The DVDs of 2011

23 critics and curators pick out their releases – and rediscoveries – of the year, including Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End, Zoltán Huszárik’s Szindbád, the several versions of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil and ‘The Theo Angelopoulos Collection’. Introduced by James Bell.


Web exclusive

Shortly before Christmas the BFI Southbank hosted an event entitled ‘The Future of DVD’. Three participating representatives of some of the UK’s leading specialist DVD and Blu-ray publishers – the BFI’s Sam Dunn, Second Run’s Mehelli Modi and Jon Robertson of the Masters of Cinema label, each of whom has participated in the below poll – reflected on the current state of the industry, and considered what the future might hold for the physical format in an age when the downloading and online streaming of films is – if you believe the possibly scaremongering, self-fulfilling reports – rendering them increasingly redundant.

There was understandable concern at what a predominantly ‘digital future’ might mean for the industry and film culture in general – not least because, with revenue generation from downloading and streaming still an uncertain area, the prospect of seeing such a range of films as are currently released on DVD and Blu-ray in high-quality, definitive editions is equally uncertain. Simply put, it costs a lot of money to restore films and produce them in high-quality versions, with complementary extras and bonus features. The specialist labels that cinephiles cherish are to a large extent run as hand-to-mouth labours of love by genuine enthusiasts, and if the money dries up then we all suffer – audiences and filmmakers alike.

The riots that swept the UK in early August saw the huge Sony DADC warehouse in Enfield torched, with a catastrophic impact on smaller UK DVD and record labels; the majority of the UK’s older back-catalogue DVD stock was destroyed. The panel acknowledged that the impact is still being felt by the UK’s smaller labels as they struggle to re-press stock and re-establish distribution, but business finally seems to be returning to normal.

Alongside such concerns and difficulties was optimism and celebration of yet another exciting year of new releases, both in the UK and abroad. 2011’s release list, indeed, proved as varied, surprising and plentiful as any other in recent years, if not even more so. As the fascinating range of titles chosen by our contributors below testifies, DVD and Blu-ray – the true Repertory cinema of our times – is still alive and kicking.

Michael Atkinson
Critic, USA

The Phantom Carriage
Victor Sjostrom, 1921; Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray

Of all the rediscoveries and exhumations this year, this gaslit Swedish fever dream from 1921 was the loveliest surprise, the greatest affirmation of cinema’s secret histories, and the boldest testament for the silent era’s immortal torque, in a year in which viewers are shocked, shocked to find themselves entranced by a new silent black-and-white film from France.

People on Sunday
Siodmak, Zinneman, Ulmer et al, 1930; Criterion, DVD and Blu-ray

The Colossus of New York
Eugene Lourié, 1958; Olive Films (USA), DVD

George Schnéevoight, 1929; Flicker Alley (USA), DVD

Face to Face
Ingmar Bergman, 1976; Olive Films (USA), DVD

Salt for Svanetia
Mikhail Kalatazov, 1930; in ‘Landmarks of Early Soviet Film’, Flicker Alley (USA), DVD

Histoire(s) du cinema
Jean-Luc Godard, 1997; Olive Films (USA), DVD

Brand new to the US, this cataract of movie love/ambivalence reveals our favourite wizened archdruid’s semi-secret life as a fanboy, a sentimentalist, a Kuleshovian and a conflicted utopian.

James Bell
Sight & Sound, UK

Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow
Various directors, 1912-2002; BFI, DVD

An amazing treasure-trove of relics from, and traces of, the ‘Old, Weird Britain’.

Silent Naruse
Naruse Mikio, 1931-34; Criterion/Eclipse (USA), DVD

Discovering Naruse’s films for the first time was my personal film highlight of 2011, and after making my way through the BFI and Masters of Cinema box-sets of his later work, this Eclipse set of a selection of his silent films only affirmed my admiration.

Zoltán Huszárik, 1971; Second Run, DVD

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970; BFI Flipside, dual format

The Phantom Carriage
Victor Sjostrom, 1921; Criterion (USA), DVD and Blu-ray

…And every Masters of Cinema release of the past year, from the ongoing series of Imamura releases (great to see A Man Vanishes on DVD) to their exhaustive Blu-ray edition of Touch of Evil. David Kalat’s 200 minute-plus audio commentary over Fritz Lang’s double-feature The Tiger of Eschnapur/The Indian Tomb also has to be given a special mention for exemplary insight, information and stamina!

James Blackford
BFI Video Publishing, UK

Touch of Evil
Orson Welles, 1958; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

A lovingly curated Blu-ray edition of Welles’s masterpiece, presenting no fewer than five different versions of the film along with four separate audio commentaries, two featurettes and a 53-page booklet. Quite possibly the most comprehensive home-video presentation ever.

Mondo Candido
Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi, 1975; Camera Obscura (Germany), DVD

An ultra-rare, hugely over-the-top adaptation of Voltaire is given a lavish two-disc release from Camera Obscura. Not only is the image quality outstanding, this edition boasts 200 minutes of additional material including priceless interviews with the notorious mondo pioneers Jacopetti and Prosperi.

Brian De Palma, 1976; Arrow Video, Blu-ray

A classic De Palma thrill-ride gets an all encompassing HD release. The transfer is excellent and the disc features an enthralling 37-minute featurette, two early De Palma short films and, amazingly, Paul Schrader’s original script ‘Déjà vu’, reprinted in a gorgeous accompanying bound book.

Jules Dassin, 1955; Arrow Academy, Blu-ray

Dassin’s classic heist film noir receives a consummate edition from Arrow, a label who has had superb slate of releases this year. The image is pristine and the film is richly contextualised through accompanying essays, an interview with Dassin, and an excellent introduction from the ever-informative French-cinema expert Ginette Vincendeau.

Quatermass and the Pit
Roy Ward Baker, 1967; Optimum Classic, Blu-ray

Optimum’s digitally restored Blu-ray edition of Roy Ward Baker’s classic Hammer production featured a ton of extra material including the fascinating ‘World of Hammer’ documentary and new HD interviews with ardent Quatermass enthusiasts Mark Gatis, Kim Newman and Joe Dante.

