We've Gotta Have These: MIA DVDs (Updated 02/09!)

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By Craig Phillips

For various - or sometimes no - reasons, there are still a distressing number of films not yet out on DVD here in the States. Fortunately, each month a few more titles move from MIA to available, but some surprising films are not yet in anyone's plans. What follows is our picks for the 10 films most crying out for a DVD release. To narrow this down, we've eliminated titles that were on DVD but have since gone out of print -- those films deserve a re-release, of course (John Woo's The Killer anyone? The Ipcress File?) -- and titles that have DVDs in other regions (outside of R1). We'll update this when possible.

She's Gotta Have It: Spike Lee's first feature is also, oddly, his one title not on DVD. Another one with rights issues - Spike was waiting to retain rights after presumably giving some aspect of them up in a rookie mistake. Rumors are rampant there'll be a 2007 release, maybe even Criterion, but no sure bet yet. The film may be awkward in some respects, as first films often are, but it was energetic, funny, and fresh. Was also one of the most successful low-budget indie films of the 1980s and spawned Lee's Nike Air Jordan commercials, too. "Pleasebabybabyplease," can we have this one on DVD?

Update! 12/07: This one was announced as coming out soon, January 15 2008, to be precise. Funny how it just sort of appeared on DVD release lists with no fanfare at all. But at any rate, cause for celebration. 

The Magnificent Ambersons: Orson Welles' second masterpiece after Citizen Kane, this handsome adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel was re-edited in Welles' absence - about 50 minutes cut, new material filmed. Just another chaper in Welles' long, sad story, or as critic J. Hoberman put it, "the movie became the sacred relic of Welles's martyrdom." As it is, cut or now, The Magnificent Ambersons "is a pretty sensational movie," continued Hoberman. "The film language is more fluid and adept than Kane's, the expressionist lighting is more rigorously modulated. The astonishingly choreographed Christmas ball that serves to introduce the major characters is arguably the greatest set piece of Welles's career."

Two Lane Blacktop: (Actually this one was released once, in a crummy DVD, but we'll cheat here.) Monte Hellman's odd, brilliant, car chase/race movie is seminal late sixties/early seventies cinema, oft-cited, and rarely seen. That singers James Taylor and Dennis Wilson co-star in the film as The Driver and The Mechanic, and are given barely any dialogue, adds to the film's mystique, as does Warren Oates' brilliant performance. But it's the road that is the central character here. [More on the film on Bright Lights Film Journal.]

Update! Two Lane is coming out in December - and in a Criterion DVD no less. Fantastic news. We can't wait to see it this way.

Coppola in Hearts of Darkness

Hearts of Darkness: Many reasons have been given as to why this stellar doc on the making of Apocalypse Now, shot by FF Coppola's wife Eleanor who put it together with director George Hicklenlooper, hasn't seen the light of day on DVD, but some point to Coppola himself not wanting anyone to see evidence of all the film's on-set disasters. Well, I've seen it, and it's one of the best behind the scenes docs ever, a perfect companion piece to the brilliant film.

Update, 10/18! This one has been announced for DVD release on Nov 20! GreenCine has already added to the catalog. Includes commentary tracks with both Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola, and as an added extra you get the follow-up documentary “CODA: THIRTY YEARS LATER”.

The Grey Fox: Richard Farnsworth's heartbreaking portrayal of an stagecoach robber in the early 20th century who shifts to robbing trains after he's released from prison is the best reason to have this one available, along with the lovely photography and Sam Elliot's supporting role.

Kiss of the Spider Woman: Constantly delayed DVD release for this one; was rumored for years now that producer David Weisman was holed up in his basement working on a disc, but there were rights problems, issues with editors and lord knows what else, so don't hold your breath. Hector Babenco's film was a showcase for terrific acting (Raul Julia, William Hurt) and was nominated for a bushel of Oscars. Easily one of the most anticipated titles. Update! Now out on DVD.

