It’s been a good year for movies on disk, with a remarkable range of releases from many companies which are devoting considerable resources to rediscovering, restoring and preserving movies in numerous genres. Ranging across nationalities and spanning cinema history, there was plenty to divert attention from a real world which has become so depressing and exhausting.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray revives Gordon Parks’ semi-autobiographical film The Learning Tree (1969), significant as the first movie produced by a Hollywood studio directed by a Black filmmaker. In this coming-of-age story set in a small Kansas town in the 1920s, the typical problems faced by a boy leaving childhood are complicated by the deeply embedded racist attitudes which surround him.
The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society (1993), an aggressively stylish debut made when the twins were just twenty, is a nihilistically violent depiction of life in Watts in which kids grow up surrounded by violence and learn that there are few other ways to deal conflict. Criterion’s new Blu-ray, mastered from a 4K restoration, is vividly colourful, with a collection of excellent new and archival supplements,
Criterion showcase a key ’50s sci-fi movie with their extras-loaded Blu-ray of Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. The 4K restoration makes this the definitive visual presentation of the film, while the numerous special features – commentary, interviews, documentary – cover the production and the critical importance of the movie in detail.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray presents Luchino Visconti’s darkly perverse The Damned in a new 2K restoration whose dense colours emphasize the gloom hanging over a powerful German industrial family collapsing under the weight of its own decadence as the Nazis consolidate their political power in the early 1930s.
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Beasts of No Nation (2015), a problematic depiction of child soldiers in Africa gets an impressive release on Blu-ray from Criterion. Fukunaga’s skills as cinematographer and director of actors are on full display, but the film falters in its treatment of of some of the moral issues it raises.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray of D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: “Company” (1970) is a fascinating glimpse of the intense physical and mental labour which goes into the process of artistic creation, closely observing the recording of the original cast performing the songs from Stephen Sondheim’s breakthough Broadway show Company in one long fourteen-hour session. Tense, exhausting and exhilarating, it depicts dedicated professionals doing their jobs under intense pressure to deliver under a near-impossible deadline.
Criterion have just released Andrei Tarkovsky’s most personal Film, Mirror (Zerkalo, 1975), in an exemplary two-disk edition. The 2K restoration supplied by Mosfilm has been supplemented with four-and-a-half hours of new and archival documentaries, including a superb feature-length survey of Tarkovsky’s life and work made by his son, Andrei A. Tarkovsky, in 2019.