Amidst the newest films on tape, such as Total Recall, I Love You to Death, and Stanley and Iris, come some rare gems that were not as accessible to theatrical audiences. Some are older films, perhaps seen once years ago and since longed for by film buffs. Others are relatively recent works that received limited theatrical distribution. Here are a few of the alternative video releases you can look for this fall.
Time of the Gypsies (1989)
Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica pondered over the newspaper accounts of gypsy crimes and stores of Yugoslavian children being sold in Western Europe; from these he created a mystical, dream-like tale. The story centers on Perhan, a gypsy boy who has inherited the ability to levitate silverware from his grandmother, a shaman and community matriarch. With Grandmother’s blessing he leaves home with his crippled sister, Danira, and Ahmed, the Gypsy King, who has sworn to have her legs healed and looking “like Marilyn Monroe’s.”
The reality is a squalid camp on the outskirts of Milan where the Gypsy King reigns over a company of children who go out daily to beg and steal for his profit. Perhan finds his own fortune here, but loses his soul.
Kusturica gives the characters and situations in Time of the Gypsies a gentle and humorous treatment. The film won him the award for the Best Director at Cannes in 1989, and he secured a distribution agreement with David Puttnam of Columbia Pictures. Puttnam subsequently left Columbia and the film received a very limited showing in the U.S. Thanks to the New Orleans Film & Video Festival, it was screened in New Orleans twice one afternoon this past summer. Its release on video should bring the film the audience it deserves. It is a cinematic treat.
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. 136 minutes. In Romany with English subtitles.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
This film by Nagisha Oshima is another case of art imitating life, and is based on the 1936 case of Abe Sada, a Japanese woman who strangled her lover while playing sexual games. She then cut off his penis and carried it with her until her arrest. She received an unusually light sentence—six years—because the passion of her love affair and its tragic end caught the sympathy of the Japanese people.
In Oshima’s film, Sada intrigues her employer’s husband, Kichi, with her violence and passion. He sacrifices everything to be with her, and there follows the story of their obsessive and sexually dynamic relationship. They live in inns and geisha houses, where their abandoned and incessant copulation both shocks and excites those around them.
After Kichi is strangled by Sada during love-play, and mutilated afterward, she writes with his own blood on his chest, “SADA KICHI THE TWO OF US FOREVER.”
In the Realm of the Senses was made as a Franco-Japanese production, because the censorship laws were more relaxed in France. The film could have been shot in Japan, but no lab would process it and the police might have seized it. The book of the movie was in fact prosecuted in Japan. The New York Film Festival canceled the film’s showing when objections were raised by U.S. Customs. The Japanese trial ended in acquittal. Oshima quoted, in his defense, from Sada’s plea of forty years before.
The film has subsequently enjoyed international acclaim and a successful U.S. release. It has gained a dedicated following that praises the film’s visual beauty and erotic sensitivity. The original uncut version is being released on video, unrated.
Fox/Lorber Home Video. 104 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles. $89.95.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
A visually stunning, highly stylized film by Peter Greenaway, who also directed The Draughtsman’s Contract and A Zed and Two Noughts. Greenaway is very strong in production design, and this film has the quality of a Vermeer painting.
The film unfolds in a series of elaborate tableaux with a terrible theme. The Cook owns a restaurant, Le Hollandais, in which most of the action occurs. The Thief is a vulgar, dangerous bully who tries to coerce the cook, Henri, into accepting him a a partner. He comes every night to the restaurant with his crew of heavies and his Wife, Georgina. She sits, imperturbably resisting the barrage of attacks from her rude husband, and becomes the silent ally of the cook. Her Lover is a quiet man in a brown suit who reads while he eats. He attracts Georgina’s attention and their affair begins over dishes prepared by the cook for the two of them alone. With his help they meet in niches around the restaurant to share brief moments of intense love-making. When the thief finally catches on, his reaction is predictably brutal. In the end, however, justice is served. The tables are turned on the thief in a secene that echoes the way the film began, bringing action full circle.
Reactions to the film were polarized. Some viewers reveled in the gorgeous cinematography, the clever details and the sumptuousness of the settings. Others felt it was a nasty, shocking piece of work with no redeeming value. There are indeed brutal and shocking episodes, but they are rendered other-worldly but the lush atmosphere of the film. There is a sense of calm that is continual, even through the most awful upheaval. In the world Greenaway has created, things change, reality shifts. It is not a profound film, bringing a sense of discovery or understanding, but it mesmerizes the viewer and at the very least provides a bountiful feast.
Vidmark Entertainment. 123 minutes. Original uncut version. $89.95.
Straight No Chaser (1988)
It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the finest music documentaries ever made. Director Charlotte Zwerin is not a newcomer to the genre; she was one of the directors of Gimme Shelter, the famous documentary of the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont.
This is a film about the great bebop pianist Thelonious Monk. There’s lots of wonderful footage of Monk from a private film chronicle. We see him performing, composing, in the studio, on the road, and some surprisingly intimate moments with his wife, Nellie. This is interspersed with interviews with his fellow musicians, friends and his son, Thelonious Monk, Jr., which complete the story of the musical genius that was Monk.
The real star of the film is the music, and there’s lots of it: more than 25 songs including “Round Midnight,” “Well, You Needn’t,” “Crepuscle with Nellie,” “Ruby My Dear” and the title cut. Too often music documentaries tease with the music, but Straight No Chaser allows the viewer to enjoy Monk’s wonderful compositions.
Clint Eastwood is the executive producer. His reverence for jazz is well known, and for jazz fans who objected to Bird, this is his redemption. There is no pretense in this film, no judgment of the subject. The film is an upfront presentation of one of the world’s greatest jazz talents, just as the title proclaims.
Warner Bros. 89 minutes. Color and B/W. Available on VHS and BETA. $89.95. On CX Laserdisc $29.98.