MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS THE BLUES (Columbia) Seven discs. Rating: NNNN
Where Ken Burns's Jazz built an ideological box and tried to cram jazz into it, snipping off the troublesome bits, Martin Scorsese's The Blues turns seven filmmakers loose in their own areas of interest, so this is a very mixed bag. It ranges from academic (Scorsese's Feel Like Going Home) to autobiographical (Charles Burnett's Warming By The Devil's Fire), from infuriating fiction (Wim Wenders's The Soul Of A Man) to drooling fandom (Clint Eastwood's Piano Blues). Invaluable for the astonishing array of archival footage it contains and the filmmakers' willingness to wander through their subjects. Like a hot afternoon in the Mississippi Delta, it never seems to be moving with any purpose.
THE F.W. MURNAU COLLECTION (Kino) Five discs. Rating: NNNNN
Five films by one of the great masters of the German Expressionist cinema: Nosferatu, Last Laugh, Faust, Tartuffe and his final film, Tabu, a collaboration with the great documentarian Robert Flaherty (Nanook Of The North) shot in Tahiti. The restorations aren't so striking as the Murnau Foundation's work on Metropolis, but overall it's a very worthy set. In particular, this Nosferatu gives us the longest version available in any video format. The extras are a bit thin but choice - two new scores on Nosferatu, a 35-minute biography of Murnau on Tartuffe, an academic/historical commentary on Tabu, a newly recorded orchestral score on Faust. For the silent film fan on your Xmas list.
FASSBINDER: THE BRD TRILOGY (Criterion) Four discs. Rating: NNNNN
Fassbinder's films on the German economic miracle of the 50s - The Marriage Of Maria Braun, Lola and Veronika Voss - are full-blooded melodramas. Here, they get the deluxe treatment from Criterion: brand new transfers, full commentaries, new, in-depth interviews with the stars, writers and cinematographers. The fourth disc includes a feature-length biographical documentary on Fassbinder and a 50-minute interview with him. Because nothing says Christmas like dark-hued German cinema.
THE JAMES BOND COLLECTION (MGM/UA)
This is tricky. There are three boxes, each running between $130 and $150, each containing six or seven Bond films in wide-screen special editions. I've seen the three boxes boxed up together for around $300 at HMV, though I can't imagine who'd actually want The Man With The Golden Gun or Moonraker. Volume 1 has the two best Brosnans in Tomorrow Never Dies and Goldeneye, and two of the best Connerys in Dr. No and Goldfinger. And The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me and the lesser Timothy Dalton, License To Kill. That's the blue box. Volume 2, in the brown box, has the best Connery, From Russia With Love, my favourite Moore in For Your Eyes Only and the best of the Daltons, The Living Daylights. Then it's a pair of lesser Connery Bonds, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice, Moonraker and the least of the Brosnans, The World Is Not Enough, with Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist! Volume 3, in the silver box, has the odd man out, the underrated On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Thunderball, the other good Connery, Die Another Day and then the depths of the Roger Moore Bonds, Live And Let Die, Octopussy and A View To A Kill. The editions are generally excellent: director and producer commentaries, making-of documentaries, good transfers and fun extras. But these are gifts for the hardest-core Bondophiles. Perhaps the thing to do is to buy all three boxes, sort out the ones you want to keep, then give the ones you don't like to a friend who has no taste or an enemy who does. Too tough to rate.