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March '18 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 

While the City Sleeps 

(Warner Archive)

This pair of films noir by German director Fritz Lang dates from 1956; these were the last pictures that the creator of classics and Metropolis would make in Hollywood. 




Reasonable Doubt uses capital punishment for a twisty melodrama starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine, while City Sleeps (also with Andrews, alongside George Sanders and Vincent Price) darkly explores the case of the “lipstick killer,” who murders young women. Both films are watchable if unexciting; the appropriately moody widescreen B&W compositions are enhanced by flawless hi-def transfers.


Copland Conducts Copland 


This 1976 L.A. concert teams 75-year-old composer Aaron Copland conducting his own works, played with verve by the Los Angeles Philharmonic: it’s a greatest hits collection of sorts, starting with Fanfare for the Common Man and including El Salon Mexico, The Tender Land suite and an excerpt from his ballet Rodeo.




But the highlight is a swinging version of Copland’s charming Clarinet Concerto, played by none other than 67-year-old Benny Goodman, who commissioned the work from Copland in 1947. Video and audio are adequate if unexceptional; no extras, although Copland briefly describes each piece before it’s played.












In the grand tradition of social activists like Cesar Chavez—whom she married—is Dolores Huerta, who remains mostly unknown despite her vast importance in the historic farm workers’ union movement she and Chavez led.




Peter Bratt’s expansive documentary portrait, built around an interview with the now 87-year-old—and still vigorous—Huerta, intimately explores her long career championing workers’ and women’s rights, with personal encomiums by Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem and many others. The film looks excellent in hi-def.


The Passion of Joan of Arc 


One of the towering silent-era masterpieces, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 drama recreates the trial and death of Joan of Arc with an intimacy and intensity that’s nothing short of riveting. Add to that Renee Falconetti’s miraculous performance as Joan; her mesmerizing face, held in relentless close-ups by Dreyer, show both the agony and the ecstasy of Joan’s martyrdom, culminating in her burning at the stake.




The hi-def transfer is exceptionally good; Criterion’s extras include an alternate version of the film, three separate musical scores, audio commentary, interviews, and a video essay.


Sacha Guitry—Four Films 1936-1938 

(Arrow Academy)

A true bon vivant, French triple-threat Sacha Guitry made witty, talky films with his inimitably—and at times annoyingly—gregarious personality at their center, and this boxed set collects four features he churned out in a space of two years: The New Testament, My Father Was Right, Let’s Make a Dream and Let’s Go Up the Champs Elysses.




Bright and clever, these films go down easily, despite staginess and the occasional overbearing sequence. All four films look lovely in hi-def; extras include scholar Ginette Vincendeau’s intros and commentaries; video essays; sound tests; and a 60-page book.


Stopping Traffic 

(Gravitas Ventures)

Activist Sadhvi Siddhali Shree urgently tackles the sadly relevant topic of sex trafficking in her trenchant documentary, which travels the world for its eye-opening glimpse, landing not only in places we aren’t surprised by (i.e., Mexico, Iraq, the Philippines) but also various U.S. locations.




It’s unapologetically blunt in its depiction of sex trafficking’s horrors, and is tough to watch at times: but a necessary polemic. The film looks fine on Blu-ray.


DVD of the Week

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In—Complete 3rd Season 


This latest Laugh-In release brings together episodes from the 1969-70 season of the classic comedy-variety show hosted by Dick Rowan and Dan Martin, perfect ringmasters for a crazed stew of corny jokes, goofy skits, musical interludes and political satire, starring a motley crew of regulars (Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Jo Ann Worley) and guest stars (Johnny Carson, Ringo Starr, The Monkees, Diana Ross, Zsa Zsa Gabor).




Along with the 26 full episodes, bonus features comprise a Lily Tomlin interview and a tribute to the series’ creator George Shlatter.

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