Friday, August 10, 2012

Six films I’d like to see in the Criterion Collection (And the special features they should have)

David Fincher's The Game comes out on a Criterion Collection Blu-ray in September. I'm pretty excited for it. It had been rumored to come out for approximately forever, so it's nice to finally see it on the release schedule.

For those who don't know, the Criterion Collection puts out definitive home releases of quality films. They make sure the transfer of the film is as close to flawless as it can be, and they usually include some pretty cool special features. For example, The Game has a commentary with Fincher and crew (he usually does pretty good commentaries) and also an hour-long making-of documentary.

There's no telling what Criterion will release in the future since they have to negotiate with the studios to get the rights to put out a release. I imagine it's not too hard for them to get whatever they want, though. They clearly take extreme care with the DVDs and Blu-rays they release, and most of the time the films aren't contemporary so chances are the studios are perfectly willing to give Criterion permission to release a film that had been just languishing in their back catalog anyway.

Some of my favorite DVDs have been Criterion releases, like Do The Right Thing, The Life Aquatic, and Brazil—all great movies with fantastic special features. The release of The Game got me thinking of other movies I'd like to see get the Criterion treatment. Here's a list of six, along with special features I'd include and, just for fun, some cover designs I whipped up. (Doing cover mock-ups for prospective Criterion titles is a popular Internet pastime.)




Features:
-New, restored digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Gordon Willis, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-Audio commentary with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton
-Audio commentary with Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
-140-minute "Anhedonia" cut
-Videotaped performance of Woody Allen’s jazz band at the Carlyle

Woody Allen's DVDs are notoriously stingy on special features; most of the time they include little more than the trailer. So it goes without saying that his best movie is ripe for a deluxe edition.


Allen has never done an audio commentary before so making him do one here is a no-brainer. I'd get him to do two commentaries, actually: one with his co-star Diane Keaton and another with his co-writer Marshall Brickman. Both would be illuminating and the Keaton one would probably be hilarious.

The centerpiece of the release, however, would be the "Anhedonia" cut of the movie. Anhedonia was the original title of the movie. When they first assembled the movie, it was 2 hours and 20 minutes long (as opposed to the 93-minute cut they eventually ended up with) and the story was wildly different. I doubt the longer cut is better than the movie we all know and love, but it'd be really fascinating to see the differences between the two.

Lastly, I'd include a performance of Woody Allen's jazz band. Allen reportedly was not on hand to receive his Oscars for Annie Hall due to his prior commitments with the band, so this would be a cheeky nod to that situation. (For those who don't get the image on the cover, check out this clip [mild spoiler].)




Features:
-New, restored digital transfers, supervised by director Richard Linklater, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-Audio commentary on both films with Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy
-30 minutes of deleted scenes of Before Sunrise
-Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy scene in Waking Life

Since these are two of my favorite films of all time, of course I want to see a special edition release to replace the barebones DVDs I currently own.

But then again, I have mixed feelings about it. For starters, they are reportedly making a third movie in the series right now, so a collection would seem a bit premature when they can wait a couple years and do a 3-movie set. Another problem is that I think Hawke and Delpy embody their characters so completely that I truly believe in them as characters and I wouldn't want a bunch of actorly discussion to ruin the illusion.

With that said, I do think you could include some interesting special features. A commentary with the two leads and director would be a must. These guys have such a natural rapport that I'm sure it’d be a wonderful listen.

Next would be whatever scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately, these movies are so tightly scripted, I'm not sure how many deleted scenes there would be—I wouldn't be surprised if Before Sunset didn't have any. But the published screenplay of Before Sunrise had some scenes that weren't in the movie, so if they did film those scenes, they can be included on the Criterion disc.

Finally, there was a short scene in Linklater's Waking Life that had Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy playing their characters from Before Sunrise/Sunset. Including that would be a nice cap to the special features.



Features:
-New, restored digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Douglas Milsome, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-Audio commentary with co-writer Michael Herr
-3-hour making-of documentary shot by Vivian Kubrick

I know that they just released a 25th Anniversary special edition Blu-ray, but they messed up by not including what we really want in a special edition release of FMJ.

First would be an audio commentary with Kubrick's co-writer Michael Herr. With all due respect to R. Lee Ermey and Matthew Modine, Herr seems like the FMJ collaborator with the most interesting things to say and the best Kubrick stories to tell, as evidenced by his short interview segments in the documentary A Life in Pictures.

