I continue my cold-weather plunge into the cheap, cheesy and outre depths of exploitation, finding a few gems among the dross of low-budget horror, science fiction, fantasy and comedy, ending up with an unsettling documentary about someone who devoted his life to filmmaking at the expense of everything including his identity.
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 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.
Two very different new releases from Criterion explore what it means to to maintain one’s humanity in the face of inhuman systems. Masaki Kobayashi’s overwhelming 9 1/2-hour epic The Human Condition (1959-61) follows a conscientious socialist into the brutal horrors of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during the Second World War, while Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and it’s sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) document the lives of homeless kids on the streets of Seattle during the Reagan era and the aftereffects of that experience in later life.
Yet another wide range of titles from Arrow Video from a restored silent classic to aliens over Tokyo, woods infested with zombies, food which consumes those who eat it, apocalypse in an alternate future Los Angeles, friendship destroyed by political conflicts, rich people facing the loss of their wealth and a naively admiring time capsule of the U.S. on the brink of the ’60s.
A look back over the 7 Up series (1963-2019), filmmaker Michael Apted’s remarkable longitudinal documentary series following a diverse group of Britons from the age of seven to sixty-three. Following Apted’s death on January 7, it’s unclear whether the series will continue, but the most recent episode offers a deeply moving summation of the project’s meaning in its subjects’ lives.
Two new releases from the Criterion Collection showcase very different approaches to filmmaking. Robert Bresson’s Mouchette (1967) and William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (1968/2005), although both made during the turbulent late ’60s, display radically different styles and attitudes towards exploring authenticity in the cinematic representation of reality.
Minor Euro-horror gets the deluxe treatment in several releases from Blue Underground, Grindhouse Films and Severin; three features by Dutch director Dick Maas – De Lift (1983), Amsterdamned (1988) and Down (2001) – and three from Lucio Fulci – Cat in the Brain (1990), Aenigma (1987) and Demonia (1990) – along with Simone Scafidi’s Fulci for Fake (2019), an illuminating documentary about Fulci.