By Chris Packham
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With the plexes pipe-glutted with elfin this and magical that, the only sensible recourse is to prime the economy by shopping for real moviesgive the gift of genuine film culture, or do some video library building for yourself. Kino Video continues to plumb the vaults with lavishly supplemented DVD editions of the 1920 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (the one starring John Barrymore, though among the extra options is an excerpt from the rival 1920 rendition starring Sheldon Lewis) and the 1928 Douglas Fairbanks classic, The Gaucho (which includes Fairbanks's notorious 1916 coke comedy, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish). Packaging restored prints of hard-to-see antiquitiesand their fascinating ephemeral jetsaminto easily browsed digital mini-archives is where the DVD format truly comes alive, and Kino hits homers with the must-own release of Pabst's 1929 Diary of a Lost Girl (nine restored minutes of censored footage) and von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930), in a two-disc set that features both the restored German version and the simultaneously produced English version. Just as reliable as moviehead stocking stuffers are the truly malevolent Lon Chaney spawn The Penalty (1920)which features among its programs the only surviving footage known from Chaney's The Miracle Manas well as A Christmas Past, Kino's haunting and hilarious collection of silent holiday shorts, ranging from an elaborate amateur Alaskan-glacier fairy tale by Mr. and Mrs. F.E. Kleinschmidt to a 1909 D.W. Griffith two-reel melodrama.
Winstar has been filling in one of stateside exhibition's most woeful potholes by buying up all of Hou Hsiao-hsien's oeuvre and releasing them in measured doses. Flowers of Shanghai (1998), the only theater-distributed Hou here, has been out for a year or more, but recently The Puppetmaster (1993), Good Men, Good Women (1995), and Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) have all been launched as gorgeous DVDs (and VHS tapes as well), and no one who's read any film-literate publication over the last 10 years needs to be told what a meteor landing it is in toto. As if that isn't sufficient, Winstar's also assembled a Godard DVD box, featuring perfect digital copies of Breathless (1960), Le Petit Soldat, and Les Carabiniers (both 1963), and released Catherine Breillat's early film A Real Young Girl (1976), a vital overture to this year's smackdown, Fat Girl.
Facets muddies the decision-making waters altogether, first with the box set of Krzysztof Zanussi's 10-hour Weekend Stories (1996-2000), a made-for-Polish-TV epic obviously modeled after Kieslowski's The Decalogue in format, but much more dramatic and politically engaged in content. (Whereas the earlier films nipple-twist Old Testament ideals, Zanussi's series directly confronts post-Soviet fallout.) But for cinephiles, the authentic opportunities may be the new Magic of MélièsDVD (which, if you can ignore the overlapping French and English narrations, is as lovely a window on this famous corner of film history as we've ever seen, including the rare 1901 riff Bluebeard) and Facets' definitive 11-disc Buster Keaton set, which now includes an extra 3.5 hours of Keatonalia: TV shows, commercials, home movies (on the set of The General!), educational films, shorts, a guided tour of Keaton shooting locations, and even a half-hour rough cut of the unfinished 1962 Canadian musical comedy Ten Girls Ago.
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