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2008 Gift Guide

Videos / DVDS

DVD Box Sets and Special Editions

Just out this week, 20th Century Fox Home Video’s Murnau, Borzage and Fox is, if you’re a cinephile, wonderful almost beyond description. It collects the 12 surviving films that F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage made for William Fox in the late silent and early sound years, when Fox had a lot of money and was willing to spend it on “artistic” productions. The set includes the canonical classic Sunrise (by Murnau, seen here in both the U.S. and international versions) and Borzage’s unjustly neglected trilogy of films that present transcendence through romantic love, Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Lucky Star. There is also Murnau’s mostly unknown drama City Girl and Borzage’s poignant-yet-rough-edged depression romance, Bad Girl. The inclusion of the latter is especially heartening; a lot of early Fox talkies have disappeared, and it has been easier to check out (at the Albany Institute of History and Art, no less) one of the two Oscars Bad Girl won than the film itself. This hefty box also includes a new, two-hour-long documentary and two coffee-table books of essays and photos.

It has been suggested by more than a few critics that The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration (Paramount) is a good reason to invest in a Blu-ray player. I don’t know from Blu-ray, but even on a regular DVD the good efforts of a lot of worthy people (including Martin Scorsese, who prodded Paramount into doing the right thing and restore the films, and cinematographer Gordon Willis, who was consulted extensively) went into making Francis Coppola’s epic gangster films—especially the first, which reportedly was in awful shape—look the way they should.

Speaking of Scorsese, he joins fellow filmmakers Clint Eastwood and Taylor Hackford in introducing the movies in Sony’s The Budd Boetticher Box Set. These are a much admired group of serious, taut 1950s westerns directed by the one-time bullfighter Budd Boetticher. All were made under the auspices of producer-star Randolph Scott; the set includes The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, and Comanche Station. To round out a perfect gift package for someone who loves westerns, you can add Paramount’s DVD of another Boetticher-Scott collaboration, Seven Men From Now. This film features a wicked performance by a young Lee Marvin.

Also from the 1950s is Universal’s Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition (Universal). This 2-disc edition of the Orson Welles noir masterpiece includes the 1998 version re-edited according to Welles’ own memo (a copy of which is reproduced and included here); the original 1958 release version; and the slightly longer preview version that turned up in the 1970s. What makes this set special—aside from the sparkling new transfers—are the multiple commentary tracks, which feature actors (Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh), critics (Jonathan Rosenbaum) and historians (Rick Schmidlin).

Now for something completely, um, crazy: The Pink Panther: The Ultimate Collection (MGM). This compiles all but one of the Pink Panther comedies starring Peter Sellers, Steve Martin, Roberto Benigni (ouch) and Alan Arkin (weird but fun), as well as all 190—really, they made that many—of the Friz Freleng-produced Pink Panther (and Inspector and Aardvark) cartoons. The chasm between brilliance (Sellers) and dreck (Benigni) in this set is staggering.

Speaking of the swinging ’60s, the Cult Epics imprint has issued a two-disc edition of the glossy 1969 French romance Slogan. It’s interesting as a visually slick cultural time capsule starring French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who also did the music, of course) as a shallow ad man who, despite having a pregnant wife, gets involved in an affair with a Brit model-singer played by Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg’s real-life muse. The extras include interviews with the director, Pierre Grimblat, and Birkin.

From out of the vaults, and courtesy of the Criterion Collection, comes Samuel Fuller’s White Dog. The 1982 drama is the story of a young woman (Kristy McNichol) who takes in a stray German shepherd with a nasty secret—he’s been trained, by a white supremacist, to attack black people. (Village Voice critic J. Hoberman, in the DVD notes, dubs it Rin Tin Tin Joins the Klan.) The film, which costars Paul Winfield and Burl Ives, had limited initial screenings; the resulting uproar caused Paramount to shelve it. Here it is, finally, and it’s earning raves for its typically Fullerian pulpy power and tough anti-racist stance.

Finally, Zeitgeist is offering a serious upgrade of the previous DVD edition of Olivier Assayas’ 1997 French cult fave Irma Vep: It sports a new anamorphic transfer, a featurette, 30 minutes of on-set footage, black-and-white rushes from the film-within-the-film, and a 16-page booklet with essays by the director and critic Kent Jones. The film, a comedy about the botched filming of a remake of Feuillade’s Les Vampires, features Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung as “herself,” and French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud as an eccentric director. It’s a sly portrait of the filmmaking process, and a wicked satire of certain French attitudes about “culture.”

—Shawn Stone

Holiday DVDs

There is no home-video holiday awesomeness this year more awesome than A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (Comedy Central). Finally, a contemporary TV host who gets it. Gets what, you may ask? “Gets” that what Real Americans want are new variety specials at Christmastime! Relax with the rest of the Colbert Nation as Stephen Colbert is joined by a stellar array of musical guests, including Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist (as an angel of the Lord), Toby Keith, Elvis Costello, and Stephen’s Jewish friend Jon Stewart, who tells the Colbert Nation all about Hanukkah.

I think an Amazon.com commenter from Lutheran Minnesota best captured what makes A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All so special: “What an incredible joyous time we had watching Stephen Colbert and his struggle with bears!”

Meanwhile, Universal offers up its third DVD version of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, a three-disc edition that has the original black-and-white film, a colorized version and a soundtrack CD. With its snappy dialogue, great songs and terrific stars—Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire—it’s a holiday perennial.

Finally, Warner Home Video offers A Charlie Brown Christmas: Remastered Deluxe Edition, promising improved visual quality. Fine, just don’t mess with the Snoopy dance.

—Shawn Stone

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