Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Huge Barnes & Noble Film Deal

Criterion produces DVD and Blu-Ray* editions of great films. They seek out the best possible prints, transfer them with care, and package them beautifully with copious extras, features, and notes. Their aim is to give great films the definitive treatment, and most agree that they've succeeded. You really can't go wrong buying Criterion stuff.

* you can buy a Blu-Ray player for under $50 these days.

The problem is that they're a little expensive (and not much cheaper second-hand). But is running a huge 50% off sale on Criterion Collection DVDs and Blue-Rays through December 1. Amazon has never gone that low (once in a while they do 40% off Criterion sales). You won't find Criterion this cheap at any other point in the year...or in any other year. When Criterion editions sell out, they tend to increase in value. Pretty good investments.

Here's my write-up of Barnes and Noble's 2012 Criterion sale, along with a long list of recommendations.

Remember how last year I wrote a memorial of Les Blank, the great documentary film maker who was way ahead of his time making funky films about food and music - "quirkily wonderful films about quirkily wonderful people and quirkily wonderful scenes. Blues musicians and folk artists and Mexican polka bands and even 'Gap-Toothed Women'"?

Only yesterday, Criterion released a five disk collection of some of Blank's best stuff, all remastered and laden with special features, and Barnes and Noble's selling both the DVD and the Blu-Ray versions for $63. It will never be cheaper. And Blank's enough of a cult figure that the price will undoubtedly skyrocket after Criterion eventually runs out.

The set includes two foodie classics, Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers and Dry well as The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins; God Respects Us When We Work (but Loves Us When We Dance); Spend It All; A Well Spent Life; Dry Wood; Hot Pepper; Always for Pleasure; Sprout Wings and Fly; In Heaven There Is No Beer?; Gap-Toothed Women; Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking; The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists; and Sworn to the Drum.

Here's more from that piece I wrote about Blank last year, for those you don't have time to click back to read the whole thing:
One of Les' most famous films was "Garlic is As Good As Ten Mothers"(1980), a survey of the annual garlic festival in Gilroy California. The film would drive audiences wild with hunger, and he'd heighten the effect by frying garlic in-theater during screenings. I caught it back in college, and it was a big influence on me, and on many of the people who went on to persuade Americans to care about what they ate.

He made quirkily wonderful films about quirkily wonderful people and quirkily wonderful scenes. Blues musicians and folk artists and Mexican polka bands and even "Gap-Toothed Women" (read this swell Roger Ebert review of the latter). And since everyone eats, Les usually seized opportunities to slip in an incredible meal scene or two (mostly, he confessed, so he could partake).

Less food-oriented, but a unanimous classic, his "Burden of Dreams" (1982) was a feature-length portrayal of the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo" in the jungles of South America. It's considered the only making-of film as good as the (classic) film it's about. Herzog was telling the story of a megalomaniac opera impresario who, in his determination to bring fine opera to the natives of the South American jungle, managed to push a 320-ton steamship up a mountain, so it could be set down in the river behind the mountain and piloted thousands of miles into the rain forest. Herzog, a megalomaniac himself, insisted on shooting without film tricks, so he actually pushed a huge steamship up a mountain. The meta levels could make one's head explode, and Blank drank up the dizzying irony, crafting a film looking deeply (but never weightily) at art, obsession, and ego.

Les' fame had been in decline for some time, but those in the know always knew, and always will. It's a pity Roger Ebert isn't around to eulogize him, but he did previously describe Les as a "brilliant filmmaker".

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