The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson, 2017)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Green Fog.

Commissioned by the San Francisco Film Society to close the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, The Green Fog is the latest from Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin and is an unusually evocative homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo assembled from Bay Area footage taken from a diverse array of sources including studio classics, ’50s noir, experimental films, and ’70s prime-time TV. With the help of co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson, composer Jacob Garchik, and musicians Kronos Quartet, this San Francisco fantasia celebrates the city through a century’s worth of assembled film and television, while also capturing the obsessive pull of Hitchcock’s spellbinding classic. The result is inventive, invigorating, and hilariously quirky, offering a “parallel-universe version” of a canonical cinema masterpiece, an unlikely city symphony, and a refreshing document of film history.

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N.Y., N.Y. (Francis Thompson, 1957)

Let’s take a look at another city symphony while we wait for the next MMC! proposal, specifically Francis Thompson’s wonderfully distorted tribute to life in New York City! Thompson’s short film celebrates the rhythms, geometries, and absurdities of city life through a variety of fanciful lenses, prisms, reflectors, and editing techniques (all of which Thompson was quite secretive about). Originally a painter and an art teacher, Thompson began his filmmaking career with The Evolution of the Skyscraper in 1939 and later won an Academy Award for To Be Alive! (1964). In a frequently quoted comment on the film, Aldous Huxley remarked on Thompson’s ability to escape colour photography’s tyrannical claim to verisimilitude and use the medium to further the voice of non-representational art. Huxley observed:

And then there is what may be called the Distorted Documentary a new form of visionary art, admirably exemplified by Mr. Francis Thompson’s film, NY, NY. In this very strange and beautiful picture we see the city of New York as it appears when photographed through multiplying prisms, or reflected in the backs of spoons, polished hub caps, spherical and parabolic mirrors. We still recognize houses, people, shop fronts, taxicabs, but recognize them as elements in one of those living geometries which are so characteristic of the visionary experience. The invention of this new cinematographic art seems to presage (thank heaven!) the supersession and early demise of non-representational painting. It used to be said by the non-representationalists that colored photography had reduced the old-fashioned portrait and the old-fashioned landscape to the rank of otiose absurdities. This, of course, is completely untrue. Colored photography merely records and preserves, in an easily reproducible form, the raw materials with which portraitists and landscape painters work. Used as Mr. Thompson has used it, colored cinematography does much more than merely record and preserve the raw materials of non-representational art; it actually turns out the finished product. Looking at NY, NY, I was amazed to see that virtually every pictorial device invented by the old masters of non-representational art and reproduced ad nauseam by the academicians and mannerists of the school, for the last forty years or more, makes its appearance, alive, glowing, intensely significant, in the sequences of Mr. Thompson’s film.

The Movie Orgy (Joe Dante, 1968)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Movie Orgy.

A send-up and a celebration of mid-century American kitsch, Joe Dante’s epic pop culture mash-up, The Movie Orgy, entertained college campuses through the late 1960s and 1970s, drawing upon an ever-changing library of ’50s drive-in movies, vintage commercials, TV westerns, and political speeches. Re-discovered and re-cut by Dante for a revival screening in 2008 into its 280 minute “Ultimate Version,” this legendary cinematic event is now available outside of theatres for the first time. SEE a colossal collage of nostalgia! SEE an experience of mind-rotting celluloid hysteria! SEE thousands of performers in roles that earned them obscurity!  SEE bosomy starlets, juvenile delinquency, Christian puppetry, Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx, and Richard Nixon!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • High-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Joe Dante, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Dante
  • Rated Z, archivist David Neary on the history and significance of The Movie Orgy
  • Posters and promotional materials
  • PLUS: An essay by director John Sayles

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Cassette Girl (Hiroyasu Kobayashi, 2015)

(Believe it or not, MMC!‘s next Criterion proposals are forthcoming. In the meantime and in anticipation of our next two proposals which deal with practices in appropriation, I thought we might consider another animated treatment of media ownership and access, this time from Japan!)

In a recent piece for Locus Magazine, Cory Doctorow laments the failed promise of digital media and selective rights management. In the article, Doctorow recalls how the digital revolution promised infinite distribution, customized rights to content, and cheaper prices. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Access is limited and often temporary, pricing remains static, and choice is dictated by owners who rights seems to be held in virtual perpetuity. Doctorow’s most pithy and salient point comes near the end of his editorial – “There’s a name for societies where a small elite own property and everyone else rents that prop­erty from them: it’s called feudalism.”

With feudalism comes poachers, bringing to mind Hiroyasu Kobayashi’s wonderful animated short Cassette Girl (2015). The film, one of the best from the Japan Animator Expo series, offers a beautiful pastiche of anime tropes, including a spunky young adventuress, her giant mecha companion, and an elaborate transformation sequence with obligatory undressing. The girl and her ‘bot search for vintage content on old video cassettes, causing them to run afoul of the tyrannical media police and initiating an elaborate battle that dominates the short. What makes Cassette Girl so impressive is its spectacular embrace of hard media and actual ownership. Physical possession is not merely a means to defeat Cassette Girl‘s media police, but a transformative process that remakes the world itself in favour of its media-poaching heroes (complete with full frame parameters and minor tracking issues). If only the battlefield over DRM were truly this awe-inspiring!

Maya (Raymond Bernard, 1949)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.

Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • “The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
  • Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: Essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin

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Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, 1980)

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

The award-winning team of David Gill and Kenneth Brownlow present a definitive and unparalleled look at the history of silent film in America with Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film. Narrated by actor and silent film enthusiast James Mason, this 13-part series celebrates the birth of an industry and the town and people who made it happen. From the arrival of the filmmaking pioneers early at the dawn of a new century, through the outbreak of the First World War; from the rise of romance to the demise of the Old West; from when comedy was king until the advent of sound, this stunning television program surveys the enormous range of spectacular, innovative, and exciting films created by a business still inventing itself. Brilliantly edited and featuring a multitude of invaluable interviews by stars, directors, and below-line personnel, Hollywood is an irreplaceable document on cinema history and a loving tribute to those that made a legend out of a modest California town.

With notes by Kevin Brownlow.

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