Dream DVDs: Special Editions and Box Sets That Could Be

By Sean Axmaker

 

"Just think what the future may hold: 'Murnau at Fox,' 'Borzage at Fox,' 'Walsh at Fox,' 'Hawks at Fox,' 'Dwan at Fox' - hell, I'd love to see 'James Tinling at Fox,' but that might take a little longer."
Dave Kehr on davekehr.com, Dec 4, in his review of Ford at Fox

 

4 of 07

What a year we've seen for domestic DVD releases. Marvelous special editions of Breathless and I Am Cuba. A deluxe presentation of Berlin Alexanderplatz. The release of such long-awaited films as Killer of Sheep (an amazing 2-disc special edition), Ace in the Hole (Criterion, no less), Witchfinder General (in the uncut British version), and Duck, You Sucker (restored and reconstructed), just to name the first that come to mind. And new standards of quality and exhaustive completeness have been set with the sprawling, unprecedented box set Ford at Fox and Blade Runner: Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition.

And the hits keep on coming. Warner has been working on mastering elements for a The Magnificent Ambersons special edition for years (modest editions are already available in France and Britain) and Paramount is reportedly working on an extensive restoration of The African Queen. Criterion has a Max Ophüls set in the works (the only confirmed titles are Earrings of Madame de... and Le Plaisir, and perhaps La Ronde - I hope they add Lola Montès to replace the inferior Fox Lorber edition) and is considering the films of Kenji Mizoguchi (including Street of Shame and Life of Oharu), Shohei Imamura, and Mikio Naruse (either in Criterion editions or Eclipse box sets), not to mention all those Rialto re-releases. There are Lon Chaney classics, Forbidden Hollywood collections, Looney Tunes boxes, and sets of such series as The Saint and Falcon in the works, as well as the rollout of the entire Andy Hardy series (gosh, dad, that's swell!).

Yes, we go on and on about what's not yet on DVD, but it is not in spite of these releases that I offer my own dream list of DVD Special Editions and Box Sets. It is because I am inspired by their example to dream big. This is no fantasy of lost films found (like the 132-minute version of Magnificent Ambersons, the 40-reel Greed, or magically rediscovered prints of London After Midnight or Four Devils), but a modest proposal to pull out films from the vaults, restore and remaster them where necessary, and give them the presentation they deserve on DVD.

And this is a very personal list. You won't find a lot of titles that show up on Turner Classic Movie polls and the like (which is not disparage those picks). This reflects my tastes and interests as well as my idea of the canon (something that everyone approaches a little differently), and it's an exercise in creative packaging, trying to think like an archivist and a producer as well as a collector. I don't expect any studio to take my suggestions, but I'd be happy if they at least ponder the idea.

This doesn't include the list of films in need of restored or new anamorphic transfers, and there are inevitably a lot of titles missing from this list, including a lot of contemporary international cinema. Take that not as a provocation but an invitation: let us know what is at the top of your wish list.

The Top Dozen DVDs to Come: A Wish List

 

1. Touch of Evil: The Ultimate Collection

The 1998 "restoration" of Touch of Evil, which is not a director's cut but an effort to construct a version closest to Orson Welles's intentions guided by a detailed 58-page memo written by Welles, has all but replaced every previous version of the film. This set would feature the original 95-minute 1958 theatrical version and the 108-minute test cut (rediscovered in 1975 and premiered on the Z Channel in LA) in addition to the 1998 revision. (There's a fourth, bastardized version, cobbled together from the theatrical and test prints, that was released on VHS as a "Director's Cut," but it's more of a contrivance than a legitimate version.) I'd love to hear commentary by editor Walter Murch, producer Rick Schmidlin, and Welles historian/project advisor Jonathan Rosenbaum on the revision, and perhaps Peter Bogdanovich could offer commentary on the 1958 theatrical cut, supplemented by audio excerpts from his Welles interviews. Other supplements: the 45-minute documentary on the film and the reediting that was produced for DVD but never used (it was, however, shown on Starz) and the complete 58-page memo, plus liner notes by Rosenbaum. Universal has all of the prints, but if they don't want to tackle it themselves, I'm sure Criterion would be happy to license the rights from them and develop this essential release in the manner of their amazing Mr. Arkadin set. The sticking point may be Beatrice Welles, who actually tried to stop the Touch of Evil revision from being released.

2. Wim Wenders: On The Road

Wim Wenders On the Road

Okay, I may have stretched the definition of "road movie" for some of the titles in this collection of essential films from Wim Wenders's German filmography still not on DVD, but there is at least a hint of it in each, from his feature debut Summer in the City (1970) to his filmmaking apocalypse The State of Things (1982), and encompassing The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972), Alice in the Cities (1974), and his road movie masterpiece Kings of the Road (1976). For a while it looked like Anchor Bay was putting out the entire Wim Wenders Produktions/Road Movies catalogue, but the titles stopped rolling out, leaving these glaring omissions still missing. One would hope Wenders could be coaxed into commentary on at least some of these, maybe joined by cinematographer Robby Müller and/or stars Rüdiger Vogler and Lisa Kreuzer (on Alice and Kings) and Patrick Bauchau (State of Things). While they're at it, maybe they can toss on some shorts as well: Same Player Shoots Again, 3 American LPs, Alabama: 2000 Light Years From Home, and especially Reverse Angle.

3. The Ranown Cycle: Five Films by Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott

After making 7 Men From Now with director Budd Boetticher for John Wayne's company Batjac (available on Paramount DVD), Randolph Scott hired Boetticher to direct him for his own production company Scott-Brown (which would officially become Ranown a couple of films later). The five westerns they made together – The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960) – expand from 7 Men to create a cycle that stands next to the greatest works of Anthony Mann and John Ford: tight, taut, often savage little pictures that are both graceful and visceral, direct, and rich in character. The films were released through Columbia and currently owned by Sony. They have been shown on cable but are in need of new masters (perhaps already done – new prints were struck for a retrospective in the 2007 Venice Film Festival). All the stars are long gone and Boetticher and Burt Kennedy, who wrote the majority of the scripts, both passed away early in the decade, so any commentary would be limited to critics and historians. But there is a 1995 episode of the French TV series Cinema, de Notre Temps and an episode of the British series One on One dedicated to Boetticher, as well as the excellent 2005 documentary Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That, co-produced by Clint Eastwood and shown on Turner Classic Movies.

4. Abel Gance's Napoleon – The Restored Epic

Kevin Brownlow has been restoring Abel Gance's silent epic for decades. It's a labor of love that may not end in his lifetime, at least not as long as he keeps discovering new footage, but has already resulted in a version running (at silent speed) over 5 ½ hours: the most complete available since its 1927 premiere. The release of Brownlow's most complete restoration is reportedly in limbo because the American rights belong to Francis Ford Coppola, who actually cut Brownlow's restoration down for a 1981 road-show release with Carmine Coppola conducting his original score with a live orchestra. That cut was subsequently released on VHS. Neither version is on DVD, but perhaps Coppola could offer both cuts in a box set as a compromise: the short version with his father's original score, and the complete (or at least the most complete at the moment) restoration with Carl Davis's rousing compilation score.

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