As summer starts to fade, the big Hollywood blockbusters are replaced with more modest and arty fare, while on home video, long overdue titles finally make their way to disc. This month, we have new-to-DVD titles from Derek Jarman, Andrzej Wadja, and Ken Russell, plus deluxe reissues of two favorites – “Quadrophenia” and (of course) “Jaws.” Just when you thought it was safe to go into the video store… Whether it’s the first time you’ve seen these titles or the fiftieth, these new discs are sure to please.
Lisztomania (Ken Russell, 1975)
Why You Should Care: While most people, when they hear the word “Lisztomania,” immediately start singing the irresistibly catchy single from French pop band Phoenix, but the word was originally coined to describe the response to Franz Liszt, a nineteenth century Hungarian composer. The movie of the same name is ostensibly a biography of Liszt, but as directed by the creatively unmoored Ken Russell (“The Devils,” “Altered States“), things are (of course) considerably weirder. The film stars Roger Daltrey, of influential British rock band The Who, as Liszt, with a soundtrack by Rick Wakeman, keyboardist and composer for another influential British rock band, Yes (who wrote the music alongside Daltrey). Instead of the straightforward biopic model, Russell stages the events as a series of operatic vignettes, peppered with iconoclastic imagery and whacked-out cameo appearances (Ringo Starr appears as the Pope, while Wakeman shows up as the Norse god Thor – take that, Chris Hemsworth!) It’s fucking insane. And while Russell’s career has petered out, many involved with “Lisztomania” have continued to flourish – the film’s editor, Stuart Baird, is an occasional action movie director and one of the most coveted “editing doctors” in Hollywood, re-cutting things like “Mission: Impossible 2” weeks before its release. “Lisztomania” was released the same year as “Tommy,” which also involved Daltrey and was too directed by Russell, and has remained something of a cult relic despite its unavailability (it was the crown jewel of a recent Russell retrospective at Lincoln Center). What’s astounding is how ahead of its time the movie is; a lot of the things that made “Amadeus” such a critical and commercial darling (mostly the presentation of a classical musician as a rock star and flamboyant editorial flourishes) are present in “Lisztomania” a decade before.
What’s On It: Fucking nothing. This is a burn-to-order number from Warner Bros. We should just say thank you and quietly pray that they’ll finally put out “The Devils.” Before Halloween. Please.
Release Date: August 7th via Warner Archive
“The Tempest“/”Sebastiane” (Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress)
Why You Should Care: Because Derek Jarman, the famed director, stage designer, and visual artist, who died tragically of AIDS in 1994, is extremely under-represented on home video (much less high-definition Blu-ray), so the fact that two of his early films are being released in sparkling new editions is something to get very, very excited about. 1976’s NC-17-rated “Sebastiane” is Jarman’s first feature, co-directed and edited by Paul Humfress. The film depicts the life of Saint Sebastian, a Christian martyr who was, it is commonly believed, executed by the Roman emperor by being tied to a tree and riddled with arrows. Boosted with a soundtrack co-written by Brian Eno, the film is noted for its upfront homoeroticism and curiously, it’s relatively accurate use of Latin. “The Tempest” was released in 1979, a year after his spectacular and totally bizarre “Jubilee,” and features much of the same cast (including Toyah Wilcox and Jack Birkett, with Heathcote Williams as the magical Prospero, after John Gielgud declined – shocker) and sexy, anarchic spirit, with typically jaw-dropping design work. Both are absolutely bonkers and totally worth watching if you’re a fan of the artist – or just want something crazy to look at for a few hours.
What’s On It: “The Tempest” features three short films by Jarman (“A Journey to Avebury,” “Garden of Luxor,” “and “Art of Mirrors“), trailers, and other special features to be announced; while “Sebastiane” looks to be bare bones.
Release date: August 7th via Kino
“Quadrophenia” (Franc Roddam, 1979)
Why You Should Care: Based on the sprawling sixth studio album by British rock outfit The Who (this is a particularly Who-tacular list this month, huh?), “Quadrophenia” (which includes three new songs not present on the album) is not a musical (unlike Ken Russell‘s “Tommy“), but rather an exploration of the themes and ideas of the album, in a more narrative form. As directed by marginal filmmaker Franc Roddam (his last feature film was 1991’s mountain climbing movie “K2” – remember when there was that rash of mountain climbing movies?), “Quadrophenia” stars a number of great British character actors (people like Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett, Ray Winstone, Phil Davis and Timothy Spall), next to folks like Sting and Derek Jarman favorite Toyah Wilcox (it all comes around). The movie is appropriately schizophrenic given the source material (“quadrophenia” is supposed to stand for a schizophrenic break wherein one person develops multiple personalities), with a fair amount of visual flash and an appropriate amount of curlicued visual stylishness (the movie’s very mod setting helps). While not as beloved as “Tommy” (and, honestly, not nearly as good), “Quadrophenia” is a more challenging, more interesting, more artistically ambitious project that uses the band’s staggering iconography to clever effect (in a way that would predate things like Julie Taymor‘s horrendous “Across the Universe“). Not even the tragic death of Who drummer Keith Moon could slow this baby down.
