Armchair Cinephile

The gift of exotica

Looking over the new big-ticket DVD options that haven't already been covered in this column, it occurs to me that most are trips to far-away cultures.

Even the one ostensibly American title on today's list, Rambo, isn't representative of any America I want to know. Artisan's new Rambo: Ultimate Edition has one big selling point emblazoned on the front of the package: "Includes never-before-seen alternate suicide ending!" Kinda takes some of the surprise out of it - but then, anyone who really wants Rambo in his stocking probably has some morbid fantasies to work out.

A more philosophical view of violence arrives in the Pier Paolo Pasolini Collection (Water Bearer), which in two box sets contains such landmarks as Accatone, Oedipus Rex, and The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Technically and features-wise, the discs leave something to be desired. But they're the only American editions of these controversial movies, and there's no indication that's going to change any time soon.

Fortunately for Wong Kar-Wai fans, two import-only titles just came out in America. Kino's Wong Kar-Wai Collection collects their previous WKW releases with As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, which preceded his discovery by American audiences. Their arrival might ease the pain of waiting for the notorious tinkerer to release 2046, the sort-of sequel to In the Mood for Love.

The WKW box proclaims him "The most romantic filmmaker in the world," but don't tell that to First Run Features, who focus exclusively on Eros in their Radley Metzger Collection. Then again, this threesome of '60s flicks isn't exactly romantic; it's more a kitschy romp though erotica, with tales of French boarding-school girls and European "swingers." You can find hotter stuff on basic cable these days, but fans of vintage tease-ery will dig it.

Speaking of teases, Eddie Izzard manages the oxymoronic combination of coy frankness in his stand-up act. Record label Anti- ventures into the DVD world with three titles documenting shows from the mid-'90s: Glorious, Unrepeatable, and Definite Article. Izzard likes to dress up in women's clothing, but that's not why he's so funny ...

For more serious-minded cinephiles, Kino offers the Fritz Lang Epic Collection, aptly named considering that one of the films included is of Wagner's Die Niberlungen. As with their Wong Kar-Wai set, this one bundles previously released titles (Wagner and the classic Metropolis) with new ones; in this case, the debuts are Woman in the Moon and Spies. Meanwhile, Criterion offers a two-disc reissue of one of their own titles, Lang's magnificent M; the film's image is vastly improved, and a disc full of great bonus features offers an incentive for owners of the first edition to upgrade.

Film buffs who discovered British television pioneer Dennis Potter via the recent reissue of The Singing Detective are heartily encouraged to check out Pennies From Heaven (BBC Video), a three-disc set containing the musical miniseries that shares Detective's fascination with yesteryear's glamorous pop songs. Widely considered one of the greatest television programs ever, Pennies (not to be confused with the American remake starring Steve Martin) was also a breakthrough role for Bob Hoskins.

Finally, Anglophile Mothers everywhere are secretly hoping their kids spring for The Jane Austen Collection (BBC Video), which is just what it sounds like. Gathering the author's complete works (adding up to 22 hours) on six discs, it's a heavy dose of pomp-deflation and sugar-coated wit. These are the original BBC productions, not the theatrical adaptations or later TV versions, so if Mom's hankering for some Colin Firth action you'll have to shop elsewhere. But it's hard to imagine her being very disappointed with this nearly day-long trip to 18th/19th Century England - which, after all, is where most of our notions about a "traditional" Christmas originated.

By John DeFore


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