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Norman McLaren: Masters Edition (7 DVDs)
Although his name is a hardly a household word, Norman McLaren ranks among the most significant figures in the history of animation. Other artists created films; McLaren created ways of making films. He drew scratched and painted images directly onto blank film stock for “camera-less animation.” He combined slow-motion photography and multiple exposures to reveal the patterns created by dancers’ movements in Pas de Deux. He pixilated actors and full-sized props in Neighbors and Chairy Tale. He demonstrated the underlying structure of musical forms visually in Canon, and created artificial sound to accompany many of his films. The Master’s Edition offers not only all of McLaren’s extant films, but experiments, tests, and outtakes. Each film has been carefully restored to correspond as closely as possible to the artist’s vision. Documentaries provide introductions to McLaren’s work and often arcane techniques. This handsomely packaged seven-disc set, which includes a booklet in English and French, is certain to be the definitive edition of the films Picasso once described as “something new in the art of drawing.”
Dumbo (Blu-Ray + DVD)
“Dumbo” is perhaps Walt Disney’s most perfect feature. It features tour-de-force animation, brilliant color styling and fourth dimensional cartooniness that only animation can create. The film is tightly paced with a huge variety of kaleidoscopic moods, thanks in big part to the brilliant storyboarding of Bill Peet. Stylistically, Dumbo is remarkably innovative, with dramatic realistic scenes of circus roustabouts erecting the tent in the middle of a lightning storm, charming scenes of Dumbo with his mother, and daring experimental animation in the Pink Elephants sequence. Ward Kimball’s musical segment with the crows is a real standout, and is worth studying for the integration of music and movement. Many other Disney films try too hard, with overworked animation loaded with overlapping action and details, but Dumbo is direct, simple and a perfect example of “cartoon candy”.
Coonskin is a 1975 American animated film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, about an African American rabbit, fox, and bear who rise to the top of the organized crime racket in Harlem, encountering corrupt law enforcement, con artists and the Mafia. The film, which combines live-action with animation, stars Philip Thomas, Charles Gordone, Barry White and Scat Man Crothers, all of whom appear in both live-action and animated sequences. Coonskin utilizes a number of references to various elements from African American culture, ranging from African folk tales to the work of cartoonist George Herriman, and satirizes racist and other stereotypes, as well as the blaxploitation genre, Song of the South, and The Godfather. Coonskin encountered extreme controversy before its original theatrical release when the Congress of Racial Equality strongly criticized the content as being racist, although none of the group’s members had seen the film. Distribution was curtailed and the film fell into obscurity. Coonskin has since been reappraised, with many filmmakers like Spike Lee and Quentin Tarrantino considering it to be one of animation’s most personal and powerful social statements.
Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Vol. 1 (2 Blu-Rays)
Restored from the original camera negatives in spectacular high definition, Looney Tunes have never looked better than they do on blu-ray. This collection includes 50 cartoons in 1080p, and countless hours of supplemental material in standard definition. In addition to Chuck Jones’ most famous films, like Dover Boys, What’s Opera Doc? and Duck Dodgers; this set also includes Clampett’s eye-popping Baby Bottleneck, Great Piggybank Robbery and Kitty Kornered looking much better than on DVD. Also notable is a trio of jazz themed cartoons, I Love To Sing-a, Three Little Bops and Katnip Kollege. A second blu-ray volume, titled Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Vol. 2, has been released as well, and it includes many of the Clampett films that were poorly mastered on the DVD sets along with classic B&W cartoons which will make your jaw drop they look so good.
Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (5 DVD)
This early wizard of modern filmmaking set a tempo for things to come, and pioneered the art of film special effects. This collection celebrates 173 rare, original silent films by Georges Meliess, painstakingly restored by Eric Lange and David Shepard, from Melies’ first film, Partie de Cartes (1896) right on through to his last, Voyage de la Famille Bourrichon (1913). The films are taken from the best surviving prints and include many meticulously hand tinted titles. Best of all, the accompanying music is totally idiomatic and sympathetic to the action on the screen, a rarity for Melies films on home video. Despite their age, these films remain stunning and beautiful and the innovative cinematic magic that Melies pioneered continues to astonish. After this set was released, more of Melies’ films were discovered, and a second single disk volume was released… Melies Encore. Get both sets. You won’t be disappointed.
