Sunday, December 16, 2007

VW's Favorite DVDs of 2007: Stephen R. Bissette

Here's a surprise mid-day "Baker's Dozen" from VW contributor Stephen R. Bissette, also an award-winning novelist (ALIENS: TRIBES), legendary comics artist and publisher, blogger (see the MYRANT link to the right), and educator at the Center for Cartoon Studies. His new book is BLUR: JUNE 1999-MARCH 2000 (Black Coat Press), a collection of video review columns.

This was damned near impossible to do, given how much has hit the fan(s) this year, but here goes... and yes, I cheated and included boxed sets as single listings. So hurt me.
A fine companion to Kino's AVANT-GARDE 1 collection, at last providing access to "the secret cinema" peppered with so many delightful genre films ignoredby generations; even those who wished to see them rarely could -- until now. Joseph Vogel's HOUSE OF CARDS (1947), Sidney Peterson's astonishing THE CAGE (1947), Paul Leni's REBUS-FILM NO. 1 (1928), a superior transfer of James Watson and Melville Webber's Poe film THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928), plus key works by Marie Menken, Stan Brakhage (including his first film, made at age 19, never before available, and the horrific THE WAY TO SHADOW GARDEN, 1954, previously available on Zeitgeist's documentary disc BRAKHAGE), Willard Maas, James Broughton and others culminate in Jean Isidore Isou's feature TRAITE DE BAVE ET D'ETERNITE/VENOM AND ETERNITY (1951).

This earned mention on the Umlands' "honorary mention" list, but it was the DVD set of the year to my mind --but then again, I was part of the EL TOPO generation, midwife of the entire Midnight Movie phenomenon. A definitive showcase of Jodorowsky's early works, including his 35-minute LA CRAVATE (1957), soundtrack CDs, Alejandro's dizzying commentary tracks, the 90-minute documentary LA CONSTELLATION, and more.

The Umlands also placed this with their honorary mentions but, for me, this was among the key releases of the year, long-awaited and worth that endurance test. Volume 1's inclusion of the exquisite EAUX D'ARTIFICE (1953) and Anger's delirious 'magick' epic INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME (1954), featuring a young Curtis Harrington as Cesar the somnambulist, showcases two of the most ravishing underground fantasy films ever made -- what more do you need to make a "best of the year" list?

Criterion's Eclipse collections are gems, one and all, but this was my personal favorite, supplanting the poor video transfers and dubs on my shelves with top-notch, crisp 1.33:1 screen-and-heart-filling editions of Fuller's pioneer trio (1949-51). For THE STEEL HELMET alone, this is essential viewing, but Vincent Price fans shouldn't miss his turn as one of America's greatest swindlers in THE BARON OF ARIZONA, and I SHOT JESSE JAMES is the ideal companion to this year's theatrical Brad Pitt vehicle on the same subject.
Note: Too bad it wasn't the stellar edition the film deserves, but 2007 also brought Fuller's sadly buried 1982 classic WHITE DOG to DVD, too, via Substance's mediocre transfer -- not among the top of the year in DVD quality but, as a film... whoa, baby!

Another accurate David Kalat call (whose commentary track I savored, BTW), and my personal favorite of all the marvelous Classic Media Toho Master Collection to date, just because the movie is so much damned fun. Kudos to Classic, too, for including both the Japanese and American theatrical cuts. Runner up: yes, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (Tokyo Shock/MediaBlasters), but GHIDRAH takes the cake.

It's been a great year for resurrected Japanese gold, but this is one film I thought I'd never, ever see. Teruo Ishii's completely loopy 1969 hodgepodge of Edogawa Rampo motifs and '60s transgressive hysteria was the most fun I had all year watching a DVD.

7. THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Sony Pictures)
I'm with David K: this was the best movie I saw all year, period, and its DVD release was most welcome. Paul Verhoeven's BLACK BOOK was the second-best film I saw in a theater this year, but Sony's Region 1 R-rated DVD kept Verhoeven's reunion with screenwriter Gerard Soeteman from making my best of the year list-- until I'm certain there's not a more complete edition out there, somewhere...

