Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Free Cinema

Free Cinema
Facets Video
Suggested retail $70
3 DVD set
North American release of a more robust PAL BFI DVD set.

Facet's newish 3-disc release of the British Free Cinema movement's work is a nice reminder that history of postwar documentary goes beyond American cinema verite. It's a reminder that other national cinemas are just as worthy for consideration; Canadian documentary at the very least deserves wider video availability, and perhaps other national documentary cinemas deserve unearthing for an American academic and cinephile audience.

Ultimately, the Free Cinema will interest most viewers on two counts: the stylistic verve the filmmakers bring to nonfiction film (mobile camera, deft framing, jazz soundtracks) and the obvious training ground for the British New Wave, which boasted many of the Free Cinema makers: Anderson, Reisz, and Richardson. These filmmakers' films in fact are the strongest, at least in the first disc of the set.

O Dreamland has all the ideological problems the Screen folks saw in Anderson: by subjecting the working class social actors to an objectifying gaze rather than a view depicting their subjective experience of an amusement park, the film's invocation of the "dreamland" is ironic, a sly questioning of Britain's postwar consumer culture.

That said, the documentary is laudable for its updating of Griersonianism for new smaller-gauge technology and new historical circumstances. Like many of the others on the disc, it manages to straddle both realist and formalist-expressionist aesthetics of documentary making. For instance, the eye for framing juxtaposition in Dreamland show a narrational presence beyond the "objective" or objectivist stance of the verite counterparts.

In general, British cinema tends to get overlooked in the American pedagogical context. This Free Cinema compilation might give more reason for its inclusion in our sightlines.

DVD Talk review
Wikipedia on Free Cinema movement
Senses of Cinema article on Tony Richardson

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Avant-Garde Box Set 2

Avant Garde2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954
Kino Video
Suggested retail $30

I can’t think of a more valuable DVD resource than Kino’s first volume of Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and 30s. I use it constantly in my teaching, and for my own viewing. Well, thankfully, a second set is out now, and it is just as impressive. Where the first set concentrated on the European interwar avant-garde, this one chronicles many of the films of the American postwar avant-garde, most of which have been impossible to see if you don’t have a 16mm projector and a decent rental budget. For me, getting Geography of the Body and Potted Psalm on DVD was worth the price of purchase alone. The abstractions of the former...

and the playing with image as surface in the latter...

... go a long way to suggesting the search for a new visual vocabulary among the postwar filmmakers, even as the narratives fell into familiar mythopoetic territory.

Though it should be noted that this retreat to high culture was in no small part a defense smokescreen that justified the presentation of gay narratives. To that end, this box set is a valuable contribution not only to historians and teachers of the avant-garde but of gay cinematic representation.

And since I’m a tremendous fan of Gregory Markopoulos’s work, I was thrilled to see one of his early films, 1949’s Christmas, U.S.A. , included. It’s not quite the masterpiece of Twice a Man, and lacks the lushness of Psyche, but it’s already a solid example of Markopoulos’s style, which I’d perhaps best describe as the work of a Fireworks-era Anger who knows how to edit. Like some of his later films, Christmas presents, quite literally, parallel montage, with spaces alternating back and forth, then switching one strand out, then another.

I haven’t made it through all the contents yet, but there’s time to savor.

Monday, June 18, 2007

About This Site

Welcome. This is the companion site to Not on DVD. You can read the rationale for that site in more detail, but essentially it’s a resources for scholars, educators, librarians, and cinephiles interested in information on and discussion about film and media works not available on the home video market.

However, a number of lucky films make it each year to DVD. Newspaper features like Dave Kehr’s and sites like Greencine Daily provide important DVD release news, but there’s still a lack of centralized location for a range of more obscure films, especially when one ventures toward the experimental, nonfiction, archival, or international realms. This site hopes to be such a central forum for announcements and discusssion.

Membership is open. Those who wish to become contributing members can email me. Or folks can send news and queries my way for posting here.