Most important, though, would be the inclusion of a feature-length documentary shot by Kubrick's daughter, Vivian. As was the case with The Shining, Vivian was on the set of FMJ and captured rare footage of her father working. We've only seen a few minutes of what is undoubtedly hours of footage. They could surely edit it into something that would be of tremendous interest. (And I guess you might as well throw in the special features on the other FMJ disc: a commentary with R. Lee Ermey and others, the Kubrick documentary Boxes, etc.)



Features:
-New, restored digital transfer of 88-minute cut
-High quality digital transfer of newly found print of original 131-minute director’s cut

The behind-the-scenes story of The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the biggest tragedies in movie history. A year after directing Citizen Kane—widely considered to be the best film of all time—Orson Welles followed it up with an adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel The Magnificent Ambersons. After turning in a 131-minute cut to RKO, he went out of the country to work on something else. While he was gone, RKO test screened it, got horrible notes from the audience, and basically freaked out. They re-cut the movie, re-wrote and re-shot scenes, and changed the ending, all without consulting Welles, who at this point didn’t have Cinema God status and could do little to protect his vision. The film ended up being 88-minutes—a butchered husk of the original film.

This would still be somewhat acceptable if we could see Welles’s cut of the film. But, as incredible as it may seem, the studio burned the negative of the original 131-minute version in order to make space in their vaults, and it remains a legendary lost film. Now, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that a film previously thought lost forever can be found—it’s happened before (see Metropolis and The Passion of Joan of Arc). If a print of the original Ambersons is miraculously discovered, the Criterion crew should definitely be the ones put in charge of its restoration and re-introduction to the world.



Features:
-New, restored digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Robert Elswit, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-Audio commentary with Paul Thomas Anderson
-Audio commentary with Paul Thomas Anderson and cast
-20 minutes of deleted scenes (“The Worm” subplot)
-8-hour director’s cut of “That Moment,” a making-of documentary by Mark Rance
-Fiona Apple videos: “Fast As You Can,” “Limp,” “Paper Bag,” “Across the Universe”

Magnolia is a contemporary classic and its status will only grow as PTA establishes himself as one of the all-time great directors. The New Line Platinum Series did a good job in giving the movie the presentation it deserves, but a few more additions could make for a truly astounding DVD/Blu-ray.

First, it needs a commentary track (or two). PTA was famous for his commentary tracks, most notably for his previous film Boogie Nights. Many think it’s the best commentary track ever done. PTA had a way of being casual, informative, fun, direct, and devoid of pretention on his commentaries. It’s a shame he doesn’t seem to do them anymore, but he would have to for a Criterion release. Ideally, there would also be a fun cast commentary, too, just like the one for Boogie Nights when they all got progressively drunker as the movie went on. (At 3 hours, there better be plenty of drinks.)

There should also be a good chunk of deleted scenes. PTA cut out a major subplot of the movie involving a character called “The Worm.” You can see them shooting the scenes in the making-of documentary, so they must exist somewhere.

The big thing to include (which would probably require a whole separate disc of its own) is a director’s cut of “That Moment,” a making-of documentary shot by Mark Rance. Rance was given total access during every phase of production. He was there at pre-production meetings and rehearsals, on the set during the shooting, and tagged along to the various premieres. He shot 128 hours of footage which was whittled down to a compelling 72-minute movie included on the current DVD/Blu-ray. I’m sure the footage needed to be heavily edited since it sounds like he just shot anything and everything, and a lot of the 128 hours is probably pretty unwatchable. But Rance has said that the first cut of “That Moment” was eight hours long. So presumably that contained all the interesting things he captured and that is the stuff a fan would want to see. At 8 hours, it would be the mother of all making-of docs, but if the other 7 hours were half as interesting as what’s currently included in “That Moment,” then I’m sure it’d be utterly engrossing.

And, just for kicks, I’d throw in the fantastic videos PTA directed around that time for his erstwhile girlfriend Fiona Apple.



Features:
-New, restored digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
-Audio commentary with David Mamet, William H. Macy, and Debra Eisenstadt
-David Mamet on The Charlie Rose Show, November 11, 1994
-Videotaped performance of the play at the Orpheum Theater in NYC, starring William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon

Oleanna is a fantastic play by David Mamet. The movie adaptation, which Mamet directed, is pretty much the play, which makes it a pretty fantastic movie.

I would include a commentary with Mamet and his cast even though Mamet commentaries have strangely never blown me away in the past. But it would be fascinating to hear Mamet talk about his most incendiary play, as well as what the actors think of it.

Mamet also went on the Charlie Rose Show to promote Oleanna. It's a decent enough interview, a worthy addition to the disc.