Greed: Not a huge surprise that Erich Von Stroheim's masterpiece, based on the novel McTeague, is not out on DVD, even if it is considered one of the great films of the silent era: It is four hours long and has existed in several incarnations/edits. However, a recent restoration of the film by its copyright owner, Ted Turner, using lost footage from the director's original cut (which shortened the running time down to 2 hours in 1924) and subsequent showings on Turner Classic Movies gave us hope a few years back. No word yet on a DVD, though. [See addendum to this in comments below]

Futureworld: Sequel to the cult favorite Westworld is both dated and still pretty darned cool, in a 70's sci-fi kind of way. Still retains some high creep factor. Not sure why this one's never made it to disc.

Cannery Row: Very underrated Steinbeck adaptation starring Nick Nolte as Doc, a marine biologist and former baseball star, alongside Debra Winger as the sexy, abrasive drifter he connects with. A charming supporting cast, the period flavor and the Monterey scenery add to the film's charm. Writer-director David S. Ward went on to do the more popular Major League (and the script for Sleepless in Seattle) so it's odd this one's never seen the light of day on DVD.  Update: This one is now out on DVD, as of late January 2009!

Night on Earth: Jim Jarmusch's fourth feature was a mixed bag, multiple taxi-driven stories set around the world that both worked and didn't (did anyone buy Winona Ryder as a taxi driver?), but there's much to behold here - particularly for fans of the director's work or of American independent cinema in general. Beautifully filmed, too, it practically cries out for a DVD. (Rumors abound that Criterion may have this one in the works, too. Stay tuned.) UPDATE! Criterion is definitely releasing this one on Sept. 18.

More to come...

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  • She's Gotta Have It - coming soon!

    As posted in the update above, this one's now coming to disc January 15 '08. Hooray! She's Gotta Have It

    Two Lane too

    Great news about "Hearts of Darkness" but it's curious that you did not update the info on "Two Lane Blacktop" as well. Criterion has this on their December release schedule.

    That's coming in a sec!

    Indeed, I'm even more excited about that one... Update above. :-) The sign of more to come, methinks...

    Indeed, I'm even more excited about that one... Update above. :-

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    Sleepy Eyes Of Death

    Oh, as much as I love John Woo's The Killer what I really want to see released (and soon dammit) is the Sleepy Eyes of Death series (sometimes titled The Son of the Black Mass).

    GREED

    Information in the article about Greed is erroneous. (First of all, it was not restored by Ted Turner.) More importantly, no new "lost" scenes were recovered to make this virtual *reconstruction* (i.e. not "restoration"). The *reconstruction* is a very interesting and well-made study version of the film that gives some sense of what was lost after the film was reduced for its original release. But it is not a substitute for the original release version, which is still a great classic, despite whatever cutting was originally done (itself often spoken about in exaggerated and nearly mythological terms)._____

    The Turner Greed should be taken as a sort of documentary of what the film could've been like. Its release on VHS in 1999-2000, more or less supplanting availability of the original version of the film for many people, was unfortunate. An ideal DVD release would really contain both the original release version and the four-hour Turner study version._____

    Similarly, the Touch of Evil RECONSTRUCTION was done in a very educated and well-researched way, but fact remains it was not done by Welles, and does not reflect "what Welles would have wanted", but rather an educated guess at what his version may have resembled if he had been able to get back to the film. A LOT of interpretation was done by the project leaders, and this was famously based to some degree on Welles' memos and notes, which could only questionably called definitive themselves (Can we really say that what Welles set down in this famous memo about the film are his final and completely thought-out decisions for making the film fully his own? That would be giving him pretty shabby credit.)_____

    And just because some aspects of the Touch of Evil reconstruction may "play better" to people today is not a good reason to give it preference. And likewise here, the original release version is still essential, and the reconstruction, though playing beginning-to-end as a film (as opposed to Greed, which incorporates numerous stills sequences), should nevertheless be understood as a latter-day attempt at imagining one possible Welles version of the film, even if it was never promoted that way.

