The Criterion Collection’s February slate kicks off February 5 with Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 Shame (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), an examination of the violent legacy of World War II and a scathing response to the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam that stars Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as musicians living in quiet retreat on a remote island farm. Coming February 12 is the home video debut of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Oscar-nominated 1960 courtroom thriller La verité (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), in which the troubled Dominique Marceau (Brigitte Bardot) comes to bohemian Paris to escape the suffocation of provincial life, only to wind up in a courtroom, accused of a terrible crime: the murder of her lover (Sami Frey). Also slated for February 12 is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s monumental 15-hour 1980 drama Berlin Alexanderplatz (Blu-ray: 4 discs, $99.95), based on Alfred Döblin’s great modernist novel, following the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to “become an honest soul” amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. Arriving February 19 is Luchino Visconti’s 1971 Death in Venice (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95), the Italian master’s lush adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella starring Dirk Bogarde in a devastating performance as a fastidious composer reeling from a disastrous concert who becomes infatuated—even obsessed—with a young boy. And on February 26, Charles Burnett will join the Criterion Collection with his 1970 masterpiece To Sleep with Anger (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), starring a magnetic Danny Glover as an enigmatic Southern drifter who arrives out of the blue on the South Central Los Angeles doorstep of his old friends and turns a seemingly peaceful household upside down.
Kino Classics is proud to announce the upcoming release of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (DVD: 6 discs, $79.95; Blu-ray: 6 discs, $99.95), slated for November 20. Curated by Shelley Stamp (author of Lois Weber in Early Hollywood) and executive produced by Illeana Douglas, the collection celebrates the ground-breaking early female directors of American cinema who helped shape the language of film. Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the program continues the legacy begun by Pioneers of African-American Cinema, equally ambitious in scale, and every bit as historically significant. Presented in association with the Library of Congress (and drawing from the collections of other world-renowned film archives), Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is the largest commercially-released video collection of films by women directors, focusing on American films made between 1911 and 1929—a crucial chapter of our cultural history. Featuring 2K and 4K restorations of more than 50 films, including features, shorts and fragments, this collection contains over 25 hours of material, not only showcasing the work of these underappreciated filmmakers, but also illuminating the gradual changes in how women directors were perceived (and treated) by the Hollywood establishment. Included are films by such pioneering filmmakers as Ruth Ann Baldwin, Grace Cunard, Alice Guy-Blaché, Zora Neale Hurston Lois Weber, Marion E. Wong, and many more. Bonus features include an 80-page booklet (with essays and photos), interviews with historians and archivists, and audio commentaries for select films.
PBS Distribution has announced the upcoming release of Frontline: Trump’s Showdown (DVD: $24.99), slated for December 11. For months, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s fury over it have dominated the news headlines. Now, it has grown to threaten Trump’s presidency. Underscoring several key moments and tracing the dramatic events that have led the White House and the nation to the brink of what could become a Constitutional crisis, this two-hour documentary begins with the president elect’s meeting with the leaders of the intelligence community just before his inauguration. In the meeting, senior officials warned Trump that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. At the end of the meeting, FBI Director James Comey privately shared with Trump details of a secret “dossier” of unverified and potentially compromising material–an encounter the President would come to see as a “shakedown” (according to J.D. Gordon, one of Trump’s closest campaign advisers). Trump’s Showdown draws on more than 60 in-depth interviews with former leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump advisers, attorneys, authors, and journalists.
Director Greta Schiller is releasing No Dinosaurs in Heaven (DVD: $29.95), slated for release on December 4. Combining an examination of the problem posed by creationists who earn science education degrees only to advocate anti-scientific beliefs in the classroom and a visually stunning raft trip down the Grand Canyon, led by Dr. Eugenie Scott, that debunks creationist explanations for its formation, this 2010 documentary exposes the fallacies in the “debate,” manufactured by anti-science forces, that creationism is a valid scientific alternative to evolution. Emmy Award-winning director and science educator Schiller uses her own experience—along with a graduate school biology professor who refused to teach evolution—to expose the insidious effect that so-called “creationist science” has had on science education, intelligently arguing that public education must steadfastly resist the encroachment of religion in the form of anti-evolution creationism, and that science literacy is crucial to a healthy democracy.
