DVD of the Week – ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ – October 14, 2008

The infamous photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and detainees (some of them innocent of any crime) by American MPs at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad have become iconic imagery of American military shame, displayed so many times that they have begun to lose their shock value.  Errol Morris returns to these photographs, which were taken from three separate cameras and freely shared with the servicemen and women posted at the prison, as exhibit A in his investigation what happened, how and why. Standard Operating Procedure brings the horror back to the images

Morris interviews five of the seven indicted MPs (including Lynndie England, whose “thumbs up” poses with naked prisoners gave her instant global notoriety) among his numerous witnesses. His technique is unsettling and direct: they look directly at the audience, challenging us to really confront their stories and experiences. Even more unsettling is his use of the eerie cameraphone footage of the MPs with the prisoners which, unlike the photos, has not been dulled by media overexposure. The result is not simply a political documentary. It’s a police procedural, an investigative mystery, a study in perceptions, a portrait in how the media shapes a story and how the government shapes a story for the media. He finds compelling evidence of institutionalized behavior tacitly, if not the explicitly, approved by officers up the chain of command. So why wasn’t it pursued?

For Morris, it all comes back to the photos themselves. The only crimes prosecuted were the ones seen by the public in the leaked photographs: the evidence that shamed the military, embarrassed the United States, convicted the MPs involved, and now stand as the iconographic image of American arrogance and hypocrisy. Eyewitness statements can be contradicted or denied. The photographs could not, and the people in those photos were branded with the crimes. Standard Operating Procedure challenges us to really understand not just what the pictures show but what they don’t show (absence of leadership and accountability, absence of a plan, does not show up in a picture) and to see them in context. And he confronts us with the most important question surrounding them: Do they reveal a crime, an aberration in the system, or standard operating procedure?

Read  the DVD review on MSN here.

Also new this week is the Hammer Films Icons Of Horror Collection, a collection of four minor but enjoyable horror films from the House of Hammer:

The house of Hammer’s reigning auteur Terence Fisher directs the two stand-out productions in the collection. His 1960 The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll revels in the atmosphere of gothic repression and lurid debauchery established in their lusty revisions of Universal monster classics. Fisher makes Hyde a seductive monster, handsome and suave, as he descends into the nightclub underworld of Victorian England. Paul Massie is a weak leading man but Christopher Lee is gleefully hedonistic as Jekyll’s smiling viper of a hypocritical best friend who becomes Hyde’s partner in debauchery. The Gorgon (1964) is a rare Hammer trip into myth and fantasy, a take on the Greek Medusa myth transported to a rural turn-of-the-century European village and reworked as a full moon curse. The opening is as much gothic fairy tale as gothic horror and the thick atmosphere of suspicion and dread is more effective than the confused story and the awkward special effects.

The set also features Scream of Fear and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mongol and The Edge Of Heaven:

A professor of German literature (Baki Davrak) travels to Turkey to atone for his father’s crime and a Turkish political activist (Nurgül Yesilçay) flees to Germany and finds refuge and love (but at a cost) in Fatih Akin’s compassionate and affirming drama. Like Akin’s previous “Head-On,” the issue of identity among Germans of Turkish ethnicity is central to the characters. But more important is humanity revealed in the tragedies and odysseys of the characters as they travel from Germany to Turkey and from Turkey to German, and the embrace of human kinship beyond ethnicity.

TV: Nash Bridges: The First Season, Speed Racer: The Complete Classic Collection (“Go, Speed Racer, go!”) and Buck Henry’s short-lived sci-fi spoof Quark: The Complete Series:

Buck Henry , who co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks, tries to do to the science fiction explosion what they did to the spy genre in the sixties. It doesn’t quite work this time around. Richard Benjamin stars as the eternally sunny commander of an intergalactic garbage scow on the garbage patrol with an eccentric crew: Richard Kelton is the Spock stand-in as emotionless plant man Ficus, Tim Thomerson ping-pongs between a macho space Marine and an effeminate stereotype as the “transmute” First Mate, plus there’s a goofy mad scientist, a goofier coward of a robot and a pair of sexy cloned twin engineers in matching bikini outfits. The electronic theme recalls Star Trek and the second episode, a double-length epic battle against the dreaded Gorgons (a stand in for the Klingons), parodies Star Wars with Benjamin as the Luke Skywalker who taps into The Source (voice of Hans Conried). It all seemed a lot funnier when I was 12.

Special Releases: Terrence Malick’s The New World: Extended Cut, Kon Ichikawa’s Revenge of a Kabuki Actor (a.k.a. An Actor’s Revenge) and Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig:

Helmut Berger plays 19th-century King Ludwig II in Luchino Visconti’s melancholy, sometimes lugubrious but always beautiful study in madness and decadence. The notorious “mad king” of Bavaria was crowned in 1864 at the age of twenty withdrew from the world into his fantasy fairy tale kingdom.

Blu-ray: What we’ve all been waiting for: The Ultimate Matrix Collection!

The cyber-mythology trilogy, previously celebrated in a 10-disc box set (as well a deluxe edition in the short-lived HD DVD format), gets the Blu-ray treatment in a seven-disc set…. While the films have all been mastered in high definition, the supplements are standard format and the three supplementary discs are standard DVDs, the same as in the previous box sets. The Blu-ray version, however, all but tosses out the interactive “Follow the White Rabbit” function from the DVD releases for the much more detailed and elaborately produced exclusive “In-Movie Experience,” a mix of commentary and picture-in-picture documentary footage to create a documentary running in parallel to the film. It’s by far the best of such audio-visual tracks I’ve seen on a Blu-ray to date.

Read the complete  Blu-ray review here.

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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