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

Continue reading

Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (Bo McGuire, 2017)

Probably the only thing that improves upon Bo McGuire’s astonishing short, Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (2017), is that the film is available on his website right now to see – click HERE to visit his site and watch! The 15-minute short is an experimental fantasy of some family drama that resists easy description. McGuire labels it on his site as a “lyrical meditation exploring personal family relationships, archetypes and myths through a variety of means & textures” and a rough cut to a feature-length “transgenerational docudrama,” while the Chattanooga Film Festival offered this synopsis – “A failed poet takes up cinematic arms when he returns home to Hokes Bluff, Ala. to find his aunt has locked his drag queen uncle out of the family home.” When asked about his inspiration for the short by Indie Grits, McGuire offered this:

Gail Bryant was a lady from my hometown of Hokes Bluff. She had a tick where she would snap her neck to throw her silver hair to the side. One day Gail was snapping that neck and the next day she was in the ground. That pissed me off. The same thing happened to my Nanny and Papa without the neck snaps and that really pissed me off. Then my Aunt Sharon went behind everyone’s back and tried to sell Nanny and Papa’s house, and Meryl Streep got up on the Oscars hollering, take your broken heart, make it into art.

McGuire, the self-described “queer son of a Waffle House cook and his third-shift waitress on the corner of George Wallace Drive in Gadsden, Alabama,” crafts a Southern Gothic dreamscape that is equal parts John Waters and Terrence Malick. Steeped in corner store pageantry, Socks on Fire veers from scenes of straight documentary to magical realist reveries, with McGuire appearing in oscillating roles of interested relation, impartial chronicler, co-conspirator, and mystical trickster. While often ostentatious and unabashed, McGuire never stoops to exploitation but rather preserves an air of respect and poetic gravity throughout the short. It is McGuire’s greatest success here, creating a kind of cinematic eye dialect from the iconography of slim cigarettes, pick-ups, fireworks, Crimson Tide merchandise, and nature’s damp, inevitable power. It’s a mini-masterpiece and I can’t wait to see Socks on Fire in its full, feature-length glory!

Shout out to the Chattanooga Film Festival and to Bo McGuire! I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Bo (even catch a screening of Rock Steady Row with him) and he’s as affable and charming a guy as you’re likely to find. Bo was definitely a personal and cinematic high point of my CFF experience. Thanks Bo!

A Very Gerry X-Mas! (Jay Cheel, 2010)

Merry Christmas from MMC!

This year, MMC! brings you good tidings of great joy by way of the Film Junk short, A Very Gerry X-Mas! (Jay Cheel, 2010). Starring Reed Harrington, made by Jay Cheel (director of another MMC! favourite – Beauty Day), and featuring a brilliant opening sequence by Rob NiosiA Very Gerry X-Mas! provides a quirky, awkward take on traditional holiday television programming. Part cooking show, part instructional video, part video confessional, part dream sequence, part fireside reading, this is all tongue-in-cheek, holiday goodness.

Happy holidays to everyone out there!  Stay safe!

(And our next post will go up before the end of the year … and this time I mean it!)

Island Romance (Donald Ginsberg, 1957)

NFBWith weekend upon us, MMC! thought we might nose around some of the more unusual corners of the National Film Board of Canada. First up is Island Romance (Donald Ginseberg, 1957), a sweetly corny romance between a young man in Prince Edward Island and a girl visiting from Winnipeg. The short originally aired as an episode of the CBC television series Perspective, which replaced the popular On the Spot documentary series. Perspective aimed to blend documentary and fiction and was typically shown on Sunday afternoons, although the series was subject to frequent time slot changes. Perspective was a popular program, but was eventually replaced by the seminal Direct Cinema documentary series Candid Eye.

This merger of documentary and fiction makes Island Romance an unusual watch. Ginsberg’s presents an innocently saccharine tale of young love in the 1950s, but its quaintly chaste nature seems to take odd turn when local islander Danny (Daniel MacDonald) finds his efforts to woo the vacationing Jean (Iris Krangle) frustrated by her love for Canadian history and regional culture. Danny would like nothing better than a quiet moment with Jean, but seems in frequent competition with the tales of fishermen, literary landmarks like Green Gables, and historic events like Confederation and historical furniture like the chair of the country’s first Prime Minister. Viewers of Island Romance are not likely to expect a love triangle between Danny, Iris, and the Ministry of Tourism, but the film may be better for it by providing a little “WTF” in an otherwise picturesque story of G-rated summer lovin’. (And for those keeping track, Island Romance is peculiarly accurate in its details – Winnipeg’s newspaper is the Free Press and its most affluent neighbourhood is called Tuxedo.)

As per the NFB:

This short fictional film features the picturesque seaside landscape of Prince Edward Island as the setting for a summer romance between a girl from Winnipeg and a young fisherman from North Rustico, PEI. The young couple visits historic and scenic sites such as Government House in Charlottetown and Cavendish, of Green Gables fame. The film is a classic summertime romance and a nostalgic visit to the delightfully sun-soaked PEI of the past.

Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Miracle on 34th Street.

criterion logoHired by Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square to be its department store Santa, a jolly, white-whiskered man calling himself Kris Kringle soon has everyone in the Christmas spirit, all except his no-nonsense boss Doris Walker and her skeptical daughter Susan. Kris proves himself a valuable asset to Macy’s until the store psychologist has the kind old man committed to a mental hospital and he becomes the subject of a public trial. With his lawyer Fred Gailey at his side, Kris sets out to prove himself to be the one true Santa Claus, defending himself against Scrooges and skeptics alike. Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and a winner for Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Edmund Gwenn’s performance as Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street was a summertime hit for 1947 and holiday classic ever after.

Disc Features:

Continue reading

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom, 2005)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

criterion logoTristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is Michael Winterbottom’s unorthodox adaptation of the unfilmable English literary masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, written by Laurence Sterne.  Staying true to the manic spirit of the book, the film flips back and forth between the 18th century story and the hapless efforts of the 21st century filmmakers attempting to shoot the classic.  Tristram Shandy (Steve Coogan) narrates the filmed story of his life from conception onward, with numerous digressions and unfinished thoughts, while actor Steve Coogan serves his professional ego behind the scenes against the increasing prominence of his co-star, Rob Brydon.  Crammed with literary jokes and dark humor, and aided by stellar performances by Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry, and Gillian Anderson, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a clever, postmodern take on the construction of a film from an intricate, hilariously autobiographical novel.

Disc Features:

  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and approved by director Michael Winterbottom, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • A Womb with a View, a new interview with director Michael Winterbottom and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
  • Audio commentary with Coogan and Brydon
  • Helen Weinstein conversation with Winterbottom and producer Andrew Eaton for Historyworks
  • Extended interview with Steve Coogan conducted by journalist Tony Wilson
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Premiere footage
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Mark Kermode and cartoonist Martin Rowson

Continue reading