Michael Brooke
Critic, UK

Despite intensifying rumours of the impending death of physical media, 2011 was one of the strongest years for new video releases that I can recall. My favourite British labels – the BFI, Masters of Cinema, Second Run and Second Sight – each excelled themselves several times over, while the new Arrow Academy sub-brand got off to a very promising start.

Outside the UK, I was particularly cheered to see that the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians are now making concerted efforts to get their archive classics restored: only a few years ago, DVDs that weren’t much better than VHS quality were depressingly common, but there have been some stellar restorations of masterpieces by Zoltán Huszárik, Miklós Jancsó and Andrzej Munk, with a Czech Blu-ray of Frantisek Vlácil’s Marketa Lazarová reportedly imminent.

With all this bounty, and even after excluding everything that I personally contributed to, my top five is hardly definitive – but, in alphabetical order:

The Colour of Pomegranates
Sergei Parajanov, 1968; Second Sight, DVD

Parajanov’s masterpiece finally gets a worthy showcase, with Daniel Bird’s exhaustive and obsessive 75-minute ‘The World is a Window’ my favourite DVD extra of the year.

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, 1971; BFI Flipside, dual format

Legally unavailable for decades, Jerzy Skolimowski’s 1970 puppy-love tragedy scrubbed up remarkably freshly, thanks to Bavaria Film’s outstanding work on the transfer and the main extras.

Kobayashi Masaki, 1962; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, dual format

Proof that the Criterion release isn’t invariably the best option: the latter offered more extras, but the UK edition’s superior picture made this an easy choice.

The Red and the White
Miklós Jancsó, 1967; Magyar Nemzeti Digitális Archivum és Filmintézet (Hungary), DVD

Outstanding Hungarian edition of Jancsó’s 1967 masterpiece, whose fascinating (and English-subtitled) extras include the understandably little-seen Soviet version.

Jules Dassin, 1955; Arrow Academy, Blu-ray

If done properly, black-and-white pictures transfer particularly well to Blu-ray, and this sparkling effort was one of the year’s best examples.

Maria M. Delgado
Critic and curator, UK

Network Releasing have issued two small gems this year that barely got a look in at the cinema. Both are documentaries that focus on craftsmen going about their artistic business in difficult economic circumstances.

The Peddler
Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich, 2010; Network Releasing, DVD

In The Peddler a trio of Argentine filmmakers (Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich) follow a self-taught filmmaker – the jovial Daniel Burmeister – as he embarks on a genre flick with a group of locals in a sleepy Argentine town.

Aaron Schock, 2010; Network Releasing, DVD

In Circo the adventures of a century-old Mexican travelling circus run by the Ponce family reveal both the cracks in the marriage of the ringmaster and the challenges to a way of life threatened by the challenges of mass technology and online entertainment.

These are both films about storytelling and the power of culture to bind communities. Both feature extras that underline these dimensions: the former has the award-winning shorts by British and American filmmakers inspired of the spirit of the eponymous Burmeister, while the latter has information on the film’s catchy score as well as an update on the Ponce family’s travails.

My other two choices are a bit of a cheat as both came out in Spain in 2010 although I didn’t watch them until 2011.

Woman without Piano
Javier Rebollo, 2009; Avalon, DVD

The first (issued by Avalon) is the wonderful Woman without Piano – a study of urban isolation and dislocation which won Javier Rebollo the Best Director award at San Sebastián in 2009, and which features a compelling central performance by Carmen Machi. Extras include a commentary by the director, an essay (alas only in Spanish by Juan Miguel Company) and a wicked confessional monologue by Machi – so terrific in Broken Embraces.

Albert Serra box set
Intermedio, DVD

The second, a beautifully designed box set of Albert Serra’s first two features and early shorts also contains Mark Peranson’s documentary observing Serra at work shooting Birdsong, as well as a meticulous shot-by-shot breakdown of Honour of the Knights by Serra.

Colossal Youth
Pedro Costa, 2006; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, DVD

Fifth choice is Masters of Cinema’s release of Pedro Costa’s exquisite Colossal Youth with the added bonus of a revealing interview with Costa and three further shorts made with footage from the film.

Sam Dunn
BFI Video Publishing, UK

Deep End (1970)

Deep End (1970)

With the experts continuing to diagnose the death of DVD (I guess that if you say it often enough, and for long enough, it will eventually come true), I’m seriously considering investing in a coffin rather than a set of new shelves to house the wealth of wonderful discs (both silver and Blu) which were released in 2011.

Could we be any luckier than to have such fabulous companies as Second Run, Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Cult Epics, etc. working tirelessly to produce exquisitely researched, beautifully presented editions for us to enjoy and cherish? I pinch myself when I think of the days of VHS or early DVDs. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we’d get to see some of the treats offered up this past year, looking the way they do too. Perhaps I too have died and gone to DVD heaven…

In a Glass Cage
Augusti Villaronga, 1987; Cult Epics (USA), Blu-ray

This beautiful, haunting film is one of the greatest meditations on evil cinema has ever produced. I’d thought it coming to Blu-ray was simply too much to ask, but Cult Epics made it happen and the result is absolutely stunning.

Touch of Evil
Orson Welles, 1958; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

The entire history of a masterpiece neatly contained across two Blu-ray discs and the pages of a comprehensive booklet. There’s only one problem with this sort of release: it sets the standard enviably high.

Zoltán Huszárik, 1971; Second Run, DVD

Second Run keeps amazing and delighting in equal measure, and Szindbád is one in an unbroken record of titles for which I’m exceedingly grateful – a breathtaking film beautifully transferred, with a fascinating video appreciation by Peter Strickland as an extra. If that’s not enough, the booklet contains an extensive and incredibly informative essay by film expert Michael Brooke.

