The second-best physical media release of the year was Jaromil Jireš’s Czech New Wave film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
I like to take the first Celluloid Atrocities column of the new year and devote it to the year prior, specifically that of things and experiences I did and did not like, but which aren’t well suited to top ten lists, awards consideration categories, etc. With that established, I have a handful of topics I want to talk about here, which encompasses the things that have stayed on my mind from the film year of 2015.
The biggest of these topics is that of my favorite physical media releases of the year. I was, am, and expect always to be a big dork for physical over downloaded or streamed media, and so have strong opinions of what should be the best DVD and blu-ray releases of any given year. I predicted back in June that Shout! Factory’s release of Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization documentary trilogy, long unavailable legally (and, in the case of Part III, never so), would be the best physical media release of the year. Not to give you the impression that I made up my mind about this long ago, but now that the year is over, yes, The Decline of Western Civilization Collection is indeed the best physical media release of the year.
What I didn’t predict at that time, though, was that the second-best physical media release of the year was released the same day (June 30) as the Decline set: the Criterion Collection’s Jaromil Jireš’s Czech New Wave film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Valerie had previously been available on the U.S. market on DVD from Facets, but seeing it on blu-ray from its recent 4k digital restoration is a revelation: I watched it three times in about the first week I had it, which is something I almost never do with any movie, regardless how much I like it.
Each year, there’s one new release movie that I lust for some kind of deluxe treatment on (preferably from Criterion, which is, of course, the best at this kind of thing). Last year, it was The Wolf of Wall Street, which I’m still expecting to surface in its preferred four-hour cut (that has to be released sometime…right?), and this year, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Not that I dislike the Warner Bros. blu-ray, but this is a film that begs for lots of contextualizing special features, commentaries, and the like. Hell, a lot of good material that would be well-suited to putting on the disc is already out there. This year, we’ve seen a handful of smaller-scale projects from P.T. Anderson, including the 54-minute documentary Junun about Inherent Vice scorer (and Radiohead guitarist) Jonny Greenwood playing with the Rajasthan Express, and also two music videos, “Sapokanikan” and “Divers,” to accompany Vice’s narrator Joanna Newsom’s new album. (Semi-relatedly, Ms. Newsom’s new album, also called Divers, is my favorite of 2015. All of Joanna Newsom’s albums have been my favorite the year they each came out, though, ha ha.) So, Criterion: Get the rights to Inherent Vice. Add Junun, “Sapokanikan,” and “Divers” to the disc. Maybe throw in an Easter egg of Thomas Pynchon buying light bulbs or something. Easy! Best physical media release of all time. You’re welcome.
Release of Older Films
Related to both theatrical experiences and physical media releases, 2015 was a good year for older films that have never gotten much in the way of U.S. distribution being released in theaters, on DVD/blu-ray, or both. Good options included stuff like Les Blank’s 1974 film A Poem is a Naked Person or Gerald Kargl’s 1983 film Angst (a favorite of Gaspar Noe’s). My favorite, though, was Tsai Ming-liang’s 1992 film Rebels of a Neon God, which actually had a previous U.S. DVD release, but was restored and released for the first time to U.S. cinemas this year. Though I’d seen and enjoyed five Tsai films prior to Rebels, including the second and third parts in a loose trilogy that Rebels began (those parts being Vive L’Amour and The River), Rebels itself had always eluded me until I caught up with its restored edition at the Webster Film Series in November, and promptly bought the new version of the DVD after that screening. So it’s nice to have it readily available again—and looking nice, at that—and now I know that it’s Tsai’s best film to date.
Another welcome first-time U.S. theatrical release of a not-so-new film is Cinema Guild’s brief theatrical run and then DVD/blu-ray release of Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 film About Elly, which is the film Farhadi made immediately prior to modern classic A Separation, but which only played a few U.S. festivals and hadn’t been picked up for proper distribution until now. If more people had seen About Elly closer to the time Farhadi had made it, maybe how great A Separation is wouldn’t have come as such a surprise.
Goodbye to Language
Last year I wrote that seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s film Goodbye to Language in 3D with a sold out, like-minded crowd was one of my best experiences in a movie theater all year. Well, that was the case again this year. My top choice for best experience in a movie theater all year was seeing Goodbye to Language a second time at its one and only SLIFF screening (the one and only theatrical screening in St. Louis, period), again with a sold-out, like-minded crowd, but this time at the Hi-Pointe, which has about 10 times the seats as does Iowa City’s Film Scene, which is where I saw it the first time. If they could only program Goodbye to Language in 3D about once a year at a place I could continue to get to it, it would likely be my favorite movie theater experience for more years in a row than just these two.
The Hateful Eight
My most relentlessly frustrating experience in 2015, though, sadly was one of my most anticipated: seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight from a 70mm print. Now, don’t misunderstand me: I loved seeing it from said 70mm print, and hope more similar opportunities arise in the near future. But my journey to get to it was such a pain in the ass. The first press screening for the film was directly opposite John Waters doing his Christmas show at the Sheldon, which was about the highest-priority thing I did all year; no way was I going to skip that to see The Hateful Eight. That screening was from a DCP anyway, so I didn’t mind missing it so much. Like I said, I wanted to see it on 70mm. I didn’t expect there to be a second press screening, but a late one was announced for December 23, fewer than 24 hours before its first public screening (from said coveted 70mm print). I tried to attend that one, but found out when I arrived that that projection was also from a DCP, despite that the screening was being held at Ronnie’s, the same theater that would be showing the 70mm print the next day. So I left all pissed off and went to the first public screening the next night, which finally united me with the print.
But, I didn’t like the film. It’s Tarantino’s eighth movie, and the first one of his I’d go so far as to say I didn’t like. Argh. At least it was nice to see it on film. (And Ennio Morricone’s score is cool, too.)
My Year in Film
That wraps up my year in film, but that doesn’t mean the endless parade of things I’m looking forward to has ceased. Early 2016 already has me anticipating the much-coveted Criterion Collection release of Edward Yang’s masterpiece of the Taiwanese New Wave, 1991’s A Brighter Summer Day, which has been very difficult to see legally for the past 20 years or so. (More, really; this is the film’s first official U.S. distribution of any kind.) Meanwhile, Arrow Films in the U.K. has a strong slate for the first quarter of 2016, if you have a blu-ray player that’s capable of playing imports: a collection of Rainer Werner Fassbinder films on blu-ray, Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (paired with his hard-to-see The Seven Minutes), and, most anticipated by me, a collection of Jacques Rivette’s films, basically all of which have been all but impossible to see legally anywhere in the world for about as long as they’ve existed. Note that this set’s most-desired film, Out 1: noli me tangere, is also being made available on blu-ray in the U.S. market, though the Arrow set is preferable if for no other reason than its additional unavailable films. | Pete Timmermann