Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Look Back – Criterion Collection

Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Screenplay: D.A. Pennebaker
Starring: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15


The phrase ‘don’t meet your heroes’ might go somewhere to explain my approach to the musicians I admire. Although I consume music to an exhaustive degree, listening to it whenever I have chance and spending far too much time reading reviews, compiling playlists and shopping for CD’s/downloads. However, I’ve never been one to read/watch many interviews with musicians. I do occasionally, but don’t make a habit of it like I do checking their latest reviews. I think I prefer to let their work do the talking as I often find if their natural personality rubs me up the wrong way it casts a shadow over my opinion of what they do.

For that reason, I’m occasionally dubious about watching documentaries about artists I love as I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment of their work. Some Kind of Monster for instance is a great documentary about Metallica, but makes them look like pricks (pardon my French) and has made me a little more hesitant over checking out their latest albums.

One film I’ve never seen until now, a good twenty years since falling in love with Bob Dylan’s work, is the most famous documentary surrounding the musician, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. It might simply be chance that I haven’t got around to seeing it, but I think a worry that I’d find the famously elusive artist a pretentious wanker had always loomed in the back of my mind. Thankfully The Criterion Collection is re-releasing the classic film on Blu-Ray in the UK with a phenomenal amount of extra features, so I couldn’t resist finally giving it a chance after all these years.

And thank God I did, because I loved it.

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Cinecast Episode 189 – Just a Symptom of 1986

It is again that wonky time of year where studios favour the platform release, getting in the way of folks from Toronto and Minneapolis having a friendly movie chat about the same darn movies. Instead, we must be content with Multiplex Matt Gamble and the mainstream mega-release. Here he gives some thoughts on Todd Phillips’ newest, Due Date and tries to break down some pre-conceived notions. There is also some talk of the Asian Film Festival. Kurt gives a snippet of reaction to Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his Oscar win, 127 Hours. It is likely that the boys will revisit this one at some point for a consensus discussion, but as a nice double bill with the other ‘trapped between a rock and a hard place’ movie Buried there is a fair bit of stuff to chew on. Meanwhile Andrew finds solace in the comfort of his Blu-ray player… sometimes twice a day. Peter Weir is revisited in a lengthy discussion on The Mosquito Coast and also some Picnic at Hanging Rock, Master & Commander, The Truman Show and of course, the upcoming The Way Back. DVD picks and Japanese pornography are also on the bill.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 
 

 
 

 


 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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A Martin Scorsese Marathon

Basically, you make another movie, and another, and hopefully you feel good about every picture you make. And you say, ‘My name is on that. I did that. It’s OK’. But don’t get me wrong, I still get excited by it all. That, I hope, will never disappear.” – Martin Scorsese

For the better part of the last three decades, I have been a fan of Martin Scorsese. My admiration first took bloom in the summer of 1985, and happened to coincide with what I consider to be the discovery of my young adult life; set off the main drag of the town I grew up in, I found a small video store. Now, this in itself was no great revelation; in the years before Blockbuster came barreling into my area, forcing all the smaller video chains out of business, there were at least half a dozen such stores within a 3-mile radius. But the moment I walked into this particular video palace, I knew it was special. Where most were lining their shelves with numerous copies of the ‘hot new releases’, this one had titles like Midnight Cowboy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, films that the others simply didn’t offer. For me, this store was a treasure trove, and I returned there often, sometimes 3-4 times a week, uncovering classic after classic, films that, to this day, I consider some of the finest ever made.

And it was here that I first found Mean Streets.

Tough and unflinching, Mean Streets was like a punch to the head for a 15-year-old from the suburbs; a marriage of images and rock music, violence and pain the likes of which I had never seen before, offering a glimpse into a lifestyle that I found all too real, and a little bit frightening. I must have rented it at least six times that summer, and as a result, Mean Streets fast became my favorite movie. More than this, it was my jumping-off point into the career of Martin Scorsese. After Mean Streets, I moved on to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, two more shots to the head. Through these three films, I realized just how deep, just how down-and-dirty, and just how moving the cinema could be. They marked a turning point in my development as a film fan. Movies were no longer limited to the land of make believe; they would also be a window overlooking the real world.

Now, almost 24 years after I first walked into that video store, I’ve decided to take my admiration to the next, perhaps the ultimate, level. Over the course of the last several weeks, I sat down with everything that home video has to offer of Martin Scorsese’s work behind the camera, 26 films in all, and what I uncovered on this love-fest of mine proved to be just as enlightening as that first viewing of Mean Streets all those years ago.

As I sat watching one Scorsese movie after the other, I found myself asking, “What exactly is it that constitutes a Martin Scorsese film”? It was a question I had to pose, because I quickly realized that most of my initial beliefs, the pre-conceptions I had built up about the man and his career, only told part of the story.

