Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Post of Christmas Past

Happy Christmas, or if you're deeply offended by such a vulgar gesture, Happy Holidays. I'll admit, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas - I find it stressful, trying to rush out and choose presents that loved ones might actually like, rather than pretend to like; being unable to stop myself gorging on big meals and endless junk food; and having little time to do anything else because my job is really busy towards the end of the year.

I wasn't always such a grouch. Christmas was an altogether more magical time when I was younger. In the days before the VCR and satellite TV, Christmas was a glorious time for TV, when networks would roll out the big premieres. Nowadays the Harry Potter series is firmly established as the staple Christmas movie, but when I was growing up in the 80's, it was Star Wars. I was also a big Star Wars Toys kid and every Christmas I would a get Star Wars vehicle. My pride and joy was Han Solo's Millennium Falcon. My Dad still likes to remind me how much money he paid for it back in the day, and how much all my Star Wars toys would be worth today had I not swept them all up and passed them on to younger relatives. I do wish I kept them now...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Milestones / Ice - the French DVD

Now that we are in dying weeks of 2010, I can safely say my favourite DVD release of 2010 has been the French label Capricci's 2-disc release of Robert Kramer's 1969 film Ice and his 1975 masterpiece Milestones. Ice focuses on an underground revolutionary group plotting and staging guerrilla style attacks on an American government locked in a war with Mexico. Kramer examines the workings of the organization from within the group, focusing on the tactics, strategies, and the difficulties of achieving the success of their aims in the face of internal squabbling, brutal and oppressive punishment by the police and the sheer difficulty of co-coordinating their efforts with other revolutionary groups, with similar ends but differing means. Ice was shot on b/w 16mm film stock and has an incredible vérité feel to it, remaining to this day quite a radical, thought provoking film, which fans of Pontecorvo's Battle Of Algiers and Conta-Gavras' State of Siege should seek out...

Ice's running time of two hours might seem excessive for a political thriller, but it's modest in comparison with Kramer's 1975 epic Milestones, which runs about 3 hours 20min. The film is essentially a huge patchwork of various people - including a film maker, an anti-war activist released from prison, a troubled Vietnam vet, a blind potter, a young woman preparing to have a baby - all working out their lives and problems of living in America in the 70's against the backdrop of the Vietnam conflict. Like Ice, Milestones is a sort of "fictionalized" (and scripted) documentary but some 5 years on from Ice, Kramer's direction has loosened up and the film has some stylish flourishes - Kramer uses a wide angle lens in some sequences (lending a strange exaggerated depth of field), and the director employs some Nouvelle Vague-ish licks - jump-cuts, over-lapping dialogue, and a free sense of editing, with Kramer dropping in newsreel footage and photo montages of slave trade documents, tenement poverty and the brutal, shameful treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States. Two sequences standout amidst this huge tapestry - an astonishing, surreal nightmare, and an unflinching child birth sequence. Epic in form, epic in content, Milestones remains a key work of American Independent Cinema.

Milestones and Ice are available as a 2-disc French DVD courtesy of Capricci. Both films are presented with optional removable subtitles (in French or Spanish). The full-frame transfers of both films are not without their problems. Ice is the worst of the two. The transfer itself is fine, but the print used is well worn, with lots of debris, lines, tears and scratches. On the plus side, the image is bright, has good contrast and detail is sharp. By no means, a Criterion remaster, but nevertheless a perfectly acceptable transfer considering the rarity of the film. Milestones which was shot in color and is the better of the two, transfer wise, with less damage, evidently sourced from a good 16mm print (less troublesome than the one used for Ice) and featuring strong detail and good color. Audio for both films is fine, each of the films having a minimal amount of music anyhow. Neither film contains any extras. Capricci's DVD set comes in a fold-out cardboard sleeve, with both discs housed separately along side some stills from both films.

Robert Kramer is well represented on French DVD. In addition to the Milestones / Ice DVD, there are DVDs of Cities of the Plain (his final film, from 2001), a double-bill DVD featuring Doc's Kingdom / Walk the Walk ('87/'96) and a 3-disc edition of Kramer's long-form road movie masterpiece Route One USA (1989). Unfortunately Doc's Kingdom / Walk the Walk have hard coded subtitles, and the French language Cities of the Plain has no English subs. Thankfully Route One USA is a superb set, with an excellent transfer and extras, and featuring removable subs. The 4-hour film spread over 2 discs, the third disc being an audio CD of the music from the film.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Art of Hammer - Posters from the Archive of Hammer Films

Hammer fans and movie poster lovers would do well to check out Titan's latest Hammer effort, The Art of Hammer - Posters from the Archive of Hammer Films, a large 26 x 33cm 192 page hardback coffee table book collecting almost 300 Hammer movie posters from down thru the years - British quads, US one-sheets, foreign and International posters of Hammers famous, not so famous and down right obscure (The Snorkel ?). The book is printed on high quality glossy paper and divided into three decades - 50's, 60's and 70's. The book features credits for each poster, including some interesting notes and facts - did you know that ubiquitous Hammer player Michael Ripper's name only ever appeared on one Hammer poster - the 1957 war film The Steel Bayonet; or that the poster for Hammer's Camp on Blood Island (below) was banned from appearing in locations around London (and on the Underground). The following pics are taken from my copy.