As gifts, rare-international-cinema DVDs can be like cherry bombs—compact, light, odorless, maintenance-free, and likely to leave an unforgettable blast-dent in your skull. Start with Kino, whose grand new German Expressionist box set includes excellent archival editions of film-school standbys The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Nosferatu (1922), as well as the recent Cineteca di Bologna restorations of Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1923) and Paul Wegener’s Prusso-Yiddishe parable The Golem (1920). Each has extraordinary filmhead supplements, notably Nosferatu‘s rare Murnau clips (including bits of 1920’s Journey Into the Night and 1922’s Phantom); Waxworks‘ extremely silly 1926 cinematic-crossword short by Paul Leni, Rebus Film I; and Caligari‘s inclusion of director Robert Wiene’s loopy Genuine (1920), the semi-lost, 43-minute reconstructed fantasia about a painter’s muse come to life and preying upon hapless men. All in a box for less than the cost of dinner for two and a bottle of wine. Likewise, Kino’s historic release of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1922-24), all five retitled, rescored, speed-corrected Teutonic hours of it, looms as a must-own event whose supplements include footage of Lang at work on the set.
Kino has also issued Andrzej Wajda’s rarely screened Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962), the great Pole’s magnificently monochromatic Yugoslav melodrama, which culminates in a stunning death march sequence that evokes too many political nightmares to count, and István Szabó’s LoveFilm (1970), a sweet, wise, post-Godardian tour of mid-century Hungarian upheaval by way of a childhood romance grown into wayward adulthood. Both films had long ago dropped off the film culture radar; undoubtedly, there are still vaults of prime European New Wave beauts waiting to be rediscovered.
But the more startling political find is First Run’s The Murderers Are Among Us (1946), the first German film made after Nazism’s collapse; Wolfgang Staudte’s guilt-soaked portrait of post-war Germans attempting to rectify their lives—as the film itself attempts to rationalize the society’s guilt—is astonishing. A scalding outsider’s take on the same milieu, and arguably the best 1940s film about children, Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1947), released by Image, is finally available in a pristine form unseen since the movie’s first European showings 55 years ago. Unmuddied film history is likewise at your fingertips with Image’s double feature of The End of St. Petersburg (1927) by Soviet maestro Vsevolod Pudovkin and his all-but-unseen sound feature The Deserter (1933), which explores a German shipyard strike with some of the most muscular montages ever assembled, before sinking into Leninist melodramatics.
A new DVD outfit, All Day Entertainment, sports a library headlined by a battery of Edgar Ulmer treasures (including the freaky 1945 semi-noir Strange Illusion, a retelling of Hamlet complete with half-baked Freudian dream theory), and a swan dive into the ’60s Dr. Mabuse films. The 1962 remake of Fritz Lang’s Testament of Doctor Mabuse comes supplemented with The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse, the 1952 stateside version of the 1933 original that was so radically re-edited and dubbed that it constitutes an entirely different film. All Day also has committed the final Lang entry, 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, to disc, providing the Mabusian completist with a quadrangulated vision of the notorious metaphysical underworld. Have yourself a Langian New Year.
Perhaps the freakiest newsmaker is All Day’s Cuban Story (1959), an ersatz agitprop documentary by Victor Pahlen and, to an unknown degree, drinking pal Errol Flynn. When the Castro revolution hit, Flynn and Pahlen were there as partying tourists; immediately, they began filming. The resulting document, introduced and narrated by a pickled Flynn, is ramshackle but crammed with miraculous one-of-a-kind footage (including the burial of rebels’ stacked bones in children’s coffins); after a single showing at the Moscow Film Festival, the film disappeared unreleased. Now it’s a piece of history.