Video Days (Spike Jonze, 1991)

We’re nearly a quarter into 2022 and so this seems like a good opportunity to celebrate MMC!’s favourite short film discovery for the year thus far – Spike Jonze’s Video Days (1991). While I’m about the right vintage to have been awed by this seminal skate video on its initial release by Blind Skateboards, I was never a skater-kid and so I now come to Video Days fresh, and while the particulars of the tricks and locations mean relatively little to me, the energy, playfulness, and cheeky construction of Video Days is undeniable. Regularly credited as Spike Jonze’s first directorial effort (though Jonze directed the skate video Rubbish Heap in 1989), the 24-minute video features celebrated skaters Guy Mariano (a mere 14 years-old at the time), Jordan Richter, Mark Gonzales, Rudy Johnson, and Jason Lee. (Lee’s Gulf War ballad purportedly inspired Kevin Smith to cast him in Mallrats!) Jonze establishes a framing device of the five skaters riding in an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency and sets their trick footage against a diverse series of tracks including “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, “My War” by Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr.’s “Just Like Heaven,” “Cancion Mixteca” by Ry Cooder, and John Coltrane and the Ref Garland Trio’s “Traneing In” (billed during the end credits as “Some damn good jazz”). Jonze caps off the video with a shocking ending and some hilarious end-credits that had kids in the early ’90s scratching their heads over whether or not this quintet of niche-celebrities survived the production. Video Days is regularly lauded as providing the definitive skate video template and being arguably the greatest skate video of all time, though it should also be appreciated as a stunning opening salvo in the film and videography of now-heavyweight director and VICE creative director Spike Jonze.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

criterion logoBased on I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, the autobiographical book of chain gang escapee Robert E. Burns, Mervyn LeRoy’s uncompromising and starkly realistic 1932 drama, about an out of work veteran twice railroaded into the hell of a Georgia chain gang, still has the power to shock. Paul Muni commands the screen in a brilliantly lived-in performance as a man whose only prospect is a life perpetually on the run, and the film’s gritty realism spares no anger at a cruel and unjust legal system. Eighty years later, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang remains the studio era’s greatest social message film and it stands as a crucial turning point for Warner Bros., Paul Muni, Robert E. Burns, and the American prison system.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2005 by film historian Richard B. Jewell
  • Vintage musical short 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang!
  • The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, a 1987 TV movie starring Val Kilmer and adapting Robert E. Burns’ I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang
  • Theatrical trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: A new essay by TCM film historian and author Scott McGee

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Dave Barber, A Tribute

Dave BThese are sad days at MMC! Dave Barber, filmmaker and beloved programmer of Winnipeg’s Cinematheque, passed away earlier this week at the age of 67. Dave was a champion of Canadian and independent cinema and a tireless advocate for his theatre and the films it featured.

I met Dave at a get-together hosted by a mutual friend eight years ago. Attended by professional, semi-professional, and amateur pop culture nerds, we were invited to share lists of our favourite films and Dave’s list expressed his love of music as well as his love of cinema at its biggest and most minute.

  • The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (Les Blank, 1968)
  • Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival (Murray Lerner, 1995)
  • The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
  • Vinyl (Alan Zweig, 2000)
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves, 1989)
  • Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood, 1959)
  • Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
  • The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
  • Crime Wave (John Paizs, 1985)

In the years that followed, we would watch movies together when we ran into each other at a screening, we would text about programming ideas and other movie stuff, and we would share festival discoveries. I would give him rides home when he needed them, he would hook my son up with Godzilla stuff, and my wife would restrain her urge to make him a sandwich. When I discovered he was in the hospital, I sent him a message wishing him well and asking him to reach out once he recovered, hoping he would find the message once he was discharged. Sadly that won’t happen, but I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend with Dave and I wish him the best on whatever new project he’s now moved on to.

In celebration of Dave, MMC! offers this brief tribute to the man on screen and there’s no better place to start than Dave’s 2014 short film Will the Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up?, a hilarious account of Dave being awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

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Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America (Charles Grodin, 1969)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America.

criterion logoDirected by their friend Charles Grodin and airing almost two months before the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s 1969 television special Simon & Garfunkel: Songs of America previewed their landmark album and shows the two on stage, in the studio, and on a concert tour across a turbulent country. The documentary follows the duo in cinéma verité style while interspersing footage of the social movements that defined a nation growing more aware, more sophisticated, and more complex. The special’s initial sponsor infamously balked at footage of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, the Poor People’s March on Washington, and the recently slain Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Though unpopular at the time, Songs of America has become an enduring portrait of an era and of Simon & Garfunkel as artists, with incisive commentary provided by iconic songs like “America,” “The Boxer,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Sound of Silence,” “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could),” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Robert Ryan’s 1969 introduction to the television special
  • The Harmony Game, Jennifer Lebeau’s 2011 feature-length documentary on the making of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album
  • Remembering Chuck, new interviews with Simon and Garfunkel on their personal and professional friendship with Grodin
  • Saturday Night Live sketch from 1977 featuring Charles Grodin, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel
  • PLUS: A new essay by rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres

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The Old Lady and the Pigeons (Sylvain Chomet, 1997)

Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The Thousand Miles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.

A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Place in the Sun.

criterion logoBased on Theodore Dreiser’s landmark novel An American Tragedy, George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun is a swooningly noir-stained melodrama featuring Montgomery Clift as a handsome young man eager to win a place in respectable society. His ambitious dream seems to fall into place when he accepts a job offer from a wealthy relation and falls deeply in love with a beautiful socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), however a secret relationship with a factory girl (Shelley Winters) and her pregnancy threatens his future and inspires his murderous impulses. Called “the greatest movie ever made about America” by Charlie Chaplin, Steven’s film skillfully alternates between affluent, sun-washed romance and shadowy, fateful film noir, crafting an idealized vision of movie love against a sour portrait of the American dream and what lies beneath it.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat
  • New interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
  • George Stevens and His Place in the Sun, a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film
  • George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him, archival interviews with Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Joe Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, Alan J. Pakula, and Fred Zinnemann
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English subtitles
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Laurent Jullier

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