Some Like It Sexy
Donovan Winter, 1969; Nucleus Films, DVD

This flesh-filled slice of late 60s action has always been a favourite of mine, and it was amazing to see the impressive job Nucleus Films made assembling the best and most complete presentation. The inclusion of Winter’s rare and fascinating short A Penny For Your Thoughts…? makes this an absolute must.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade
1960; Network, DVD

The folks at Network toil ceaselessly to bring us ever more obscure and fascinating films and TV series on DVD (and, when we’re really lucky, Blu-ray), but this is undoubtedly their greatest achievement. The pin-sharp transfer looks amazing, and the TV spots included as extras are worth the price of admission on their own. This gets my vote as release of the year.

More reasons to feel lucky: Ealing and Hammer greats on Blu-ray from StudioCanal; De Palma’s Dressed to Kill on Blu-ray from MGM (US); Radley Metzger on Blu-ray from Cult Epics; Network’s Tales Out of School Blu-ray set (now sadly deceased).

The Ferroni Brigade
aka Christoph Huber & Olaf Möller
Critics, Austria / Germany

Jégkrémbalett – BBS 5
Wahorn András, Hungary, 1984; Balázs Béla Stúdió/Műcsarnok/Magyar Nemzeti Digitális Archivum és Filmintézet (Hungary)

Time to tackle the true BBS story: The Balázs Béla Stúdió. BBS, founded as a film club in 1959 and state-institutionalised in 1961, became Hungary’s hotbed for artistic innovation (think of the Rouch-King-inspired Documentary-Fiction School of the 70s, represented by Dárday István or young Béla Tarr). Every major Hungarian auteur since made his first works at BBS – and if he didn’t, he can’t be of real interest.

During the mid-70s, Bódy Gábor created an experimental section at BBS whose off-beat genius is nicely represented via Jégkrémbalett (Ice Cream Ballet) by Wahorn András, an accomplished painter and leader of the legendary local underground punk band A. E. Bizottság (‘A. E.[instein] Committee’), around which he shaped an anarchic assemblage of wacky sketches and surreal concert-movie curiosity. This is already the fifth DVD in the indispensable series launched by Balázs Béla Stúdió Archivum and Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle Budapest in 2006.

Lutz Dammbeck: Kunst & Macht
Germany, 1992-2003; Absolut Medien (Germany)

A set of four illuminating analytical film essays about art, power and ideology plus an interactive DVD-ROM of the pioneering media collage Das Herakles Konzept. This package is an essential contribution to understanding filmmaker-writer-artist Dammbeck’s multimedia Gesamtkunstwerk (and complements Edition Filmmuseum’s equally essential double-disc set Lutz Dammbeck: Filme und Mediencollagen 1975-1986, first issued in 2008). Let’s just mention here that one of the works in this box is Das Netz (2003), a meditation on Freedom Club’s tract Industrial Society and Its Future (1995), for those who would like to get deeper into Unabomberland once you’ve exhausted James Benning’s Two Cabins project.

This was a tough pick given other Absolut Medien highlights this year. One example: Zeichen der Zeit – Beobachtungen aus der Bundesrepublik 1956-73 – Die Filme der Stuttgarter Schule, a welcome five-disc collection of documentaries made for state television’s Süddeutscher Rundfunk, featuring seminal works like Peter Nestler’s Ödenwaldstetten (1964). Another: the two-disc box Peter Pewas: Filme 1932-1967, bringing together the works of a great German director long overdue for international (re?)discovery, though one of Pewas’ masterpieces, Viele kamen vorbei (Many Passed By, 1955/6) unfortunately could not be included because of rights issues.

Atsushi Wada Works 2002-2010
Wada Atsushi, Japan, 2002-2010; Calf (Japan)

Alas, a Pyrrhic victory: we welcomed this collection of the subtly crafted, tragicomic pearls by master Wada with a resounding “Hooray!” – only to discover that it’s already out of print! We have our copies, and you’ll have to do some digging.

Besides that, you can comfort yourself with two other highly recommended and still available releases of Japanese independent animation label Calf: the ‘lightning doodle’ pleasures of Tochka’s ‘PiKa PiKa’ project, and the works of Mizue Mirai, who overjoyed the Ferroni Brigade in Venice when he appeared on stage wearing a kimono with an obi tailored to fit the design and colours of his latest work. Now that’s what we call colour-coordination!

Sign of the Pagan
Douglas Sirk, USA, 1954; Koch Media (Germany)

Released under the prosaic German title Attila – Der Hunnenkönig, this DVD from reliably enterprising Koch Media gives an amazing history lesson by offering Sirk’s underrated spiritual pageant in both aspect ratios: the Academy-ratio version has survived in a better master than the CinemaScope print, but the comparison between the two is no less breathtaking, demonstrating the different set-ups carefully chosen for each of the two different camera framings used simultaneously to insure playability at all venues in a time of change.

Kashima Paradise, le cinéma de Yann Le Masson
Yann Le Masson, France, 1961-1984; Editions Montparnasse (France)

A box-set devoted to the great Communist documentarist and brilliant director of photography Yann Le Masson. It includes his sole somewhat better-known (at least by reputation) work Kashima Paradise (1973, co-conceived with Bénie Deswarte), a monument to the finally crushed yet never defeated masses who rose against the building of Narita airport, with little-seen must-sees like the poetic Anti-Algerian War-Pamphlet J’ai huit ans (1961, co-conceived with Olga Poliakoff / Le Masson).

The booklet includes texts by Chris Marker and Jean Carra & Paul-Louis Thirard and Le Masson himself (whose truly memorable ‘Manifeste pour un Cinema Parallele’ is probably the only text ever in which Marker, Alain Resnais and Claude Autant-lara are mentioned as accidental comrades in arms).

Bonus (in memoriam):

Strip Search
Sidney Lumet, USA, 2004; Warner Home Video (Brazil)

It is impossible for us to verify when this DVD was actually released (under the title Inspeção General), but this overlooked Brechtian parable of post 9/11-interrogation – controversial enough to be cut down by producer HBO from two hours to 56 minutes, but immensely powerful and provocative even in its mutilated form – serves as a timely reminder of just one great loss amongst too many.

Philip French
The Observer, UK

Chaplin at Keystone
Charles Chaplin, 1914; BFI DVD

Invaluable opportunity to follow a year in the life of the prolific 25-year-old Chaplin, entering the movies, then learning, exploring and mastering the new art of which he was soon to be the best known exponent. In A Film Johnnie the setting is the Keystone studio where Charlie wreaks havoc.

La Signora Senza Camelie / Le Amiche
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953/55; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, dual format

These two early Antonioni films look forward to the fully achieved work of the 1960s. The first is a fascinating contribution to a tradition of serious works about filmmaking that began in Italy in 1915 with Pirandello’s novel Shoot!. The second is his first fully achieved minor masterpiece and a landmark in Italian cinema.

City Girl
FW Murnau, 1929; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Murnau directed three silent movies in Hollywood before making Tabu, his only sound film. Everyone knows Sunrise. Four Devils has totally disappeared. The third, City Girl, in this restored silent version (as opposed to the re-edited semi-sound one Murnau disowned) is an entrancing slice of pastoral realism that had a considerable influence on Malick’s Days of Heaven.

A High Wind in Jamaica
Alexander Mackendrick, 1965; Eureka Classics, DVD

Mackendrick only completed four films after leaving Ealing in the mid-50s, two of them classics. One is the universally recognised Sweet Smell of Success, the other this rarely revived adaptation of Richard Hughes’s great novel of 1949. A flawed masterpiece, it continues Mackendrick’s fascination with the dangerous (in this case fatal) effects of innocence, and features several of his finest sequences.

Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vols 1 & 2
1970-91; Artificial Eye, DVD

Except for The Travelling Players, the currently neglected Angelopoulos has never found a large following outside the most austere art houses in the English-speaking world. But the best works of this Greek master, among them Voyage to Cythera, The Beekeeper and Ulysses’ Gaze (his film to mark the centenary of cinema, which will be in Vol. 3) have a political seriousness, a despairing epic vision and a poetic power that every cinephile should experience.

Philip Horne
Critic, UK

Yasujiro Ozu collection

“Life’s disappointing, isn’t it?” (Tokyo Story). BFI Video’s ongoing Ozu Collection shows how true that is through Ozu’s calm, compassionate scrutiny of life’s little ironies. But it’s also evidence for the opposite view.

Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu seldom disappoint, nor does Ozu’s unfussy mastery – nor do these excellent dual-format issues.

Il Posto
Ermanno Olmi, 1961; Mr Bongo, DVD

In a not-dissimilar register, Ermanno Olmi’s touching, beautifully observed second feature Il Posto (The Job, 1961), which finally got a British release from Mr Bongo, follows an innocent young man from the Milan suburbs as he joins a big company in the city. Olmi details the pointlessness and boredom of this Kafkaesque modern corporate workplace with grotesque and rueful comedy.

Lee Chang-dong, 2010; Arrow Films, DVD

Equally gentle, South Korean Lee Chang-dong’s startlingly wonderful Poetry manages to make a grandmother with incipient Alzheimer’s enrolling in a poetry class and forced to investigate the suicide of a local schoolgirl the basis of a magnificently stirring elegiac drama. Veteran Yun Jung-hee’s lead performance is miraculous.

The Tiger of Eschnapur / The Indian Tomb
Fritz Lang, 1921; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, DVD

Having seen one of cinema’s most marvellous oddities, Fritz Lang’s late colour two-parter The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959), on TV as a teenager, I anticipated disappointment on finally seeing them again on DVDs from Eureka/Masters of Cinema – but was once again spellbound. This exotic double-headed epic of jealousy and fate, combining dazzling Indian locations and labyrinthine studio-confected caverns and temples, unforgettably evokes a neverworld of jodhpurs, scimitars, lepers and crocodiles, not to mention Debra Paget’s seethingly erotic dancing. They’re so luridly intense you wonder if you’re asleep and dreaming them.

The Cranes Are Flying
Mikhail Kalatazov, 1957; Artificial Eye, DVD

I’d also seen Mikhail Kalatazov’s 1957 The Cranes Are Flying long ago, but forgotten how this deliriously romantic no-expense-spared story of love and war is studded with jaw-droppingly virtuoso one-take sequences. Elaborate handheld-camera choreographics somehow turn into soaring crane shots without a cut.

The Travelling Players (1975)

The Travelling Players (1975)

David Jenkins
Time Out London, UK

Park Row
Samuel Fuller, 1952; MGM (USA Region 1 DVD)

What better pick for 2011 than a whirlwind psychodrama about rival newspapers? Fuller’s personally-funded labour-of-love is a film that encapsulates the nervous exhilaration of seeing your first big scoop rolling off the printing press. Offering a turbulent creation myth for American tabloid journalism, remove the linotypes, stogies and stovepipe hats and what remains is a howling plea for truth, integrity and creative endeavour. Journos, bloggers, critics, commentators and newshounds should all see this brilliant movie.

Colossal Youth
Pedro Costa, 2006; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, DVD

I saw this at the 2006 London Film Festival and was utterly baffled. Returning to it five years down the line (having caught up with a few other Costa masterworks), it not only makes a lot more sense, but has blossomed into surely one of the most provocative, stimulating, articulate and humane pieces of film poetry produced this century. And it retains a wicked sense of humour, too.

Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vols 1-3
1970-2009; Artificial Eye, DVD

Possibly not the ideal medium to experience these monolithic films, but it’s better than nothing, eh? Reason enough to buy a massive TV.

Zoltán Huszárik, 1971; Second Run, DVD

The imprint in which I place the most trust to deliver leftfield surprises came up with a glistening jewel in Szindbád, the ornate, time-switching tale of a gourmand/bounder/ice-dancer who recalls the many loves of his life from his deathbed. Has a director ever managed to make bone-marrow gelatine look so erotic?