8. LUNACY (Zeitgeist Video)
2007 offered animation fans banquet after banquet --Warner Bros! Tex Avery! Woody Woodpecker! Fleischer Brothers Popeye! Kino's ANIMATED SOVIET PROPAGANDA! --which alone could comprise a top-12 list. This, though, was the one that shook my world. Jan Svankmajer has been well represented on DVD in 2007 (the recently released collection of his short films is damn near ideal), but his newest feature cuts deep and is as dark, dazzling and delirious as any film he's done to date. For my money, the most underrated slice of fantastique of the year, melding Poe, de Sade and the whole of surrealist cinema; this resonated in my dreams for a whole week.

There's some things you wish you could live long enough to see. The arrival of Bava's near-complete body of work via these two boxed sets is one of those things one lives for. The upside: ERIK THE CONQUEROR's Region 1 release accompanied this, and CALTIKI arrived on DVD in Italy (Xploited Cinema has it). The downside: the AIP versions are in legal limbo still, and the bump of Dark Sky's ravishing definitive release of KILL BABY KILL/OPERAZIONE PAURA from the marketplace.

10. OSKAR FISCHINGER: TEN FILMS (Center for Visual Music)
In a year to be celebrated for unprecedented viewer access to experimental/avant garde/underground film history and amazing animation, this release of abstract animator Oskar Fischinger's body of work --ten films indeed, spanning from 1921-1947 -- stands tall and pure and uncanny.

11. PERFORMANCE (Warner Home Video)
I damned Warner even as I delighted in this DVD -- if only! If only the rough cut footage were included; if only that minor but indelible line of Mick's dialogue were intact; if only... but this is as gorgeous and complete a version as we've had yet in the US since the film's original X-rated release, and Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's masterpiece is as mind-blowing as ever, so I won't look a gift horse in the -- bullethole.

Another DVD set I'm glad I've lived long enough to see and savor. Sheldon Inkol and John Charles already called it, but there's no getting around this being one of the year's revelations. Now that we've also got THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES as of this year, too (via Warner's 2007 "Cult Camp Classics" sets), these revamped releases of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the definitive THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (already released by MGM, but nice inclusion here) are more welcome than ever. But most vital of all is the most complete edition of DUCK, YOU SUCKER yet, its first stateside DVD release done up right. I've yet to compare it to the VHS (the A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE cut), the laserdisc, the taped-from-television and import versions, but this diehard Leone lover is satisfied... at last.

Casa Negra's procession of Mexican horror DVD releases have all been sheer pleasure, but this double-disc double-bill Fernando Mendez feast even beats BRAINIAC as their finest yet. Seeing 1957's THE VAMPIRE and THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN with such clarity reorients one to the whole of the Mexican genre's permutations to follow, and bonus items in this set sweeten the package (the complete French photo novel of the sequel!) immeasurably.

RUNNER-UPS (beyond those cited): Casa Negra's entire line (including BLACK PIT OF DR. M!), Classic Media's daikaiju eiga Toho Master Collection, BCI's "Welcome to the Grindhouse" series, Cult Camp Classics Vol. 1-4 (Warner Home Video), and the return of MGM's Midnite Movies imprint (via Fox), plus: Criterion's Chris Marker double-bill of LA JETEE and SANS SOLEIL, Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF, Takashi Miike's THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, THE HELLBENDERS, THE HOST, HOSTEL Director's Cut and HOSTEL Part II Unrated, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (yep, the Elvira release on a double-bill with MANEATER OF HYDRA is letterboxed!), ICHI THE KILLER: Collector's Blood Bag Edition, Sony's ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: SAM KATZMAN, IF.... (Criterion) and O LUCKY MAN!, PAN'S LABYRINTH (New Line's 2-Disc Platinum Edition), Paramount's TWIN PEAKS DEFINITIVE GOLD BOX SET, Dark Sky's WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, MGM/Fox's WITCHFINDER GENERAL.
My Wish List of films I'm dying to see on DVD in 2008:
Curtis Harrington's complete avant-garde/underground films; Don Siegel's BABY FACE NELSON (I heard from a Kino rep two years ago they were considering this --from any quarter, please, bring it on!), Ken Russell's THE DEVILS (complete, please, with that amazing BBC doc); Dario Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, Ishiro Honda's HALF HUMAN (the original version --fat chance, since Toho has consigned it to oblivion seemingly forever) and THE H-MAN, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, Abel Gance's J'ACCUSE (heck, the whole of Gance's work!), Don Siegel's THE LINEUP, Arthur Penn's MICKEY ONE, Sam Fuller's RUN OF THE ARROW, Alejandro Jodorowsky's SANTA SANGRE, Sam Fuller's WHITE DOG (properly formatted).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.