Smile Politely

Online or in the box?

Physical copies of filmed media like DVD and Blu Ray are far from dead, but growing services like On Demand and online streaming technology could be signs of what’s to come. Netflix and iTunes both rent (and iTunes sells) digital, disc-less copies of films online. As hard drives increase in size and home media becomes more and more consolidated, the pleasure people like me find in a shelf full of cases might be outweighed by the sheer practicality of having all of your high-quality films on a hard drive connected to your television.

As I said, I love physical videos, but there’s one movie-rental website that has gotten my attention: The Auteurs. The Auteurs is an archive of classic films, many of which haven’t made it to DVD yet. Associated somehow with every film nerd’s favorite video label, the Criterion Collection, the site shows “curated, rotating online film festivals,” the line up in their “cinematheque” changing once a week. Viewers have to join and pay in order to watch the movies, except the free movie of the month.

That’s right, this website offers one free movie a month to the general public. This month is a 1964 Turkish film called Dry Summer by director Susuz Yaz, presented with a introductory synopsis by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (Head-On, In July, The Edge of Heaven). It’s a good film, and free to boot, but I’m not giving up on video.

This week was pretty bare, especially because I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of Waltz with Bashir in time to write the article, but I also avoided watching Pink Panther 2 and Confessions of a Shopaholic by turning to some older films just coming out on DVD.


The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman’s most famous film may not be his best, but it is the only one parodied in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. But while its “high concept” (a knight back from the crusades plays the Grim Reaper in chess for his life) makes it easy to parody, Bergman’s film is more complex than its summary, one of the first masterpieces from one of the best filmmakers of all time.

This two-disc set, released simultaneously on Blu-Ray, is a re-issue, but its isn’t merely re-printed and repackaged, as Criterion’s first edition was of its earlier Laser Disc. This release features a new, beautiful transfer of the film and even new subtitles, as the subtitles on the Laser Disc/earlier DVD releases were notoriously terrible. It’s also packed with worthy special features, including a 1989 tribute film by Woody Allen, a pair of documentaries on Bergman, and an introduction by the recently deceased director filmed in 2003.

Lesbian Nation

This collection of short films (mostly from the 1970s and ’80s, it seems) is inevitably uneven, but most are quite good. My personal favorite is “Playing the Part,” an autobiographical essay film by a young Catholic Harvard student who hasn’t yet told her family that she’s gay. Without descending into angst or anger, director Mitch McCabe presents the emotional struggle of coming out to your family with wit and detached intelligence. According to what seems to me a rather unfair and even vindictive User Comment on imdb, McCabe no longer “considers herself gay,” but the film itself is interesting both in terms of its subject matter and its form.

Other highlights of the disc include “Jumping the Gun,” wherein a one-night stand leads a woman to envision her future life with the woman with whom she has slept, and “Little Women in Transit,” in which three sisters argue the merits of the Louisa May Alcott book in the back of their family’s car. If you’re into independent film, this collection of short films is worth a look.


I’m afraid I’m on another hiatus next week, but I’ll be back in July to review more classic films finally making it to disc, including 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Made in U.S.A.

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