The thing I want most, however, is to see a performance of the play with the original cast. Macy was in the play when it premiered in 1992, but the girl was played by Rebecca Pidgeon, an actress I think is pretty wonderful. She later became a regular in Mamet’s troupe of actors (as well as his wife). I’m not sure why she wasn’t in the movie adaptation, but I assume it’s because the role calls for someone college-aged and maybe she was getting too old by the time they started shooting. In any event, I’d love to see her interpretation of the character. I have to believe that at least one of those original performances was taped, even if only on crappy VHS. I’d still like to see it, regardless of video quality.

DHS

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Front Page 8/2/12: An Interesting Newsday

USA Today’s three front page articles today seem specifically designed to engender conversation.

“If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness”

This one is about the age-old argument about whether money drastically affects your happiness. First question: Why is it always money that gets talked about in these discussions? Why not something else? Surely there are other things that make one happy. Well, we know why it’s always money: because it’s money (to repurpose a Mamet line). By why not articles like “Does sleeping with a lot of hot people increase happiness?” or “How eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day influences one’s happiness levels” or “The daily percentage of one’s time spent at the beach found to drastically increase overall happiness.”
There are a lot of numbers in this piece: The U.S. ranks 11th in the World Happiness Report conducted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Happiness changes little once a person reaches $75,000/year according to a Princeton study; Life expectancy in Bhutan is 67. Stats galore.
The problem I see with anything quantifiable is that it eventually goes away. If money is in fact a major contributor to overall happiness, what about it exactly is causing the happiness? Is it the spending of it? The problem with that is that the more you spend, the less you have, and eventually you’ll have nothing left if you spend it profligately (though one assumes happily). Is it having it? The problem then is that laws—both federal and of the universe—dictate the eventual spending/losing of the money—through taxes or, like, entropy (or something)—which would cause unhappiness in this scenario.
Maybe as long as we consider happiness quantifiable or measurable, we will always be unhappy. But I don’t know that for sure. It must be tested in a controlled experiment. So in the name of scientific discovery, I propose we have someone spend all their time at the beach and supply them with the following: a giant stack of money, a never-ending supply of Ben and Jerry’s, and tons of hot models. I nominate myself.
More bad news for the postal service. We get another update about their dire circumstances about as often as we get mail delivered. Should they be allowed to fail? Some would say, Oh Hell Yes.
A mean person would say that they are the biggest derelicts ever seen. That they are fat lazy idiots. That they take 2-hour lunch breaks sitting in their delivery vehicles by the side of the road. That there have been confirmed non-holiday weekdays when they didn’t deliver the mail. That they routinely lose packages and put mail in the wrong boxes. That they take longer to deliver the mail when it’s a nice day. That they are arrogant and unhelpful and close ranks faster and tighter than anyone when someone tries to point out their fecklessness. That there have been witnessed shady mailbag transfers in parking lots, where a mailman puts an overflowing bag of mail into the trunk of another mailman’s civilian vehicle. That they should just go away and let someone else come in and do their job better than they ever could.
A mean person would say all of that. But I’m not a mean person, so I wouldn’t say anything like that.
“London Olympics Badminton Scandal Raises Ethical Issues”

A bunch of Olympians were disqualified from The Games. They were badminton players who intentionally lost their qualifying games to have more favorable matchups later on.

The thing is, what they did is technically not against the rules. Or is it? “The rules say you have to win every match,” says Thomas Lund, the secretary general for the Badminton World Federation. Really? This is the first sport I’ve heard of that has a rule that the players “have to win.” If the NBA had that rule, the Raptors and Wizards would be in a lot of trouble.

A lot of this is based on one’s sense of right and wrong more than a blatant rule violation. “For me, it’s really a matter of principle whether things are done in the correct way,” says Niels Nygaard, president of the national Olympic committee in Denmark. Olympic athletes are expected to demonstrate sportsmanship and fairness and probity at all times.

This frankly should seem pretty alien to American audiences. We’re a stickler for the rules, so as long as something isn’t against the rules, it’s ok with us. In the US, teams like the ’10 Celtics, who basically threw the last half the season to get players healthy for the playoffs, are lauded for their shrewdness. Belichick squirmed his way out of videogate with little more than a slap on the wrist for saying he “misinterpreted the rules.” (See, he was trying to follow the rules!) What would Mr. Nygaard make of Dwayne Wade, possibly the most unsportsmanlike player ever, acting like he gets fouled every time he drives and throwing opposing players’shoes off the court when they slip off? (There should be an NBA rule against Wade.)

I mostly agree with the Olympic committee’s actions, in principle. But there is a certain amount of shame about condemning those players’ actions because we know how they would be described in the US: savvy, shrewd, clever.

However, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t change the rules for next year.

DHS