January 31, 2013

Indie Film: Let's pray the Blu-ray gods smile on deserving masterpieces

Films whose merits are disproportionately visual would undoubtedly benefit.

By DENNIS PERKINS

The cult of movies has a lot of sub-sects and while I fit, comfortably and passionately, in most, I've never been much interested in the tech-geek side of film fandom. For one thing, I can never afford the high-tech equipment necessary to see much difference in format and for another, I'm as happy watching a scratchy old VHS of "Casablanca" as I would a digital, crystal-clear perfection. (I prefer vinyl to CDs as well! And what happened to those phones you had to crank?)

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Kris Kristofferson in “Lone Star.”

Columbia Pictures

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Chris Cooper in “Matewan,” from indie-film icon John Sayles.

Warner Bros.

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

THE FRONTIER (Brunswick)

(725-5222)

Friday: 2013 Oscar Nominated Shorts. Want to be the best-informed person at your Oscar party? Well, head on up to Brunswick for the chance to see this year's nominated short films before the big night (Feb. 24).

ANIMAL PLANET TV

(animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/north-woods-law)

Thursday: "North Woods Law." The second season of this Animal Planet reality series about the brave, thermal-underwear-wearing men of the Maine Game Warden Service continues with more harrowing tales of moose dodging, poacher pinching and general woodsy do-gooderiness.

That being said, there are some films, primarily those whose merits are disproportionately visual, that undoubtedly benefit from this newfangled Blu-ray business.

And yet, some of the best films are being kept from us by the Blu-ray gods. Movies like: 

• The original "Star Wars" trilogy. This particular vengeful god has a name, of course -- series creator George Lucas has said that his re-released, tinkered-with, joked-up, Greedo-shooting-first-ed, and largely-ruined versions of episodes four to six are his preferred, director-approved final vision. And "Star Wars" fans hate him for it (Lucas refused to even release the originals on DVD until 2008). Now that LucasFilm's been sold to Disney (which never let creators' wishes get in the way of a buck), maybe we'll get the real versions on Blu-ray sometime. 

• "Spirited Away," "Kiki's Delivery Service," "Princess Mononoke" and "My Neighbor Totoro." Speaking of the Disney money-milking machine, it's a mystery why these superlative Japanese animated classics haven't gotten the Blu-ray treatment, since animator Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghobli is distributed stateside by the House of Mouse. If any films would benefit from the format's visual sophistication, it's these enchantingly rendered, near-perfect animated fables. 

• "Touch of Evil" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." One surprising thing is how some black-and-white films practically glow when subjected to the Blu-ray treatment (see: the aforementioned "Casablanca"), and while perhaps we don't need to see every visual pop and crackle of the Marx Brothers' films in high-def, no one's films would look better than those of Orson Welles. His mastery of the frame simply calls out for the best presentation (as the stunning "Citizen Kane" Blu-ray showed), and I'm hungry to see similar treatment of the rest of Welles' classics. 

• "The Wire." Not overly visual, this is, simply put, the best TV show ever made. If Blu-ray gets more people to watch it, the world will be a better place. 

• "Lone Star" and "Matewan." Two multi-layered classic tales of America from indie maverick director John Sayles. Each film's lovingly detailed depiction of different time periods and the quintessentially American stories that take place there is Blu-ray bait if ever there were any. (Plus, Blu-ray would give Sayles extra money to make more films like them.) 

• "Ikiru" and "Throne of Blood." Another pair of neglected classics from a filmmaking legend whose genius at (among other things) visual composition and screen movement are crying out for a Blu-ray release, these masterpieces from Akira Kurosawa would be enough for even the crankiest Luddite film freak to buy a new player. And while the thought of seeing the great Toshiro Mifune dodging hails of arrows in "Throne of Blood" (Kurosawa's samurai "Macbeth") is a no-brainer, those in the know long to see "Ikiru"'s Takashi Shimura, his labors done, sitting on a child's swing at dusk and singing a little song in the gently falling snow. I imagine a Blu-ray edition would look almost as good as it does in my dreams. 

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

 

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