Who are the people that actually still watch, and more importantly, actually save physical media, including DVDs and Blurays? A major retailer announced they would not sell CDs after a certain date this year. How long before brick and mortars stop selling hard copy movies?
Streaming services are ubiquitous, and thusly some of our thoughts are with films otherwise lost to history finding a second home via Netflix, iTunes, Amazon or a myriad of similar streams. The other side of the Janus face reflects the reality of modern corporate groupthought. Netflix mostly streams films from the last generation, new Netflix productions with actually very few films from the classic era of filmmaking.
There was a time when the golden age of cinema encompassed films made from 1895 through 1912, and then the silver age represented by the advent of feature films longer than three reels from 1912 through the end of the silent era, with the bronze age composed of early sound films.
By the same token, what a cinematic thrill to come across a VHS copy of Bullet to Beijing at a garage sale for a mere pittance. BTB is a 1995 television movie that revived the Harry Palmer character that was one of the roles in the ’60s — (The Ipcress File (1966), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967, also Ken Russell’s sophomore feature film effort) — that made Michael Caine a star who decades later still appears in prestige productions.
Bullet to Beijing may just be a flash in the pan attempt to duplicate the heights of previous accolades, and, yes, there are some delightfully tense moments fraught with spy angst, but in the end we’re talking about guilty pleasure. As far as guilty pleasures go that would probably include owning a working VHS player.
Now, back to the not quite mundane task of writing about DVDs and Blurays.
Richard Turner does one thing, and he does it very well. Turner can cut cards and do card tricks that no one alive is able to do. Turner trained with a legendary cardsmith who was old enough to have known Houdini.
When you shuffle a deck of cards they are in order, from high to low, from ace to 2, and in the French style that includes four French suits. Each shuffle has a mathematical certainty of being returned to its original configuration by virtue of properly re-shuffling the cards so that everything that was changed (red, black, red, black) is restored to its original order.
Turner has not only mastered that sleight of hand, he can literally deal any card from any suit at will. It’s actually kind of scary.
In Dealt (IFC Films, 2/13,) Turner’s prowess at card tricks amazes and confuses. It’s almost like the viewer is a cat looking back-and-forth at a laser light trying to figure out the trick. Early on, we witness the awe of the magician’s craft followed by the real theme of the film. Richard Turner is totally blind and has been from his teen years.
There’s more than one uplifting scene that depicts Turner’s perspective. How his sight became tunnel vision early in youth and on until there was no light. Turner constantly deals a hand that leaves you baffled.
People said that Hendrix never went anywhere without his guitar, like the dude was in a movie theater finger picking on his instrument while the film was happening. Likewise, this remarkably refreshing film reminds us, in doc style no less, that Turner has never-not-constantly held a deck of cards doing a one-hand shuffle in his hands. His wife tells the camera at one point how one time they were fucking and she heard the sound of shuffling cards.
Jackie Gleason was The Great One. It was a title bestowed to Gleason after he and Orson Welles partied all night. Gleason, in addition to the 1950s television staple, The Honeymooners, had a recording and film career that coincided with his constant small-screen presence. One of his albums from 1955, Lonesome Echo, sports a cover designed by Salvador Dalí.
Time Life releases a multi-episode single DVD that has a handful of Gleason’s shows when they ran on CBS billed as The Jackie Gleason Show In Color. In addition to Miami, and occasional guest spots by Art Carney, Gleason’s partner in comedy crime in the previous decade, we get tastes of comic talent of the era like George Carlin (pre-hippy haircut) and Nipsey Russell.
Obviously, this four episode DVD teases the fact that Time Life will shortly release the complete Gleason Color series (the show ran from 1966 through 1970) just as they have constantly repackaged Carol Burnett, Red Skelton and Bob Hope television efforts.
Here’s something in Gleason’s favor that may have escaped the general evaluation of his influence: Gleason was a fan of the paranormal, and in one biography he claimed that then President Nixon took him on a tour of a military base that had bodies of aliens. Beyond that, Gleason was a large person who could move like a ballet dancer.
Paradise (2/13, Film Movement), from Andrei Konchalovsky (acclaimed Russian director whose output includes everything from the epic tale Siberiade to the Hollywood jumble of Tango and Cash), offers black-and-white justice as dictated by politics during the WWII holocaust.
Paradise at its best recalls Bergman-esque pacing as the various main characters directly address the camera in a vérité style throughout the narrative. Unlike Bergman’s The Passions of Anna (1969) where the actors discuss the characters they are playing to the camera and thus break the fourth wall, Konchalovsky treats these in-film cutaways like deathbed confessional dialogue. We eventually realize that some of the characters died in the course of the narrative and are truly speaking from beyond the grave.
A concentration camp officer, himself from an aristocratic family, recognizes a Jewish woman he flirted shamelessly a decade earlier during a lustful Euro summer vacation. His moral conscience requires him to break her out of her prison but at the cost of his own comfortable position in his less than stable society. Paradise provides gripping storytelling and no easy answers to moral quandaries.
The Paris Opera (3/6, Film Movement) documents the titular art house during its 2015 season with an exceptional rendering of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron, which includes the not-so-carefully-choreographed stage appearance of a one-ton bull, as well as the behind the scenes debates between artistic staff and board members. Other Paris Opera productions that the doc encompasses include productions of Rigolleto and Der Meistersinger. Fans of opera will embrace the proceedings yet the intrigue of artistic parlay can also be enjoyed by those not inclined to the higher arts.
Henry Miller: Asleep and Awake (IndiePix) crams more insight into its brief thirty-five minute running time than similar artistic biodocs that run endlessly at feature length. Shot when Miller was 81 in the early 1970s, the doc takes place entirely inside his bathroom, a private space surrounded by walls of photos. Miller talks about the photos whether they depict graphic sexual situations (no surprise) or his own personals idols like Blaise Cendars, mystic philosopher Gurdjieff, as well as other various Japanese writers.
At one point, his then wife bursts out of the shower totally naked and we quickly are beamed back down to Earth. A short coda shows Miller walking the streets of New York City in the same bathrobe he wears in the bathroom sequence. Only Miller rips off his robe to show him dressed in street clothes as he laments the time he spent slaving in the Big Apple.
There’s another name in Italian giallo and that would be Michele Soavi. After being the protege of Dario Argento, Soavi blazed his own trail with some really brilliant horror films.
From Scorpion Releasing, a boutique disc distributor specializing in the unique and bizarre, comes 2K restorations of Soavi’s The Church (1989) and The Sect (1991). Argento shares writing and producer credits, while The Church features a teenage Asia Argento in a pivotal role. Soavi’s film that got the best American distribution was 1994’s horror comedy Cemetery Man.
The Church revolves around a centuries old curse where a killing ground of heretics was the foundation for a now-haunted cathedral. In a recent interview included on the disc, Soavi wonders at the construction of medieval cathedrals and how their architecture seemed to evolve out of thin air. Asia Argento also has a recent interview in the extras recalling her experience on the film.
The Sect flows throughout with a chilling backbone that starts in the California desert to the strains of America’s “Horse with No Name,” as a Manson-esque figure named Damon leads the destruction of a campfire party. The action switches to a few years later to Italy and our heroine, an innocent schoolteacher, Miriam (played by Kelly Curtis, sister of Jamie Lee Curtis), finds herself at the mercy of a Satanic group headed by Damon.
In one of the most uncompromising scenes, we witness a ritual sacrifice that involves removing the skin of the victim’s face. If that’s not enough another scene, which has to be one of the most comical interludes in a horror film ever, has a possessed rabbit (Miriam’s pet) watching television, with close-up shots of the rabbit’s foot changing channels.