To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents To Sleep with Anger.

Charles Burnett crafts a masterpiece of independent cinema with To Sleep with Anger, a magical realist exploration of a black middle-class family living in South Central Los Angeles. Family tensions are already simmering in the household of Gideon (Paul Butler) and Suzie (Mary Alice) when their old friend Harry Mention (Danny Glover in arguably his greatest performance) turns up on their doorstep unannounced looking for hospitality and a temporary roof over his head. Reminding them of their Southern roots, Gideon and Suzie cannot refuse his request but when Gideon mysteriously suffers from an unexpected stroke, Harry’s easy charm gives way to a malevolent spell that provokes turmoil throughout the family, setting son against son and reviving past hatreds. Burnett reveals himself as not just the master of poetic urban realism that created his classic first film, Killer of Sheep, but an expert interpreter of African-American folk culture and one of the great chroniclers of the American experience.

Disc Features:

  • 4K digital transfer, approved by director Charles Burnett, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • The Trouble with Harry, an introduction by director Ernest Dickerson
  • New interviews with Burnett and actors Glover, Alice, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Carl Lumbly
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Andrew Chan

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Three Films by Ryan Prows

I had planned to wind up MMC!‘s coverage of the Chattanooga Film Festival with an imagined Arrow Video edition of Ryan Prows’s Lowlife (2017) but no sooner had I done my research and began writing did Shout! Factory announce a Blu-ray edition of the film slated for release on August 7. I’m usually pretty stoked to cross any film off my list of potential MMC! subjects as their circulation is far more gratifying than writing about them here, but I’m a little disappointed not to discuss Lowlife at greater length. I have stumped for Lowlife a fair amount already so let’s instead spend some time with three of Prows’s earlier shorts films, all of which seem to be working through some of the themes and concerns at play in Lowlife and all of which should be included as special features on the upcoming Blu-ray edition.

In case you’ve forgotten, here is a quick refresher on Lowlife taken from the film’s press kit.

When a simple organ harvesting caper goes awry, a twist of fate unites three of society’s forgotten and ignored: EL MONSTRUO, a disgraced Mexican wrestler working as hired muscle for a local crime boss. CRYSTAL, a recovering addict desperate enough to arrange a black market kidney transplant to save her husband’s life. And RANDY, a loveable two-strike convict fresh out of prison, cursed with a full-face swastika tattoo and a best friend guilting him into some hair-brained kidnapping scheme.

As the sordid lives of these small-time criminals collide, they must fight tooth and nail to save a pregnant woman from a certain, and surely gruesome, death.

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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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A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)

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

Before he brought Mayberry, North Carolina, into American homes and became an icon of moral rectitude as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Andy Griffith burst onto cinema screens as Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic drifter with a canny, down-home wit and an avaricious taste for status and influence. After charming Arkansas radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) and becoming a local media star, Rhodes leverages his growing popularity into national television fame and a trusted position among political and industrial power-brokers. Gradually Rhodes is corrupted by his own success and his laid-back attitude gives way to a monstrous off-camera personality. With stand-out supporting performances by Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg create a roaring statement against grassroots fascism, advertising fakery, and the pernicious influence of television on the political process.

Disc Features:

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SFFF Day 4 – Go Big and Go Home

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day was even more massive than expected. With a packed program and an extra short film (moved from the previous day due to a technical issue), there was little downtime between screenings and the Festival’s final midnight show started late and wrapped well past 2:30 a.m. Those that saw the marathon day of screenings to its bleary end enjoyed without question the SFFF’s best block of films (plus some welcome giveaways for lucky attendees).

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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.