The Return of the MIA DVD list (UPDATED! 11/08)

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By Craig Phillips

Even with all the previously unreleased films coming out on DVD each week, you could nonetheless do a thousand of these lists, alas. At any rate, as a follow-up to my previous column on MIA DVDs, here is another group of films (with two by John Huston, natch) we're crying out for a Stateside release, in no particular order:

  1. Urgh! A Music War: Likely another music rights-related issue, not surprising given it's a compilation of performances from some of the best New Wave, Punk and ArtRock performers the 80s had to offer. I first saw this as an impressionable young teen on USA Network's "Up All Night" (remember those days?), as it featured some of my favorites (The Police, X, Oingo Boingo), while also introducing me to a few more "exotic" acts I'd never seen nor heard of (Klaus Nomi). This aired recently on VH-1 so maybe there's still hope for a DVD, but reading more about the rights issues in the film's Wikipedia entry gives much less hope. [Update! This one is now available for purchase through the Warner Archives collection. It's only a DVD-R, alas. Better than nothing, I suppose. Urgh! on Amazon]
  2. The African Queen: I was searching around, trying to get some sense as to why Huston's popular romance/adventure classic with Bogie and Hepburn going up river, has not found its way to an R1 DVD. Paramount seems to be stalling and stalling. On one hometheaterforum.com discussion, a representative popped in to say this, "The title is ours....there are reasons why certain titles aren't out already - rights issues...This film at the moment is a candidate for a full-blown restoration so y'all [are] just going to have to be patient." That was four years ago. UPDATE! This one is still not out in an R1 DVD but GReenCine discovered a pretty decent Asian import DVD that was worth acquiring: The African Queen. Better than nothing! Comes with Korean subtitles!
  3. King of the Hill: Steven Soderbergh's consistently overlooked gem, a funny and heartbreaking coming of age tale set in Depression-era St. Louis, based on A.E. Hotchner's book, is bizarrely not yet on DVD. Starring a charming young Jesse Bradford (more recently seen in Flags of Our Fathers and The West Wing, as well as more mainstream teen fare) and Jeroen Krabbe as his wayward father. There's been a middling R2 release in the UK, but no word of one for Region 1. Why Criterion's released Soderbergh's Schizopolis and Traffic (both of which I like, too, don't get me wrong) but not this one is beyond me. At least give us a decent release, Fox.
  4. Spaced: Wonderfully loopy BBC comedy series starring Simon Pegg, co-starring Nick Frost, and created by Edgar Wright - you might know them better as the mad perpetrators behind Shaun of the Dead and the new cop movie parody Hot Fuzz - would seem an obvious choice for DVD, given their other works and Spaced's devoted following. But according to Pegg and Wright (in a recent interview where they were asked for the umpteenth time about this), it's, yep, a music rights issue. They don't want to change any of the music so it may be awhile before it's all sorted out. On a Spaced fan site FAQ, Pegg was quoted as saying (two years ago), "Great to see the Spaced flag flying overseas. There has actually been a little development on the US DVD release front in the last few days. More on that as it happens." UPDATE! Spaced is now slated to arrive on DVD July 22, 2008. We have it listed here now. Huzzah!
  5. Jacquot de Nantes

