Entertainment knows no bounds in terms of style or quality: recent viewing ranges from Walter Hill’s gripping Vietnam allegory Southern Comfort (1981) to Kinji Fukusaku’s pulp sci-fi The Green Slime (1968), from Richard Franklin’s Ozploitation horror Patrick (1978) to Robert Amram’s perplexing End Times “documentary” The Late Great Planet Earth (1979).
Agnès Varda, whose remarkable career spanned from 1955’s La Pointe Courte to the recently released Varda by Agnès (2019), has died at the age of 90. In six-and-a-half decades, she created a body of work rooted in a fascination with human beings and the social forces which shape them, in features and documentaries full of acute insights and humour.
Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) is a dull and unnecessary version of the story, but Pere Portabella’s “making of” Cuadecuc, Vampir (1971), included as a supplement on Severin’s Blu-ray, is a fascinating meditation on the story.
Karl Marx City (2016) is a strange, disturbing documentary exploration of family history in the context of an oppressive police state, East Germany. In uncovering the story of her father, co-director Petra Epperlein reveals how powerful political forces distort and control people’s everyday lives.
Severin Films recent Blu-ray special edition of Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s Jack the Ripper (1959) is ambitious but compromised; the atmospheric horror film is presented in three different versions, all of which have serious issues with the transfers (print damage in one case and incorrect aspect ratios in the other two). More satisfying, technically and creatively, is Severin’s Blu-ray edition of Richard Stanley’s typically idiosyncratic documentary The Otherworld (2013).
Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol (2010) tells the remarkable story of Mark Hogancamp, a man almost beaten to death, who creates an alternate world to help himself heal.
Some comments about the past year’s DVD and Blu-ray releases.
In Visages Villages (2017), the 88-year old Agnes Varda, collaborating with photographer JR, continues to explore the lives of “ordinary” people while examining with fascination the process of her own aging.
Criterion releases a new Blu-ray edition of Barbet Schroeder’s fascinating and problematic documentary about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, featuring a vibrant transfer from the original 16mm reversal stock.
Takes From the Winnipeg Film Group, a new documentary by Dave Barbver and Kevin Nikkel tries to rein in the long and unruly history of the legendary film co-op.