Armchair Cinephile

This week Warner Bros. enters territory usually left to indie DVD studios, using the 50th anniversary of Pedro Infante’s untimely death to launch the Pedro Infante Signature Collection. Eleven films hit stores this week, with 12 to follow in September; extra features are slim, but surely the budget price ($14.98 each retail) and sheer number of films are ample compensation.

Offering less star power but considerable historical interest is a five-disc box from First Run Features, The Cuban Masterworks Collection. Less a greatest-hits affair than its title suggests, the set does offer samples from Cuba’s key filmmakers, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Julio García Espinosa, and Humberto Solás. The politically minded films play up any class struggle or revolutionary elements a plot has to offer, then use broad comedy and telenovela-style, melodramatic sugar to make the messages go down.

For more current glimpses into Castro’s backyard, two Música Cubana titles (VSC) catch the Buena Vista Social Club stars as they perform live in Tokyo and Amsterdam. Produced by BVSC director Wim Wenders, the discs capture some of the last appearances vocalist Pío Leyva made before his death last year.

Of course, the month’s highest-profile title en Español is Almodóvar’s entrancing and justly celebrated Volver (Sony). Happily, Volver arrived on high-definition Blu-ray the same day as DVD, adding extra oomph to the auteur’s famously vivid visuals.

Finally, in the spirit of Grindhouse: Severin Films is giving highbrow treatment (widescreen transfers, original audio, filmmaker interviews) to the sordid sinema of Spanish auteur Jess Franco. After the release of two titles last fall co-starring the Tarantino-approved Robert Forster, this month will see The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle and The Sexual Story of O. Surely those titles speak for themselves, whatever language they’re printed in.