The Great Escape: Special Edition
(MGM, 1963) D: John Sturges w/ Steve McQueen, James Garner. Rating: NNN
I've never quite gotten the appeal of The Great Escape. I know why it's got its rep as one of the ultimate guy movies. It's got the grace-under-pressure thing and those American stars (Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn as an Oz, Charles Bronson as a Pole) sprinkled in with that cast of stiff upper lips who are in every bloody British POW movie ever made (James Donald, Gordon Jackson, Richard Attenborough.). It's got McQueen's motorcycle escape and the blind forger (a wonderful Donald Pleasence performance) and the authenticity.
But it lacks moral shading or even much in the way of cinematic pizzazz. It's very much a boy's adventure movie, not unlike director John Sturges's earlier smash, The Magnificent Seven, which is a boy's book version of The Seven Samurai. It's one of those movies that hook you for life when you're 13, but not if you're 17.
MGM's new edition's principal virtue is the really beautiful, sharp-looking new transfer. The director/cast commentary, assembled from earlier interviews (a lot of this cast has been dead for a while now), isn't bad. Unfortunately, the second disc of extras is less interesting, being mostly assembled from a History Channel retrospective look at the movie.
EXTRAS Cast/director commentary, various History Channel documentaries, trivia track. English, French, Spanish versions and subtitles.
5 Films About Christo And Jeanne-Claude
(Plexifilms, 1975-1995) D: Albert and David Maysles. Rating: NNNN
Christo is the only artist who works in fabric and public monuments. He's best known for the astonishing Running Fence, which crossed 29 miles of Marin County in 1975, and for wrapping things like Paris's Pont-Neuf and the Berlin Reichstag in cloth. For five of his projects, Christo was accompanied by documentary filmmakers Albert and, until his death in 1987, David Maysles, to whom Christo In Paris is dedicated. Plexifilms has brought five of these fascinating documentaries together in a three-disc box: Christo's Valley Curtain, Running Fence, Christo In Paris, Islands and Umbrellas, along with an extensive new interview with the artist and full commentaries on each film by Albert Maysles, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Christo's wife, advocate and spirit level.
The title of the set is appropriate, for in addition to being a document of the artist at work, it's scenes from a marriage that's lasted more than 40 years.
The films are occasionally rough, having been shot mostly hand-held and in 16mm, and whoever mastered them for DVD managed to preserve the occasional hair in the gate. A couple hang in for almost five minutes in Valley Curtain.
But they're fascinating. We seldom see moving pictures of Christo's monumental and ephemeral projects. Still photos don't do justice to Running Fence or the wrapped Pont-Neuf. The Maysles document the fact that the hard part is rarely conceiving the project and executing it - it's getting permission. The simplest project of all, wrapping the Pont Neuf, took more than 10 years of dealing with French bureaucrats and political weasels.
The then mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, can actually talk out of both his faces at once.
EXTRAS Filmmaker/subject commentaries on all films.
Saudade Do Futuro
(Facets/Morningstar, 2000) D: César Paes. Rating: NNNN
According to a glossary on the DVD, Saudade is an "almost untranslatable term expressing tender regret for something one never quite had." Just in case you thought it was some new dance craze. This documentary looks at the marginalized lives and vibrant street culture of the "nordestinos," the country people from northeastern Brazil who migrate to São Paulo in search of work. They find prejudice and poverty but maintain their spirit in the face of the disdain of the Paulistas.
César Paes is inclined to rely on obvious juxtapositions, like cutting from the braying fury of the stock exchange, where you can still see 80s-style power suspenders, to the feisty single mom and her daughter who seem more alive, which is the director's plan. But he also has great feeling for the raw, satiric rhymes of the street singers and musicians and the lively give-and-take of daily life in the worst parts of the city.
EXTRAS Two deleted scenes, music recording sessions, glossary, an impressionistic behind-the-scenes short and character guides. Portuguese with English subtitles.
A note on non-mainstream titles
I get the occasional e-mail asking where you can find some title I've reviewed, usually on a non-studio label like Criterion, Kino or Plexifilms. The only thing I can say is that you'll have to leave the comfort of Blockbuster or Rogers. Try Queen Video (412 Queen West, 416-504-3030, and others), Suspect Video (619 Queen West, 416-504-7135), Bay Street Video (1172 Bay, 416-964-9088), After Dark (1043 Bathurst) or Very Video (1375 Yonge, 416-929-8379). All have a more adventurous selection than the mega-chains.
Coming Tuesday, June 1
Monster/Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer
(Columbia/TriStar) Here's a chance to catch both Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning portrait of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and the real thing in Nick Broomfield's second documentary on the subject, including a death house interview.
(Columbia/TriStar) With Spidey 2 looming on the release schedule, Columbia offers a new three-disc SE, which has to be better than the last two-disc not-very-special edition and a single-disc superbit issue.
Trainspotting: Special Edition
(Alliance Atlantis) A whole disc of extra features on what Miramax/Alliance is touting as the "director's cut," which makes you wonder who cut the last one. Best advertisement ever for not doing heroin.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb