best dvds of 2002

Steve Fesenmaier (mystery12@charter.net)
Fri, 3 Jan 2003 06:42:19 -0800 (PST)

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January 3, 2003

The Best DVD's of 2002

By PETER M. NICHOLS

[Y] ou learn various things on a DVD. Dwarf-tossing was once a sport in
England, or so it is said during a chat among filmmakers in one of
myriad mini-documentaries on a special extended edition of Peter
Jackson's "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING" (New Line).
Hands down the DVD of 2002, the four-disc set is full of asides, but
it's at its best when Mr. Jackson and his two co-writers, Fran Walsh and
Philippa Boyens, describe a new DVD version of the film with 30 minutes
of added scenes.

A movie of 208 minutes takes some tall explaining, but here we develop
sympathy for the notion that extra length is sometimes more tolerable at
home, where viewing is more relaxed, than in a theater, where the
audience reaches a threshold with no way of taking a break. Mr. Jackson
and the others talk virtually nonstop about trimming scenes to sustain
momentum on the big screen and putting them back on DVD to flesh out
relationships among characters. All the while we wonder how on earth
they could have fit 1,000 pages of J. R. R. Tolkien into three movies
shot at the same time over 18 months in New Zealand.

Other filmmakers prefer to say nothing on DVD. In an interview Todd
Field said he was relieved when Buena Vista didn't insist on a
director's commentary for his film "IN THE BEDROOM," about a Maine
couple who are left with their grief and rage after the murder of their
son. The movie may be last year's best DVD with no extra features.
"Unless it's something historical, like `Citizen Kane' or `Raging Bull,'
it seems really silly to have that kind of thing," Mr. Field said.

But as much as any other film released on video last year, his is worth
a commentary. In the interview Mr. Field said he was interested in
marriage as a character and what loss did to it. "Grief is a strange
thing, especially when you're raised as a Lutheran," he said. "Nobody
will really talk about the truth or how they're feeling." So the killing
murders the marriage.

Too Much for Boys

Otherwise filmmakers talked and talked on some of the better DVD's. Ron
Howard tells of shooting home movies, so to speak, of John Forbes Nash
Jr. to help Russell Crowe in his portrayal of Mr. Nash, the Princeton
mathematician, in "A BEAUTIFUL MIND" (Universal).

In the director's commentary for "GOSFORD PARK," Robert Altman says that
the film's murder case isn't that hard to figure out and that it would
be all right with him if the movie stood as a finely realized study of
English high life. In that spirit, he adds, he made sure that it
included four uses of a strong obscenity so that it would earn an R
rating. "I didn't want kids in to see this movie," he says. "Especially
boys. They wouldn't get it. Too much testosterone."

Ingmar Bergman didn't do a commentary for "WILD STRAWBERRIES"
(Criterion), but in a 1998 interview with Swedish television he recalls
an emotionally arid boyhood under the heel of a tyrannical father
similar to the eminent professor (Victor Sjostrom) in the film. The
director admits he was never much of a husband or father through five
marriages. "I got married very often, and there was supposed to be some
kind of home," he says, adding that he didn't remember much about his
personal life.

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was interviewed for his dramatized
1990 documentary "CLOSE-UP," released in March by Facets. In the film an
unemployed young man impersonates the prominent filmmaker Moshen
Makhmalbaf to gain the confidence and financial backing of a well-to-do
Tehran family. In hopes of lulling censors, Iranian films at that time
typically portrayed social injustices through the eyes of children.
Instead Mr. Kiarostami approaches issues of poverty and inequality by
shrouding controversial political views in the great cause of art.

In the 1940's Marcel Carné skirted the Nazis while shooting his classic
"CHILDREN OF PARADISE" in Paris. Carné died in 1996, but a printed
interview accompanies a superb DVD special edition from Criterion. Set
in the late 1820's around the Funambules pantomime theater and the
Boulevard of Crime, the movie mixes art, love and paradox.

Carné is asked if he had problems with the Nazis. "We were very scared,"
he replied. "Since the film wasn't finished, we had to be slier than
they." His production designer, Alexandre Trauner, and the film's
composer, Joseph Kosma, were Jewish and hid in the South of France. One
of the stars, Arletty, was the mistress of a Gestapo officer, "a
well-known one, actually," Carné says, "whom I met by chance once,
handsome, intelligent, well educated. People despised her because of the
affair, and she used to receive threats like little wooden coffins."

The Hard Road Ahead

On two of last year's better DVD's directors talk about difficulties
encountered getting their first films made and into theaters. A movie
declaring springtime for Hitler made Hollywood nervous, Mel Brooks says
on a special edition of "THE PRODUCERS" (MGM). So someone suggested
springtime for Mussolini. Ridley Scott's first feature film, "THE
DUELLISTS" (Paramount), may have won the grand jury award at the Cannes
International Film Festival, but there were only seven prints to put in
theaters in 1977.

Along with Mr. Jackson on "Rings," Mr. Scott provides some of the year's
best commentary. The story of two French army officers (Keith Carradine
and Harvey Keitel) who battle each other all through the Napoleonic era,
"The Duellists" was made for $900,000, a pittance. Mr. Scott, of course,
is known for the visual beauty of films like "Gladiator" and "Hannibal,"
and "The Duellists" is a stunner even at that price, despite the rain
that fell on 56 of the 58 days the movie was shot in central France.

Having made some 1,800 commercials by then, Mr. Scott had an eye for the
found location. (No sets were constructed.) He knew exactly where to
place a camera immediately and just how to squeeze in a scene before
taking the production into overtime.

On a DVD of "AMADEUS" (Warner), Milos Forman talks about needing an
unknown (Tom Hulce) to play Mozart so that the insecure Salieri, played
by F. Murray Abraham, would maintain at least equal billing with his
celebrated counterpart. Debbie Reynolds and others tell what it was like
to work for Gene Kelly on a 50th-anniversary edition of "SINGIN' IN THE
RAIN" (Warner). Richard Lester talks about keeping track of the Beatles
trotting around making "A HARD DAY'S NIGHT" (Miramax).

Baz Luhrmann talks (and talks) of love and art and life in another of
the year's best DVD's, "BEHIND THE RED CURTAIN" (Fox). This DVD is a
collection with Mr. Luhrmann's red curtain trilogy -- "Strictly
Ballroom," "William Shakespeare's `Romeo and Juliet' " and "Moulin
Rouge" -- on four discs. On a fifth disc, "Behind the Red Curtain," we
visit the house of Iona, Mr. Luhrmann's jumping movie-making
headquarters in Sydney, Australia.

The collection stresses interactivity. "As Baz tells the story of this
particular cinematic style, words will pop on and off the screen,"
instructions say. "These words are active, and by selecting them you can
branch to another level of video, stills or text." That's a lot of Baz,
but it's fun.

Documentary Standouts

Collections exploded on DVD, particularly seasons of "The Sopranos,"
"The Simpsons," "Band of Brothers," "Sex and the City" and other
television shows. Among the best was a three-disc set of "TINKER,
TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" (Acorn Media), the first-rate BBC adaptation of
John le Carré's novel broadcast by PBS in 1980. Mr. le Carré is
interviewed. During the cold war the intelligence community languished
in a "self-induced coma," he says, producing too much information to
evaluate. And so it was on Sept. 11, he adds.

Documentaries were also strong on DVD this year -- from English history
to the Tokyo Olympics. The 20-hour, five-disc "HISTORY OF BRITAIN: THE
COMPLETE COLLECTION" (A&E) covers 5,000 years, from the neolithic
community of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands to Winston Churchill and
George Orwell. The historian Simon Schama wrote and narrated this
acclaimed BBC series, shown on the History Channel in 2000. We learn
about the Vikings as slavers; farming during the Iron Age, when more of
England was under cultivation than in 1914; and the traumatic childhood
of William the Conqueror. Dramatized snippets of the Battle of Hastings,
complete with calamitous sound effects, could be from "The Lord of the
Rings."

But "the excitement comes from the unlikely Mr. Schama, a mild-looking
man with a large and infectious passion for his subject, a wry sense of
humor and an elegant yet colloquial style," Julie Salamon wrote in The
New York Times.

BBC Video has another of the year's better DVD's: "THE BLUE PLANET: SEAS
OF LIFE," about just that in the oceans of the world. Blue is the
operative word for a four-part series of surpassing beauty and detail.
As for the life, smaller denizens are bent on gathering cooperatively in
swarms to be consumed by successive waves of sharks, dolphins, tuna and
whales.

In the documentary "KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT: A MODERN CANNIBAL
TALE" (Docurama), the sibling filmmakers David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro
take the New York artist and writer Tobias Schneebaum, in his 80's, back
to the jungles of Peru and New Guinea, where he had lived with native
tribes decades earlier. Yes, the natives occasionally ate people, and he
partook.

The film is fine at paddling chocolate streams and reuniting Mr.
Schneebaum with his old friends and male lovers. It is also good at
letting him have his quiet, calm way with television interviewers back
home who become agitated at his affinity for the native people, who are
bisexual, have no family structure and care nothing about personal property.

In "THE SALTMEN OF TIBET" (Zeitgeist) the pilgrimage leads to a lake
harvested by salt traders for 2,000 years until modernity and Chinese
politics ended their annual trek. As with "Keep the River on Your
Right," Ulrike Koch's documentary gathers its subjects, in this case
nomads and their 160 yaks, for a return to the past. Bending naturally
and easily with the harsh weather, they turn to ritual as they near the
lake. Salt, it seems, can be scared away if approached carelessly.

The DVD documentary of the year is Kon Ichikawa's "TOKYO OLYMPIAD"
(Criterion), a whimsical, often abstract study of the 1964 Summer Games.
The Japanese authorities who commissioned the film expected Mr.
Ichikawa's camera to stick to events on the track and in the pool, and
not wander off at every opportunity for little studies of faces and
backsides and whatever oddities, endearing and otherwise, caught his
fancy. "They even asked if I could reshoot some of it," he says in a
booklet that comes with the DVD. Mr. Ichikawa replied that it would be
difficult, since the cast had left Japan.

All of Beckett

In the arts category, "BECKETT ON FILM" (Ambrose) fits all 19 Beckett
plays onto four discs, from "Breath," at 45 seconds, to "Waiting for
Godot," at two hours. Top directors and casts were engaged by the Gate
Theater of Dublin and the producers Michael Colgan and Alan Moloney. In
"Krapp's Last Tape," for example, Atom Egoyan directs John Hurt as an
old man trying to align perception and reality with the help of a tape
recorder.

"MÉLIÈS THE MAGICIAN" (Facets), studies the famed illusionist and
entrepreneur Georges Méliès, who brought fiction to the screen at the
start of the 20th century. The disc has 15 of his films, including his
best-known, "A Trip to the Moon."

Finally, there is "ALBERTO GIACOMETTI," also from Facets, a portrait of
the existentialist sculptor in the form of two films: Michel Van Zele's
"What Is a Head?" and Mr. Drot's "Man Among Men: Alberto Giacometti." On
the disc many experts expound on the difficulties of the work. The
artist speaks of it as slavery and says he has to get to bed by 3 a.m.
if he's to be on his feet the next day.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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The New York Times Sponsored by Starbucks

January 3, 2003

The Best DVD's of 2002

By PETER M. NICHOLS


Y ou learn various things on a DVD. Dwarf-tossing was once a sport in England, or so it is said during a chat among filmmakers in one of myriad mini-documentaries on a special extended edition of Peter Jackson's "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING" (New Line). Hands down the DVD of 2002, the four-disc set is full of asides, but it's at its best when Mr. Jackson and his two co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, describe a new DVD version of the film with 30 minutes of added scenes.

A movie of 208 minutes takes some tall explaining, but here we develop sympathy for the notion that extra length is sometimes more tolerable at home, where viewing is more relaxed, than in a theater, where the audience reaches a threshold with no way of taking a break. Mr. Jackson and the others talk virtually nonstop about trimming scenes to sustain momentum on the big screen and putting them back on DVD to flesh out relationships among characters. All the while we wonder how on earth they could have fit 1,000 pages of J. R. R. Tolkien into three movies shot at the same time over 18 months in New Zealand.

Other filmmakers prefer to say nothing on DVD. In an interview Todd Field said he was relieved when Buena Vista didn't insist on a director's commentary for his film "IN THE BEDROOM," about a Maine couple who are left with their grief and rage after the murder of their son. The movie may be last year's best DVD with no extra features. "Unless it's something historical, like `Citizen Kane' or `Raging Bull,' it seems really silly to have that kind of thing," Mr. Field said.

But as much as any other film released on video last year, his is worth a commentary. In the interview Mr. Field said he was interested in marriage as a character and what loss did to it. "Grief is a strange thing, especially when you're raised as a Lutheran," he said. "Nobody will really talk about the truth or how they're feeling." So the killing murders the marriage.