The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection (14 Blu-Rays)
For the past couple of years, Kino Video has been working their way through releasing all of the surviving silent films by Buster Keaton. These films belong in the collection of everyone who calls themselves a filmmaker, because they are glittering examples of pure cinematic genius. Keaton was a master of staging, pacing, acting, cutting and story… basically every aspect of filmmaking. Included on this set are high definition prints of Keaton’s early shorts, The Saphead, Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr, Three Ages, The Navigator, Seven Chances, Go West, Battling Butler, The General, College and the later silent short subjects. If you can’t afford the blu-ray set, at least get the DVD set, The Art of Buster Keaton. These films will be useful for you to study for the rest of your life. They’re that good!
The Gold Rush (Blu-ray)
After the box-office failure of his first dramatic film, A Woman of Paris, Charlie Chaplin brooded over his ensuing comedy. “The next film must be an epic!” he recalled in his autobiography. “The greatest!” He found inspiration, paradoxically, in stories of the backbreaking Alaskan gold rush and the cannibalistic Donner Party. These tales of tragedy and endurance provided Chaplin with a rich vein of comic possibilities. The Little Tramp finds himself in the Yukon, along with a swarm of prospectors heading over the foreboding Chilkoot Pass. When the Tramp is trapped in a mountain cabin with two other fortune hunters, Chaplin stages a veritable ballet of starvation, culminating in the cooking of a leathery boot. Back in town, the Tramp is smitten by a dance-hall girl (Georgia Hale), but it seems impossible that she could ever notice him. The Gold Rush is one of Chaplin’s simplest, loveliest features; and despite its high comedy, it never strays far from Chaplin’s keen grasp of loneliness. -Robert Horton. This fantastic blu-ray contains both the original 1925 release and Chaplin’s 1942 reworking of the film for sound. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The Night of the Hunter (Blu-ray)
The Night of the Hunter—incredibly, the only film the great actor Charles Laughton ever directed—is truly a standalone masterwork. A horror movie with qualities of a Grimm fairy tale, it stars a sublimely sinister Robert Mitchum (Cape Fear, The Friends of Eddie Coyle) as a traveling preacher named Harry Powell (he of the tattooed knuckles), whose nefarious motives for marrying a fragile widow, played by Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, The Diary of Anne Frank) are uncovered by her terrified young children. Graced by images of eerie beauty and a sneaky sense of humor, this ethereal, expressionistic American classic—also featuring the contributions of actress Lillian Gish (Intolerance, Duel in the Sun) and writer James Agee—is cinema’s quirkiest rendering of the battle between good and evil. Best of all, this definitive blu-ray release includes a brilliant “making of” documentary and over two hours of outtakes showing how Laughton worked with his actors. ASTONISHING!
The Big Trail (Blu-Ray)
One of very few widescreen productions filmed at the dawn of the talkies, The Big Trail was dismissed by reviewers of the day, little seen, and soon shelved and forgotten- for more than half a century, as it turned out. For movie buffs, it became a sort of Holy Grail. After all, the esteemed Raoul Walsh had directed, the early 70mm angle was tantalizing, and wasn’t this the movie that was intended to make a star of Duke Morrison, a 22-year-old former prop man whom Walsh had rechristened John Wayne for the occasion? For curiosity value alone, surely it rated a look. Restored and warmly embraced by film festival audiences, The Big Trail has proven to be more than just a historical footnote. Wayne is fresh, exuberant, matinee-idol handsome, and irresistibly charming. The scenario winds through epic settings from the banks of the Mississippi by way of the Grand Canyon to the snows of Oregon and the mountain vistas of Washington. The Big Trail is now an authentic classic, and a swell movie. Probably always was. -Richard T. Jameson This eye-popping blu-ray is mastered in high definition from the original 1930 70mm widescreen camera negative. Wow! This film is a textbook on how to compose shots for the wide screen.
The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes (5 DVDs)
Basically just one set with four characters living average ordinary lives. How could this premise lead to anything remarkable? But The Honeymooners is the ultimate situation comedy: You can show them out of order. No matter what happens to the Bensonhurst foursome, Ralph will still work for the bus company, Norton in the sewer. They’ll be struggling to get by, passing the time bowling, shooting pool, arguing with the wives, and dreaming of a better day. And it’s in the mundanity of everyday life that The Honeymooners finds boundless humor. Even when the events were anything but mundane- bank robbers, counterfeiters, TV commercials, game shows, golf dates with The Boss- the real story and the best jokes were about the reality of their lives and the realization that, because of marriage and friendship, they didn’t really have it so bad after all. The chemistry between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney still amazes after all these years. Audrey Meadows’s Alice is the perfect foil for Ralph, stern but sympathetic. And Joyce Randolph’s Trixie? Well, let’s just call her “earnest.” Still, for all of Norton’s frenetic energy and Alice’s wisdom, the show belongs to Ralph Kramden. Somehow, Gleason took a chauvinistic, paranoid, insensitive, scheming, bitter, loudmouth, underachieving bus driver and made him a hero to millions. -Marc Greilsamer Animators interested in studying comedic acting will find facial expressions, poses and gestures to enrich their scenes. Gleason truly was “The Great One”.
