Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.

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American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)

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

Menomonee Falls may be a long way from Hollywood, but quick-talking filmmaker Mark Borchardt has a cinematic dream and he aims to finance his magnum opus, Northwestern, through a direct-to-market, no-budget horror short titled Coven. Filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price filmed Borchardt and his team of hometown thespians and semi-willing family members through two years of financial crisis and emotional turmoil. The result was a bizarrely heartfelt and hilariously poignant documentary that became the award-winning hit of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and a uniquely arresting portrait of Midwestern eccentricity, determination and character.

Disc Features:

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The Incident (Larry Peerce, 1967)

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

As cynical and despairing a view of New York as you’re likely to find, Larry Peerce’s The Incident is a bitter pill clipping along a Bronx train line, gathering unsuspecting passengers and transforming them into the victims of two young thugs fresh from mugging a helpless old man. Tony Musante and Martin Sheen star as a pair of hoodlums who bait, taunt, and terrorize a melting pot of late-night commuters that includes a husband and wife with a sleeping child, a pair of young lovers, two soldiers recently returned home, an irritated Jewish couple, a bitterly anti-white African American man and his peaceful wife, and an introverted homosexual. Featuring performances by Beau Bridges, Ruby Dee, Jack Gilford, Brock Peters, Thelma Ritter, Donna Mills, and Ed McMahon, The Incident captures the social dissolution of late ’60s New York in the longest, tensest commute ever made between Mosholu Parkway and Grand Central.

Disc Features:

  • Restored 2K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with director Larry Peerce
  • New interview with actor Martin Sheen
  • Ride with Terror, a 1963 teleplay for The DuPont Show of the Week written and adapted from by Nicholas E. Baehr and starring Tony Musante, Vincent Gardenia, and Gene Hackman
  • PLUS: A new essay by Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum

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Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer (—, 2017)

Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer (—, 2017) is 26-minutes of footage taken by a Washington State Fred Meyer superstore’s floor model VHS camera in the spring of 1992. Discovered by Kellie Rogers among her father’s old camcorder tapes intended for DVD conversion, this footage of early ’90s consumerism is oddly compelling and extremely watchable. Katie Rife of The A.V. Club calls it “2017’s most avant-garde documentary” and Sophia June of Willamette Week cites it as “the greatest time capsule ever.” Hyperbole aside, the footage offers plenty of grist for the theoretical mill – the independent and foregrounded presence of the apparatus (notice those autofocus corrections), the manner of its smart device-less, unconnected subjects, the transient and incidental quality of captured footage with the rising convenience of personal recording, the footage’s online success and the current culture’s thirst for nostalgia. For those disinterested with the philosophical implications of Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer, there are plenty of fascinating period intricacies to take in – the early packaging of CDs in long boxes, the ubiquity of sweatshirts, commercial transactions actually paid with paper money, and the lamentable rise of fanny packs. Good times.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

On the Santa Monica Pier, in the shabby La Monica Ballroom, a bizarre Depression-era fad unfolds – the dance marathon. A worn out collection of hopefuls (Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Bonnie Bedelia, Red Buttons, and Bruce Dern) compete in hopes that a Hollywood casting agent spots them or that they at least win the contest’s $1,500 cash prize. But the competition is a grueling public spectacle, lasting thousands of hours and taking weeks to proceed, leaving dignity and salvation farther and farther away. Based on Horace McCoy’s brutally poetic novel and featuring stand-out performances including Gig Young’s award-winning role as the marathon’s huckstering emcee, Sydney Pollack’s seminal film puts a cap on 1960s idealism and paints a bleak portrait of the American Dream that still resonates today.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital transfer, presented with uncompressed stereo on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary by director and producer Sydney Pollack
  • Audio commentary with Jane Fonda, producer Irwin Winkler, former president of ABC Pictures and talent agent Martin Baum, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Sarrazin, Red Buttons, and legendary hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff
  • New interviews with actors Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Bonnie Bedelia
  • New interview with film critic Kim Morgan
  • New interview with filmmaker Sarah Gertrude Shapiro discussing They Shoot Horses and introducing her 2013 short film Sequin Raze
  • Original featurette on the making of the film
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Scott MacDonald, composer John Green’s musical continuity notes, Pollack’s forward to the screenplay, and notes, pictures, and diagrams taken from Pollack’s shooting script; a new paperback edition of McCoy’s original novel

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Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Herve de Crecy, and Francois Alaux, 2009)

Back in January, the Criterion Collection paired the Oscar-winning short film Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Hervé de Crécy, and François Alaux, 2009) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966). Created by the French collective H5, the short constructs Los Angeles entirely from (3,000 or so) trademarked logos and then presents these sanitized images of friendly consumerism in the sun-drenched violence typical to films like To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). The result is a clever statement on the ubiquity of capitalist commodification in our daily life and a somewhat nasty dismantling of the corporate messaging shorthanded into these capitalist symbols. Those interested in the legality of Logorama (or at least the American legality of a French film) should read Rose Lawrence’s “LOGORAMA: The Great Trademark Heist.” Lawrence’s unpacking of the legal tests for parody, satire, infringement, and dilution are particularly useful in considering the artistic aims, popular interactions, and social commentaries at work in the short film. As a bonus, Lawrence also touches upon important legal texts like George of the Jungle 2 (David Grossman, 2003) and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”