INGMAR BERGMAN TRILOGY: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, WINTER LIGHT, THE SILENCE (Criterion/Morningstar, 1961-63) D: Ingmar Bergman, w/ Gunnar Bjornstrand, Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin. Four discs. Rating: NNNNN
It's worth remembering from this far remove that Bergman's great films of the 50s, The Seventh Seal, Smiles Of A Summer Night and Wild Strawberries, were, within their context, popular hits. As intensely considered Scandinavian art films go, they were readily accessible. There may have been as many recognizable parodies of Wild Strawberries in the early 60s as there are of The Matrix. The early 60s "silence of God trilogy" offers something quite different. Bergman's style becomes even more austere (he made Sven Nykvist his cinematographer on The Virgin Spring, the film before Through A Glass Darkly), and his narratives become increasingly concentrated and intense. These films aren't tough viewing because Bergman takes the perceived silence of God seriously. They're hard to watch because he takes it personally. "I wrote my way out of my agony," Bergman remarks in the 145-minute making-of documentary on Winter Light that fills a DVD on its own - and, though he doesn't say so, he tosses us into it.
These are astonishing films filled with scorched-earth performances: Harriet Andersson's visionary in Through A Glass Darkly, Ingrid Thulin as the mistress of a priest wrestling with his absent faith in Winter Light, Thulin again in The Silence. But they aren't easy. They demand all our attention for every second of their remarkably compressed running times. At 95 minutes, The Silence is the longest of the three . Superb new transfers.
DVD EXTRAS Scholarly booklet essays, video introductions to each film by Bergman biographer Peter Cowie, and Ingmar Bergman Makes A Film, a documentary shot on the set of Winter Light by apprentice Vilgot Sjöman, who later directed I Am Curious (Yellow).
THE DECALOGUE (Facets/Morningstar, 1988) D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, w/ Krystyna Janda. Three discs. Rating: NNNNN
it's unfortunate that facets, which picked up the rights to Kieslowski's 10-hour series after Image Entertainment let it drop, lacks the resources that Miramax devoted to its issue of Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy. With its complex web of narrative, ethical inquiry and mysticism, Kieslowski's later films deserve that sort of deluxe treatment. Instead, we get the 10 episodes, all set in the same Warsaw apartment complex and each examining in dramatic terms the issues created in modern life by the Ten Commandments. It's the key work in a directorial career that spanned three decades, and the problem with descriptions of Kieslowski's films is that they leave out what enjoyable drama he creates from the most unlikely material - Kieslowski and his favorite scenarist, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, are dramatists as well as the composers of philosophical conundrums.
These are good transfers (remember, Kieslowski and his cinematographers shot the films for Polish television, so they're not in the visually spectacular class of Trois Couleurs) of essential films. The extras are minimal, though there's an excellent booklet essay by Piesiewicz.
DVD EXTRAS Introduction by Roger Ebert, Kieslowski: Known And Unknown, 100 Questions. English subtitles.
ALL THAT JAZZ (20th Century Fox, 1979) D: Bob Fosse, w/ Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking. Rating: NNNN
CHICAGO (Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Rob Marshall, w/ Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger. Rating: NNN
one of the grand anomalies of the Oscars was the placement of Catherine Zeta-Jones in the supporting category. Renée Zellweger's Roxy Hart is impressive in that she manages to succeed in a musical role despite having no background as a singer or dancer. But Zeta-Jones as Velma doesn't simply dominate the film, she convinces us that she could step into a stage production of Chicago - and I speak as someone who saw Bebe Neuwirth and Chita Rivera play the part. The best thing about Chicago is the performances - Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah. Its weakness is that director Rob Marshall makes some of the oddest choices for camera placement and cutting that I can recall in a major Hollywood musical. He doesn't seem to know where to put the camera.
So if you're checking Chicago out of the local DVD shop, add All That Jazz to your basket, because there was never a filmmaker with a better idea of how to render dance on film than Bob Fosse. Fosse reconceived his dance numbers as cinematic events, and the camera is always in the right place.
It's no coincidence that Fox decided to release All That Jazz the same week as Chicago. Roy Scheider, complete with Fosse's black wardrobe, goatee and perpetual cigarette, plays Joe Gideon, an overworked director/choreographer in the midst of cutting his last film (which looks suspiciously like Fosse's Lenny) and mounting his latest show, the numbers from which look suspiciously like lost numbers from Chicago.
You can dislike the way he turns Fellini's 81/2 into his preferred form, the Brechtian showbiz biography, but I'm perpetually astonished by his sense of that old razzle dazzle.
There's a lot to be said for his Pirandellian casting, with Anne Reinking, the definitive Fosse dancer of the 70s and occasional mistress essentially playing herself - and Scheider notes in his commentary that Fosse made her read for the part! And Jessica Lange as the angel of death.
DVD EXTRAS Chicago: A surprisingly ordinary package of extras for a picture that won six Oscars: director/writer commentary, making-of documentary, deleted musical numbers from the film. Various trailers, but not the trailer for Chicago! English and French versions, English and Spanish titles.
All That Jazz: Roy Scheider scene commentary. Theatrical trailer. English and French titles.
THE CHEERLEADERS COLLECTION: THE CHEERLEADERS , REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS , THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (Anchor Bay, 1973-1976) D: Paul Glickler/Richard Lerner/Jack Hill, w/ Stephanie Fondue and assorted young women. Three discs. Rating: NNN
In his commentary on the howl ing (see next week's NOW for review), Joe Dante remarks that in low-budget horror movies it's essential to give the audience something to laugh at, because if you don't they'll find something to laugh at on their own. This may be even truer in the least reputable genre of all, soft-core porn. Anchor Bay has restored these deathless classics of the genre, and they are self-consciously funny, except for the third one, The Swinging Cheerleaders - ironically, the only one made by a "real" filmmaker, exploitation legend Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown),
These films were made in the last moments before the rise of hard-core pornography, and while it wouldn't be accurate to call them innocent (the principal aim is to get the non-union starlets out of those cute little cheerleader outfits as quickly as possible and into sexual situations), the first two are quite funny, given their context, and the whole series is quaintly amusing.
Speaking as someone who saw them at the time, they do have astonishing nostalgia value. Exploitation films are often more perfectly representative of their historical moment than more respectable works. Anchor Bay has treated them with loving care; Cheerleaders director Paul Glickler comments that the restoration looks better than the original theatrical prints of the film.
DVD EXTRAS Filmmakers commentaries, trailers and promo material gallery, cheesecake gallery, excellent booklet essay.
Also this week
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (Alliance Atlantis, 2002) The theatrical version of the film - the extended cut special edition will be out in November.
THE HOWLING (MGM, 1981) Joe Dante's classic werewolf movie gets the special-edition treatment and heads up a huge group of horror releases from MGM, including I, Madman; the British cult film Raw Meat, with Donald Pleasence; and an assortment of double bills from Roger Corman's Poe adaptations.
THE SIMPSONS: COMPLETE SEASON THREE (20th Century Fox) Finally. At this rate, we'll get the last season of The Simpsons around the end of Hillary Clinton's second term as president.
EL MARIACHI/DESPERADO (Columbia TriStar) Just in time for the September release of Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Desperado is more a remake than a sequel, and with considerably more star power: Antonio Banderas, and Salma Hayek in her first American film role.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb