Gone With The Wind (Warner, 1939) D: Victor Fleming w/ Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable. Rating: NNN
This lavish new four-disc presentation of Gone With The Wind has certain virtues and reveals certain limitations in the Warner video approach to historical special editions. The transfer is gorgeous. At a time when there were only seven technicolor cameras in Hollywood, Gone With The Wind, with its flamboyant production design by William Cameron Menzies, is a technicolor extravaganza. There's nothing else from the era that looks anything like it.
On the other hand, producer David O. Selznick's insistence on absolute fidelity to the book means that the film is epically long. I suspect that, like Titanic, judicious trimming would have improved it, and the good bits stick out like plums in the pudding: the scene at the Atlanta train station, the first-act curtain, every scene with Clark Gable.
While I'm not a fan of the film, this presentation should satisfy anyone who is.
The extras aren't what they should be for such a popular and enduring film; they're more like something out of a Ted Turner yard sale. The two big documentaries, on the making of the film and on Gable, are more than 20 years old. (In fairness, the making-of is pretty good, with lots of the screen tests and outtakes.) The Vivien Leigh documentary is a soft-shell production hosted by Jessica Lange. The only really new thing is an interview with Olivia DeHavilland, who doesn't dish anyone or tell any stories except how wonderful it all was.
EXTRAS Historical production commentary by Rudy Behlmer, who's really good at them; The Making Of A Legend; restoration documentary; premiere newsreels; Melanie Remembers - Olivia DeHavilland Recalls Gone With The Wind; Gable: The King Remembered; Vivien Leigh: Scarlett And Beyond; cameo portraits of the supporting cast. Original mono soundtrack included. English and French versions; English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Ju-on (Lions Gate, 2002) D: Takashi Shimizu, w/ Okina Megumi, Ito Misaki. Rating: NNNN
There's an odd bonus on this first Region-1 issue of Ju-On, the source for current hit The Grudge. The commentary is by Sam Raimi, who executive produced the remake, and his long- time associate, Scott Spiegel, who wrote Evil Dead II. Raimi is more interesting and animated than usual. In commentaries on his own films he often lets actor Bruce Campbell take up the slack. He makes the interesting observation that shooting the remake on a set gave director Takashi Shimizu more visual freedom than he had on the original, which is filmed in a real house. I'd be tempted to argue the other way, that the limitations of the original's physical space intensify the claustrophobic mood, but with Ju-On now available on DVD, people can judge that for themselves.
This is an extremely creepy horror movie rather than an extremely scary one; few can top the Japanese when it comes to nameless dread. The usual extras are supplied, demonstrating that behind-the-scenes footage on American and Japanese film sets is pretty much the same. Give Lions Gate a bonus point for the very witty menu.
EXTRAS Sam Raimi commentary, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer for the North American release, cast and crew interviews. Japanese and English versions, English and Spanish titles.
Stupidity (Microflims, 2003) D: Albert Nerenberg, w/ Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore. Rating: NNN
This short (77 minutes) documentary comes festooned with rave quotes, including one from NOW, but I'm not sure about its shelf life. Nerenberg, a former newsguy also responsible for the Trailervision shorts, isn't quite as funny as he thinks he is. Given the subject under discussion, Stupidity should generate more laughs and less depression. The film takes a shotgun approach, swinging from the original IQ test designations (morons are smarter than idiots) to examples of brainlessness from contemporary culture, to notable talking heads like Noam Chomsky and film critic Geoff Pevere, the former alleging that the education system in America is designed to produce stupidity, the latter that Adam Sandler's not as dumb as he looks.
The DVD is well presented, and includes an extended interview with Nerenberg from the Documentary Channel and full versions of the various interviews, although nine minutes of Chomsky is enough to inspire suicide.
EXTRAS Director commentary, extended interviews, director interview, Ignorance Quotient Text, director's booklet essay. English.
Before Sunset (Warner, 2004) D: Richard Linklater, w/ Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. Rating: NNN
This nine-years-later sequel to Before Sunrise finds Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Paris. He's doing a signing for his novel based on the events of the earlier film, she shows up to see him, and they spend a lot of time wandering around Paris talking. I understand why a lot of people are very fond of these two films, though I don't share their enthusiasm, in part because I have an almost chemical dislike of Ethan Hawke. I don't think he's a bad actor. He just annoys me, which creates certain problems of appreciation when he's in almost every frame of the damn film. On the other hand, I will watch almost any movie that contains an hour or so of Paris street scenes, just to look at Paris.
EXTRAS Given what a labour of love this was for Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, Warner might have gotten them to sit for a commentary. As it is, the only extras on the DVD are a very short making-of documentary and the theatrical trailer.
Coming Tuesday, November 16
Fanny And Alexander (Criterion/Morningstar, 1982) In two different versions: the two-disc, which includes the theatrical-release three-hour version of Bergman's film; or the deluxe five-disc set, which includes the theatrical version alongside the five-hour television version and a new documentary.
Short Cuts (Criterion/Morningstar, 1993) Robert Altman's three-hour collision of Raymond Carver stories, with extensive documentary material, a 50-minute Carver interview and the usual stuff. As noted before in these pages, it's a good year for Altman fans.
Ragtime (Paramount, 1981) Milos Forman's adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's historical fantasy. New to DVD, with a Forman commentary.
The Saddest Music In The World (TVA, 2003) Guy Maddin's toxic bit of whimsy about a Depression-era beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini) in search of the titular tune.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb