The Cool, the Classic and the Collectible: A Film Unfinished finds truth in fictions
plus classic movies with Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary
"A Film Unfinished" (Oscilloscope)
In the years after World War II, a bunker filled with canisters of film footage was discovered in the forests in East Germany. Among the cans of films, documentaries and raw footage was one labeled simply "Das Ghettto, 1942," containing the rough cut of an unfinished propaganda film shot in the Warsaw ghetto just before the residents (aka prisoners) were rounded up and sent to the death camps. This documentary by Yael Hersonski uses the footage as a stating point to examine the ordeal of the Jews forced to live in the poverty and horror of this urban concentration camp as well as the efforts of the Nazies to create anti-Jewish propaganda. With the help of diaries chronicling the lives of the inhabitants (including a detailed record of the shooting by Adam Cherniakov, the head of the Jewish Council), testimony by the only cameraman to be questioned in the post-war trials and a reel of outtakes that shows the retakes, the manipulations of the direction and, in places, members of the crew caught on film between takes, this documentary dissects a film that was never finished (and whose purpose, while we can guess, we'll never really know) to reveal the reality behind the construction and the inhuman culture behind its creation.
The power of the film is enhanced by it seeming simplicity, pulling together a tremendous feat of research and scholarship and leaving the commentary to the archival witnesses and to five survivors invited to view the footage ("What if I see someone I know?" asks one woman, a question that we not only can't answer but can't honestly imagine asking). The more it strips itself to the evidence, its narrator (Rona Kenan in the English language version) simply providing the background, the more devastating and affecting the portrait becomes.
The DVD release from Oscilloscope, packaged up in its distinctive four-panel paperboard case in a slipsleeve, features a 14-minute interview with author and film researcher Adrian Wood, a three-minute interview with scholar Michael Berenbaum, the 1945 documentary short "Death Mills" directed by Billy Wilder (which includes footage of the death camps shot after the liberation), a study guide and a short essay by film scholar Annette Insdorf.
"The Man From Nowhere" (WellGo), South Korea's top box office hit of 2010 and a slick action-movie spectacle with grit and style, arrives stateside on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is on Videodrone here. And "Tales From Earthsea" (Disney), the animated fantasy from Hayao Miyazakis' Studio Ghibli minimally released by Disney in an English language version in 2010, arrives on DVD and is reviewed here.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX" (Shout! Factory) – The twentieth box set from the cult TV series features four more of the worst movies ever made with a commentary of heckles by Joel Hodgson (later replaced by Mike Nelson) and bots on the Satellite of Love – Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Cam-bot. They yuck it up while watching "Project Moonbase," "Master Ninja I," "Master Ninja II" and "The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad." Four discs in a box set of four thinpak cases, with new introductions by Tracy Beaulieu, a new interview with "Master Ninja" guest star Bill McKinney, "Tom Servo Vs. Tom Servo 2010 Dragon*Con Panel," "Exploring The Look Of MST3K With Director Of Photography Jeff Stonehouse," original "wraps" from the "Mystery Science Theater Hour" and mini-posters of the cover art among the supplements.
"Off Limits" (Olive) – Bob Hope is a boxing trainer who enlists when his champion fighter is drafted and is stuck in the service when the boxer is discharged and he's left training a diminutive private (Mickey Rooney). Marilyn Maxwell co-stars in the 1952 comedy directed by George Marshall.
"On the Double" (Olive) – Danny Kaye takes on yet another double role—this time as a nervous American soldier assigned to pose as a British officer who is targeted by Nazi assassins—in the 1961 comedy from writer/director Melville Shavelson. Dana Wynter and Wilfred Hyde-White co-star.
"Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde: 35th Anniversary" (VCI) – Bernie Casey's character in this reworking of the Stevenson tale is actually named Dr. Pryde, but in the seventies it was practically expected to put "black" in the title of any genre movie with an African-American leading man, just so everyone was clear that it was an urban take on a familiar genre. This one (also known as "Dr. Black and Mr. White"), from "Blacula" director William Crain, turns the compassionate black doctor into a rampaging, white-skinned madman.
"Aphrodisiac! The Sexual Secret of Marijuana" (Impulse) presents itself as a documentary "dramatization" about the benefits of using marijuana from 1971, but it's more exploitation than education. The cannabis flashback features performances by adult film actor John Holmes and "Wizard of Oz" munchkin Billy Curtis and plenty of lascivious nudity. This is the full length, unrated 'adult" version of the film.
"Bazaar Bizarre" (Troma) is a 2004 documentary (hosted by James Ellroy) about Kansas City serial killer Bob Berdella, with reenactments of his sordid crimes and gruesome murders.
"Grim" (Troma) is an ultra-violent revenge film set in Texas and presented on DVD by Troma Films.
"Brenda Starr, Reporter" (VCI) is the complete 13-chapter serial starring Joan Woodbury as the ace reporter from the comic strips. Be warned that there is damage to much of the surviving nitrate negative and severe deterioration in parts of Chapters Three and Four.