The Makioka Sisters
Kon Ichikawa, 1983; Criterion (USA), DVD

Set in 1930s Osaka, Kon’s insouciantly plush melo explores stilted marriage rituals, modernisation, unspoken gender wars and the preservation of family values without ever making you think “Ozu could’ve done this better.” It’s that good.

Trevor Johnston
Critic, UK

Given that the DVD and Blu-ray release schedules continue to be seductive, educational and wallet-threatening on a monthly basis, assembling a useful top five for 2011 seems a pretty quixotic errand. The criteria can be as personal as you like, says the editor, so here goes.

Silent Running
Douglas Trumbull, 1971; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Of the various titles I’ve reviewed in these pages, there was definitely a special frisson in reacquainting myself with Douglas Trumbull’s eco-friendly orbital chamber drama Silent Running on Blu-ray, a brilliantly-designed fable that’s lost none of its relevance in the 40 years since its initial release. Once a regular in UK broadcast schedules, it somehow fell off the radar in recent years.

Another couple of choices highlight titles which don’t have the currency in these parts that they deserve.

La signora senza camelie / Le Amiche
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953/55; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, dual format

Great that Antonioni’s 1955 Le Amiche is now available in a splendid dual-format restoration, since this ensemble drama from a female perspective certainly lays the aesthetic template for the Italian’s subsequent achievements.

Plae Flower
Masahiro Shinoda, 1964; Criterion, Blu-ray

Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower combines 60s Japanese existential noir, a striking Toru Takemitsu score, and black-and-white Scope to deliver… pretty much the coolest thing ever.

The Crowded Day
John Guillermin, 1954; BFI, dual-format

Of course, none of us exist solely on a diet of canonical classics; there’s also what the critical fraternity technically refer to as “stuff I just like watching”, into which category falls John Guillermin’s 1954 department-store soaper The Crowded Day (BFI dual-format), with a cast of homegrown notables on delightful form.

One final goodie to flag up: even though Third Window’s Region 2 DVD of Oasis was actually released in 2009, Poetry maestro Lee Chang-Dong’s social-misfit love story was the most affecting film I watched at home last year. Do catch up with it.

Tim Lucas
Video Watchdog, USA

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970; BFI Flipside, dual format

Consolidated in one handsome, two-disc dual-format package (three discs, for those lucky enough to snag the limited edition), Deep End provided the year’s most thrilling rediscovery, its most welcome restoration and its most satisfying array of supplements. Less than two years ago the film played on US television in such woeful condition I feared for its survival. Its meticulous digital cleaning here reveals a film needless of further rejuvenation; it remains as suspenseful, playful and erotic as ever it was, and the protagonist’s yearning, fantasy-minded disconnection the seems if anything more representative of today’s technologically detached youth than of the teenagers of its own time.

Robert Fisher’s making-of documentary Starting Over delivers everything the film’s most ardent fans might wish in terms of a careful, attentive and wryly humorous recounting of the production, and reuniting stars Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown in the same Munich theatre where they once groped their way to a first kiss somehow brings their indelible characters the happier closure they always deserved.

Andrzej Zulawski, 1996; Mondo Vision (USA), DVD

Not to focus solely on black comedies by Polish writer-directors, but also qualifying for this list is another sumptuous release. An extraordinary companion piece to his recently revived Possession, it’s the story of an archaeologist’s exalting and exhausting affair with a brain-eating she-shaman, played by the remarkable Iwona Petry. Denied English-language theatrical issue, it has only ever been available to English audiences as a crudely subtitled Russian import, but that version lacked the Polish soundtrack restored to this definitive set.

Radley Metzger’s Erotica Psychedelica
(Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet, Score)
1969-72; Cult Epics (USA), Blu-ray

Another restoration of at least equal importance, this limited-edition box set exhumes Metzger’s The Lickerish Quartet, Camille 2000 and Score from the analogue dullness which has inhibited their charms since the dawn of home video. The box includes an exclusive soundtrack CD and each disc, also available individually, is loaded with outtakes and behind-the-scenes content. Camille 2000, the real gem of the set, is also offered in an extended edition.

Finally, the Blu-ray releases of the Ray Harryhausen adventure Mysterious Island (Twilight Time, with an isolated Bernard Herrmann score) and Stanley Kubrick’s long-awaited Barry Lyndon rate special mention as throwbacks to, in the former instance, a children’s matinee where I discovered my sense of wonder, and one of the richest movie-going experiences of my adult life in the latter.

Henry K. Miller
Critic, UK

There is no obvious reason why Community, which at its brilliant best is the best sitcom since Party Down, isn’t on normal TV, but at least season one is on Region 2 DVD now. (Party Down, which only lasted till season two, is Region 1 only.)

Justified, the best US drama since Breaking Bad, is on normal TV, but I caught up with it on DVD.

Closer to home, they re-released the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy packaged with Smiley’s People to coincide with Tomas Alfredson’s pretty, vacant ‘big screen’ version. (Why does it take half the movie before Smiley interviews Tarr? The film makes everyone look incompetent. Also, “the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt”? No, that’s not right at all.)

Actual films-wise, you could do a lot worse than the BFI’s ‘The Soviet Influence: From Turksib To Night Mail’.

On a similar-ish tip, kudos to Optimum for including Cavalcanti’s fascinating propaganda short Yellow Caesar with the indispensable Went The Day Well?

Mehelli Modi
Second Run DVD, UK

I had to decide on criteria which would allow me to narrow the amazingly varied releases this year into just five discs. One of the major benefits that DVDs have given to all of us is the ability, through the judicious use of ‘collections’ and/or additional ‘special features’, to appreciate the context around the films, the reasons for their importance and the ability to dip back in for continued pleasure.

Therefore, in alphabetical order, five releases that I happily dip back into:

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story
(Head, Easy Rider; Five Easy Pieces; Drive, He Said; A Safe Place; The Last Picture Show; The King of Marvin Gardens)
Various directors, 1968-1972; Criterion (USA), DVD and Blu-ray

All produced by one company, set up by Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, and kick-started by the money earned from the success of The Monkees’ TV show! Incredible. Now given extra poignancy by the very recent death of Bert Schneider.

Svend Gade & Heinz Schall, Germany, 1921; Edition Filmmuseum (Germany), DVD

A female Hamlet! Asta Nielsen, one of the greatest stars of the silent era. Fascinating, very entertaining, all-round marvellous release. With superb special features, including the 1913 short film Die Filmprimadonna also with Asta Nielsen.

Ne change rien
Pedro Costa, Portugal, 2009; Midas Filmes (Portugal), DVD

Enveloped by image and sound in a dark theatre… that’s the abiding memory from my first viewing of Costa’s beautiful black-and-white film about singer/actress Jeanne Balibar and the creative process. And I keep dipping back into the disc for its many extras.

Nostalgia for the Light
Patricio Guzmán, Chile, 2010; Icarus Films (USA), DVD

Strange, poetic, moving, meditative, metaphysical, unpretentious – a stunning work from the maker of the great Battle of Chile.

Radu Muntean: Three Films
(Tuesday, after Christmas; Boogie; The Paper Will Be Blue)
Romania, 2010-2006; Voodoo Films (Romania), DVD

I saw Tuesday, after Christmas at the 2010 Leeds Film Festival and immediately needed to seek out the rest of Muntean’s work. Tuesday chronicles the fallout from a classic love triangle – it’s a universal tale driven by amazing words and performances.

Szindbád (1972)

Szindbád (1972)

Jon Robertson
Masters of Cinema, UK

Despite endless speculation on the end of physical media, an unexpected development is that the major studios are opening their vaults to smaller companies in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Laserdisc era. Here’s hoping in 2012 we see even more amazing titles previously kept under lock and key, or not quite given their due treatment in the past.

The Great White Silence
Herbert Ponting, 1924; BFI, dual format

To come face-to-face with footage from a historical event that’s almost passed into myth is utterly extraordinary. Truly awe-inspiring, as both film and presentation. Probably the most significant Blu-ray yet released.

Luchino Visconti, 1954; Criterion (USA), DVD and Blu-ray

A definitive Blu-ray edition of a much-abused and under-appreciated classic. This gorgeous release, taken from the Film Foundation restoration with exceptional supplements both new and archival, is something to revel in, especially in how it outlines Visconti’s mastery of multiple mediums and how that in turn informed his filmmaking.

Jules Dassin, 1955; Arrow Academy, Blu-ray

Arrow’s Blu-ray reissue has one of the most astonishing transfers I’ve seen of any classic title. Two delightful interviews with the much-missed Jules Dassin headline an excellent batch of supporting materials.

Francesco Rosi, 1984; Second Sight, Blu-ray

A joyously vivid and sensual work from Rosi, immaculately restored to Blu-ray. There’s more sheer pleasure on offer here than almost any other disc this year.

Joe Dante, 1993; Carlotta (France), Blu-ray

Despite Hugo, Super 8 and Cinema Paradiso, Joe Dante’s richly nuanced tribute to the last great era of movie showmanship remains the best film about juvenile cinephilia ever made. Carlotta’s Blu-ray special edition treatment is a blessing (though you’ll find it under the French title Panic sur Florida Beach).

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Critic, USA

Five overlooked DVD releases, listed alphabetically:

By the Bluest of Seas
Boris Barnet, 1935; Ruscico (Russia), DVD

Available with English subtitles from* (if you can get through the most intractable and dysfunctional website ever devised).

* Editor’s note: ‘By the Bluest of Seas’ is now also available in a ‘Hyperkino’ edition from MovieMail in the UK.

The Hunter
Rafi Pitts, 2010; Artificial Eye, DVD

I still haven’t caught up with Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, but Pitts’ feature is the most interesting new Iranian film I’ve seen in years.

Peter Thompson, 2009; DVD

Available with multiple and fascinating extras from Thompson’s own web site at

Promised Lands
Susan Sontag, 1974; Zeitgeist, Kim Stim (USA), DVD

Sontag’s only documentary, and the only one of her films available on DVD.

Red Psalm
Miklós Jancsó, 1972; Second Run, DVD

Sukhdev Sandhu
Critic, UK/USA

It feels strange thinking about DVDs. Like CDs they still exist, but they feel increasingly obsolescent, transitional media, near-helpless in the face of file-sharing, digital channels, online-streaming. Buying Criterion or BFI titles is like buying deluxe vinyl, a limited-edition art print, a fancy piece of furniture: they’re markers of social distinction, haut-accumulation. I hardly ever watch them. That said…

Chronicle of Protest
Michael Chanan, 2011, UK; from

Michael Chanan’s film is an invigorating document that captures the sudden eruption of protest against the government’s efforts to decimate British higher education. Closer to Mike Dibb’s Fringe Benefits (1980) than to the more experimental likes of Godard’s British Sounds (1969) or Patricia Holland’s The Hornsey Film (1970), it displays a Newsreel-like energy and anticipates the social catalytics of the global Occupy movement.

Hype Williams — 2008 / 2011
Hundebiss, VHS

Wrapped in a box that reproduces the cover of a porno version of The Cosby Show, this 33-minute, VHS-only collection of videos by the British duo Hype Williams is smeary, ghost-churned, seductively opaque – just like the music.

John Smith 3
1975-2007; Lux, DVD

Structuralism has never been so witty, moving or tenderly insidious as in this beautifully-packaged 3-DVD collection.

Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow
Various directors, 1912-2002; BFI, DVD

There was a time when documenting British urban space seemed a radical project; these days you can’t move through most cities for the scrum of half-pint psychogeographers and would-be metro-hackers. This collection, a great companion to Rob Young’s Electric Eden book and the recent issue of Philip Trevelyan’s The Moon and the Sledgehammer (1971), is a teeming collection of folk traditions, rural rituals and eldritch ‘pastoralia’.

