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Book Review

Book Cover

Art-House Video
100 Must See Movies From Under the Radar and Around The Globe
(Cult Film Confidential Vol 2)


Author: Nancy Naglin
Publisher: PhanMedia, L.L.C.

102 pages
RRP: £3.68 US $4.95
Publication Date: 26 September 2012

Nancy Naglin knows movies. She’s worked in the trade behind the cameras and on the blank page, writing about film in all genres from all eras, cultures and budgets. As a reviewer she is succinct, incisive and knowledgeable about the choicest scuttlebutt behind the scenes. The term “Art-House” is used by studios and marketers when they don’t know how else to characterize or classify a movie but somehow in their febrile brains struggling to find the words, they know it’s good. But then the term usually becomes an aesthetic obituary and the film’s connection with fans is blubbered away into obscurity.

Not so for Naglin. She pierces the ambiguity of “good,” of what makes an art film artful -- and why – and strike an amorous chord in the private heart of the film lover. Physical media is the safe bastion for the art film that transports us from disbelief, even though the theatrical release is no longer available (or never was) except maybe in the occasional revival house. Our new age of streaming and internet distribution is boundless but cannot give us the delight and empowerment of holding the great movie in our hands. The modal formats change and update but the experience of gathering one’s own home library never gets archaic.

Naglin’s 100 is a lifetime handbook for the collector who loves the ineffable but can’t always find the words to explain why. She finds the words, the insights and perceptions for why we “keep watching the screens”. As she says, “One of the prime perks of working as a Videoscope columnist is getting to see literally thousands of films that routinely escape the notice of even ardent art-house fans.” This handbook for the ardent fan covers all continents, epic to shoestring, probing documentaries and hitherto lost vintage silents that can be enjoyed on the home theater.

In her “Golden Silents” selection she curates the dreamlike enchantment of William Worthington’s Dragon Painter (1919) B&W / Tinted (Milestone Film & Video) and Peter Delpeut’s Diva Dolorosa (1913-1920) (Zeitgeist Video) as offering “deeply provocative pleasures… if you’re in the mood for the heady poetic lyricism of a cinematic opium pipe.” In Electric Edwardians the documentaries of Mitchel Sagar and James Kenyon (1900-1913, Milestone) ) are lifted up to show then-and-now of conventions and enculturation. Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925, Criterion Collection) is compared to his re-release in 1942 with added sound and dialogue which “unfortunately, gutted the magic.” “Was Chaplin great?” Naglin asks after surveying the masterpiece through its quantum of history and biographers. “If you need persuading see only the enduring, unforgettable ‘dancing rolls’, a recurring bit Chaplin had perfected and inserted here to slyly show the attraction between the sexes…”

My favourite item in “Golden Silents” is Lyrical Nitrates directed by Peter Delpeut (Kino) which gathers fragments of surviving nitrate celluloid for a time travel into lucence we cannot imagine today, even with digital hubris. Naglin’s examination of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922, Kino) is essential work in a much studied and occasionally underrated subject via the love-hate of film scholar John Grierson.

I’m not doing justice to other films covered in the preceding selection nor those yet to come. This book is, after all, a slam dunk review of 100 films.

In “Asian Sensations” Naglin gives us a taste from the most exotic movie menu to come out of the Far East. As Tears Go By directed by Wong Kar Wai (1988, Kino). “Nobody portrays the conflicting states of sexual unease/desire better than Wong Kar Wai, whether he’s dealing with straight or gay characters, as in Happy Together.” (1997, Kino). Or Im Kwon Taek’s Chunhyang (2000, New Yorker Video); or Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death (2011, Kino Lorber) …”That the Japanese conducted themselves badly during their 1937-1945 subjugation of China is a fact. How badly is open to debate, particularly when the Japanese whitewash their wartime history, which is why the Rape of Nanking, Chuan’s City of Life and Death, remains an open wound.” She compares the film to the all time paean of the subject, The Battle of Algiers (1966).

Farewell My Concubine directed by Chen Kaige (1993, Buena Vista) “mines the exalted heartbreak of transgendered identity” with “scenes of unbearable but fascinating cruelty, painstaking visual beauty, an exotic locale, sexual twists and historical sweep… A kind of Chinese Dr. Zhivago.” (1965) She explores the first Inuit feature The Fast Runner (2001, Sony Pictures) directed by Zacharias Kunuk, “though plot is initially incomprehensible, time is hard to pinpoint and myth bleeds into reality—yet it is without a doubt one of the best foreign language films ever.”

Again, this is a glancing view of Naglin’s selection without detailing The King and the Clown (2005, Pathfinder Pictures) directed by Joon-ik Lee; Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007, Universal); Zhang Yimou’s Not One Less (1999, Sony Pictures); The Puppetmaster (1993, Winstar Entertainment) by Hsiao-hsien Hou; Shanghai Triad (2006, Sony Pictures) by Zhang Yimou – of which Naglin says: “You have to eat bitterness, says the Chinese proverb, and exquisite bitterness is what this sly, Chinese-style psychodrama Godfather (1972) is all about;” as it follows the induction of a country boy “into the triad-controlled demimonde of exotic 1930s Shanghai.”

I don’t know about you but I want to see this movie. I want to see all these movies; Naglin puts the hook in me that well.

And these I confess are only two selections, scantily sampled here. Yet to come are her “Visions From the Middle East” including Nina Davenport’s Operation Filmmaker (2007, Icarus Films Home Video) starring Davenport, Muthana Mohmed, Liev Schreiber, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Elijah Wood where “At the heart of all of America’s good deeds is the soul of the Ugly American…” Oh, oh… comes the recurring message in my head; I have to see this one too.

Then “Soviet Cinema” and “German Greats” and “Mondo Latino” -- including the scintillating Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders (1999, Artisan Entertainment) and the much maligned I Am Cuba (1964, Milestone) directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (even satirized by MSTK — I never forgave those assholes for that and afterwards found everything they did to be constipated.) And “Global Screen Scan.” And “Lit Hits”. Get the picture? There’s a world of cinematic art here and Nancy Naglin is your conservator.

She provides a digital directory for source companies which and if some of these distribs no longer exist, it should be said they have left artefacts for the diligent collector in myriad net stores. No longer available? Don’t believe it. There are disc marketers out there who love movies as much as you do, Maybe more. Maybe as much as Nancy Naglin. That’s the beauty of physical media and this is an encyclopedic compendium for the whole shoot. Thank you Nancy.


John Huff

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