Friday, March 11, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special I For One Welcome Our New Kino Overlords Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Kino/Lorber's DVD of Two in the Wave, Emmanuel Laurent's fascinating documentary look at the sometimes stormy relationship between the great French filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, be what we're talking about? Is Kino/Lorber's Blu-ray of American Grindhouse, Elijah Drenner's eye-opening and often hilarious look at the history of exploitation filmmakers and filmmaking, by any chance a serious contender? Or might Kino/Lorber's respective disc versions of Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, a director's cut of one the most interesting portraits of a great and wildly eccentric artist in recent memory, conceivably be The Ones?

All worthy, to be sure, especially the Glenn Gould flick, although if truth be told American Grindhouse isn't actually out yet. Nevertheless, for my money it absolutely has to be Kino International's absolute fantastic new Blu-ray version of Buster Keaton's brilliant 1923 comedy of Americana Our Hospitality.

Keaton stars as Willlie McKay, a youthful dreamer living in 1830 Manhattan (the first shot of the city back then will blow you away, BTW) who travels westward on a rickety train thinking he's going to claim his birthright, which turns out to be a shack rather than the mansion he'd imagined. Worse, the object of his affection (Natalie Talmadge, Keaton's real life wife) is part of a family that, unbeknownst to McKay, has had a decades long blood feud with his. It all works out in an amazing and ahead of its time mix of slapstick, melodrama and spectacle; the opening train trip, for example, is fifteen or so minutes of sustained comic invention that will have you laughing till your sides hurt, and there are several other big set pieces, including a famous waterfall rescue sequence, that must be seen to be believed.

Here's a clip -- which doesn't look as good as it does on the Kino disc, and features rather cheesy musical accompaniment (see below) -- but which will give you a pretty good idea of the film's ineffable charm nonetheless.

The new Kino version, tinted where appropriate, comes from a print in mostly very good condition, and of course there are some interesting bonuses, including the 1925 short The Iron Mule (which finds amusing new uses for Hospitality's locomotive) as well as a work print of a 40 minute alternate edit of OH, which strips out all the gags and was apparently put together by Keaton to see if the story worked without them. But the real reason you need to get this is the symphonic score -- in 5.1. Surround -- by Carl Davis, originally written for the Thames Silents British tv series in 1984. Davis pretty much cornered the market on composing great new music for 20s films in the 80s and early 90s, but many of those scores, which were available on VHS or laserdisc versions of the films (including Our Hospitality), have long been of print; kudos to Kino, in other words, for bringing this one back into wide circulation. [Now will somebody please reissue the version of Victor Seastrom's great The Wind with the Davis score that MGM/UA had on tape and has never been on DVD or Blu-ray? Thank you.]

Bottom line: This one's not to be missed; get thee over to Amazon here and order a copy now.

And with that out of the way, and given that things will most likely be a little serene around here until Monday, here's a fun and obviously relevant little project to will away the idle hours:

Best or Worst Period Comedy, i.e. One Set in an Era Not Its Own!!!

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. The General (Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, 1926)

One of the greatest films ever made; it's like a Matthew Brady photo come to life with gags.

4. A Southern Yankee (Edward Sedgwick, 1946)

A semi-remake of the above, and often painfully unfunny. Keaton (uncredited) was brought in to stage some of the big scenes, but it really didn't help.

3. Start the Revolution Without Me (Bud Yorkin, 1970)

An attempted pastiche of A Tale of Two Cities and The Corsican Brothers, and despite a good cast, pretty much of a misfire. That business/pleasure scene in the clip is actually the funniest thing in the movie, which isn't saying much.

2. Animal House (John Landis, 1978)

Screamingly funny, obviously, but the period detail is dead on as well. Trust me -- I was there, and if there's an anachronism on view here I haven't noticed it yet.

And the Numero Uno not-so-hot cinematic evocation of a vanished era that probably never was clearly is....

1. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen, 2001)

Woody's take on one of those old 1940s private eye comedy-mysteries. The thing looks authentic, and the gags are often funny, but mostly it doesn't work, and mostly because the then 66 year old star comes off as creepy trying to get into Helen Hunt's pants.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?