Michael Sarne, 1968; BFI, DVD

Mainly for the inclusion of Death May Be Your Santa Claus (1968), long-considered the Holy Grail for those interested in the alternative canon of ‘black British’ cinema, and a wiggy treatment of what Kodwo Eshun in his booklet essay characterises as “themes of psychic vampirism, castration anxiety and soul fusion”.

Virginie Sélavy
Electric Sheep, UK

The Colour of Pomegranates
Sergei Parajanov, 1968; Second Sight, DVD

Released by Second Sight in an informative ‘Special Edition’, Sergei Parajanov’s magical, beautiful film conjures up the world of 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova through a series of elliptical, dreamlike tableaux, their visual splendour punctuated by outbursts of violence. The baroque and sensual mix of colours and textures weaves a rich mystery that promises to deliver more arcane treasures with each new viewing.

Jan Svankmajer, 1988; BFI, dual format

Svankmajer’s Alice remains one of the most wonderfully inventive and perceptive takes on Lewis Carroll’s tale, putting to shame the literal-minded surrealism of a Tim Burton. Through a mixture of live action and animation, Alice sketches a childhood world full of obscure threats and intimations of violence, where boundaries between animate and inanimate shift constantly and disconcertingly. The finely packaged BFI DVD features great extras, including the 1903 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and two Quay Brothers music films.

Imamura Shohei releases
1962/67/83; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, dual format

Eureka are to be lauded for gradually making the work of Japanese master Imamura available on home video in the UK over the last few years. 2011 saw the release of Pigs and Battleships (a rowdy, exuberant portrayal of crooks and prostitutes in post-war Japan), the Palme d’Or-winning Ballad of Narayama (an astonishingly frank tale of sex and death in a remote rural village) and the innovative, playfully self-referential fake documentary A Man Vanishes, a landmark of 60s Japanese cinema previously unavailable on DVD in the UK.

Touch of Evil (1958)

Touch of Evil (1958)

Francesco Simeoni
Arrow Films, UK

With VOD and other digital platforms becoming so important it’s wonderful to see brilliant editions of previously unavailable or neglected films, packed with love and attention, continue to be released. For me, with seemingly so many familiar films becoming available again in another format or edition it felt like the best release couldn’t always be what simply hadn’t been there before but a package as a whole that was so good I couldn’t resist it, even if I had owned it three times before. This, I think, is the challenge in making truly great DVDs and Blu-rays. Were it purely about what was previously unavailable I might have focused on some nice little releases from Odeon Entertainment, but what’s great about owning a physical product is the trimmings, the bells and whistles, what you can’t get in a download or on TV. Whilst I had previously seen the films on nearly all this year’s best DVDs and Blu-rays, these were the packages that stood out for me.

Blow Out
Brian De Palma, 1981; Criterion (USA), DVD and Blu-ray

Blow Out was a particular highlight this year, presenting what is probably De Palma’s best film gorgeously but also adding his early feature Murder a la Mod (in HD!) as well as numerous extras.

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, 1971; BFI Flipside, dual format

The BFI continued to make the Flipside one of the most exciting labels around, and the key release was Jerzy Skolimowoski’s Deep End (nicely complemented by the Artificial Eye release this year of the Polish director’s most recent feature Essential Killing). Great presentation and extras made it one of the treats of the year.

Touch of Evil
Orson Welles, 1958; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Blu-ray

Masters of Cinema made some great releases this year (had I had more choices I’d no doubt have included their Imamura releases) but the sheer wealth of content in their stunning Touch of Evil release singled it out.

Santa Sangre
Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989; Severin Films, Blu-ray

Whilst previously given a strong release from Anchor Bay in the UK, Santa Sangre was buffed up in HD by Severin with a lovely transfer and enough special features to keep even the die-hard Jodorowsky fan going.

Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese, 1976; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Blu-ray

Unusually attractive for a studio product, this release was physically pleasing as well as containing a stunning 4k restoration and extensive extras.

Kate Stables
Critic, UK

L’Âge d’Or
Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali, 1930; BFI, dual format

Robert Short’s essay and audio commentaries (for Un Chien Andalou, so crammed with insights that it ran three minutes longer than the film) create an invaluable screen-studies scaffolding for these Surrealist masterpieces. His expert unpicking of L’Âge d’Or gave this hallowed offering back its blasphemous sting, on top of its outrageous beauty.

West Side Story
Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961; Twentieth Century Fox, Blu-ray

The colours sing as loudly as the (dubbed) leads, in this tip-top Blu-ray reissue. Expert explanations by cast and creators of the genesis and execution of famous scenes, made me reappraise everything from Sondheim’s lyrics to George Chakiris’s shirts. For once, the extras absolutely repaid close concentration. There’s a significant transfer flub in the opening credits that causes a sharp intake of breath though, so wait for Fox to correct it.

The Great White Silence
Herbert Ponting, 1924; BFI, dual format

A revelation. Ponting’s breathtaking and poignant account of Scott’s South Pole expedition is equal parts lantern-lecture, home-movie, nature-study, ripping yarn, and memorial. And so beautiful to boot in hi-definition, boasting images of startling clarity and surreally pastel-tinted icebergs and gales. Best of all, you get both silent and sound versions, with 90 Degrees South including Ponting’s own commentary.

The Ark
Molly Dineen, 1993; BFI, DVD

With its slow-burn unfolding of the London Zoo crisis of 1991 encompassing everything from Thatcherism, the ethics of captive breeding programmes, and whether pandas are a marketing bust (’They are crepuscular animals!’), this understated but searching four hour story of an institution brought home what’s missing from today’s Big Fat Sensation Obsessed documentary culture…

Lee Chang-Dong, 2010; Arrow Films, DVD

Calm, compassionate, and mercilessly acute about both Korean society and the human condition, Lee Chang-Dong’s film opens up its world to close scrutiny, with enviable carefulness. Yun Jung-hee’s portrayal of a woman trying to find the words to make poetry and bring out a terrible truth, has steel beneath its fluttery docility.

