Inspired by the possibilities of DVD releases seen this year alone in terms of special editions and box sets, I put together an initial wish list of essentials I would like to see in the coming years and published the piece on GreenCine:
What a year we’ve seen for domestic DVD releases. Marvelous special editions of Breathless and I Am Cuba. A deluxe presentation of Berlin Alexanderplatz. The release of such long-awaited films as Killer of Sheep (an amazing 2-disc special edition), Ace in the Hole (Criterion, no less), Witchfinder General (in the uncut British version), and Duck, You Sucker (restored and reconstructed), just to name the first that come to mind. And new standards of quality and exhaustive completeness have been set with the sprawling, unprecedented box set Ford at Fox and Blade Runner: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition.
And the hits keep on coming. Warner has been working on mastering elements for a The Magnificent Ambersons special edition for years (modest editions are already available in France and Britain) and Paramount is reportedly working on an extensive restoration of The African Queen. Criterion has a Max Ophüls set in the works (the only confirmed titles are Earrings of Madame de… and Le Plaisir, and perhaps La Ronde – I hope they add Lola Montès to replace the inferior Fox Lorber edition) and is considering the films of Kenji Mizoguchi (including Street of Shame and Life of Oharu), Shohei Imamura, and Mikio Naruse (either in Criterion editions or Eclipse box sets), not to mention all those Rialto re-releases. There are Lon Chaney classics, Forbidden Hollywood collections, Looney Tunes boxes, and sets of such series as The Saint and Falcon in the works, as well as the rollout of the entire Andy Hardy series (gosh, dad, that’s swell!).
Yes, we go on and on about what’s not yet on DVD, but it is not in spite of these releases that I offer my own dream list of DVD Special Editions and Box Sets. It is because I am inspired by their example to dream big. This is no fantasy of lost films found (like the 132-minute version of Magnificent Ambersons, the 40-reel Greed, or magically rediscovered prints of London After Midnight or Four Devils), but a modest proposal to pull out films from the vaults, restore and remaster them where necessary, and give them the presentation they deserve on DVD.
What kind of releases did I choose? Here’s my top pick in a “best of” list of my dreams:
1. Touch of Evil: The Ultimate Collection
The 1998 “restoration” of Touch of Evil, which is not a director’s cut but an effort to construct a version closest to Orson Welles’s intentions guided by a detailed 58-page memo written by Welles, has all but replaced every previous version of the film. This set would feature the original 95-minute 1958 theatrical version and the 108-minute test cut (rediscovered in 1975 and premiered on the Z Channel in LA) in addition to the 1998 revision. (There’s a fourth, bastardized version, cobbled together from the theatrical and test prints, that was released on VHS as a “Director’s Cut,” but it’s more of a contrivance than a legitimate version.) I’d love to hear commentary by editor Walter Murch, producer Rick Schmidlin, and Welles historian/project advisor Jonathan Rosenbaum on the revision, and perhaps Peter Bogdanovich could offer commentary on the 1958 theatrical cut, supplemented by audio excerpts from his Welles interviews. Other supplements: the 45-minute documentary on the film and the reediting that was produced for DVD but never used (it was, however, shown on Starz) and the complete 58-page memo, plus liner notes by Rosenbaum. Universal has all of the prints, but if they don’t want to tackle it themselves, I’m sure Criterion would be happy to license the rights from them and develop this essential release in the manner of their amazing Mr. Arkadin set. The sticking point may be Beatrice Welles, who actually tried to stop the Touch of Evil revision from being released.
Also new this week:
A review of Rialto’s re-release of Diva at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
When it debuted in 1982, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva was dismissed by the French critical establishment, but young European and American college art-house audiences embraced the cool attitude, vibrant color and hip style of this lark/thriller. Twenty-five years later, the thematic naivete and juvenile sensibility are more apparent and the neon palette and funky fashion skirts seem at the edge of ’80s nostalgia and camp, but the energy and spirit is still infectious.
And I talk to David Cronenberg at MSN in my “What’s In Your DVD Player?” series.
Here’s a taste of our talk about his approach to doing commentary for his DVD releases:
You’ve done commentary for the DVD release of many of your films. Do you enjoy doing commentary, or at least find a certain satisfaction in it?
It’s kind of agonizing in a way because it’s like remaking or reliving the movie. I don’t really enjoy it, but when I do it, I try to really do it. I don’t plan it, I don’t structure it, I watch the movie and I just free associate. But within that free association there are pragmatic things that come up, how a scene might have been shot or structured, as well as intellectual things and psychological things and all of that. So for me, it’s a very intense thing to do, a commentary. I don’t laugh and giggle my way through it, the way we’ve heard some commentaries. I really try to get heavy and deep, so that it’s really worthwhile. But the end result is that it’s very exhausting. It’s like performance art, in a way.
For what it’s worth, I think your commentary tracks are among the very best I’ve ever heard on DVD, especially how they create a complete portrait of filmmaking, from the conceptual to the practical.
I’ve heard that a lot, especially from film students and of course film enthusiasts as well. And I figured that there really should be some purpose to a commentary other than just to say that you’ve done a commentary. So I’ve tried to do that. I’m glad to hear that you feel I’ve achieved that.
This interview, conducted over the phone in anticipation of the DVD release of Eastern Promises, was in fact my second interview with the director. My first was in 1999 when he was in Seattle to promote eXistenZ. Here is a transcript of that interview.