    Thanks

    Very good points - sorry if there was any confusion about Greed, I too was given some erroneous, or confusing at least, information on what was involved in actually getting that film on the air (on TMC). Sounds like there are multiple versions, or possible versions, between the director's original version, the one that ended up screening theatrically - and your example of Touch of Evil is a good one because there are many who are frustrated that the original version is now not available.

    That's my worry with Welles' Magnificent Ambersons, if it ever does come out on disc - which version, which edit, whose vision will it be? Still, I'd rather have that film out than not available at all, as long as its somewhat close to his vision. (As one who's seen two cuts of Touch of Evil in revival theaters, I can attest to the confusion all these cuts and re-releases can have on the filmgoing audience.)

    Anyway, thanks again.

    (By the way, if any of you folks want to be able to have paragraph breaks/spaces show up in your published comments, click on "input format" below your comment before previewing it and then select "Full HTML". It's kind of annoying that you have to do this but it definitely helps.)

    What about films that Greencine could have, but doesn't?

    I liked this post because I've looked for some of these movies several times, but they never become available. Now I know what's going on (sort of). I've also been waiting for the Australian movie The Year My Voice Broke to be re-issued.

    But what about good movies that are easily available but which Greencine doesn't have for some reason? I've been wanting to rewatch Backbeat for years. It's a good movie about the early years of the Beatles which got good reviews when it was released. It can be bought on Amazon.com for a normal price, but Greencine doesn't have it for some reason. Have other people noticed that there are movies like this that have fallen through the cracks somehow? Perhaps there should be a list somewhere.

    Good question

    You can always email dvdrequest@greencine.com and we'll at least work to add those titles to the catalog as "request/buy" so people can request and we can gauge interest. First we have to doublecheck to see if those titles are indeed out (or still out) on DVD. Sometimes people are searching the IMDB, see a film, see the DVD icon for it (that goes to Amazon) and assume that means it's out on DVD. That is sometimes deceptive, however. Often those are titles that were out on DVD but are now OOP (out of print), and thus prohibitively expensive to buy, or unavailable. Some aren't yet out on disc (they may have been announced at one point but then postponed for whatever reason).

    You can always post in the discussion thread on the boards, too, dedicated to requestable titles. Or, as I said, prompt us with an email. (Heck, feel free to drop me a line if you want - craig@greencine.com).

    As for Backbeat... copies are on the way. :-)

    Night on Earth in DVD

    You can find a Mexican edition of this Jarmush film, for around 15 dollars.

    I'd buy these in a sec

    Prospero's Books (Greenaway), Identification of a Woman (Antonioni), Tempest (Mazursky)....
    There are others but these are my top 3!

    Prospero's Books DVD

    My friend: This may be interesting for you: there is a Mexican edition (Zone 4, NTSC)of this title... and in a very low price too... less than 10 dollars.

    Prospero's Books

    Any idea where to find this?

    re: Prospero's Books DVD

    Why the heck are they coming here to pick strawberries and mow lawns if they can get Prospero's Books on DVD at home? I guess they'd rather follow the American Dream... work hard, buy a house, join Netflix....

    "She's Gotta Have It"

    It's available in the UK...no-frills but only £5.97!

    Thanks

    to you both. Yes, it's odd the number of American films that aren't available here in the States but are available abroad. Doesn't quite make sense to me, but this is good news for anyone with all-region DVD players!

    ipcress file

    is out in Germany and should be still available there.

    the movie's titled IPCRESS - STRENG GEHEIM here and the dvd is of good quality. of course, there's an annoying code 2 on it and there are no english subtitles, however you can listen to the original english audio, of course.

    night on earth is out in Germany as well, but unfortunately without english subs as far as i know :-(

    greetz,
    th.

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