What’s On It: Deep breath (this is a Criterion release, after all): A new audio commentary featuring Franc Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano; new interview with Bill Curbishley, the film’s co-producer and the Who’s co-manager; new interview with the Who’s sound engineer, Bob Pridden, about the new mix created for this DVD/Blu-ray; segment from a 1979 BBC series called “Talking Pictures” about the making of the movie; segment from a 1964 French news program about mods; a 1965 French youth-culture program about mods featuring early live footage of the Who; trailers; a booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton, a 1985 personal history by original mod Irish Jack and Pete Townshend‘s linear notes from the original album release. Whew!
Release date: August 28th via Criterion
“Korczak” (Andrzej Wajda, 1990)
Why You Should Care: This film, by the Polish director of “Ashes and Diamonds,” played out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival and has a truly captivating subject matter at its core – the tale of Janusz Korczak, a Polish educator and pediatrician who oversaw an orphanage in Warsaw. When the Nazis invaded, he was offered freedom, but instead chose to stay with the orphanage as it was relocated from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. Polish actor Wojciech Pszoniak, who starred in Wajda’s beloved 1975 film “The Promised Land,” plays Korczak, with a refined dignity and reserved bravery. It might not be the cheeriest subject but Wajda tells the story in a handsomely unadorned way, in beautiful black-and-white from German cinematographer Robby Muller (“Paris, Texas“) that seems less like some velvety old movie and more like newsreel footage from the time. (You can’t help but think Steven Spielberg saw this approach and it affected his decision to film “Schindler’s List,” just a couple years later, in a similar fashion. The DVD features a quote from Spielberg on the cover.) “Korczak” is a singularly powerful film, one that has been unavailable in the United States for far too long, and we’re sure that the new high definition transfer on the Blu-ray will look nothing short of stunning.
What’s On It: Special features haven’t been specified, but we’re sure there will at least be some new stuff on this disc.
Release date: August 14th via Kino
“Jaws” (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
Why You Should Care: Yes, it seems like “Jaws” is released on home video every few years (and, truthfully, it kind of has – there were separate 25th Anniversary and 30th Anniversary editions), but this is the one that we’ve been waiting for. Seriously. This is the film’s high definition debut (part of Universal’s year long 100th Anniversary), with every imaginable special feature, and between the new transfer and a dynamic 7.1 sound mix, you will practically feel that giant shark tickling your toes. “Jaws” has held up remarkably well over the years, both because of a young Steven Spielberg‘s already-impeccable sense of pace and suspense and a trio of profoundly affecting lead performances courtesy of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. It’s also still scary as hell. The problems that befell the production of “Jaws” (based on a phenomenally popular pulp novel by Peter Benchley) has been documented at length (some of those documents are on this very disc), but it couldn’t have made for a better movie. The malfunctioning mechanical shark led Spielberg to get all Hitchcock on our asses, utilizing the less-is-more approach to devastating effect, and the occasionally contemptuous rapport between the leads gave the movie a realistic edge more akin to relationship dramas than horror movies about giant killer sharks. It might be, all these years later, Spielberg’s very best movie – a sleek (at 124 minutes, it swims by) shark of a motion picture that still packs a shocking wallop. And this new release is the best the movie has ever looked or sounded (and fear not, purists, the original mono mix sits comfortably alongside the jazzier new 7.1 mix). One of the best movies ever is now awarded one of the best Blu-rays ever.
What’s On It: Everything is on this release. All those previous editions, it’s all collected here, in one handy location. Plus some pretty extensive new goodies. “The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws,” is a feature-length fan-made documentary that made the festival rounds beginning in 2007 that has been absorbed by the powers that be and finally widely released here; “Jaws: The Restoration” (a featurette on the clean-up efforts); “The Making of Jaws,” another, older feature-length documentary about the making of the movie (this dates back to the lasterdisc release we believe); “From the Set,” vintage doc from the set; deleted scenes and outtakes; the “Jaws” archives; original trailer; and a digital copy so you can watch “Jaws” on your iPad you philistine.
Release date: August 14th via Universal
Also released this month: “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” a western written by John Milius and directed by John Huston that starred Paul Newman and Jacqueline Bisset and marked the film debut of Victoria Principal (August 7th); “High Time,” an early Blake Edwards comedy (it came out the year before “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“) starring Bing Crosby, teen idol Fabian, and the perpetually underrated Tuesday Weld, largely seen as a dated chronicle of postwar adolescence (August 14th); “The Boogens,” a bizarre (and bizarrely enjoyable) eighties creature feature that came out on VHS a full nine years after its theatrical debut and has been largely kept alive since based on an ancient review of the movie by Stephen King in Twilight Zone Magazine (August 7th); A deluxe high-def reissue (we also love that cover art) of “Les Vampires,” a silent French crime serial whose ten episodes were released in 1915 and 1916 (August 14th); Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain‘s “Post Mortem,” a follow-up to his “Tony Manero,” set against the 1973 Chilean military coup (August 21st); Tom Holland‘s underrated adaptation “Stephen King’s Thinner,” which is, at the very least, a good primer for all the Halloween related releases in the next couple of months (August 21st); Ernest Lehman‘s adaptation of Philip Roth‘s bestseller “Portnoy’s Complaint” (August 7th); “Private Hell 36,” a thriller from one of the masters of the American film noir Don Siegel (August 21st); the bizarre, female-centric western “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden and directed by “Bigger Than Life” auteur Nicholas Ray (August 7th).