Movies Till Dawn: La Vie en DVD Edition

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” (2017, Kino Lorber) Those hoping to know more about Grace Jones may feel slightly thwarted by this documentary, directed by Sophie Fiennes during the recording of 2008’s “Hurricane” and at various performances. “Bloodlight” is more a portrait of the artist’s on- and off-stage personas, working tirelessly to keep her legacy active and pertinent while also revisiting her family in Jamaica. Fiennes favors observation over interviews, and if the format occasionally leaves viewers unsure as who’s on screen – including Sly and Robbie and photographer Jean-Paul Goude, who shot some of her most iconic album covers – or what they’re talking about, it does allow for unusually intimate moments with Jones, who is equally ferocious performing her song catalog (“Pull Up to The Bumper” is a stand-out, as is the newer “Williams’ Blood”) and reflective when discussing her tumultuous upbringing with her large family. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Jones and Fiennes, who are also featured in a post-screening interview at Lincoln Center.

The Changeling” (1980, Severin Films) Mourning the deaths of his wife and child, composer George C. Scott retreats to a deserted Victorian manse outside Seattle, where he discovers that a former inhabitant, long deceased, wants to make its presence – and awful past – known to him. Those used to the Blumhouse school of crash-and-bang supernatural horror may find this largely bloodless Canadian-made thriller almost PBS-quaint; others with more patience (or preference) for dread-steeped atmosphere will appreciate the pace and literary feel of this unsettling and underrated ghost story from director Peter Medak (“The Ruling Class”). Severin’s Blu-ray presentation includes informative commentary by Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels and interviews with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg and art director Reuben Freed; a brief documentary about the house that inspired the source novel and a return visit to the filming locations round out this excellent, long-overdue disc.

American Animals” (2018, Lionsgate) Rootless, privileged college students Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters recruit two hapless friends (Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner) to carry out what they envision as a flawless heist of rare books from their school’s library, but the robbery – a real case from 2004 – proves to be far more foolish and damaging to everyone involved, as these things often do. Stylishly crafted comedy of errors from director Bart Layton (“The Imposter”), who doubles down on the criminals’ ineptitude by folding input from the actual perpetrators (along with their still-annoyed parents and the librarian they needlessly assaulted) into the narrative; their observations, which occasionally contradict the action on screen, seem intended as a sort of meta-commentary on the enduring myth of the American criminal as DIY folk hero, but really works best to underscore what schmucks these guys were. Layton and his cast provide a wealth of production anecdotes in the commentary and in brief interviews.

The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!” (2018, Undercrank Productions) Eight survivors from a briefly promising but ultimately failed stop on the movies’ path to synchronous sound, courtesy of Thomas Edison. Though ungainly and complicated to use, Edison’s Kinetophone – a two-in-one projector and phonograph system – let audiences hear and see films more than a decade before the release of the first widely credited sync sound picture, “The Jazz Singer” (1927). Only eight Kinetophone films exist today, and all are featured on this manufacture-on-demand disc, thanks to the Library of Congress and Edison National Historic Park. The films themselves are essentially sketches – two musical efforts (including a minstrel show), a Civil War vignette and a couple of broad comedies – and the age of the cylinder phonographs can make it difficult to understand what the actors are saying, but for tech and film students, their historical importance can’t be understated. The Undercrank DVD includes a short documentary on the process and an amusing short, “The Politician” with a new score by the disc’s producer, Ben Model.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail” (1971, Arrow Video) Suspicion falls on insurance investigator George Hilton when the woman (Ida Galli, a.k.a. Evelyn Stewart) he’s hired to trail is found murdered, and the substantial windfall from her husband’s (equally mysterious) death goes missing; with the help of glamorous photojournalist Anita Strindberg, he sets out to clear his name and follow the money while also avoiding the sharp knife and predatory instinct of Galli’s killer. Solid Italian-Spanish entry in the giallo cycle, made with workmanlike care by a cadre of genre specialists – director Sergio Martino, co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who does indeed include a fairly wicked sting in the film’s tail), composer Bruno Nicolai and DP Emilio Foriscot, as well as actors Luigi Pistilli and Janine Reynaud – who package all the expected Eurothriller tropes (forgotten clues, obsessive voyeurism, fluid identities) in a mix of high-gloss production value and fairly gruesome murders. Though not as baroque as those done by Bava or Argento, “Scorpion” deserves the attention of armchair Continental sleuths. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes interviews with commentary (in Italian with English subtitles) by Gastaldi, new interviews with Martino and Hilton, and visual essays on Martino’s highly adaptable and largely invisible style.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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