The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection: Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, I Confess, Stage Fright, Dial M For Murder, Strangers On A Train, The Wrong Man, North By Northwest
(Warner, 1940-1959) Rating: NNNN
I have a problem with terminology when discussing this collection of nine Hitchcock films, seven of them getting their DVD debuts.
Aside from North By Northwest and Strangers On A Train, these are generally considered "secondary" Hitchcock. That is, they're thought of as less important than Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, Notorious, Shadow Of A Doubt and The 39 Steps. Well. But a film can be less accomplished than any one of those titles and still be an awfully good movie.
Indeed, if these films were the best of Hitchcock, he'd still be a major filmmaker. It's hard to imagine a director who wouldn't be proud of a crackerjack political thriller like Foreign Correspondent, a pair of Catholic noirs like I Confess and The Wrong Man or a perverse mystery like Stage Fright.
North By Northwest is Warner's original issue, with its Ernest Lehman commentary and reference-quality transfer. Strangers On A Train is not the extant special edition; there's new supporting material, and the transfer has been given a huge upgrade that warrants the replacement. The other titles are superb transfers: I Confess is startlingly beautiful, and the atmospheric New York location work on The Wrong Man is revelatory.
My one complaint is that there's no 3-D transfer of Dial M For Murder, the best film ever in the stereoscopic process. And one oddity: eight of the films come in keepcases, which Warner has finally switched to after years of customer moaning, but North By Northwest is in the old snapper packaging and doesn't quite fit in the box.
Aside from the special-edition treatment of North By Northwest and Strangers, the other films are light on extras, but the short documentary with each film offers critical perspectives from Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Schickel, production reminiscences from Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia (who appears in Strangers On A Train), and from collaborators like designer Paul Sylbert and actors Farley Granger and Jane Wyman.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailers, critical/historical featurettes. English, French, Spanish subtitles. North By Northwest: screenwriter commentary, score-only audio track. Strangers On A Train: 1951 "preview" version of the film, critical commentary, making-of documentary, appreciation by M. Night Shyamalan, newsreels.
Man On Fire
(20th Century Fox, 2004) D: Tony Scott, w/ Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning. Rating: NN Since Enemy of the State, Tony Scott has been taken with the hyper-caffeinated style of that film, a style keyed to the world of surveillance, which means that the rapid-fire shifts of lens and stock have a certain pertinence to the film's material. Man On Fire is a dogged vengeance movie starring Denzel Washington as a bodyguard who goes after the men who kidnapped his charge in Mexico and shot him in the process. You get the feeling that as he was making the film, Scott got kind of bored and began distrusting the story. He starts laying on the time shifts and cubist perspectives and mannerist style, so sometimes we seem to be looking at outtakes from The Hunger and sometimes Scott seems to wish he were remaking City Of God.
If anyone needs proof that Washington is a great star, here it is. This picture's a morally repulsive mess, and he holds it together. His performance is the only thing here that has integrity.
EXTRAS Director commentary, producer/writer/star (Fanning) commentary, trailer. English captions.
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1991) D: Richard Linklater, w/ Teresa Taylor, Jerry Delony. Rating: NNNNN Richard Linklater's monument to Gen X cultural quirks looks as if it hasn't dated one day since it was made. People are still arguing about the legitimacy of the Bush election, even if it's a different Bush; you can still hear conspiracy-loving malcontents in coffee shops, even if the price of espresso has jumped; and Madonna's still a big star. Watching it several years later, I'm struck by its structural elegance. How did anyone who watched the wittily constructed transitions from character to character ever think this was a documentary, or improvised?
EXTRAS This two-disc special edition gives the ultra-low-budget classic the full Criterion treatment: director, cast and crew commentaries, outtakes, several Linklater shorts, a film of the 10th-anniversary Slacker reunion and, heaven help us all, Linklater's first feature, a Super 8 epic of alienation called You Can't Learn To Plow By Reading A Book, which Linklater describes in his commentary as having been inspired by James Benning and Chantal Akerman. You may want several large espressos with that one, but I'm glad it's there. Booklet essays, gallery of Austin Film Society programs, "audition" tapes, stills gallery, Linklater essay on slacker culture. English subtitles.
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: Live At Montreux
(Eagle Vision, 1982 and 1985) w/ Stevie Ray Vaughan. Rating: NNN In the Stevie Ray Vaughan DVD catalogue, the Austin City Limits episode is the best shot, but the fixed-time format is slightly confining. The legendary El Mocambo shows offer apocalyptic performances, but the video quality suffers, shall we say, from the limitations of the technology and venue. These new-to-DVD issues of the band's concerts at the Montreux jazz festival are somewhere in between - they look better than the El Mo shows, and have better performances than ACL.
Vaughan came to Montreux in 82 unsigned and unknown but returned in 85 to star for a longer set, joined by Texas blues legend Johnny Copeland. The filming suffers from a certain lack of planning: when Vaughan is soloing, why are we on that over-the-drummer's-shoulder shot of his back?
In the 90-minute set from 85, the filmmakers run out of film or tape and the last 20 or so minutes are shot from one camera at the back of the auditorium. For fans of great blues guitar, these performances would be as well served by CDs, but the DVDs will have to do.
EXTRAS Success In Disguise documentary with Vaughan's bandmates and Jackson Browne. Stereo and 5.1 soundtracks.
Coming Tuesday, September 21
The Star Wars Trilogy
(20th Century Fox) Or at least George Lucas's latest thoughts on the Star Wars Trilogy. Help me, Obi-Wan - you're my only hope.
(Paramount) Lindsay Lohan in this latter-day Heathers, from the word processor of SNL's Tina Fey.
La Dolce Vita
(Koch-Lorber) Fellini's classic look at Roman café society, and a prescient foreshadowing of today's celebrity culture. Two-disc special edition.
John Cassavetes: Five Films
(Criterion/Morningstar) Shadows, Faces, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie and A Woman Under The Influence are classics. Opening Night not so much.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb