Special Edition #7
If you’re used to the Westerns that get shown on during Saturday afternoons, then you might get a bit of a shock when you watch The Proposition (Tartan Video). Set in the Australian outback, it’s a complex and brutal story starring Guy Pearce as an outlaw who must bring his older brother to justice in order to save his younger sibling from death at the hands of the law. Unsurprisingly, the script by musician Nick Cave (who also provides the score) deals with weighty subjects such as loyalty, revenge and death. But even though the script, cinematography and acting are top notch, it’s John Hillicoat’s direction that is the stand out here. With an atmosphere of dust, muck and sweat so tangible that you’ll want to have a wash as soon as you’ve watched it, he vividly brings the 1880s to life (uncomfortably so in an almost unwatchable flogging scene). This double disc comes with a usual assortment of interviews and a dour commentary from Hillicoat and Cave which add some interesting background. All in all a must buy: but make sure you have the bath running when the end credits roll.
A little less brutal experience is on offer in The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes (Artificial Eye) directed by lauded animators The Quay Brothers. Malvina is a beautiful opera singer who finds herself abducted at the hands of the evil Dr Droz. He plans to use her and an innocent piano tuner to realise his eccentric operatic fantasies. Reminiscent of some of Terry Gilliam’s early work (unsurprising really, as he’s the Executive Producer) this is a stonkingly gorgeous film suffused with invention and imagination (indeed, it’s a shame that it didn’t do well on the big screen where this could be really enjoyed). But, despite the fact that it’s diminished by it’s transfer DVD, this is still a refreshingly obtuse and visual film that is marked difference to many of the lazy special effects fests that are prevalent in the cinema today. There are some standard extras which comprise of a ‘Making Of’ and trailer.
Hans Richter was a filmmaker and Dadaist who influenced much of the early cinema Avant-Garde movement. Dreams That Money Can Buy (BFI) represents his attempt to bring the avant-garde to a wider audience with a surreal fantasy about a man who discovers that he has the ability to make and sell dreams. These dreams are realised by some of the greatest avant-garde artists of the day including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. Needless to say, this is an astoundingly visual and hypnotic film that is endlessly fascinating. For those who are unsure, the film also represents a perfect gateway into learning more about surrealism and avant-garde film thanks to Richter's marrying of the mainstream to the marginalised (and some interesting notes attached to the DVD). Band ‘The Real Tueday Weld' also provide an alternative soundtrack for the film.
From fantasy and the surreal to staunch realism as The Errol Morris Collection (Optimum Classic) highlights three films from the documentary filmmaker. First up is Morris' 1978 film Gates Of Heaven a film inspired by a newspaper article concerning the transfer of more than 500 animal remains from one pet cemetery to another. Whilst there are moments of humour - and the story itself firmly embedded into the realms of the weird - what's remarkable is Morris' sympathy for his interviewees and the touching and emotional stories he gets from them. The same goes for Vernon, Florida his dissection of the eccentric inhabitants of a sleepy town. But most remarkable here is The Thin Blue Line a film that actually managed to get a murder conviction overturned. Utterly compelling it's a film that - in a world where documentaries are ten a penny - reminds us of the power of the format. Each film includes an introduction from Nick Broomfield and you should find a home for this collection as soon as possible.
If you've decided that, instead of going to a music festival where dodgy toilets, overpriced beer and bad weather are prevalent, you're just going to stay at home then give thanks to the DVD industry. First we have Glastonbury (Pathe), Julien Temple's homage to the greatest music festival of all time. Whilst there the requisite large amount of classic performances from the festival's history, there's also plenty of interviews with the strange characters who flock to the festival every year: some who are now shocked by the rampant commercialism that seems to be at the heart of the festival. As much a social document as a music film, it's immensely satisfying. A second disc comes packed with more footage and concerts. Next up is Crossing The Bridge (Soda Pictures). In it Fatih Akin, best known for his amazingly intense feature Head On, heads to Istanbul to examine the rich mix of music and culture that exists. With an infectious enthusiasm, this is a joyous film from start to finish that requires that the audience have a willingness to learn as opposed to having a working knowledge of Turkish music. If you can, make sure you buy the double disc version which includes a copy of the film's soundtrack. u-Carmen eKhayelitsha (Tartan DVD) takes Bizet's ‘Carmen' and places it in a South African township. Sung and spoken in Xhosa it has a intoxicating exuberance that makes for an intense experience. Finally we turn to Awesome I Fuckin' Shot That (Revolver Entertainment). An ingeniously shot concert film from The Beastie Boys (they handed out cameras to a mixture of professionals and fans and edited together the resulting footage) it's an amazingly inventive and high energy movie. It's perhaps the first concert movie that has really captured the spirit of what it's like to be at a live gig with the added bonus of not having some drunken mosher headbutt you every five seconds. Lots and lots of extras of alternative footage and the like add to an, erm, awesome film.
