Special Edition # 19
Jan Svankmajer remains one of the most extraordinary animators in cinematic history whose surrealistic imagery and mastery of various styles of animation has enthralled a generation of audiences and influenced numerous filmmakers. Previously unreleased films are now available in Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films (BFI) an absolutely stunning set with almost eight hours worth of material. As it says on the tin, it includes everyone of his shorts including Jabberwocky and the frighteningly good The Ossuary (which includes both the original soundtrack and the replacement track) and even a music video made for Hugh Cornwell. The extras include The Cabinet Of Jan Svankmajer, a fascinating documentary about the director and a bonus short entitled Johnaes Doktor Faust, a re-working of the legend on which Svankmajer was credited as puppeteer. His work remains strikingly original and breathtakingly inventive. This 3 disc set – which has been obviously been put together with the utmost care – is a must for all fans but, for those of you yet to discover his work, this will serve as a perfect primer. A must have for those with even a passing interest in the development of animation on the big screen.
Now on to a modern generation of short filmmakers with onedotzero_select dvd5 (Vital UK) the fifth DVD from the compaythat has dedicated itself to exploring the forefront of digital moving image. This collection includes short films, music videos (from the likes of Coldcut and Bloc Party) and virals from some of the most talented young filmmakers in the world today. Highlights of the collection include Guy 101 a surpremly disturbing of a man surfing the web and meeting up with the people who lurk behing their online names. There's also the insanely catchy Tokyoplastic: Little Fella a snappy animation about a small dog with a very big mouth and the humourous Making of Gladiator where Russell Crowe needs to control something else apart from his temper. The DVD keeps up a cracking pace and has a fantastically eclectic selection of material thatshould keep everyone entertained. For those who want to keep informed about the films and filmmakers of the future, then this DVD is a worthwhile purchase. You can buy it from selected stores across the country or visit www.onedotzero.com for full information on availability.
It’s all too easy to criticise television as it drowns under a sea of reality TV, dodgy late night quizzes and formulaic soaps. But, as John Pilger – In The Name Of Justice (Network) shows, TV can occasionally be a immensely powerful and emotive medium that can positively influence audiences. Pilger, one of the most prolific and respected journalists of the past few decades, has picked 12 of the films that he is most proud of. Documentaries here include ‘Apartheid Did Not Die’, an examination of South Africa’s move to democracy. ‘The Mexicans’, a very powerful look at political repression in Mexico and ‘Japan Behind the Mask’ a film that explores the emergent nationalism of the country. It’s clear throughout the films that Pilger is outraged by Western intervention in global situations but he avoids polemic and allows those who have experienced terrible situations to tell their own stories. Sometimes uncomfortable but always empowering and enlightening, this set of films is an important reminder of the power of television.
We continue the educational theme with Science Is Fiction: The Films Of Jean Painleve (BFI) a series of films from Jean Peinlevé, long considered the pioneer of science filmmaking. This selection of films from 50 years worth of his material includes such gems as The Sea Horse, The Love Life of the Octopus and Sea Urchins. If you’re expecting dry educational tracts then this set will prove a pleasant surprise as Peinlevé’s films were ingenious works of beauty that have as much in common with the great surrealists as it does with classic documentary. The films were also marked by some brilliant soundtracks from the likes of Duke Ellington. Given that music was such a crucial part of Peinlevé’s work, it’s great to see the inclusion of The Sounds Of Science a further selection of Peinlevé’s work that is scored by US band Yo La Tengo. Their eclectic work fit perfectly to Peinlevé’s stunning images and will entrance all that watch it. If anything, it’s a wonderful set that shows education can actually be fun: I’d take these over the Open University any day of the week.
From great music to serene contemplation with Into Great Silence (Soda Pictures) a film that director Philip Groning waited for more than 18 years to make. Groning takes the viewer inside the Grande Charteuse, home of the Carthusian Order of monks. There’s no interviews, commentary, music or dialogue on offer here, just a lengthy examination of the day-to-day lives of the Order as they continue with their – literally and figuratively – quiet lives. A remarkable documentary that is a real reminder of the power of cinematic imagery and the beauty of a world unsullied by unnecessary noise. Indeed, the only trouble is that the film does lose something on its transfer to the small screen but – if you have big TV – slot in the DVD shut the curtains and get ready to be transferred to another world. Comes in a special edition with extra scenes and a commentary track of people screaming in case the quietness starts getting to you. OK, I made up that last bit about there being a commentary.
