Criterion Made Mine! The Matter of Life and Death Edition

The Criterion Collection’s July announcements are truly stacked – the Palme d’Or-winning initiator of the American independent cinema movement of the 1990s, a classic sports-comedy, Criterion’s long-awaited second King Hu film, and a six-film set commemorating one of cinema’s iconic collaborations – but MMC!‘s most anticipated title is Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. This is not simply a great film getting a wacky “C,” but a movie that requires me to re-write my all-time top ten Criterion titles. I could use this space to point out that MMC! had this more than two years ago or to partially lament that the CC release lacks a variety of the disc features MMC! canvassed in our imagined edition, but I don’t really care. One of my all time favourite films is coming to the Collection in a new 4K restoration and I couldn’t be happier! Once again movie nerds, you’re welcome.

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My Chattanooga Top Twelve!

I’m back and recovered from the four-day whirlwind that was the Chattanooga Film Festival! Parties, lectures, and workshops abounded at the CFF, but I was there to watch movies and watch movies I did. I can happily say that I went to 21½ screenings and that I’ve now seen 49 of the feature films and shorts shown at the CFF (and I’m still catching up with more titles). A lot were good, some were great, and a few were regrettable. MMC! is all about the movies I love and so here are my top ten twelve picks from the 2018 Chattanooga Film Festival.

(My apologies to those films that I missed.  You can find a full account of the CFF’s films and my takes on a large number of them at my Letterboxd list devoted to CFF 2018.)

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Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Jazz on a Summer’s Day.

In his sole effort in filmmaking, celebrated fashion photographer Bert Stern surveyed the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival to create a now-classic document of ’50s America and capture some of the most stunning images of live jazz ever brought to the silver screen, featuring performances by Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Thelonius Monk, and Dinah Washington, as well as rock and roller Chuck Berry and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson. Stern, with assistance from editor and co-director Aram Avakian and jazz producer and musical director George Avakian, brings onscreen jazz music from smoky nightclubs to the colorfully sunny days of affluent Rhode Island, infusing these images with his distinctively clear and uncluttered aesthetic. Juxtapozing the Festival with footage of its audience, of life in and around Newport, and of the ongoing America’s Cup yacht races, Jazz on a Summer’s Day immortalizes the breezy cool of the era before it was overtaken by rock music and the tumultuous Sixties.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddins and radio host Tom Reney
  • New introduction to the film by Giddins
  • New interview with musician Keith Richards
  • A Summer’s Day, an interactive documentary with director Bert Stern with additional scenes
  • Jammin’ the Blues, photographer Gjon Mili’s 1944 short film with optional audio commentary by Giddins
  • Selection of unreleased performances and footage
  • Stills gallery, featuring the work of renowned photographer Bruce Davidson
  • Optional captions identifying artists and song titles
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An interview with Stern with John Guida and an essay by historian Arik Devens

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Trailer Tuesday – A CFF Preview

With the Chattanooga Film Festival just over a week away and with a stacked program stuffed into only 3½ days, careful planning and difficult prioritizing is required to get the most out of this year’s CFF. MMC! takes this opportunity to celebrate this year’s bounty and offer a quick preview of the CFF with a “Trailer Tuesday” devoted to making some hard choices.

1. Lowlife vs. Madeline’s Madeline vs. WTF

The CFF’s opening block of films is a doozy, programming Ryan Prows’s wonderful Lowlife opposite Josephine Decker’s Sundance darling Madeline’s Madeline and the WTF (Watch These Films) block of short films. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Lowlife, which is both an excellent pastiche of 1990s New Hollywood Violence and a canny take on MAGA-era America, and with director Ryan Prows in attendance for a Q&A and Carey Williams’ short Emergency accompanying it, that’s a hard to miss screening. Madeline’s Madeline came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with great reviews, reportedly a coming of age drama/experimental film about a young actor who joins an acting troupe and immerses herself in her current role rather too deeply for comfort, and the WTF block of shorts has some really intriguing titles including Laura Moss’s Allen Anders, a found footage presentation of a notorious stand-up performance from 1987, and John F. Beach and Jonathan Hoeg’s The Accomplice, about a man who discovers his unwitting participation in a bank robbery through a series of answering machine messages. All of these screenings reappear later in the CFF schedule, but that doesn’t really make the choice any easier!

 

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Chattanooga Is GO!

Yesterday, that Sundance of the South, the Chattanooga Film Festival, posted its full schedule and rounded out its line-up. In addition to its 42 feature films (plus a secret screening) and five blocks of short films, the CFF has announced a great series of events including free screenings of The Endless and Turbo Kid,  a punk show in honour of Jenn Wexler’s film The Ranger, live recordings of the Shock Waves and Squadcast podcasts, a karaoke night, a boat party, a drunken script reading of Flash Gordon, and presentations on the history of exploitation films by trash film expert Joe Bob Briggs, the socio-political themes of horror movies by writer/filmmaker Izzy Leethe history of horror paperbacks by writer Grady Hendrix, and various industry related topics.

The full schedule of CFF is now live! Check it out and if you’re attending, you can begin the hard choices between Agnès Varda’s feminist musical and an animated family film from the makers of Ernest & Celestine or between documentaries about a Mexican religious/fireworks festival, a Supreme Court Justice, and William Friedkin’s spotlight on a real-life exorcist. Good luck choosing amongst this bounty, film fans! Remember: you can’t see everything.

SAM & DAN!!!

Needless to say, the sound of me going “SQUEEEEE!” is deafening after having listened to the latest Arrow Video podcast and hearing the kind words of its hosts, Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin.

Big thanks to them for their recommendations for a London visit. As it happens, I do regularly check The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies website for lectures going on while I’m in town and, once again, I’m not in town for its April lecture, “A Restoration of ‘Nosferatu.'” (Boo.) Equally depressing is the number of times I’ve probably walked past the Picturehouse Central and never even realized it was a multiplex. (Boo again.) I’m going to chalk that up to being too focused on walking to Gosh Comics, Fopp‘s Covent Garden location, or a screening at the Curzon Soho. I’ll do my best to correct that oversight on my next visit!

Thanks once again to Sam and Dan and keep up the good work! And you can be sure that if Dan sends me his fake Criterion cover to Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013) – a great Drafthouse Films release – you’ll see it here on MMC! Cheers!