Back to the world of fiction now as Timothy West turns into a giant bee (and, in my entire journalism career, I never thought I'd have to write that sentence). No, I haven't been taking copious amounts of drugs; instead it's the kind of weird stories that you get in Tales of The Unexpected: The Complete Second Series (Network Releasing). From the aforementioned ‘Royal Jelly' to other episodes starring the likes of Sir John Mills, Joseph Cotton and Anna Massey it may have slightly dated, but the anthology show still provides a few chills down the spine and - for those old enough - a nice warm glow of nostalgia. Having said that, it's worth buying the DVD just for the great opening sequence and theme music alone. The bastard son of ‘Tales Of The Unexpected' is Eerie Indiana (Fremantle Home Entertianment) an American show that only lasted for 19 episodes. Enormous fun, it told the story of young Marshall Teller discovers the town that he's moved to contains all sorts of monsters, demons and other assorted weird characters. With a clear affection for 50s B-Movies, there's a sense of playfulness in each episode that makes you rather sad that it didn't manage to last longer. It also has a lovley simplicity much removed from an age where it seems that if TV series don't at least 15 plots going on at once, then there must be something wrong. Fans of uncomplicated stories would be wise to seek this out.
Felicity Huffman gives a brilliant central performance as a transsexual in Transamerica (Pathe) an issue based movie that, thankfully, avoids a mawkish ‘TV movie of the week' feel. Huffman plays Bree, an individual on the verge of becoming a woman. However when she discovers that she actually fathered a child, she attempts to bond with her son whilst trying to avoid the true nature of their relationship. The issue is dealt with a commendable complexity though it still sometimes feels a little flat. Thankfully, Huffman holds everything together making this an eminently watchable film. Extras include a commentary from director Duncan Tucker, strangely, a music video from Dolly Parton.
Woman Of The Dunes (BFI) is a film quite unlike any other. After missing his last bus, teacher Junpei Niki accepts the offer of shelter in a widow's rundown hut. But he soon realises he has been tricked and is now trapped in a sandpit with her. Strange and bizarre it's set-up may be, but this film has an energy that positively crackles off the screen. Director Hiroshi Teshigara creates a tangible atmosphere that is both nightmarish by serenely beautiful at the same time. As an exploration of the human condition, it's is simply unmatched in the history of filmmaking.
Gerard Depardieu stars in a French film that is sexually charged? Never... He plays the title character in Loulou (Artificial Eye), about a petty criminal who meets a middle class girl and they soon fall for each other. But will their different backgrounds tear them apart? The recreation of a Paris that is far from the picture postcard version that tourists get to see is brilliantly realised but even this undoubtedly atmospheric film seems to be trying too hard to capture the spirit of the French New Wave rather than finding it's own identity. If you want to find some of the original classic French cinema then get The Louis Malle Collection: Volume 2 (Optimum Releasing). This collects some of his later works including the autobiographical masterpiece Au Revoir Les Enfants set during the Nazi occupation of France. There's also the intriguing Black Moon, which sees Malle play with the realist form and take on a much more experimental style. A wonderful collection.
