I haven't made a habit here of rounding up commentary on new DVD releases, but this is one exceptional week.
"The grand theme of Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders's cultishly adored fantasy of overcoat-clad angels in Berlin as the Cold War's end drew near, is storytelling in all its forms as a coping mechanism of the human race." Four out of five stars from Bill Weber at Slant for this week's release from Criterion: "Even for non-fanatics, this packaging of perhaps the most beloved European film of a generation is heaven-sent."
Michael Atkinson has written beautifully about Wings in the past and he's done so again in an essay for Criterion that's part of the package - and posted at Current. I'd love to quote the whole damn thing (look; this film is partially responsible for my living where I do), but I'll limit myself to this: "Even after the two-decades-plus of global exploration that has followed for the filmmaker, it appears to be sui generis, born from its own shadowy nitrate soup.... [N]ever had we seen Berlin become Berlin so clearly, so eloquently before. (The more sober and evocative German title translates as The Sky over Berlin.) Of course the city is haunted."
On that note, Wings kicks off Divided Cinema: German Cinema at The Wall at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle on November 30. The series runs through December 16.
Criterion's also posted an excerpt from Wenders's first 1986 treatment, "An Attempted Description of an Indescribable Film."
"I never count an artist out; by the same token, I look at Wings and I see something like an irreproducible result." A couple of weeks ago, Glenn Kenny got a conversation going.
Jamie S Rich: "Wings of Desire is a 'Where were you when?' film. Where were you when you first saw it? Who showed it to you? Who were you? Up until a couple of days ago I had forgotten, for instance, that I had given the previous DVD edition to one of my best movie pals several years ago. He had never seen it before that. Wings of Desire is just that kind of film."
"Samuel Fuller had one of the most fascinating of Hollywood careers - a 50-plus-year self-mythologizing rampage that began with scriptsmith work in the mid 1930s at the age of 24, evolving into one of the most distinctive auteurs America has ever produced, writing/directing some 25 movies and having a hand in writing 25 more, helplessly manufacturing himself into a crusty man's-man Hollywood gadfly in the process, readily available for manic interviews and iconic appearances in young auteurs' self-conscious films." For Michael Atkinson, writing at IFC this time, "the new Sony set of Fulleriania is a prize." Gary W Tooze agrees.
The Dead is out today, but Tom Becker gives us fair warning at DVD Verdict: "Lionsgate has given us some good releases and some crappy releases, but this appalling piss-on-the-memory-of-John-Huston treatment of the director's final film is a new low. Shame on them for trying to foist off on the public an incomplete and wretched looking version of this great film."
"Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I (Sony), the fourth collaboration between Sony and Martin Scorsese's non-profit film preservation organization, The Film Foundation, spotlights three films that embraced the docu-noir style of daylight thrillers with darkly psychotic characters," notes Sean Axmaker. The set sends Gary W Tooze into "Nirvana."
Sean's Blu-ray of the week: "Alfred Hitchcock never made a more purely entertaining film than North by Northwest (Warner), a classic 'wrong man' thriller with a romantic cast and a breathless series of adventures across a cross-country romp." The release (watch that trailer!) marks the 50th anniversary and, for the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau. Bill Martell posted a fine entry on the film in August of last year.
Finally for now, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (2007) and The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001) are not new releases, though they are out there. Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on "Historical Meditations in Two Films by John Gianvito" isn't new, either, but he's just made it available, noting that Fernanda Hussein "remains for me one of the key American independent features of the past decade, and it's hard for me to think of another that's more personally important to me."