Coinciding with the national broadcast premiere, on September 17 PBS Distribution will release director and producer Ken Burns’s Country Music (DVD: 8 discs, $99.99; Blu-ray: 8 discs, $129.99). In this new landmark documentary series, Burns chronicles the history of the uniquely American art form of country music, starting from its early days in the 1920s and following it up through the mid-1990s while focusing on the personal stories of the fascinating characters who created and shaped the genre. Stars including the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks, and many more are showcased, and Country Music also looks at the origins of the genre, including ballads, minstrel music hymns, and the blues, back to the days when it was first recorded and called “hillbilly music.” Illustrating the fact that country music was never just one style but a broad American mixture that became a major cultural force, the series also include bonus features such as a behind-the-scenes look at how Country Music was made and additional material gleaned from hours of interviews.
On October 29, Criterion celebrates the arrival of spine number 1,000 with a Blu-ray collector’s set fit for the granddaddy of all movie monsters: Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 (Blu-ray: 8 discs, $224.95). The arresting original Godzilla (1954) soon gave rise to an entire monster-movie genre (kaiju eiga), but the King of the Monsters continued to reign supreme: in 14 entertaining sequels over the next two decades, Godzilla defended its throne against a host of other formidable creatures, transforming from a terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation into a benevolent (if still belligerent) protector of Earth. Collected here for the first time are all 15 Godzilla films of Japan’s Showa era, in a landmark set showcasing the technical wizardry, fantastical storytelling, and indomitable international appeal that established the most iconic giant monster that the cinema has ever seen. Presented in high-definition digital transfers and accompanied by a slew of supplemental materials, the set includes a hardcover book with notes on each film and new illustrations from 16 artists, new and archival interviews with cast and crew members, and more.
One of the most influential concerts America has ever witnessed is the focus of filmmaker Barak Goodman’s Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation (DVD: $24.99), which is slated for release on August 6 from PBS Distribution. Revisiting the 1969 Woodstock concert for its 50th anniversary, this addition to the American Experience series examines the tumultuous decade that led to those three historic days—years that saw the nation deeply divided by the war in Vietnam, as well as racial, generational, and sexual politics. This story is told through the voices of those who were present for an event that would become the defining moment of the counterculture revolution, including concert-goers, security guards, performers, and local residents. Woodstock offers a penetrating look this once-in-a-century cultural phenomenon that served as a coda to the Sixties and a harbinger of the decades to come.
Kino Lorber has announced the upcoming release of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (DVD: $29.99), slated for August 20. Directed by Pamela B. Green and narrated by Jodie Foster, Be Natural is a comprehensive documentary portrait of cinema’s first female director, screenwriter, producer, and studio owner, Alice Guy-Blaché, whose innovative and groundbreaking films are only now beginning to be fully appreciated. In a career spanning two decades and two countries, Guy-Blaché wrote, produced, and/or directed 1,000 films, including comedies, Westerns, and dramas, as well as films with still-controversial subject matter related to child and spouse abuse, immigration, anti-Semitism, and female empowerment. Bringing the “Belle Epoque” to life using a cutting edge blend of animation and archival footage, the film also features interviews with filmmakers and actors including the late Agnès Varda, Ava DuVernay, Jon M. Chu, Geena Davis, Julie Taymor, Gillian Armstrong, Ben Kingsley, Walter Murch, and Kathleen Turner, as well as historians and archivists including Serge Bromberg, Kevin Brownlow, and Jan-Christopher Horak.
The Criterion Collection’s October slate kicks off October 8 with 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (Blu-ray: 3 discs, $99.95), which marks the Blu-ray debuts of a trio of the Vienna-born filmmaker’s stylish classics, including the 1927 gangster breakthrough Underworld, the 1928 Hollywood machine send-up The Last Command, and the 1928 working-class waterfront drama The Docks of New York. Coming on October 15 is a new restoration of Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 bizarre occult silent film Häxan (Blu-ray: $39.95), which employs a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. Slated for October 22 is 1996’s When We Were Kings (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95), filmmaker Leon Gast’s indelible portrait of Muhammad Ali’s late-career journey to Africa for the Rumble in the Jungle fight against George Foreman in this edition that includes the 2009 companion documentary Soul Power. And arriving on October 29 is a new restoration of John Sayles’s galvanizing 1987 labor saga Matewan (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95), starring Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, and Mary McDonnell in a wrenching historical drama that recounts the true story of a West Virginia coal town where the local miners’ struggle to form a union rose to the pitch of all-out war in 1920.