First Run Features will release TVTV: Video Revolutionaries (DVD: $24.99) on November 20. Featuring Bill Murray, John Belushi, Lily Tomlin, Hunter Thompson, Steven Spielberg, Bob Dylan, Goldie Hawn, and others, TVTV: Video Revolutionaries provides an insider’s look at Top Value Television, a collective of video makers who in the early 1970s took the brand-new portable video camera and went out to document the world. In those days, the three TV networks used giant studio cameras, and people weren’t used to having a Portapak stuck in their face. Since there were no rules about how to use it, the new video journalists made format-bending satirical shows about whatever struck their fancy—from the ‘72 Republican convention to an expose of a 15-year-old new-age guru to crashing the Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl party. Directed by TVTV alum Paul Goldsmith, the film is like opening a treasure chest into the ’70s, filled with cultural and political events captured by now-iconic personalities who were then just beginning their climb to stardom.
Armageddon has never been so darkly funny as in The Atomic Café (DVD: $24.95, Blu-ray: $29.95), slated for release on December 4 from Kino Classics. Co-directed by Kevin Rafferty and Jayne Loader, the 1982 cult classic juxtaposes Cold War history, propaganda, music, and culture, seamlessly crafted from government-produced educational and training films, newsreels, and advertisements. Taken together, these sources cheerily instruct the public on how to live in the Atomic Age, how to survive a nuclear attack, and how to fight and win a nuclear war. Returning to home video in a sparkling 4K digital restoration created by IndieCollect, The Atomic Cafe is an absurdist blast from the past that would be downright laughable if it weren’t so eerily relevant to our saber-rattling present. Bonus features include selected government propaganda films, a Filmwax radio interview with the filmmakers, and audio excerpts from Loader’s CD-ROM “Public Shelter.”
Magnolia Home Entertainment is releasing the documentary Love, Gilda (DVD: $26.98) on January 1. In her own words, comedienne Gilda Radner (1946-89) reflects on her life and career in director Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary, which incorporates Radner’s recently discovered audiotapes and rare home movies. Radner was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, where she created and portrayed now-classic comic characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, and Lisa Loopner. She quickly rose to meteoric fame in television, movies, and on Broadway. Working with the Radner Estate, D’Apolito unearthed a collection of diaries and personal audio and videotapes documenting her childhood, comedy career, life with husband Gene Wilder, and struggle with cancer. Also including interviews with Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, Paul Shaffer, Martin Short, SNL creator-producer Lorne Michaels, Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, and others, the film features diaries read by modern-day comedians who were inspired by Gilda, including Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph.
First Run Features will release Quiet Heroes (DVD: $24.95) on December 11. In Salt Lake City, the religious monoculture severely complicated the AIDS crisis, where patients received no support from—or were cast into exile by—the political, religious, and medical communities. Further, Mormon culture encouraged gay men to marry women and have a family to cure themselves of their “affliction,” counsel that led to secret affairs and accidental marital transmissions of HIV. In the entire state and intermountain region, there was only one doctor to serve all HIV/AIDS patients. Filmmakers Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, and Amanda Stoddard’s documentary tells the story of Dr. Kristen Ries and her fight to save the lives of a maligned population who others seemed willing to just let die.
PBS Distribution has announced the upcoming release of American Experience: The Circus (DVD: 2 discs, $29.99), slated for November 6. Drawing upon a vast and richly visual archive, and featuring a host of performers, historians, and aficionados, The Circus brings to life an era when Circus Day would shut down a town, its stars were among the most famous people in the country, and multitudes gathered to see the improbable and the impossible, the exotic and the spectacular. The two-part documentary begins with the history of the first one-ring show at the end of the 18th century in Philadelphia, when the circus met the disapproval of the religious. Eventually, circuses began to add elaborate menageries of exotic animals including lions, hippos and elephants, and “human oddities” from across the globe, and huckster P. T. Barnum transformed the trade in 1871, creating the largest touring show in existence. The second half chronicles events including James Bailey taking his circus to Europe on a five-year tour, the merging of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, and stories of performers such as the famed aerialist Lillian Leitzel, the horseback-riding (and somersaulting) May Worth, and big cat trainer Mabel Stark.
Newly re-priced for the home video market, God Knows Where I Am (DVD: $24.95) is slated for release on October 23 from Juno Films. Reviewed in VL-5/17, Todd and Jedd Wider’s haunting documentary recounts the life and strange, sad death of Linda Bishop, beginning with the discovery of a woman’s decomposing body in a supposedly abandoned farmhouse in New Hampshire. The authorities finally identified her as the mentally-ill Bishop, who—according to a diary she scrawled while squatting in the unheated house—had been living there for four months, hiding from outsiders and surviving on apples (scrounged from local trees) and rainwater until she died of cold and starvation. Poignant excerpts from the diary are read by Lori Singer as the filmmakers—using footage shot inside the house, combined with interviews of its previous owners, as well as local police—reconstruct Bishop’s last weeks. Poignant, beautiful, spiritual, and deeply disturbing, the film is both a study of systemic failure and also a testament to artistic and independent spirit.