrison, a nice photo gallery and two interesting shorts called Double-O Doris and Doris and Marty that explores the strained relationship between the Doris Day and her husband & manager, Martin Melcher. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing a longer review of Caprice in the future, but in the meantime, I highly recommend the film if you happen to enjoy Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies as much as I do.

Chosen Survivors (1974)
Chosen Survivors (1974)

Chosen Survivors / The Earth Dies Screaming (Midnite Movies / 20th Century Fox)
Last year 20th Century Fox released some terrific films as part as their wonderful Midnite Movies series, including The House on Skull Mountain / The Mephisto Waltz double feature, which I also wanted to include on my list. I haven’t seen all of last year’s Midnite Movie double features, but Chosen Survivors / The Earth Dies Screaming was one of my favorites. Before the DVD was released I hadn’t seen either of these unusual science fiction films before, but I really enjoyed them. Chosen Survivors (1974) tells an apocalyptic tale about a group of strangers thrown together in a sort of underground holding tank by the U.S. military after a thermonuclear war has destroyed earth’s surface. Things get worse when bloodthirsty bats show up and start killing people. There’s something strangely compelling about the film, and it’s definitely helped by the wonderful space age set designs and cast, which includes Jackie Cooper in what has to be his creepiest role ever. The film was directed by Sutton Roley who made lots of films for television and Chosen Survivors often has a “small set” feel, but it’s also really entertaining. The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) has a somewhat similar theme involving space aliens who use poison gas to wipe out the earth’s population leaving only a handful of survivors to deal with the aftermath. It was directed by the talented British director and Hammer legend Terence Fisher, who brings a lot of stylish touches to this low-budget movie. Overall I enjoyed Chosen Survivors a bit more, but The Earth Dies Screaming contains some rather creepy moments reminiscent of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). This nice looking two-disc DVD set from 20th Century Fox makes for a worthwhile night of viewing.

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky: Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain (Starz / Anchor Bay)
This impressive DVD collection features three of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s earliest films and besides one major complaint I have (when will we get a good NTSC Region 1 DVD release of the director’s best film, Santa Sangre?), this really is a spectacular collection of avant-garde cinema that should be savored. Jodorowsky’s surreal efforts play with genre expectations and are loaded with iconographic imagery and strange landscapes that I never get tired of exploring. El Topo (1970) is probably my favorite film in the collection, but The Holy Mountain (1974) gets more interesting with each viewing. Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating artist and this important collection sheds some much needed light on his body of work. This new DVD set features beautiful restored and re-mastered transfers of his films, plus many impressive extras including soundtracks for El Topo and The Holy Mountain, exclusive in-depth interviews and a feature-length documentary about the director, photo galleries and Jodorowsky’s directorial debut short called La Cravate, which was long thought lost.

Anais Nin in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)

The Films of Kenneth Anger” Vol. 1 and Vol. 2(Fantoma)
Fantoma should be applauded for bringing this terrific two-volume collection of Kenneth Anger’s esoteric short films (1947-1981) to DVD. Previously I had only seen a few of Anger’s films (Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954 and Invocation of My Demon Brother, 1969) on poor-quality videos, but Fantoma really did a spectacular job of restoring these experimental movies and they look better than ever. I’ve only managed to watch the first volume of this new DVD collection myself, but I wanted to include both volumes on my list because I think Anger’s work is smart, challenging, thought provoking and well worth seeking out. Many interesting counterculture figures and artists such as Anais Nin, Anton LaVey, Mick Jagger and filmmaker Curtis Harrington appear in Anger’s films and collaborated with him, which makes these films important historical documents as well as fascinating viewing. Extras include a deluxe 48-page book with an introduction by Martin Scorsese, audio commentary from Kenneth Anger, rare outtakes and more.