PBS recently released the Frontline documentary The Abortion Divide (DVD: $24.99), which offers a window into the sometimes difficult and deeply personal choices women face with unplanned pregnancy. With intimate access, the film follows women struggling with unplanned pregnancies, doctors and nurses who provide abortions, and those who counsel women against the procedure. In the film, anti-abortion protesters serve as a constant reminder of the intensity of the conflict—and in recent years, there has been an increase in abortion clinic invasions and threats against providers. The program also focuses on nurses and administrators who work at crisis pregnancy centers that cater to low-income pregnant women by offering free services, with a primary goal to support women who choose to keep their baby, and to ultimately encourage them to reject abortion. The Abortion Divide presents a well-rounded look at a timely and deeply contentious issue.
Cinema Libre is releasing Creating Woodstock (DVD: $19.99) on July 30. With the future of the highly anticipated Woodstock 50 music festival unclear, a younger generation may not know that the original “Three Days of Peace and Music” were also plagued by uncertainty, last-minute venue changes, a lack of headliners and permits…and in fact almost didn’t happen. With more than 70 hours of interviews with Woodstock producers, planners, and performers, director Mick Richards, who attended the 1969 festival as a teenager, has created the most comprehensive and deeply researched look back at how the event came to be in the documentary Creating Woodstock. Three decades in the making, the film resurrects the original site blueprints, features interviews with the founders of Woodstock Ventures, and takes viewers from the initial idea of the “happening” to the moments when the last festival goer stumbled off a once pastoral alfalfa field. Including never-before-seen private film and rare archival video footage, and original interviews with key figures, Creating Woodstock also feature first-hand accounts of little known stories woven throughout the film, such as when Jimi Hendrix was stranded at the airport and hitched a ride to the site, or when a bank manager was awoken in the middle of the night to get money to pay The Who—money that needed to be helicoptered to the band before they would go on stage, much like the personal supply of strawberries that Janis Joplin required.
The Criterion Collection’s September slate kicks off September 3 with a 4K Blu-ray restoration of Marco Bellocchio’s provocative 1965 Italian-language debut Fists in the Pocket (Blu-ray: $39.95), which follows a young man who takes drastic measures to rid his grotesquely dysfunctional family of its various afflictions. Coming on September 10 is Ritwik Ghatak’s 1960 family tragedy The Cloud-Capped Star (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), a masterpiece of Bengali cinema that tells the story of a family that has been uprooted by the Partition of India and has come to depend on its eldest daughter, the self-sacrificing Neeta (Supriya Choudhury). Arriving September 17 is the home video debut of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1946 final film Cluny Brown (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), a zany, zippy comedy of manners set in England on the cusp of World War II, starring Jennifer Jones in a rare comedic turn as an irrepressible heroine sent to work as a parlor maid at a stuffy country manor. Also slated for September 17 is filth maestro John Waters’s 1981 film Polyester ((DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), featuring his muse Divine as Baltimore housewife Francine Fishpaw, a heroine blessed with a keen sense of smell, cursed with a troubled family, and relieved by a handsome hunk (Tab Hunter). Extras include an interactive “Odorama” technology scratch-and-sniff card. Scheduled for September 24 is Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 final silent era film The Circus (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), featuring Chaplin’s Little Tramp as he flees into a traveling circus and soon becomes the star of the show. Bonus features include a new 4K digital restoration of Chaplin’s 1969 re-release of the film. Also coming September 24 is a 2K digital restoration of Bill Forsyth’s offbeat 1983 small-town fable Local Hero (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95), in which a Texas oil guy (Peter Riegert) is dispatched by his crackpot boss (Burt Lancaster) to a remote seaside village in Scotland with orders to buy out the town and develop the region for an oil refinery.
Virgil Films & Entertainment is releasing Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? (DVD: 2 discs, $24.95), slated for August 13. An intimate portrait of one of the most famous saxophone players in the world, Clarence Clemons—known as “Big Man” and a lifetime member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band—was followed by director, friend, and photographer Nick Mead, who documented Clarence’s transcendent awakening overseas in a spiritual journey to China. Once Clemons had returned to the States, Mead decided to keep the cameras rolling, which is when tragedy struck: while in Florida, Clarence suffered a stroke and passed away. With the help of producer Joe Amodei, the film became a biography of his life and a love letter and farewell from those that knew him best. Featuring interviews with President Bill Clinton, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Jake Clemons, and former band mates, friends, and close family members, Who Do I Think I Am? highlights Clemons’s life as musician and member of the E Street band while also presenting another side of the man not many knew when he was away from bright stage lights.
On June 4, HBO Home Video released Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland. On July 10, 2015, a politically engaged 28-year-old African American woman from Chicago was arrested for a traffic violation in a small Texas town. After three days in custody, Sandra Bland was found hanging from a noose in her jail cell. Part legal thriller, part parable about race in America, filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s documentary follows the Bland family and legal team from the first weeks after her death as they try to find out what really happened.