For one, there was my presumption that the recurring trait in every Scorsese film was a down-to-earth quality, where the genuine, the realistic, would be favored above all else. Well, this is certainly true in some of Scorsese’s finest films, especially those where actual events served as a foundation (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator). However, it was wrong of me to discount the role that fantasy played in Scorsese’s work. The opening scene of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore looks as if it was lifted right out of Gone With the Wind, and the musical numbers of New York, New York were obvious nods to the Hollywood big-budget spectaculars of the 40’s and 50’s. There is the dreamy romance of The Age of Innocence, and the hilarious bad luck of Paul Hackett in After Hours; in short, films that have little or no basis in reality whatsoever, proving that the fantastic plays just as important a role in the great director’s work as reality does.
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Finite Focus: Changing Times. (Watchmen)

watchmen_onesheet_nmmAs people herd en masse to check out Zack Snyder‘s take on the most acclaimed graphic novel of all time, I think most will agree whether or not the film floats your boat, the opening credits sequences stands to be one of the best 5 minutes of film in 2009. Condensing a massive amount of back-story, exposition, mood and aesthetics to capture the spirit of America diverging from the history we know, to the alternate 1984 of Alan Moore‘s imagination. The national spirit is held up to the mirror in interesting tableaux that the rest of the film, when we get down to having to build characters rather than images, the film simply cannot sustain. On one had, the use of Bob Dylan seems almost cliche, but upon consideration of how this film is aiming at iconic American imagery and key scenes in the national memory, it is well, quite simply, perfect.

Couple this with the magnificent (perhaps my favourite one of all time, even) opening credits sequence in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and it is clear that the directors strength is building image and sound together rather than traditional narrative storytelling. Dawn of the Dead the film certainly does not live up to its opening credit sequence either. Perhaps the complete indifference I had to 300 stemmed from moving that films opening credit sequence (also good) to the back. (Well, probably not, but you see where I am coming from, c’est non?)

It seems that the sequence went online this weekend, and for those who have no interest in bothering with the film (you should, even if the film is far from perfect, it has a lot of stuff worth taking in and is a well above par comic book film), you can litmus test with this below scene. If these credits don’t get your mind and your eyes buzzing pleasantly, then well, you are really going to be baffled by the film.

The Lost Cormac McCarthy Mixtape

The Road

[A continuing series of mixtapes created to evoke the spirit of auteur filmmakers. I welcome suggestions for future selections. The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes only. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don’t want an MP3 featured, please email me]

This latest installment of the Auteur Filmmakers Mixtape series is clearly breaking the rules before I’ve hardly start, as far as I am aware Cormac McCarthy hasn’t as much as picked up a camera in his life. His weapon of choice, the written word, has however been fundamental in the development of key film properties as of late, most notably NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but, for the immediate purposes of this exercise, my gaze lays square upon the two behemoths lurching on the horizon: John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD, and Todd Field’s BLOOD MERIDIAN. The two books, although written at different points in Cormac’s life and partaking of worlds split by generations, nonetheless feel thematically and spiritually part of a continuum, stages of the same moral decay, and as such, the two are blended together into one playlist, the ‘blood’ bleeding into, or onto, the ‘road’.

This mixtape does not aspire to be something of an authentic soundtrack for these films, the bleak and antiquated rigidity that will be required for that goes against my better interests, I rather ferret out the essence using whatever penchant for modern and sometimes pop-like sounds I deem suitable, continuing my mixtape code for repurposing songs to suit new and surprising contexts. If to be of any use other than pure enjoyment, the mixtape is my attempt to capture the mood shifts between the two stories, the carnivorous depths in BLOOD MERIDIAN’s acrid depiction of nineteenth century lawlessness in the Old West, and the hard swallow of hope in THE ROAD’s nuclear winter. Since Hillcoat’s film is pretty much in the can, this mean overgrown apocalypse without end I give to you, Mr. Field.

Notes on the tracks: Cave’s Stagger Lee is perhaps the only song that lives up to the kind of brutality Cormac lays down, and Mr Stagger Lee would be just the sort of species the Judge would collect in his sketchbook. That said, Judge Holden, the epitome of everything wicked in the world, is aptly commemorated with Dylan’s Wicked Messenger (‘he did come, with a mind that multiplied the smallest matter’). The Dead Vine Blues track fits the first plains attack of the Comanche channeled into musical instruments, a piece of bravado I am strangely proud of. The ruminations of THE ROAD in the Tindersticks and Secret Machines tracks, while liberally playing with canon, do hypothesize quite nicely the psychological state of being a walking phantom. Not possessing an MP3 version of Bob Dylan’s original and far superior Ain’t Talkin’, I had to suffice with the lesser alternative track for these purposes. Enjoy.

“THEN IN CAME THE DEVIL, HE SAID I COME TO TAKE YOU DOWN…”

A single streamed version of the mixtape can be listened to here Individual tracks are below but please be patient for the tracks to load up in the audio player, takes a minute.

Fade to black.
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June DVD Releases of Note

Summer is finally here and we’re starting to see some slightly more quality DVD titles of lesser known films of late last year and also some bigger titles from earlier this year. So obviously this isn’t a list of every DVD that is being released this month, but it’s a bit more expansive than in previous months to include some Criterion releases and older films. If you have more titles I might’ve missed, by all means post ’em in the comments section.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to finally catching Control. But I’m also metro enough to admit to being excited for The Other Boleyn Girl. And of course, if you weren’t able to catch Persepolis on its theatrical run, you’re in for a treat in the last week of June. So without further ado, here are DVDs for June…

  • Most browsers will allow you to rollover an image for the complete title
  • Each image links to the IMDb profile for that title


June 3:

Control Semi-Pro Semi-Pro (SE)
Dirty Harry Collection The Eye The Eye (SE)
Flawless Vince Vaughn Meet the Spartans

see the rest of the month…
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