A post-DVD Future for DVD Labels?

There is no mistaking the air of panic surrounding DVD retail in the UK at the moment. Second hand DVD prices are dropping at both Amazon and CeX while the time between a DVD retailing at full RRP and it appearing on the bargain shelves is shrinking month by month. We may not be quite there yet but DVD and Blu-ray are clearly on their way to the great dead media bonfire in the sky.

The death of DVD is being driven by a series of cultural shifts that are combining to put pressure on traditional ways of selling and consuming media:

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REVIEW – Colossal Youth (2006)

Videovista have my review of Pedro Costa’s Juventude em Marcha, which has been released by the always excellent boutique DVD and Blu-ray label Masters of Cinema.

While Colossal Youth is not the first Pedro Costa I have seen, my familiarity with the filmmaker’s work in no way made it either an easier or a more appealing watch.  The film is beautiful, intelligent and is inspired by the same singular vision that pervades all of Costa’s work but it is also cataclysmically boring and inaccessible. This is art house film making without compromise or concession, either you accept the film on its own terms or you don’t bother:

While Costa’s films are almost completely unwatchable, there is clearly a coherent vision behind the impenetrable boredom that dominates his films. Because this coherent vision exists, Costa has found an audience for his decidedly singular and experimental approach to filmmaking. Indeed, while I suspect that Costa has few followers outside of academic film studies and film schools, the substance that exists in his work means that his films contribute to the evolution of the cinematic form. While the films that Costa makes may be boring and unwatchable, they will be influential and it would not surprise me if Costa’s devotees can find echoes of his work in that of the filmmakers who have come after him. As boring as his work may be to me, I cannot deny that Costa is an important figure and that his films constitute a boon to the on-going evolution of the cinematic form.

Going by the recent output of Colin Marshall’s excellent podcast Marketplace of Ideas, I get the impression that certain elements of the lit-blogosphere are attempting to re-claim boredom as a position of spiritual strength and a reaction against the media-saturation and sensationalism of much of Western culture. It seems to me that Costa’s work would probably make a good case-study for people sympathetic to that position.

REVIEW – Pigs & Battleships (1961)

Videovista have my review of Shohei Imamura’s fifth film Pigs & Battleships.

Released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, Pigs & Battleships comes with Imamura’s first film Stolden Desire as an added extra.  As I said in my review of the earlier film, despite the fact that Pigs & Battleships is the ‘main feature’ on the disc, Stolen Desire is probably a better film to start with at it serves as a lovely introduction to some of Imamura’s concerns and techniques.  In particular, both films share a similarly frantic and grubby atmosphere of desperate people who are trapped between idealism and realism and are forever making the wrong decisions:

Pigs & Battleships is a film of moments and atmospheres rather than plots and characters. Its characters, although complex and beautifully acted, are seldom allowed much room to breathe in a film that is positively teeming with plot. In fact, this film has so much plot that it can, at times, be difficult to follow. Better then to take a step back from faces and events and focus instead on Imamura’s depiction of Japanese society as a vast ocean that teems with life but whose ceaseless churn can kill in a second. Aside from its beautifully frenzied atmosphere, Pigs & Battleships is littered with lovely cinematic moments and camera movements so beautiful that they’ll melt your face.

On a side note: it has come to my attention that Eureka have got into something of a barney with the book publisher Phaidon over Phaidon’s series of books about directors entitled ‘The Masters of Cinema’. As Eureka point out on their website, their DVD and Blu-ray label pre-dates Phaidon’s book series by a number of years and given how well-known and well-respected Eureka’s MOC label is among European cinephiles, Phaidon’s decision to use the same name for their series of books can only cause confusion.  Eureka have said that they’d be willing to license the name but Phaidon are insisting that the names do not cause confusion. Which is bollocks obviously. If I walked into a bookshop and saw a series of books about famous directors entitled ‘The Criterion Collection’ I would naturally think that it was affiliated with the American DVD label.

What makes this sordid story even more bizarre is the fact that Phaidon are currently the owners of the venerable French film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema and their Masters of Cinema books come with Cahiers branding on them.  While Cahiers has not been a decent magazine for a number of years now, the name Cahiers du Cinema still means something.  In fact, it means quite a bit more to European cinephilia than Masters of Cinema so why are Phaidon trading on someone else’s brand when they have an even more valuable brand of their own that they could trade on? A series of books released under the Cahiers du Cinema brand would be a great idea but instead, Phaidon have decided to borrow someone else’s name.  Unfortunate.

REVIEW – The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924)

Videovista has my review of Die Finanzen Des Grossherzogs.  A silent black and white comedy made during the years of the Weimar Republic and directed by F. W. Murnau, the director who brought us such classics as Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1924) and Faust (1926).

It’s being sold as part of a Masters of Cinema set along with his proto-psychological thriller Phantom (1922) and while the film itself is something of a lightweight romp, I nonetheless found it quite an enjoyable one.

Police (1985) – Two Faces, Neither of Them Real

Can art ever articulate the truth?  The films of Maurice Pialat display a grave ambivalence towards that question.  With his first film, L’Enfance Nue (1968) Pialat showed a real animosity towards not only traditional forms of cinematic story-telling, but the very conceit and artificiality of fiction itself.  Pialat is a director who wants to put the real world on the screen without the traditional intermediaries of editorial or narrative.  However, despite this hostility to the artificiality of artistic representation, Pialat never returned to his roots as a documentary film-maker.  Instead, he produced films such as Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble (1972) and La Gueule Ouverte (1974).  Films that presented themselves as traditional dramas, but which were in fact elaborately dramatised autobiographical meditations upon his own life.

Police is a film that continues Pialat’s tradition of ontological uncertainty.  It is a work of genre by a film-maker who loathed fiction and a character study by a man who seemed to believe that there was no such thing as the self.  Unsurprisingly, Police is a film that exists under a permanent ontological fog.

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La Gueule Ouverte (1974) – Part of the Furniture

One of the things that is most fascinating about Pialat as a director is that though completely devoid of sentimentality, his work also shows a perpetual awareness of the temptations that it offers.  This lack of sentimentality applies abstractly to broad topics such as childhood but also, more concretely, to his own life.  It is said that The Mouth Agape is one of Pialat’s most ‘autobiographical’ works but this is not a particularly useful distinction to make with regards to Pialat’s work as so many of his films – including Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble (1972) and Loulou (1980) – are effectively just dramatisations of real events from his own life.  A better way of thinking about La Gueule Ouverte is that it is one of his more intrusive works.  It shines a light into places where we would rather not look.  An unflattering and unsentimental light right onto the death of Pialat’s mother and the lives of both himself and his womanising father.  It is a film about death without being about loss and a film about grief without being about sadness.  It is, in a word, pitiless.

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Passe Ton Bac D’Abord (1979) – The Ordered Nature of Chaotic Lives

For his fifth feature film, Maurice Pialat returned to northern France to take a second look at the disaffected youth that inspired him to make his first full-length film L’Enfance Nue (1968).  A spiritual successor to that film, Graduate First initially comes across as a work that is almost free form.  A work that takes its pseudo-documentary, cinema verite stylings to their logical conclusion by refusing to place a coherent narrative onto the lives of Pialat’s characters.  However, as with Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble (1972), Passe Ton Bac D’Abord is a film that draws upon a deep, narrative structure that suggests that, while the lives of these young people may seem chaotic and random, these are the kinds of lives that people have always lived.

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