The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus (16 DVDs)
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, along with the original Saturday Night Live, this troupe of British comedians changed the face of humor around the world. Produced on a shoestring on incredibly tight schedules, Monty Python’s Flying Circus succeeds in creating a comedic version of a crazy quilt. Sketches don’t have beginnings or ends. Live action sequences transition directly into animated ones. A character can walk out of a door on a set in a soundstage and come out the other side in the middle of the Scottish moors. Totally unpredictable. But behind the non-sequiturs and jump cuts, there is a carefully constructed logic. Take for instance the famous Argument Clinic sketch. Written by Graham Chapman and John Cleese, the sketch builds in pace perfectly. Each line leads to the next and each joke tops the one before. Such carefully considered lunacy hasn’t existed since Lewis Carroll. Anyone who wants to learn to create comedy needs to analyze and study these programs. It’s the foundation of just about all current comedy shows on television and at the movies. Watch the DVDs while following along with the scripts in Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated… All the Bits. You’ll learn a lot about how great humor is constructed.
The Twilight Zone is perhaps the best written anthology program in the history of television. Stinging from network censorship of his teleplays dealing with social issues, Rod Serling came up with a brilliant trick… He would produce the same sort of critical social commentary, just in space suits and using the gimmick of magic. The Twilight Zone isn’t a science fiction or horror program at its core. It was about real life, not fantasy. Commenting on human vanity, prejudice, the problems inherent in aging, selfishness and all the rest of the “seven deadly sins” was Serling’s stock in trade. He employed some of the best writers of the day, most notably Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner Jr and George Clayton Johnson, The Twilight Zone was a monumental feat of filmmaking. And the blu-ray format displays them in a way you’ve never seen before. Shot in 35mm with excellent lighting and production values, in high definition the program feels more like a movie. This is one series where it’s worth watching every episode. Even the worst of Twilight Zone is better than the best of most other programs.
Unknown Chaplin: The Master at Work (DVD)
If you only purchase one video on this page, this is the one to buy. If you are even remotely interested in writing for animation, this video will totally blow your mind. With bowler hat, mustache and cane, Charlie Chaplin became one of the twentieth century’s most recognized and beloved icons. But for decades, the secrets to his timeless film magic were presumed lost forever to the cutting-room floors of a bygone era. Now, available on DVD for the first time, “Unknown Chaplin” captures the cinematic genius as he was never meant to be seen. Using countless reels of footage and outtakes Chaplin had wanted destroyed, film archivists Kevin Brownlow and David Gill have meticulously crafted an essential and fascinating documentary homage to the Little Tramp who will no doubt keep us laughing until the last flickering frame. Featuring the following programs: MY HAPPIEST YEARS: Early shorts reveal how constant re-working of sight gags led to Chaplin’s first triumph. THE GREAT DIRECTOR: The Kid, The Gold Rush and City Lights–by 1918, Chaplin is the movie industry’s top director. The individual takes are assembled in the order they were shot. YOU CAN SEE HOW CHAPLIN WROTE HIS FILMS AS HE FILMED. His process is nearly identical to the way classic animated cartoons were written. Indispensable.
Goya: Crazy Like a Genius (DVD)
Written and presented by renowned art critic Robert Hughes, “Crazy Like A Genius” explores the world of Francisco Goya: charting his achievements as a court painter, satirist and war reporter, as well as a topographer of the inner self- of madness, fear and despair. This program offers a detailed visual and intellectual analysis of Goya masterpieces, including Witches in the Air, The Third of May and The Dream of Reason, as well as examples of his early work and portraiture such as The Duchess of Alba, The Nude Maja and The Clothed Maja. Hughes gives an insight into the enormous changes that took place in Goya s work in the course of his life: the shift from light to dark. In Spain, he travels to Goya’s native Aragon and in Madrid he is seen visiting galleries, palaces and churches where Goya’s works are on display. In New York Hughes calls on the American painter, Leon Golub, who shares his fascination for Goya, and elicits a contemporary artist s perspective on the Spanish master’s work. Hughes professes himself incapable of summing up Goya s achievements neatly, but concludes that to meet Goya is still to meet ourselves. One of those rare programs where you feel afterwards as if a layer of dead skin has been stripped from your eyeballs and your powers of perception have shot up accordingly -The Sunday Telegraph