Because It’s No Fun to Download a Gift


Not yet entirely vaporized by The Cloud, DVDs are still things that can be wrapped, tied, and stuffed into a stocking. Herewith, and with a greater eye toward frugality than in past years, is the CinePhile’s annual holiday DVD gift-buyer’s guide.

For the Mature Couch Potato

John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Acorn, $49.99)

Sure, the current remake is good Cold War–spy business, but it’s just not as immersive, addictive, or even atmospheric as the six-hour-long episodes of this BBC miniseries, first telecast in 1979 on the eve of the Cold War’s ultimate battle (namely the doomed Russki invasion of Afghanistan). The great game, unmasking the Soviet mole buried in the British espionage agency that le Carré calls “The Circus,” is played with donnish aplomb and fabulous world-weariness by the old Jedi himself, Alec Guinness.

For the Movie-Mad Juvenile

Sabu! (Eclipse-Criterion, $35.96)

OK, it’s not exactly politically correct, but how could anything drawing so heavily on Rudyard Kipling’s imperialist fantasies of the British Raj ever hope to be? Real-life elephant driver 13-year-old Sabu (né Selar Shaik) had never seen a movie—let alone acted in one—when he was plucked from a Mysore maharaja’s retinue and cast, by documentarian Robert Flaherty, no less, as the lead in Elephant Boy (1937), shot in southern India by Flaherty and Zoltan Korda (who shared best-director honors at the ’37 Venice Film Festival). Sabu confirmed his status as one of cinema’s great child actors (and a generally great kid) in the following year’s pulpier, more exotically rip-roaring, and shamelessly colonial adventure, The Drum; he capped his early career in 1942 with Korda’s lavish, wild-animal-rich, splendidly Technicolor Jungle Book, shot on location just north of L.A. This box set includes all three.

For the Hardcore Cinephile

Histoire(s) du Cinéma (Olive, $37.95)

Yes, it’s all 266 minutes of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1998 chef d’oeuvre (a decade in the making), subtitled and available on two slim discs, and I guarantee that if the cinephile on your list hasn’t already rushed out and compulsively purchased this particular holy grail, Histoire(s) du Cinéma is the best imaginable film-object gift you can give. Most simply described, Godard’s eight-part, made-for-TV extravaganza is an inimitable, eccentric, often-impenetrable but never-less-than-brilliant stroll through cinema’s first century—a dense epic mixtape with the artist annotating, layering, and digitally manipulating at will. Part of Godard’s greatness was his early recognition of film history as text. Take it or leave it, Histoire(s) du Cinéma is that 20th-century text. Think Joyce, Pound, and Proust.