The Singing Street (1952)

Free Cinema (Facets)
This amazing three-disc DVD collection from Facets collects many influential short films from Britain’s Free Cinema movement, which helped reinvent documentary in the early 1950s and gave birth to the British New Wave. Working on shoestring budgets with hand-held 16mm cameras, directors like Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson were able to create startling films that brilliantly brought Britain and its working-class citizens to life, while exploring the underlying social tensions that seemed to be lingering right under the countries surface after WW2. This is the first time these important films (shot between 1952-1963) have been made available on Region 1 DVD and they really highlight the imagination and intelligence of these young British filmmakers, who would go on to create some of the greatest films made in the sixties and seventies. This three-disc DVD collection includes an extensive booklet from the BFI (British Film Institute) and an interesting documentary about the Free Cinema Movement. I hope to write much more about the films in this wonderful collection soon.

Peter Cushing in From Beyond the Grave (1973)

From Beyond the Grave (Warner Home Video)
Please see my previous review of this terrific Amicus anthology film HERE.

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Horrors of Malformed Men (Synapse Films)
For years I’ve been hoping someone would unearth this rare experimental Japanese horror film that was often assumed lost after it was banned in Japan shortly after its initial release, so you can imagine how happy and surprised I was to discover that Synapse was releasing it on DVD last year. Thankfully the film did not disappoint and Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) turned out to be one of the most fascinating Japanese horror films I’ve ever seen. Horrors of Malformed Men is based on an original novel by the popular Japanese author Edogawa Rampo that borrows a lot from H. G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. Director Teruo Ishii takes what could have been a somewhat familiar premise and turns it into a fascinating fever dream that combines Butoh dance, stunning color photography and a haunting soundtrack by famed composer Masao Yagi. You might laugh, you might cry and you might even have your mind blown by this unapologetically strange and surreal film. Be sure to watch the great interviews included on the DVD with directors Shinya Tsukamoto and Minoru Kawasaki, which only add to the film’s enjoyment and offer an interesting look at the influence this unusual movie had on a new generation of Japanese filmmakers. Other great extras include audio commentary by author Mark Schilling, the original Japanese trailer, a poster gallery and detailed biographies of director Teruo Ishii and author Edogawa Rampo.

Malcolm McDowell in If…. (1968)

If…. (Criterion Collection)
When I first saw Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (1968) it deeply affected me and helped spark my lifelong interest in British cinema. Over the years my admiration for Anderson’s smart film about British youth “revolting against the status quo and daring to imagine what it might be like to put something else in its place” (David Ehrenstein – from his Criterion Essay written for DVD release of If….) has only grown. In the film Malcolm McDowell gives an iconic performance as a troubled student named Mick Travis who rebels against the system with his imagination and wits. I love the way Anderson creatively mixes color with black and white photography within If…. in order to give Mick Travis an inner life that’s so incredibly rich that he seems to literally live and breath right on the screen. If…. has often been compared to Jean Vigo’s 1932 classic Zero for Conduct and Anderson was undoubtedly inspired to some degree by that film, but If…. is clearly a product of the turbulant times that it was made in and frankly it’s a superior and more complex effort that ranks as one of the greatest and most important British films of the sixties. Criterion really did a remarkable job on their two-disc DVD presentation of If…., which includes a newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the film approved by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, an insightful audio commentary with actor Malcolm McDowell and film historian David Robinson, interviews with McDowell, Ondricek, Anderson’s assistant Stephen Frears, producer Michael Medwin and screenwriter David Sherwin, Anderson’s Academy Award–winning documentary about a school for deaf children called Thursday’s Children (1954) narrated by Richard Burton and a very nice booklet featuring articles about the film by David Ehrenstein, as well as screenwriter David Sherwin and director Lindsay Anderson.

Links to the first, third and fourth part of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 list can be found here:
Favorite DVD Releases of 2007: Part I. – The DVD Year in Review – An Introduction
Favorite DVDs of 2007 Part III. (#11-20)
Favorite DVDs of 2007 Part IV. (#21-30)

Part III. of my Favorite DVD Releases of 2007 – #11-20 will be posted soon so stay tuned!