Cool and Classic: Fritz Lang's 'Die Nibelungen' – The original fantasy epic
Plus Charley Chase, Javier Bardem, the best of Universal, and more
"They Live: Collector's Edition" (Shout! Factory), John Carpenter's skewed invasion movie, is witty and weird and unexpectedly political, in a B-movie sort of way. Blu-ray+DVD combo pack, with supplements. Videodrone's review is here.
"Die Nibelungen" (Kino) is the original fantasy epic, a magnificent silent spectacle based on the same German myth that inspired Wagner's "Ring" cycle and the wellspring that nurtured "Excalibur," "Lord of the Rings," and "Game of Thrones" (not mention "Metropolis").
This blood and thunder myth of warriors and dragons and brotherhood and betrayal, is awesome in its scope, both visual and dramatic. Warrior prince Siegfried is both innocent child-man of the wild and the blonde Aryan ideal of German myth, a mortal god in his own right destroyed by the pettiness of human vanity and weakness of his own sworn blood brother. The betrayal of the first part of this mighty diptych is answered in the title of part two: "Kriemhild's Revenge." His widow vows vengeance ("Blood cries for blood!") and it is as enormous and devastating as anything Shakespeare created, practically destroying two kingdoms in a literal conflagration.
On the one hand, Lang presents is as a tragedy, of vengeance burning down everything and everyone it touches, but Kriemhild can also be seen as the hand of the gods burning out the corruption of a compromised kingdom that defends a killer with the same sense of honor that justified the betrayal of a blood brother. "You do not understand the German soul," explains one knight to the King Attila of the Huns, but as embodied by the weak-willed King Gunther, their is little to understand beyond perhaps regret for past sins and a futile gesture to regain lost honor.
Beyond that, "Die Nibelungen" is simply magnificent to behold, a mythic landscape of ancient forests, fairy tale waterfalls, lakes of fire, and caves and crevices hewn out of earth and rock, built entirely in the studios of Ufa. There's a half-hearted inclusion of Christianity with a massive cathedral and a few carefully-placed crucifixes, but if there is any religion to this film, it is of the Earth and nature and the old gods, and every set and manufactured landscape serves the grandeur of this primeval, pre-religion world.
It's been newly restored by the Murnau Institute, reconstructed from original materials and prints found in archives all over the world, to its most complete form ever, and the beauty of the visual restoration is even more apparent when seen next to the secondary materials used to reconstruct missing footage. Features a new recording of the original orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz (which does not borrow from Wagner, surprisingly) and the new 68-minute documentary "The Legacy of Die Nibelungen," on the making and restoration of the film, plus brief newsreel footage of Lang on the set of the film. Blu-ray and DVD.
"Fritz Lang: The Early Works" (Kino) offers a companion piece to "Die Nibelungen" with the respective disc debuts of "Harakiri" (1919), his adaptation of "Madame Butterfly"; the drama "The Wandering Shadow" (1920), his first collaboration with screenwriter Thea von Harbou; and "Four Around the Woman" (1921), an elaborate thriller of politic intrigue. Three discs in a standard case with a hinged tray. DVD only.
"Cut to the Chase: The Charley Chase Collection" (Milestone) presents 16 comedy shorts from the great silent movie comedian, the silent slapstick star who emerges from the Keystone Komedy corps to become a major comedy star of the twenties. He hit his stride playing the dapper urban everyman in a series of smartly-made two-reelers directed by Leo McCarey and this collection features some of the best, including "Mighty Like a Moose" (1926), where Chase and his wife (Vivien Oakland) transform themselves with cosmetic surgery and no longer recognize each other. The mistaken identity comedy spotlights the enthusiasm and innocuous chagrin of his screen persona and the creative energy of his comic collaboration with McCarey, and it was added to the National Film Registry in 2007. Two discs, with scores by Ben Model, Dave Drazin, Donald Sosin, and Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
"Universal 100th Anniversary Collection Limited Edition" (Universal) collects 25 landmark films from Universal studios, popular hits and critically acclaimed pictures both, from 1930 (Academy Award-winning Best Picture "All Quiet On the Western Front") to 2010 (the animated "Despicable Me"). It's an odd compilation, to the least, with such Oscar winners as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Sting" and classics "Dracula," "Spartacus," and "The Birds" shuffled in with "Animal House," "The Fast and the Furious," and "Mamma Mia: The Musical." Clearly, this isn't aimed at a single demographic, but you're sure find at least a couple of films for any and all tastes. Each release features the supplements of the initial disc release (including a bonus feature: the alternate Spanish-language version of "Dracula"), and the set includes a disc of supplements and vintage shorts and a CD with soundtrack excerpts, plus a 72-page booklet with a studio retrospective. Blu-ray and DVD.
"Javier Bardem 3-Film Collection" (Lionsgate) collects three superb performances by the actor. "No Country For Old Men" is the most well known film in the set (and the only American film), the Oscar-winning thriller from the Coen Bros. featuring Bardem as cold-blooded killer with the most disturbing haircut in an American film since the eighties, was the film that earned the actor his Academy Award. Both "Biutiful," from director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, and "Mondays in the Sun," directed by Fernando Leon de Aranda, are from Spain, but these Spanish-language performances are equally powerful and "Biutiful" earned him an Oscar nomination. The three-disc set is on DVD only.
- "The Paradise Lost Trilogy Collector’s Edition" (HBO) collects all three documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky chronicling the ordeal of three teenagers convicted for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas on dubious evidence. DVD only.
- "What Happened to Kerouac? Collector's Edition" (Shout! Factory) presents the 1986 documentary about the Beat Generation icon in a new edition with a companion feature: "The Beat Goes One," a compilation of more than two hours of archival film and TV clips with Abby Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burrroughs, and other contemporaries featured in the documentary.
- "La Pastorela: The Shepherd's Tale" (VCI) is a 1991 retelling of the shepherd's journey to see the Christ child, directed by Luis Valdez for the PBS showcase "Great Performances" and featuring Linda Rondstadt, Paul Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Don Novello, Freddie Fender, and others.
- "Eleven Samurai" (AnimEigo) is the third film in Eichi Kudo's sixties "Samurai Revolution Trilogy," a widescreen action film about eleven warriors that put their lives on the line to defend the honor of their clan.
- "Outlaw Brothers" (Vivendi) is a 1990 Hong Kong martial arts action thriller with Frankie Chan and Max Mok.