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Sontag and More DVDs; Top British Films and More Lists

"If there is one aspect of Susan Sontag's multifaceted life that has resisted enshrinement, it is her film career." In the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim addresses the impact of her film criticism before turning to her actual films, the third of which, Promised Lands, "took her abroad, to Israel in fall 1973, in the final days of the Yom Kippur War. New to DVD this week from Zeitgeist/KimStim, it is Sontag's only documentary and her best-regarded movie; she also considered it her most personal film… The most striking thing about Promised Lands, given who made it, is how little the film depends on words… The film's observational passages take in daily life on the streets, prayers at the Wailing Wall, a service at the war cemetery, a wax museum that memorializes Israel's often violent history and, most memorably, the aftermath of the desert combat. Sontag ventures into a psychiatric ward for shellshocked veterans to document an experimental treatment that re-creates battlefield sounds, driving the traumatized patient to cower under his bed. Surveying the surreal landscape, her camera pauses on the wreckage of incinerated tanks and blackened corpses surrounded by flies. It goes without saying that Sontag wrestled with the moral responsibility of bearing witness to these horrors. 'Anything about any war that does not show the appalling concreteness of destruction and death is a dangerous lie,' she wrote."

Dennis also has a piece this week for Criterion: Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking (2008) "is his most direct expression yet of the axiom that death is a part of life — or, more precisely, that life is often lived in the shadow of death. While this is an obvious enough fact, something we know firsthand or at least grasp instinctively, it poses specific cinematic challenges: to make a film about grief and loss is, in effect, to confront something that's not there, to map the contours of a void. But Kore-eda, a director of finesse, patience, and emotional intelligence, is naturally drawn to structuring absences — from the departed loved ones in Maborosi [1995] and Distance [2001] to the offscreen specter of the missing parents in Nobody Knows (2004), about four young siblings left to fend for themselves."

In the New York Times this week, Dave Kehr reviews three new DVD releases. First up is Joseph Losey's The Prowler (1951), "which has now been issued in a first-class restoration (financed by the Film Noir Foundation and the Stanford Theater foundation, and executed by the UCLA Film and Television Archive) on a DVD from the independent distributor VCI… Few films of this period show such a stark disdain for institutional authority… The Prowler functions perfectly both as a gripping genre picture and a portrait of a society twisted by cruelty and greed." More from Glenn Kenny, who notes that the packages comes with "nifty extras including a commentary by noir expert Eddie Muller and a documentary featurette on the film featuring the enthusiasms of author James Ellroy, for whom the film was a huge source of inspiration. Among other things, The Prowler is one of the great Los Angeles noirs. When Losey was on, one of the key attractions of his films was just how well he got environments — LA in this film, and in The Big Night, and yes, even his rethink of M; Venice in Eve; certain sectors of London in The Servant; and so on." Daniel Kasman reviewed The Prowler last March.

Back to Dave Kehr: "Although [Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)] was released on DVD last year to take advantage of Disney's new, live-action version, directed by Tim Burton, the Blu-ray edition is coming out this week, and with its tight definition and accurately rendered colors, it was worth the wait. The film is nothing if not a brilliant showcase for the colorist and designer Mary Blair, one of the great practitioners of midcentury modernism." More from the AV Club's Keith Phipps, who argues that "for the same reason Alice in Wonderland caught on with the midnight-movie crowd, it never inspired the affection that other Disney classics did. Little besides an endless stream of ditties — only a few of them memorable — carries the film from one scene to the next. For anyone not just coasting along with the visuals, it can start to feel like a movie to be gotten through more than enjoyed."



Dave Kehr's #3: "It still isn't much of a movie, but WUSA — finally making its debut on home video 40 years after its theatrical release — has acquired the shiny patina of being a genuine cultural artifact. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) and starring the Brangelina of their day, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, WUSA was a painfully self-conscious attempt to capture the wobbling spirit of a particularly unsteady moment in American history: the post-flower-power morning-after that was 1970… Internally WUSA has little coherent to say about the America of the early 1970s, but that Hollywood once considered movies like this to be mainstream commercial material speaks volumes about the social adjustments of the last decades." Out from Olive Films.

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Harley W Lond (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

 

EVENTS


"Halfway through Phil Collins's new film, a statue of Karl Marx is winched out of a Berlin square," writes Stuart Jeffries. "It recalls Fellini's La Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Jesus is airlifted over the roofs of Rome before the shenanigans begin. Both sequences invite similar questions. What happens when the key symbol of a culture is run out of town? Does life become sweet? Does it leave an icon-shaped hole? The Runcorn-born, Berlin-residing, 2006 Turner prize-shortlisted artist wanted to address these questions in his film, called Marxism Today. But most of all, he wanted to find out what happens to a discredited creed's followers, as they move into an alien new world." Marxism Today is at the BFI Gallery in London through April 10.

Also in the Guardian, Charlotte Higgins has Douglas Gordon tell her the emotionally charged story behind his new film, K364, now at the Gagosian Gallery through March 26.

"The San Francisco Film Society's Sundance Kabuki Screen springs back to life this week with a mid-winter bounty for Bay Area cinephiles," writes Michael Hawley. "Five top-notch films are booked for one-week runs between now and March 4." And they are Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains, which Max Goldberg considers at length for SF360, Silvio Soldini's Come Undone, Steven Soderbergh's And Everything is Going Fine, Alexei Popogrebsky's How I Ended This Summer and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives.

If you're in Melbourne, Screen Machine has your to-do list.

 

LISTS


The fruit of Time Out London's labors has been met with general approval and, on some Twitter feeds, even celebration: "Over the past few months, we've been polling a select group of actors, directors, writers, producers, critics and other industry bigwigs to discover their favourite ten British films. We've spoken to Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry, Sally Hawkins and Ken Loach, Sam Mendes and Terence Davies, and many, many more, including the heads of major cultural organisations, such as the Barbican, the British Film Institute, Film London, the National Film and Television School, the London Film School and critics from the country's major newspapers and magazines, such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Sight & Sound, Total Film and Empire. From there, taking into account the choices of our 150 contributors, we've compiled a countdown of the 100 best British films with new commentary on every film by our critics. You can also read every contributor's top ten, lots of them giving the reasoning behind their choices."

 



Topping the list is Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, and the Telegraph's Anita Singh's gotten in touch with the director for his reaction: "After all this time, people see the film more clearly. When it came out, audiences were less used to it. That [sex] scene would've been like someone bursting out of a cupboard and shouting, 'Boo!'"

Sister publication Time Out New York has put together a list of the "50 most controversial movies ever": "Sometimes, in the case of politics and sex, filmmakers can be liberators, leading a charge that elevates the medium's significance. Elsewhere — especially in the case of violence — a movie can warn us of where we might be headed. These 50 entries are the extremes."

Meantime, the Alternative Chronicle has polled its contributors for a sci-fi top ten.

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