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Archive for the ‘Video/DVD’ Category

It’s easy to see why Martin Scorsese heaps praise (as well as his name, as presenter) on this film.  Besides the obvious subject matter, Gomorrah has the same type of motions and scope of a Scorsese film: long panning shots that go from vistas to walls to vistas, documentary-style camerawork and quick bursts of violence that feel surprisingly real.  The film focuses on five individuals involved with the Camorra (Naples’s mafia underworld), intertwining their stories with the larger bleak reality of a mafia-controlled existence.  Be sure to check out the features on the second disc, particularly the interview with the director, Matteo Garrone. He discusses how to film a mafia movie in a mafia controlled location (it involves wearing laminates).  Gomorrah is a beautifully rendered vision of a depressing reality.  Though the gangster genre has been updated successfully in the last ten years (think Sopranos….), it’s never felt quite as real as this.

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“In the Land of the War Canoes” was originally called “In the Land of the Head-Hunters” and this was truer.  It was like watching “Nanook of the North,” a rare anthropological spy treat into ways of a people as extinct as the dodo.  Oh the precious scenes of what people wore and their dances and costumes and how they courted and warred.  The special secret treat of watching a man hoping for visions. I became lost in time.

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The RISD library has recently acquired “The Rape of Europa,” a documentary film tracing the Nazi theft of art during World War Two, and the allied armies’ efforts to recover the stolen artworks. The film has been praised both for its rare archive footage, and for its narrative structure, which keeps viewers completely absorbed in the story, despite the fact that the film is over two hours long. The documentary starts with an explanation of the Nazi concept of ‘Degenerate Art’, and it continues with an in-depth examination of the systematic looting policies of the German armies, as they invaded one European country after another. The Rape of Europa is also a meditation on the historical value of cultural artifacts, which has particular significance today, as the real scale of destruction of cultural artifacts in Iraq starts to become better known. Check this link for an interesting review of the film.

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b21For those of you who are fans of the horror genre, we have a treat in store: the RISD Library has recently acquired a set of films by the Italian director Dario Argento, including these titles: Deep Red (1976); Inferno (1980); Tenebre (1982); Phenomena (1984); Trauma (2002); The Card Player (2003); and Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005).

Dario Argento started his career in cinema in 1967, co-writing the script for Sergio Leone’s “Once upon a time in the West” with Bernardo Bertolucci. He is best known for his very graphic horror films, characterized by their over-the-top visuals, the twists and turns of their plots, and the excessive violence. The influences for Argento’s films are varied, from Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic horror tales to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and even Walt Disney. He is considered a ‘cult’ director, and worked as script consultant/ producer in horror classics such as George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). For a well-informed review of Argento’s work, read this.

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T4_box2This 2-DVD box set, entitled American Film Treasures IV: Avant-Garde, 1947-1986, was released by the National Film Preservation Foundation in early 2009. The set presents a truly eclectic collection of 26 experimental film titles by filmmakers as different from one another as Stan Brackhage, Bruce Baille, Jonas Mekas or Andy Warhol. It is the first time that these titles have been made available on video, and for this reason alone the collection is truly remarkable. Highlights include Wallace  Berman’s Aleph, Harry smith’s Film #3: Interwoven, Jonas Mekas’ Notes on the Circus, and Stan Brackhage’s The Riddle of Lumen, a thought-provoking exploration of  light in cinema.

For a fuller description of this collection, see the Slant Magazine online review.

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There are a number of video/DVD titles in the RISD Library which are the hidden gems of the collection, but few people know about them. We have decided to have a Spotlight on Videos feature every week, which will give brief summaries/reviews of some of these treasures. This week, the spotlight is on Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S. [RISD Media in Reserves, call no. N6512.5.V53 S87 2008]. It is a nine-DVD anthology, first published by Video Data Bank on VHS in 1995, covering the history of video art and experimental media in America from 1968 to 1980. The nine volumes include work by some of the best known names in American art of the 20th century, including Dan Graham, John Baldessari, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Lynda Benglis, Shigeko Kubota, Paul McCarthy, Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and many more. The set covers over 16 hours of video, 68 titles created by 60+ artists and is a must-see for anybody interested in video art.

Since the set is quite rare, the copy at the RISD Library can only be viewed in the Library by students. Faculty can borrow it for classroom projection for one day only.

If you have been fortunate enough to watch any of the volumes in this set, let us know what you thought about them – your opinions are important to us.

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AFANA is an organization dedicated to acquiring, promoting and preserving academic film and other historically important films in the fields of art, history, social science, literature and science. With the help of the Internet Archive, they are preserving some truly hidden gems of non-feature film making in the U.S. Check out their website.

One of my favorite films is this lovely little animation of butterflies and dragonflies set to the music of the French Baroque composer Francois Couperin.

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