By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 12, 2012 at 10:05AM
The Otto Preminger Collection
Why You Should Care: A collection of three really interesting (and bizarre) films by the vaulted Preminger, made after the director had concluded a string of mainstream successes (including “In Harm’s Way,” “The Cardinal,” “Advise and Consent” and “Bunny Lake Is Missing”); the box set includes a notoriously overwrought psychedelic comedy, an antebellum epic that many thought would be the next “Gone with the Wind” (clearly, it was not) and a small-scale dramatic comedy written by Elaine May (under a pseudonym). “Skidoo,” released at the end of 1968 and ostensibly a critique and celebration of sixties counterculture, was a notorious bomb upon its initial release, seen largely as a cluster-fuck of ideas and celebrities (the cast includes – deep breath – Jackie Gleeson, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, and Groucho Marx to name a few) with little in the way of a cohesive narrative. Still, it’s a blast to watch, if only for its WTF-value, and seems genuinely ahead of its time. “Hurry Sundown,” released the year before “Skidoo,” is decidedly more old-fashioned, a Southern epic (at 146 minutes) set in 1946 America, stocked with a bunch of movie stars (including Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, and Faye Dunaway) and based on the novel by K.B. Gilden (a pseudonym for married couple Katya and Bert Gilden). The film was widely criticized for being too old fashioned, with many citing the outdated presentations of sexuality and race. “Such Good Friends,” released in 1971, is hopelessly modern, and stars Dyan Cannon as a woman who maneuvers various heartaches. The movie is based on the novel by Lois Gould, which was widely read but proved incredibly difficult to adapt (Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne even put some work into the screenplay), before Mike Nichols collaborator Elaine May (who was Preminger’s original choice for screenwriter) became available and finally cracked it. May, who didn’t want her name attached to something that someone else had started, withdrew her credit and resented Preminger for using her in the film’s promotion. Lots of drama on and off the screen.
What’s On It: Sadly, nothing.
Release Date: November 13th from Olive Films
Why You Should Care: It's a reissue of the film, based on Carson McCullers’ debut novel, that earned widespread critical acclaim and Academy Award nominations for two of its leads. Awash in Southern Gothic melodrama (with a sharp shift in setting, from the novel’s Depression Era south to a more contemporary, but just as contemptuous, sixties setting), the film concerns a deaf-mute (played by Alan Arkin) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young girl (Sondra Locke, who would go on to become Clint Eastwood’s creative and romantic partner in later years and who was also nominated for an Oscar) who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. Of course, this being the small town south, the townspeople aren’t too trusting of this relationship, and soon a cavalcade of hurt feelings, hidden agendas, and dark secrets are unleashed. While the movie, at just over two hours, seems somewhat creaky today (director Robert Ellis Miller was known more for how quickly he could produce than for the quality of his work), it is anchored by a collection of fine performances – in addition to the two leads, Stacy Keach, Percy Rodriguez and Cicely Tyson all show up and perform well, and the McCullers-derived atmosphere, all hanging Spanish moss and ghosts of old, survive the severe change in setting.
What’s On It: As this is one of those burn-to-order deals, it is entirely features-free
Release Date: Out now via Warner Archive
Why You Should Care: Michael Cimino’s unfairly maligned masterwork, largely unavailable in its uncut form, is finally being unleashed for home video consumption, thanks to the good folks at the Criterion Collection. This is, in short, not just the home video event of the month – it might be the home video event of the entire year. Loosely based on the historical Johnson County War, in which ranchers fought each other to the death, the film was more notorious for its troubled production than what actually ended up on screen. There were reports that Cimino, drunk on power coming off the success of “The Deer Hunter,” was a mercurial tyrant and stickler for historical authenticity who made baffling, dunderheaded decisions (like rebuilding a major set because it didn't "look right") and pretty much drove everyone nuts. When the movie was originally released, it had an oppressively lengthy runtime of over 200 minutes. That version was critically savaged by the handful of critics who saw it (including Vincent Canby from the New York Times, who called it “an unqualified disaster”) and when the film finally saw wide release, about a half-a-year later, Cimino had truncated the cut to a more manageable, if creatively compromised 149-minutes. Even in its messiest form, “Heaven’s Gate” is still a stunner, stacked top to bottom with top-shelf performances (from people like Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, and John Hurt) and some of the most dazzling camerawork ever (courtesy of the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond). The original version of “Heaven’s Gate” was trumpeted by forward-thinkers like Jerry Harvey, who ran the revolutionary cable channel Z Channel, and throughout the years defenders have come forward (including Martin Scorsese), despite the fact that the film had never been fully reconstructed, in its original form, until earlier this year. That’s the version we’re getting on this forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray, and hopefully it will be the final word on the long, storied history of “Heaven’s Gate.”
What’s On It: A bountiful collection of extras await you on the Criterion disc, including a demonstration of the restoration of the film; a thirty-minute documentary with director Cimino and producer Joann Carelli discussing the film’s tortured history; new ten-minute interviews with Kristofferson, assistant director Michael Stevenson (who worked for David Lean before Cimino) and musician David Mansfield; the film’s original teaser and TV spot, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. For more on the ‘Gate,’ watch “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” a killer documentary by Xan Cassavettes.
Release Date: November 20th, which is of course one day after the half-off Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble ends
Other releases: Criterion unleashes a new edition of Akira Kurosawa’s multi-angled masterpiece “Rashomon” (out now); finally a special edition of John Carpenter’s magic-sunglasses epic “They Live” is released, with new special features and a commentary track featuring Carpenter and Rowdy Roddy Piper (out now); Kino packages a collection of “Fritz Lang: The Early Works,” which includes “Harakari,” “The Wandering Shadow,” and “Four Around a Woman” (out now); the three excellent “Paradise Lost” documentary films are finally (superbly) packaged to form “The Paradise Lost Trilogy” (out now); Billy Wilder’s masterpiece “Sunset Boulevard” is finally on Blu-ray (out now); marginal eighties horror movie “Death Ship” gets the unexpectedly deluxe treatment (out now); alongside the release of “Brave,” Pixar is releasing the second volume of the “Pixar Shorts Collection,” this time including work that their famous animators did in school (November 13th); John Huston’s “The Barbarian and the Geisha” makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray (November 13th); Peir Paolo Pasolin’s “Trilogy of Life” debuts thanks to Criterion (November 13th); “Lawrence of Arabia” makes a splashy high-definition debut on Blu-ray with all the bells and whistles (November 13th); Nicholas Ray’s truly bizarre experimental film “We Can’t Go Home Again” makes its way to home video after spending the better part of last year doing the film festival rounds (November 13th); Criterion (FINALLY) releases a deluxe version of Godard’s “Weekend” (November 13th); Ridley Scott’s flashy debut “The Duellists” comes to Blu-ray (November 20th); Joel McCrea/Veronica Lake western “Ramrod” piques the interest of the curious (November 20th); and Richard Widmark hopes to avoid “The Trap” (November 20th).