Back in the early part of the 20th century when cinema first spluttered to life, all films were short films. Film stock was expensive and temperamental and the idea that anyone would want to spend longer than 15 minutes in a Nickelodeon was an anathema. If only it had remained so. Should you wish to escape from the indulgence of special edition re-edits, commentary tracks and spiralling film lengths then there are two rather fine short film compilations out this fortnight. Best V Best: Volume 2 (Vital - 4 stars) is an excellent selection of award-winning short films, including winners and nominees from the Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca and Cannes festivals. Highlights include UK entry Hibernation and The Shovel from the US. There are also a few shorts of note on Best of 14th Raindance Film Festival Shorts (Aaltra - 3 stars), this DVD also contains the 2006 Nokia 15 second shorts, which are dazzling exercises in all too rare brevity.
There are heaps of box sets out this fortnight too. First up there’s the fairly disappointing Marlon Brando Collection (MGM - 3 stars), which features second string Brando flicks Viva Zapata, Sayonara, The Young Lions and best of a mediocre bunch, Arthur Penn’s The Missouri Breaks. Hello Playmates! For those who like their vaudeville unsalted there’s The Arthur Askey Collection (ITV DVD - 4 stars), which contains the great man’s finest movie moments. Highlights include his first feature from 1940 Band Waggon (sic), a spin-off from Askey’s popular radio show, and the rarely screened Bees in Paradise which takes place on a bee-worshipping island of women. Best box set of the fortnight by quite some margin, however, is Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition (Soda - 5 stars) Scottish Canadian McLaren (1914-1987) was the god-like genius of experimental world cinema. This beautifully restored, near definitive collection of seven discs, containing his extraordinary body of work includes his Neighbours (pictured), for which he won an Oscar in 1953, and Pas De Deux for which he won a BAFTA in 1969. Extras include 40 test and unfinished films and an 88-page booklet.
There’s also lots of cheapy reissues out, all pitched between £5.99 and £7.99. The best of which, Time Bandits (Anchor Bay - 4 stars), Withnail and I (Anchor Bay - 5 stars) and Sergio Leone’s extraordinary Jewish gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (Warner Home Video - 5 stars) are essential purchases.
Finally, two great standalone releases worth renting or purchasing are Warren Beatty’s critically underrated 1981 John Reed biopic Reds (Paramount - 4 stars), which is almost unique in modern US cinema in that the protagonist is a communist. Reds also features one of only two screen performances by the great Polish American writer Jerzy Kosinski. Shunya Ito’s 1972 film Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (Eureka - 4 stars) is the stunning, perverse and occasionally mindblowing exploitation/feminist fable that inspired Tarantino’s Kill Bill cycle. It’s a trip, take my word for it.
Next issue we’ll be mostly watching snuff movies, Kazakhstan hooligans and the beautiful Catherine Deneuve. Au revoir pour maintenant.