Brad Stevens
Critic, UK

Despite the increasing number of voices eager to declare the DVD format dead, especially as far as non-mainstream titles are concerned, it was impossible to keep up with everything of interest released in 2011. The highlights for me were as follows:

Road to Nowhere
Monte Hellman, 2011; Monterey, DVD and Blu-ray

Predictably receiving only the most perfunctory of US theatrical releases, and still unseen in the UK, Monte Hellman’s first feature in two decades is a treat for cinephiles. Monterey’s Blu-ray and standard discs are disappointing in terms of extras – the making-of documentary on the standard edition is missing from the Blu-ray, though promised on the packaging, and this is one film that cries out for a commentary track – but the transfer is flawless. This is a film we will still be discussing long after those flashier works currently attracting critical attention and widespread distribution have been forgotten.

Silent Naruse
Naruse Mikio, 1931-34; Criterion/Eclipse (USA), DVD

Following on from the box sets released by Masters of Cinema and the BFI, Criterion/Eclipse’s welcome release of Naruse’s entire body of work from the silent era provides more overdue exposure to a director who increasingly looks like one of the most important names in world cinema.

The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol. 1
1970-91; Artificial Eye, DVD

My favourite UK release of the year is all the more welcome for being the first of three box sets containing all of Angelopoulos’s theatrical features.

La signora senza camelie and Le Amiche
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953/55; Eureka/Masters of Cinema, dual format

Masters of Cinema remain the UK’s most important arthouse label. Of the embarrassment of riches they brought us in 2011, their releases of these two early Antonioni titles were especially welcome.

Films by Dario Argento
(The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tails, Deep Red, Inferno, Phenomena, Tenebrae; Giallo)
1970-2009; Arrow, Blu-ray / Lionsgate, DVD

Arrow’s splendid Blu-ray releases finally provided us with definitive, uncut transfers of Dario Argento’s back-catalogue, while Lionsgate’s barebones disc of Giallo enabled British viewers to discover a film which, despite the abuse thrown at it by the director’s former admirers, is among his richest and most challenging works.

Gary Tooze
DVD Beaver, USA

A decent, although not stellar year for digital releases. I remain most captivated by Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life – which looks and sounds astounding on Blu-ray.

We can thank Criterion and Artificial Eye for bringing Kielowski’s monumental Three Colours Trilogy to 1080p status.

I enjoyed seeing Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff via Blu-ray and silent classics like Jean Epstein’s Cœur fidèle in the new format from Masters of Cinema.

Criterion’s edition of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men established further appreciation for the film with the extensive supplements included in the hi-def package.

Nick Wrigley
Masters of Cinema, UK

2011 has been astonishing in every way; I only wish I’d got through more. 99 per cent of the films I see are viewed at home (because I live in deepest Lancashire) so I have a very unhealthy love for all well-made Blu-rays (ie those that embrace film grain, not those scrubbed to an inauthentic digital mess or with faux grain).

Labels dipping their toe in the Blu-ray pond for the first time (New Wave Films, Flicker Alley, Park Circus, Cinema Guild) as well as stalwarts (Kino, Carlotta, Arrow, Artificial Eye, StudioCanal and the BFI) have all been heartily pushing Blu-ray with mostly incredible results. And as usual Criterion Blu-rays (Sweet Smell of Success, Kiss Me Deadly, etc) completely floored me. Every year they seem to get better: it’s a phenomenal imprint. I don’t know what I’d do without a multi-region Blu-ray player.

I couldn’t believe how good French Cancan (BFI Blu-ray) looked, nor Rififi (Arrow Blu-ray) and Boudu Saved From Drowning (Park Circus Blu-ray). Oddest, most disturbing was Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (BFI Flipside Blu-ray), the ending of which, and the early-1970s Oldham locations, still haunt me. I haven’t yet seen Artificial Eye’s Certified Copy Blu-ray, but am busting to view it… and a huge pile of others. Gah!

All year I’ve been unfairly side-stepping lots of wonderful DVD-only releases. I keep hearing about, and will be catching up with, Chaplin at Keystone (Flicker Alley / BFI). Second Run, one of the most fearless and exciting labels in the world, thankfully continue to release more Jancsó. Red Psalm was great to see again (looking the best it’s ever done) and being able to see Szindbád in a lovely edition, with tight subtitles, was a real joy.

I know I’ve forgotten some great editions (I should take notes throughout the year to make this a lot easier). Of those I can remember right now, these are the Blu-rays that thrilled me the most in 2011:

Henry-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (L’enfer)
Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea, 2009; Flicker Alley (USA), dual format

I saw the Flicker Alley Blu-ray (unfortunately it’s only available on DVD in the UK). Gasp at what could have been if Clouzot’s insomnia and a heart attack hadn’t prevented him from completing this mesmerising work.

Road to Nowhere
Monte Hellman, 2010; Monterey Video, US Blu-ray

Working with Monte Hellman this year (on MoC’s Blu-ray of Two-Lane Blacktop) was a rare treat, and it happily coincided with the release of his new film, which took us all by surprise in the very best way.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, 2011; Fox, Blu-ray

I fall into the ‘unconditional love’ camp and couldn’t believe how great this film was. Goose bumps on top of goose bumps.

The Music Room
Satyajit Ray, 1958; Criterion (USA), Blu-ray

Releasing this on Blu-ray was an object lesson in how to deal with beautiful films that still might not be in the best shape. Magic – and with Shyam Benegal’s lovely documentary too.

The Killing / Killer’s Kiss
Stanley Kubrick, 1956; Criterion, Blu-ray

A blisteringly great edition; the Sterling Hayden interview alone is one for the ages. After Criterion’s Paths Of Glory Blu-ray last year, and the Taschen Napoleon book, I’ve been “like a pig in shit”.

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