Movie Master Classes On DVD

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by Leonard Maltin
July 1, 2013 2:39 PM
4 Comments
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It’s understandable when someone doesn’t want to re-purchase a film he already owns on DVD, but the Criterion Collection makes it hard to resist by adding such outstanding bonus material. Many titles are also making their debut in the Blu-ray format. In the case of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, I actually hosted its 2005 DVD debut as part of a Harold Lloyd collection from the now-defunct New Line Cinema label, and recorded a commentary track with Lloyd expert Rich Correll. Our conversation is revived on the new release, which adds three newly-restored Lloyd shorts (Take a Chance, Young Mr. Jazz, and His Royal Slyness) and a piece on Lloyd’s location work and visual effects featuring John Bengtson and Craig Barron. Bengtson and Correll also offer interesting background observations on all three silent shorts. Another highlight is an illuminating conversation with the great Carl Davis about his orchestral score for Safety Last! and his approach to silent-film music in general.

This two-disc set also includes Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s exceptional television documentary Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, which I haven’t watched since it debuted in 1989. It’s a vivid reminder of how much we owe Brownlow and Gill, who tracked down so many people who are no longer here to share their memories of Lloyd—from his daughter Gloria to his first collaborator, Hal Roach. The filmmakers also found audio and video interviews with Lloyd himself to help tell his Horatio Alger-like story.

Not content to use existing material, Criterion (typically) did its own transfer from Lloyd’s surviving 35mm print and used various systems to remove dirt, scratches and artifacts for presentation on DVD and Blu-ray. And as always, they provide a beautifully printed booklet with photos, credits, and a first-rate essay (in this case, by Ed Park).

Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947) is another recent Criterion release that tops its predecessors with such accoutrements as an audio interview with Chaplin’s “discovery” for the film, Marilyn Nash, a featurette on Chaplin’s relationship with the press, and a booklet featuring an essay by Chaplin explaining and defending his film, which was intended to run in various newspapers.

H.G. Wells’ Things to Come (1936) has been treated as a public domain property for many years, rightly or wrongly, and is available from many sources. But they don’t have an eye-opening interview with Sir Christopher Frayling in which he discusses the revolutionary design of the picture—followed by unused footage by László Moholy-Nagy, not to mention a commentary track by David Kalat, an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien, a study of Arthur Bliss’ music score by Bruce Eder, and an audio recording of Wells himself from 1936.

I thought the last Criterion release of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) was definitive, but it seems I was wrong. The recent Criterion reissue was mastered from original 35mm Technicolor elements, then digitally restored for a richer, clearer, sharper image. A visual presentation reveals how the precious negatives were damaged over many years’ time and just how challenging it was to bring the film back to its full Technicolor glory. But the best part of this release is listening to Powell booster Martin Scorsese speak so eloquently about the picture, followed by his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who also became Mrs. Michael Powell) in a lengthy conversation about the film and her husband’s career in general. (Yes, they also participated in the earlier Criterion disc, which means a compulsive collector like me will have to keep both editions in my library.)

Please understand, I’m as frugal as anyone when it comes to making new purchases, and in the interest of full disclosure, I was sent review copies of these discs by Criterion. But I feel greatly enriched by all of these interviews, essays, and documentaries; they enhance my appreciation of films that matter to me, and I find it hard to put a price tag on that.

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4 Comments

  • Kevin House | July 6, 2013 10:11 AMReply

    I also have to think twice about double dipping with the Criterion releases, but I do plan to buy the new edition of "Safety Last" because of the new bonus features. And I just watched "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" for the first time after purchasing the recent Criterion release. What a great film! I had read a lot about the film before buying it, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Keep up the great work, Leonard! I love your site!

  • Jim Reinecke | July 3, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    And, once again, Leonard, this allows me the luxury of tipping you off to a necessary title tweak. I realize that Mr. Lloyd's silent classic is now the sole property of your Classic Guide, so when you get around to the new edition (hopefully in the Spring of 2015) an exclamation point needs to be added since the title of the film appears on-screen as SAFETY LAST!.

  • John Bengtson | July 2, 2013 3:23 AMReply

    Thanks Leonard. Your readers can see how Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last at my Silent Locations blog. The latest post shows the now barely recognizable 4-story building Bill Strother climbs early in the film. http://silentlocations.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/solved-at-last-the-safety-last-mystery-building/

  • Walt Mitchell | July 1, 2013 6:37 PMReply

    Thank you for this thoughtful column, Leonard! My own situation is not identical to yours, but both spotlight bonus material: I like Al Jolson somewhat--I have about 60 or 70 of his 78s--but I had not bought the deluxe DVD package of THE JAZZ SINGER (2005) until it was recently called to my attention. I read the writeup about the package and decided to buy it--not becuse of the feaure, but because of all those early Vitphone shorts that were included! All it took to push me over the edge was a HUGE online come-on sale price and I was THERE!!! (Of course, I haven't forgotten that we all went through your present experience some years ago when DVD was starting to replace VHS!)

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