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DVDs. Soviets and the Poor, Jennings and Kobayashi

New discs from Flicker Alley, Edition Filmmuseum, the BFI, Masters of Cinema and Criterion.

"For a time in the mid-to-late 1920s," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times, "the art of the cinema meant only one thing to the serious-minded film critics of America and Europe: Soviet-style montage, or the art of cutting shots together in a way that would produce ideas and emotions beyond those expressed in the images themselves…. The montage vogue did not last long…. But the fascination of this road not much taken remains, as reflected in Kino's recent Blu-ray releases of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and his first feature, Strike, and now by a boxed set of eight films from Flicker Alley, Landmarks of Early Soviet Film. Part of the folklore of Soviet montage is that it was invented by the idealistic filmmakers of a newborn nation as a way of converting imported American movies from capitalist pettifoggery into proletarian uplift by rearranging sequences and redefining characters. Alas, none of these Leninist mash-ups has ever surfaced, but as Kuleshov and Eisenstein both happily admitted, their inspiration was the American director DW Griffith, who had elevated editing to new expressive heights in his short films and early features." The image is from Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov's Old and New (1929).

"In church halls, schools and missions throughout the late Victorian period, audiences were presented with sentimental but often heart-rending tales of the hardship suffered by those at the lowest rung on the ladder," wrote Luke McKernan in June. "The showmen, lecturers and propagandists who put on such lantern shows swiftly adopted the cinematograph as an additional weapon in their armory, with early projectors often capable of presenting both film and slides. This multimedia nature of early 'cinema' shows is well-known, but is seldom reflected in modern-day exhibition of early film, still less in DVD releases. And that is what makes [Edition Filmmuseum's Screening the Poor 1888-1914] so unusual — it brings together the lantern and the cinematograph on DVD in a conscious echo of the programs of the late 1890s/early 1900s." He's now followed up that review with notes on an upcoming conference, Screen Culture and the Social Question: Poverty on Screen 1880-1914.

The Complete Humphrey Jennings Volume One: The First Days "covers his career from joining the GPO film unit up to his first four wartime movies, culminating in the influential classic on the 1940 blitz, London Can Take It!," notes Philip French in the Observer.

Michael Brook for Sight & Sound on Harakiri (Seppuku, 1962): "Kobayashi Masaki's first samurai film is one of the genre's major masterpieces, not least for its exploration and criticism of the ritual facades governing the samurai code of honor — if notions of honor can legitimately be applied to what is forensically exposed as a viciously hypocritical system that renders men penniless and children fatherless thanks to an unbending refusal to take context and individual circumstance into account." Out from Eureka/Masters of Cinema and Criterion.

DVD roundups. Mark Kermode (Observer), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

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