Too Much for Boys

Otherwise filmmakers talked and talked on some of the better DVD's. Ron Howard tells of shooting home movies, so to speak, of John Forbes Nash Jr. to help Russell Crowe in his portrayal of Mr. Nash, the Princeton mathematician, in "A BEAUTIFUL MIND" (Universal).

In the director's commentary for "GOSFORD PARK," Robert Altman says that the film's murder case isn't that hard to figure out and that it would be all right with him if the movie stood as a finely realized study of English high life. In that spirit, he adds, he made sure that it included four uses of a strong obscenity so that it would earn an R rating. "I didn't want kids in to see this movie," he says. "Especially boys. They wouldn't get it. Too much testosterone."

Ingmar Bergman didn't do a commentary for "WILD STRAWBERRIES" (Criterion), but in a 1998 interview with Swedish television he recalls an emotionally arid boyhood under the heel of a tyrannical father similar to the eminent professor (Victor Sjostrom) in the film. The director admits he was never much of a husband or father through five marriages. "I got married very often, and there was supposed to be some kind of home," he says, adding that he didn't remember much about his personal life.

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was interviewed for his dramatized 1990 documentary "CLOSE-UP," released in March by Facets. In the film an unemployed young man impersonates the prominent filmmaker Moshen Makhmalbaf to gain the confidence and financial backing of a well-to-do Tehran family. In hopes of lulling censors, Iranian films at that time typically portrayed social injustices through the eyes of children. Instead Mr. Kiarostami approaches issues of poverty and inequality by shrouding controversial political views in the great cause of art.

In the 1940's Marcel Carné skirted the Nazis while shooting his classic "CHILDREN OF PARADISE" in Paris. Carné died in 1996, but a printed interview accompanies a superb DVD special edition from Criterion. Set in the late 1820's around the Funambules pantomime theater and the Boulevard of Crime, the movie mixes art, love and paradox.

Carné is asked if he had problems with the Nazis. "We were very scared," he replied. "Since the film wasn't finished, we had to be slier than they." His production designer, Alexandre Trauner, and the film's composer, Joseph Kosma, were Jewish and hid in the South of France. One of the stars, Arletty, was the mistress of a Gestapo officer, "a well-known one, actually," Carné says, "whom I met by chance once, handsome, intelligent, well educated. People despised her because of the affair, and she used to receive threats like little wooden coffins."

The Hard Road Ahead

On two of last year's better DVD's directors talk about difficulties encountered getting their first films made and into theaters. A movie declaring springtime for Hitler made Hollywood nervous, Mel Brooks says on a special edition of "THE PRODUCERS" (MGM). So someone suggested springtime for Mussolini. Ridley Scott's first feature film, "THE DUELLISTS" (Paramount), may have won the grand jury award at the Cannes International Film Festival, but there were only seven prints to put in theaters in 1977.

Along with Mr. Jackson on "Rings," Mr. Scott provides some of the year's best commentary. The story of two French army officers (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) who battle each other all through the Napoleonic era, "The Duellists" was made for $900,000, a pittance. Mr. Scott, of course, is known for the visual beauty of films like "Gladiator" and "Hannibal," and "The Duellists" is a stunner even at that price, despite the rain that fell on 56 of the 58 days the movie was shot in central France.

Having made some 1,800 commercials by then, Mr. Scott had an eye for the found location. (No sets were constructed.) He knew exactly where to place a camera immediately and just how to squeeze in a scene before taking the production into overtime.

On a DVD of "AMADEUS" (Warner), Milos Forman talks about needing an unknown (Tom Hulce) to play Mozart so that the insecure Salieri, played by F. Murray Abraham, would maintain at least equal billing with his celebrated counterpart. Debbie Reynolds and others tell what it was like to work for Gene Kelly on a 50th-anniversary edition of "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" (Warner). Richard Lester talks about keeping track of the Beatles trotting around making "A HARD DAY'S NIGHT" (Miramax).

Baz Luhrmann talks (and talks) of love and art and life in another of the year's best DVD's, "BEHIND THE RED CURTAIN" (Fox). This DVD is a collection with Mr. Luhrmann's red curtain trilogy — "Strictly Ballroom," "William Shakespeare's `Romeo and Juliet' " and "Moulin Rouge" — on four discs. On a fifth disc, "Behind the Red Curtain," we visit the house of Iona, Mr. Luhrmann's jumping movie-making headquarters in Sydney, Australia.

The collection stresses interactivity. "As Baz tells the story of this particular cinematic style, words will pop on and off the screen," instructions say. "These words are active, and by selecting them you can branch to another level of video, stills or text." That's a lot of Baz, but it's fun.