Some world cinema now with re-releases of some great films of the past decade or so. First up is Moloch (Soda Pictures) a remarkable piece of work from Aleksandr Sokurov, best known for Russian Ark. In 1942, a small mountain retreat sees Hitler, Eva Braun, Josef Goebbels and his wife Magda escape from World War II for a brief moment. What transpires is an examination of some of the world’s most infamous figures at their most vulnerable and - dare I say it - human. An intriguing character study (that pre-dates the equally fascinating Downfall and is part of a trilogy of Sokurov films that follow world leaders at pivotal moments in their lives) it shows Sokurov’s precise eye for detail and ability to create an immensely riveting story out of the most subtle of scenarios. Add in some excellent performances and you have an intense piece if work that deserves to be discovered if you missed it when it was first released.
The same goes for French director Laurent Cantent with his debut feature Human Resources (Soda Pictures). It tells the story of Frank, a college graduate who returns to his hometown to begin an apprenticeship in the personnel division of the factory where his father works. He soon begins to realise that his father has become as mechanical as the machines he works with as working life has robbed him of his vitality. Will Frank be doomed to the some fate? Whilst an exploration of modern working life may sound, well, rather dull Cantent manages to imbue proceedings with a pathos and humanity that resonates from every frame. Touching upon class, modernity and family it’s a modern movie that skilfully engages with a number of old fashioned values.
If subtlety’s not your thing then perhaps a film about a nymphomaniac rock star who’s the daughter of a gynaecologist who is the object of affection of the bisexual son of an Arab leader will be more to you liking. Unsurprisingly, Labyrinth Of Passion (Tartan Films) is the work of Pedro Almodovar who decided to be even more unrestrained than usual in this, his second feature. This is perhaps the most punk rock of movies that he’s ever made and, what it lacks in coherence, it certainly more than makes up for in sheer exuberance and general insanity. A bright and colourful punch to the face, it has a serious undertone of examining Spanish identity but remains a wonderfully over the top affair.
Witty, erudite and almost supernaturally funny: Peter Cook was one of the brightest jewels in Britain’s comedy crown. Unfortunately – outside of sketch scenarios – who was a (self admitted) pretty terrible actor. If he were still with us, he may have resisted the release of The Rise and Rise Of Michael Rimmer (Digital Classics) since it showcases his flaws to the hilt. He plays the titular character who murders and cheats his way to the top in a broad satire aimed at the British government. But Cook can’t bring the charm and style he needs as the central character and everything feels loose and disjointed. However, with performances from the likes of John Cleese, Graham Chapman and – weirdly – Harold Pinter this should prove an interesting curio for those with more than a passing interest in the 60s British satire boom.
World Of Pub (Second Sight) was one of those sitcoms that garnered great reviews and plenty of plaudits but was never heard from again after its initial TV screening, partly due to the fact that hardly anyone watched it. Now, thanks to the fact that it stars some pretty famous performers (including a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ cameo from David Walliams), comedy fans get the chance to discover (or re-discover if you were one of the five people who originally got to see it) this wonderfully surreal show. Coming across as a mutant amalgam of ‘The League Of Gentlemen’ and ‘Spaced’, it focuses on two brothers (one of whom is played by Peter Serafinowicz who gives a great dopey performance) who run a dilapidated pub. Their friend (and only customer) Dodgy Phil continually comes up with schemes to increase profits, but it invariably ends up going wrong. A nice line in silly situations and good one-liners make this worth seeking out for fans of UK comedy. The only shame is that the producers decided to add a laugh track which really grates. Get over this and there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Finally, we come to Highlander: Search For Vengance (Manga Entertainment) an animated sequel to the movies, TV shows and – most likely – bath towels that were popular in the late 80s/early 90s. Immortal Colin MacLeod has been on a never-ending quest to avenge the death of his lover at the hands of the evil Marcus Octavius. He finds him in a future New York poised at the brink of destruction. And their battle seems set to rock the city to its foundation. This is typical bombastic Manga with muscled characters and overblown dialogue. But somehow, it works when applied to the Highlander franchise and is – throwaway – fun for those who have missed the fact that there can only be one.
That's it for this time around. I'm off to find a towel, a hairdryer and a new plastic mac. Let's hope the weather turns for the next column, eh?