  6. Jacquot de Nantes: Agnes Varda's lovely, loving film tribute to her husband, film director Jacques Demy, an evocation of his childhood and a salute to the cinema, particularly Demy's beloved musicals. Demy was terminally ill at the time, and while he contributed his memories to the film, he also wanted it to be Varda's own take. "The film was shot exactly where Jacques Demy spent his childhood," Varda says, "in the garage of his father and in other places where, later, he was to film sequences." Only available on VHS.
  7. Some Mother's Son: Surprising that this fairly recent (1996) film by Terry George (co-written with Jim Sheridan), based on a true story, isn't out on DVD, especially given it stars now-Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren. She plays the mother of an IRA prisoner who participates in a hunger strike in a British prison, as a protest against the treatment of IRA prisoners. It's no classic, but it works as a sort of follow up to Sheridan's In the Name of the Father, and as a showcase for terrific acting - particularly Mirren, who nicely underplays what could have been a hammy part.
  8. The Dead: Staying in Ireland, this adaptation of one of the English language's greatest short stories was fittingly director John Huston's final film, a more beautiful way to go out on I could not imagine. And appropriately a family affair, as it starred daughter Anjelica and co-scripted by son Tony. Not easy to adapt James Joyce, but this labor of love was a gorgeous epiphany - sad, tender and perfect. [Update! The Dead is now out on DVD thanks to Lions Gate Home Video.]
  9. White Dog: Sam Fuller's 1982 film (co-scripted by Curtis White Dog (Euro poster) Hanson) gained unfortunate, and unfair, notoriety for being racist when it was quite clearly a film about racism. The premise is that a German Shepard is trained by the Klan to attack and kill black people and, when found by a sympathetic girl (Kristy McNichol), must be untrained. A fascinating film that may not quite live up to its cult reputation when you actually see it (some clumsy parts), but it's interesting enough to deserve a non-bootleg release, especially when you add Fuller's reputation and that Ennio Morricone(!) did the score. (We offered up the 5 Minutes to Live dub at one point before giving up on it.) UPDATE! (11/08) White Dog is now out on DVD, thanks to Criterion. Hooray.
  10. The State of Things: With all the other Wim Wenders films recently released Stateside, in the two Wenders collections, it's hard to complain too much, but you'd think this lovely, extremely personal meditation on filmmaking would see the light of day here on disc, too.
  11. The Big Sky: Kirk Douglas plays frontiersman Jim Deakins in this compelling adventure-drama from favorite genre-hopper Howard Hawks. Delay is probably due to the fact that the film needs a massive print upgrade first, if the one I saw on TCM awhile back was any indication. The lovely cinematography by the underrated Russell Harlan is first-rate as is Hawks' direction (of course). A bit overlong and occasionally odd, but still a great film.

I'll do up another of these lists soon, as, again, there's far too many more films missing from DVD. But to see the glass half full, at least Delicatessen (a title I'd been pining for for years) has made it to disc this past year, and a film on the previous list - Night on Earth - has finally been announced for this Fall. So all is not lost. Perhaps a few of the titles above will find their way to disc in the coming months.

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  • Zoopraxography!

    seeing the massive success of this list in spurring Criterion releases, I feel I should add "Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer"... In my opinion the greatest tribute to an oft overlooked genius.

    Ishtar...

    Thanks. And I've heard rumblings and rumors about an Ishtar DVD next year, but nothing confirmed yet. You'd think the principals involved would be over their shame or want to revisit that one (it's not THAT bad)... maybe soon they will.

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    Up All Night and Urgh!

    Thanks for mentioning Up All Night on USA network. I had begun to think it was a figment of my imagination because no one else seems to remember it (did you ever catch the home video of Morrissey on there?)

    Also, I have a DVD of Urgh! from a cult movie place here in Buffalo. Post back if you would like their contact info.

    GL

    Re: Urgh! Music War

    Yah, contact info for the Urgh! bootleg dvd people would be great. I tivo'd that earlier this year but it got cut off and isn't the same anyway... thanks!

    Upconverting DVD players

    Hey,

    I just got a new upconverting DVD player and I have configured it for all-region playback. It is also supposed to be able to convert PAL to NTSC or vice-versa, though I don't have any PAL discs to try. (And it converts PAL to 1080p at 50Hz instead of 60Hz, so I'm not sure my TV can handle that.) So maybe this will allow me to buy some of the discs that only have a region 2 PAL release. Shipping charges will still be horrid. FYI, the machine I got is an "Oppo DV-981HD" and it makes a very pretty picture. So will upconverting players help make region codes opsolete, or will they just come up with a new method to annoy us?

    The Dead

    How sad that this genuinely powerful - and cinematically beautiful - film is not available!!!!

    Jacques Demy

    Glad to see you mentioned Jacques Demy. There are several of his films I'd like to see that simply aren't available here. Most notably "A room in town". Since "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is one of my favorite films, I'd love to see his other all-singing film.

    And in a similar vein, I want to see again "The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez" by Peter Sellars with music by Berkeley's own John Adams.

    King of the Hill

    Glad it's on the list. It's been broadcast in HD over satellite a few times. So obviously there's already a good digital master out there somewhere.

    VHS only :-(

    Yah, thanks. I know, I own a VHS tape of King of the Hill, which I can't even watch because my VCR's kaput. My sister showed this film to her middle school language arts class and they loved it (again, on VHS). I can't find any good information as to why this is basically the only Soderbergh film not on disc, but as with everything it's probably a rights issue.

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