Documentary Standouts

Collections exploded on DVD, particularly seasons of "The Sopranos," "The Simpsons," "Band of Brothers," "Sex and the City" and other television shows. Among the best was a three-disc set of "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" (Acorn Media), the first-rate BBC adaptation of John le Carré's novel broadcast by PBS in 1980. Mr. le Carré is interviewed. During the cold war the intelligence community languished in a "self-induced coma," he says, producing too much information to evaluate. And so it was on Sept. 11, he adds.

Documentaries were also strong on DVD this year — from English history to the Tokyo Olympics. The 20-hour, five-disc "HISTORY OF BRITAIN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION" (A&E) covers 5,000 years, from the neolithic community of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands to Winston Churchill and George Orwell. The historian Simon Schama wrote and narrated this acclaimed BBC series, shown on the History Channel in 2000. We learn about the Vikings as slavers; farming during the Iron Age, when more of England was under cultivation than in 1914; and the traumatic childhood of William the Conqueror. Dramatized snippets of the Battle of Hastings, complete with calamitous sound effects, could be from "The Lord of the Rings."

But "the excitement comes from the unlikely Mr. Schama, a mild-looking man with a large and infectious passion for his subject, a wry sense of humor and an elegant yet colloquial style," Julie Salamon wrote in The New York Times.

BBC Video has another of the year's better DVD's: "THE BLUE PLANET: SEAS OF LIFE," about just that in the oceans of the world. Blue is the operative word for a four-part series of surpassing beauty and detail. As for the life, smaller denizens are bent on gathering cooperatively in swarms to be consumed by successive waves of sharks, dolphins, tuna and whales.

In the documentary "KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT: A MODERN CANNIBAL TALE" (Docurama), the sibling filmmakers David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro take the New York artist and writer Tobias Schneebaum, in his 80's, back to the jungles of Peru and New Guinea, where he had lived with native tribes decades earlier. Yes, the natives occasionally ate people, and he partook.

The film is fine at paddling chocolate streams and reuniting Mr. Schneebaum with his old friends and male lovers. It is also good at letting him have his quiet, calm way with television interviewers back home who become agitated at his affinity for the native people, who are bisexual, have no family structure and care nothing about personal property.

In "THE SALTMEN OF TIBET" (Zeitgeist) the pilgrimage leads to a lake harvested by salt traders for 2,000 years until modernity and Chinese politics ended their annual trek. As with "Keep the River on Your Right," Ulrike Koch's documentary gathers its subjects, in this case nomads and their 160 yaks, for a return to the past. Bending naturally and easily with the harsh weather, they turn to ritual as they near the lake. Salt, it seems, can be scared away if approached carelessly.

The DVD documentary of the year is Kon Ichikawa's "TOKYO OLYMPIAD" (Criterion), a whimsical, often abstract study of the 1964 Summer Games. The Japanese authorities who commissioned the film expected Mr. Ichikawa's camera to stick to events on the track and in the pool, and not wander off at every opportunity for little studies of faces and backsides and whatever oddities, endearing and otherwise, caught his fancy. "They even asked if I could reshoot some of it," he says in a booklet that comes with the DVD. Mr. Ichikawa replied that it would be difficult, since the cast had left Japan.

All of Beckett

In the arts category, "BECKETT ON FILM" (Ambrose) fits all 19 Beckett plays onto four discs, from "Breath," at 45 seconds, to "Waiting for Godot," at two hours. Top directors and casts were engaged by the Gate Theater of Dublin and the producers Michael Colgan and Alan Moloney. In "Krapp's Last Tape," for example, Atom Egoyan directs John Hurt as an old man trying to align perception and reality with the help of a tape recorder.

"MÉLIÈS THE MAGICIAN" (Facets), studies the famed illusionist and entrepreneur Georges Méliès, who brought fiction to the screen at the start of the 20th century. The disc has 15 of his films, including his best-known, "A Trip to the Moon."

Finally, there is "ALBERTO GIACOMETTI," also from Facets, a portrait of the existentialist sculptor in the form of two films: Michel Van Zele's "What Is a Head?" and Mr. Drot's "Man Among Men: Alberto Giacometti." On the disc many experts expound on the difficulties of the work. The artist speaks of it as slavery and says he has to get to bed by 3 a.m. if he's to be on his feet the next day.


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