CASABLANCA: 60TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner, 1942) D: Michael Curtiz, w/ Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman. Rating: NNNNN
this is the second dvd issue of Casablanca, but the first from its home studio. If this edition is any indication, then Warner's long-awaited dive into its great archives has been worth waiting for. Two-disc special editions of The Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and Yankee Doodle Dandy are scheduled for the end of September. The earlier MGM DVD had a good print, an array of Bogart trailers and a half-hour making-of documentary. Warner has generally taken care of its crown jewel films, and here they offer a stunning print of Casablanca in the setting it deserves. Roger Ebert's commentary, by the way, gives a very striking consideration of Ingrid Bergman's performance, which most viewers (including me) have been inclined to undervalue.
DVD EXTRAS You Must Remember This, a documentary from the MGM disc; critical commentary by Ebert and historical commentary by Rudy Behlmer; Bacall On Bogart, a 90-minute PBS documentary from 1988; Carrotblanca, the Looney Toons cartoon parody with Bugs Bunny as Rick; an episode of the ill-conceived mid-50s attempt to make Casablanca into a TV series; theatrical trailer; scores of production memos.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: 25 YEARS OF MUSIC (Video Services Corp, 1975-1999) w/ Patti Smith, the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon. Five discs. Rating: NNNN
five discs with seven hours of material, this box set presents a striking array of the musical talent that appeared on SNL up until 1999. It becomes gradually less interesting from the pre-MTV days when Patti Smith and Talking Heads were making their only network TV appearances to Ricky Martin's 900th televised performance of La Vida Loca. There's still some good stuff on the late discs - Beck's theatrically compelling performance of Where It's At, Garbage's Special and Snoop Doggy Dogg's Snoop's Upside Your Hide. But Metallica needs a bigger room and no one really needs Hanson. The set also brings out a few pieces rarely seen in repeats: Sinead O'Connor's career suicide; Elvis Costello's sudden program change from Less Than Zero to Radio Radio when a sizable contingent of radio programming execs were in the audience, making producer Lorne Michaels so furious that Costello didn't appear again for a decade.
There are also a couple of embarrassments - watch Go-Go's drummer Gina Schock counting off the beat as she plays (there's no song with a straighter 4/4 beat than We Got The Beat). And on the subject of embarrassment, couldn't they find anyone but Jay Mohr to host the fourth disc?
Interspersed with the musical material are well-chosen musical parodies and sketches - Aerosmith and Madonna on Wayne's World, John Belushi's great duet with Joe Cocker on Feelin' Alright, both Joe Piscopo's and Phil Hartman's Frank Sinatras and Eddie Murphy's Stevie Wonder.
Recommended with the note that the fifth disc won't get as much play.
THE PORNOGRAPHERS (Criterion, 1966) D: Shohei Imamura w/ Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto. Rating: NNNN
The Protagonist of Shohei Imamura's early masterpiece is a grubby porno director who shoots 8mm films, peddles stroke books and is not above a little pimping on the side. He lives with a widow ("Who's better? Your dead husband or me?"), lusts after her daughter and eventually goes mad. Which proves, as do most of Imamura's best films, that the synopsis doesn't begin to describe the film. With its berserk, doubling-back plot, incestuous longings and fragmented 35mm compositions, The Pornographers is the sort of film that detonates in your mind as you watch it. It's a strange cultural artifact even by Japanese standards. Criterion has created a new, very clean transfer and an excellent set of subtitles, but I really wish they'd gotten someone to do a commentary. While most films don't need a critical commentary, The Pornographers is so peculiarly of its time and place that I wish someone would talk us through areas like the legal status of pornography in mid-60s Japan, the mythological significance of incest in Japanese culture, and if the film's coda is lifted from a famous Japanese story (it's sure not from the original novel). And what's the deal with the carp?
DVD EXTRAS None. Brief booklet essay by J. Hoberman.
WILL & GRACE: SEASON ONE (Lions Gate, 1998-99) w/ Eric McCormack, Debra Messing. Four discs. Rating: NNNN
Having finally caught up with Will & Grace during syndication, I was struck by the astonishing level of craft involved in its creation. The scripts are intricate and have some genuine wit, and James Burrows, who directed the entire first season, may be the best sitcom director (Cheers, Frasier, Friends) alive. I was also struck by how this show has managed to survive five years with a set of unlikeable characters. Will (McCormack) and Grace (Messing) are essentially identical to their comic foils Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally), but with a coat of niceness slapped on about a millimetre thick. Every character is vain, self-absorbed and obsessive-compulsive. Of course, funny counts for a lot, but Will & Grace tries to be Friends with Seinfeld characters, and when it goes for a big emotional moment, it never has the sincerity to bring it off. Highly enjoyable, though, and Messing is that fabulous combination - a beautiful woman with the instincts and fearlessness of a great clown. On the other hand, Will & Grace, like Sex And The City, occasionally feels like a show where all the characters are gay men, including the straight women. Especially the straight women.
DVD EXTRAS Not much. Interviews with cast, creators and director, and 11 "themed featurettes" that are actually themed clip compilations.
Also this week
THE DECALOGUE (MorningStar/Facets) Three-disc special edition of Krzysztof Kieslowski's 10-episode series examining the commandments through stories set in a Warsaw apartment complex. Must-see TV.
CHICAGO (Alliance Atlantis) The Oscar-winning musical version of the famous stage play. No doubt timed to take advantage, Fox is releasing Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (with a scene commentary by Roy Scheider) just to remind us what the choreography in Chicago is supposed to look like, and Warner has a reissue of Cabaret , though it doesn't seem to be a new edition. Also, to go completely old-school, Columbia HV brings out Cover Girl , the breakout film for Gene Kelly, also starring Rita Hayworth in a rare musical lead before her emergence as one of the darkest angels of film noir.
THE INGMAR BERGMAN TRILOGY (Criterion) Just in case you were having too much fun with those musicals: Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb