David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Deeply reflective and exceptionally high-spirited, David Byrne’s theatrical concert American Utopia stormed Broadway with the ex-Talking Head’s mix of iconic music and quirky ideas. With a collection of eleven talented musicians, singers, and dancers supporting him and informed by the work of James Baldwin, Janelle Monáe, Hugo Ball, and Kurt Schwitters, the show plucked at the connections between us and aimed to start making sense of it all. With director Spike Lee commemorating the show for the screen, David Byrne’s American Utopia transforms the stage production into an immersive, dynamic cinema experience that radiates with astounding performances, inventive contemporary dance, and political urgency. A clarion call for protest, compassion, and shared responsibility and a new masterpiece among concert films, David Byrne’s American Utopia is the life-affirming rock-doc arriving at precisely the right time, ready to burn down the house.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • 4K digital master, approved by director Spike Lee and David Byrne, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Start Making Sense, a roundtable conversation with Lee, Byrne, musician Janelle Monáe, and critic Ashley Clark
  • One Fine Day, a new program of interviews with Lee, Byrne, and the film’s cast of performers
  • Slippery People, a conversation between choreographer Annie-B Parson and cinematographer Ellen Kuras
  • Remain in Light, an exploration of American Utopia stage design and its innovative lighting
  • Promotional discussions featuring Lee and Byrne
  • Meet the Band, introductory videos for the cast and crew
  • Additional performance of “Hell You Talmbout”
  • Trailer and teaser
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Robert Daniels

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Dinner in America (Adam Carter Rehmeier, 2020) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2020

AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE AND PUNK ROCK

In a dreary Michigan suburb, aggro punk rocker Simon (Kyle Gallner) finds himself on the run after a bout of arson and a close call with the police. A chance encounter with eccentric and socially awkward Patty (Emily Skeggs) provides him a place to hide from the law, though she fails to realize that her new friend is the anonymous lead singer of her favourite band. The pair embark on a series of misadventures and while their radically different personalities make them an unlikely duo, Simon and Patty realize that they have a lot more in common than first expected.

Dinner in America is an ode to the ’90s Nebraska punk-scene of writer-director Adam Carter Rehmeier and a hilarious underdog love story boosted by a generous helping of absurdity and some instantly quotable dialogue. Set to the beat of brilliant original songs and perfectly casting Skeggs and Gallner as a suburban Bonnie and Clyde, Dinner in America is a wild and empowering ride through the places and people of Middle America — in all their peculiar forms.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Adam Carter Rehmeier and producer Ross Putman
  • One Night Only, new interview on the film’s music with Rehmeier, Emily Skeggs, Kyle Gallner, and composer John Swihart
  • Freedom from Want, new interviews with supporting cast members Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Pat Healy, and Griffin Gluck
  • Straight Shooting, new interview with cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier
  • Apocalypse Yow, new interview with musician and actor David Yow
  • Detroit Punk City, stories from cast and crew on the shoot
  • Outtakes and deleted scenes
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Soundtrack CD including a remix of “Watermelon” by Bernier
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by producer-director Ant Timpson

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The Savage Eye (Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, and Joseph Strick, 1960)

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

Los Angeles at the end of the 1950s. A recent divorceé arrives to break free of the past and journeys into the tawdry side of urban life, seeking refuge in salons and strip clubs, among poker-players and faith-healers, near boxing rings and in the drag scene. Out of the darkness, a voice speaks to her, questioning her cynicism and prodding her to find inspiration in the world around her. A hallmark of the direct cinema movement, The Savage Eye is an experimental documentary made over four years, told with poetic elegance by filmmakers Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, and Joseph Strick and featuring music by renowned composer Leonard Rosenman and footage shot by acclaimed photographer Helen Levitt and cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Jack Couffer.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Restored high definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New video interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
  • People of the Cumberland, Sidney Meyers’ 1937 short film directed with Elia Kazan, Jay Leyda, and Bill Watts
  • In the Street, James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb’s 1948 short film on street life in New York’s Spanish Harlem
  • Muscle Beach, Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s 1948 short film
  • The Quiet One, two versions of Sidney Meyers’ 1948 film, one featuring a narration by Gary Merrill and another featuring a previously unreleased narration by James Agee
  • The Steps of Age, Ben Maddow’s 1950 short film for the Mental Health Film Board
  • Interviews with My Lai Veterans, Joseph Strick’s 1971 short film
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Muscle Beach (Irving Lerner and Joseph Strick, 1948)