Classic British comedy now with numerous TV shows originating from the mid 80s onwards. Naked Video: Series 1 (BBC / 2 Entertain) was a sketch show that very much felt like a successor to ‘Not The Nine O'Clock News'. With a balance between the political and the silly, the show was often hit and miss. But recurring characters such as Rab C Nesbitt and Welsh poet Shadwell are still hilarious today and - when it's good - it's very good indeed. KYTV: Series 1 (BBC/2 Entertain) started life on BBC radio as ‘Radio Active' a spoof of various radio genres. The transfer to TV saw the cast - Angus Deayton amongst them - take up their roles effortlessly as they poked fun at what was then the burgeoning Satellite TV industry. Less about satire and more about stupidity, the show has dated slightly since its original early 90s broadcast but will raise a smile for those who like to see the vagaries of TV skewered. How Do You Want Me? (BBC/2 Entertain) remains one of the most sadly neglected TV shows of the past few years. Written by Simon ‘Men Behaving Badly' Nye and starring Dylan Moran and - the sadly missed - Charlotte Coleman it was the story of a city couple forced to move to the country where they find life hard to adjust to. Given Nye's usual forays into laddishness, the subtlety of the show is something of a surprise. Moran is on top form as the cynical husband dealing with county ways and, those who missed it and are a fan of ‘Black Books' et al., should really make the time to check this out.
Another column, another release of a ‘Crime Scene Investigation' series. CSI: New York Season 2, Part 1 (Momentum Pictures) sees the boys and girls solve crimes with the aid of a microscope and more technology than NASA. As always, good performances from the likes of Gary Sinise and intriguing, if far fetched, storylines make this great televisual comfort food. A new kid on the block is Boston Legal Season 1 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). It's a darkly comic show about a group of lawyers (well, what else did you expect?) who fight for the law and fight amongst each other. OK, we've seen it hundreds of times before but - as usual with American TV series - it's slick and entertaining and there are some good career revival performances from the likes of Candice Bergin, James Spader and William Shatner.
For a film with such an innocuous title, Dumplings (Tartan Asia Extreme) is an extraordinarily sick film. The wonderfully named Fruit Chan directs a tale of a woman who discovers that the dumplings of a mysterious chef could hold the secret of eternal youth. But what is his secret ingredient? Well, I know, but to tell you would spoil the surprise. Needless to say that you'll need a strong stomach when find out... Provided you feel that you can hold on to your lunch then is an enjoyably gruesome foray into extreme cinema that includes some great cinematography from Chris Chungking Express Doyle.
If you manage to survive that then the cinematic equivalent of a ‘waffer theen mint' may very well be Marco Ferreri's Le Grande Bouffe (Nouveaux Pictures). A group of friends decide to retreat to a country mansion for a weekend of decadence and over-indulgence. As they stuff themselves with food and overdose on alcohol, prostitutes join in the debauchery and things become increasingly bizarre. Ferreri's refusal to recognise any boundaries of taste and decency still make for a grand experience but it's central theme - about the excess of the bourgeoisie - seems rather quaint in this day and age. Still, it's a unique piece of work that still has the power to put you of your dinner. And tea. And breakfast.
Jean Renoir's first colour feature The River (BFI) was shot entirely in India. Initially the genteel story of a British girl living in Colonial India would seem at odds with his previous films, but the simplicity at the heart of all Renoir's films remains prevalent despite the rich and beautiful use of colour throughout. This newly restored print looks absolutely wonderfully whilst the disc also comes with 7 archive short films set in and around India. It's a fascinating insight into not only how cinema told stories but became an important tool in infoming people about other cultures and civilisations.
Hah! Thought you'd escaped the documentaries, didn't you? Well, there one more you in the shape of Wal Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price (Tartan DVD). Once again corporate America is exposed as being a bad thing in this expose of working practises of one of the largest corporations in the world. Even though it's an important movie - uncovering the devastating effects on the local economy that Wal Mart has and the exploitation of the employees - the film falls down on two levels. One, it's too much like sitting through a lecture as opposed to a film and, two, it's concentration on American values might prove off-putting to us Brits. Whether right or wrong, the multitude of documentaries available at the moment means that there are only a few that are truly memorable. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them.
As you may already Kim Ki-duk is something of a favourite within Special Edition, so it's a treat to see the extraordinary film The Coast Guard (Tartan DVD) make its way on to DVD. As with all his films, the name of the game is intensity as a soldier accidentally kills a civilian and begins to lose his grip on reality. Ki-duk has this amazing knack of making his films completely unbearable yet utterly compelling and this is no exception. Those who like the work of Ki-duk will have this ordered already. Those who don't his work: what are you doing? Go and buy this - and all his other films for that matter - right now!
Finally there's the great Scottish movie One Life Stand (Elemental Films). Read a full review here.
All the above are available to buy now, assuming you haven't spent all you money on suncream and umbrellas.