Our next stop on the way to MMC!’s forthcoming Criterion Collection proposal brings us south of the Santa Monica Pier to the original Muscle Beach and to Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s Muscle Beach (1948). Strick had met Irving Lerner and other left-wing filmmakers through connections with a youth theatre company in New York. After enrolling to study physics at UCLA (because “that’s where movies were made”), Strick signed up as an aerial photographer searching of U-boats off the Atlantic coast during World War II. He worked as a copy boy at The Los Angeles Times upon his return to civilian life and shot Muscle Beach on weekends with the assistance of Lerner and using an army surplus bombsight camera with a “bottle-glass” lens and rigged up with a viewfinder made from “sellotape and paperclips.”

Muscle Beach is a warmly satirical look at an emerging subculture of bodybuilders, gymnasts, and exhibitionists. Originally constructed in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration as a park on a public beach, Muscle Beach in the 1940s has become a standing joke in trade magazines and a source of innuendo in Hollywood gossip columns. The short responds to this view with a lighthearted celebration of soaring feats, flirty sunbathers, and playing children, buoyed by music composed and sung by folk singer Earl Robinson with lyrics by screenwriter and poet Edwin Rolfe. Muscle Beach played in competition at Cannes in 1949, won a prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1951, and became a cult favourite among film clubs.

In the Street (James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb, 1948)

Our second stop along the way the MMC!’s next proposal brings us to New York’s Spanish Harlem in the 1940s and In the Street (1948), a short documentary made by a trio of brilliant American polymaths: critic and novelist James Agee, photographer Helen Levitt, and painter and screenwriter Janice Loeb. The three friends shot the film in 1945 and 1946, near where they lived, with Levitt editing the short into its final version. Originally titled I Hate 110th Street, a phrase captured in an image of children’s chalk graffiti that opened an early version of the film, In the Street began with footage originally shot by Agee that directly engaged with his subjects, capturing the vitality of children mugging at the camera with gleeful abandon. Levitt’s approach for additional footage mirrored her trickery in still photography. Pointing her camera at Agee or Loeb, her sister-in-law, as decoys, she used a right-angled viewfinder to catch her true subjects unawares. While Agee’s footage anticipates the direct cinema movement, Levitt’s sideways gaze reveals urban life at its most unmediated, save for her expert framing. Theorist Siegfried Kracauer hailed the documentary as “reportage pure and simple,” presenting a collection of seemingly random experiences infused with an “unconcealed compassion for the people depicted” and a tenderness that never converts them into “anything but themselves.” The short was also a favourite of Charlie Chaplin, who never tired of imitating its young participants.

People of the Cumberland (Robert Stebbins, Eugene Hill, Elia Kazan, and William Watts, 1937)

In anticipation of our next proposal for the Criterion Collection, MMC! will lead the way a series of “Son of Wholphin” posts focusing on a group of short films that will set a path to and through our next feature subject. We start with People of the Cumberland, a documentary short from 1937 directed by Elia Kazan, William Watts, Eugene Hill (credited as Jay Leyda), and Sidney Meyers (credited as Eugene Hill). The film concerns a progressive adult education project, Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School, located in the mountain community of Monteagle, Tennessee. Demonstrating the School’s impact on the impoverished coal mining region, the short pivots toward the growing labour movement and advocates for a “new kind of America” free from economic exploitation and privation. The film was made under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal agency, and as part of the Federal Arts Project program. Written by Erskine Caldwell and Ben Maddow (credited as David Wolff), the short is an excellent document of its time and a rousingly populist essay thanks to the narration of Richard Blaine and the footage shot by Ralph Steiner.