Thanks for taking the time to read this! I’m excited to have been given the opportunity to get back to writing after a long hiatus. I am not going to get into the minutiae of who I am (you can read about that HERE, and some examples of previously written overviews HERE)- all you need to know initially is I’m a lifelong fan of movies with my tastes running to the niche that is best described as Psychotronic… and waves of thanks to Michael Weldon for coining that appropriate phrase. So- here we go…
Looking Back At ‘Out of Print’
This Weeks’ Pick- Often you’ll hear about someone creating a work and it being labeled “A Valentine to..” but for the title that I’m about to cover it seems like the ideal starting place, because “Out of Print” is just that- inside and out. The young lady who crafted this documentary (Julia Marchese) not only raised the funds via Kickstarter way back in 2012 to get this made, but assembled the deep well of knowledgeable interviewees and, most important to the story being told here, lived the life depicted.
“Out of Print” calls attention to the incredibly quickly dying format that is 35mm theatrical prints and how they are being overtaken by digital projection- all done by conveying an oral history of one of the last bastions of true celluloid revival houses still in the country; the “New Beverly Cinema” in Los Angeles. Julia first became aware of this unique single-screen repertoire house as a voracious movie fan and then, after YEARS of badgering of the small staff, became an employee there. Within this framework, she tells the story of the history of the building and its unique programming through the keepers-of-the-guard working at the cinema, as well as industry heavyweights; from performers (Clu Gulager; Patton Oswalt) to directors (Edgar Wright; Joe Dante; Stuart Gordon; Kevin Smith) who still make the pilgrimage to feed on what make them make the movies they still are involved in, as well as explaining WHY physical film should not only still thrive to be a viable option to the industry that has quickly turned to bits & bytes to deliver its precious content.
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Yes – it is a romanticized vision of a perfect movie-going utopia; piracy runs rampant and with hundreds of millions on the line for the blockbuster the checkwriters need to couch their investment in the most cautious of ways, but all the film maker wants is more of a choice (a sentiment that is repeatedly echoed throughout by the sterling commentaries on display). Watching this as far-from-the-average moviegoing viewer I am already sold on the arguments made- what I would be most interested in would be how the casual filmgoer would respond to the message, and if the pointed storytelling would make a difference to them.
The film has been very well crafted; shot on 35mm in a clear and crisp style, belying its’ grass roots production- when you hear of examples of “all the money was put on the screen” this is such an example. Colors are natural and smooth, as would be expected of a true-life documentary made on decent film stock. Audio is a Dolby 5.1 mix and, again, not flashy but sonically clean. A nice touch is original music, supplied by Peter Marchese that underlines and punctuates as the film dictates- what a good musical score is supposed to do.
For some reason, there are a multitude of “Special Features” on the disc that aren’t even mentioned on the packaging- an oversight that I hope is corrected by any additional pressings or possibly a blu-ray release. Navigate throught the simple menu and first up is a 2:33 trailer for the film and close to 4 minutes of outtakes/flubs- basically an extension of the closing credits. Next is a nice touch bonus- “Dream Double Feature” askes most of the participants what would their ideal pairing of movies to be screened be; it gets pretty “inside baseball” with some of the selections, but isn’t that the point of turning people on to something they hadn’t seen before? Another cool short segment is the 3:15 “If Directors Were Starting Out Today?” which hits up a few old-school directors talking about the trials they endured having to physically manipulate actual film as opposed to the relative ease of shooting and cutting digitally today- fairly obvious but still a good inclusion. What follows next is a good counter-point to the previous segment: “Shooting on Film”, a 6:53 piece expounding the visions told better in true emulsion form and telling of the true romance of storytelling in the older medium. Except for a few trailers for other “Level 33” productions is a behind-the-scenes- still gallery playing out a little over 2 minutes. I would have loved a Commentary by Julia outlining the whole project making process or at the very least a “Making of” as a separate feature itself- she is bubbly and vivacious and her enthusiasm would have brought this disc up an extra notch, but I guess that would have to fall into wishful thinking… what is included is strong and nice touches to an already stellar presentation.
As with a substantial portion of all love stories, this one ended personally heartbreaking for the storyteller herself- I would direct you to Julia’s blog to read about the bitter and acrimonious ending of her association with the theater (production of “Out of Print” had wrapped after an ownership takeover and The New Beverly became mired in some management woes); but as all film is a slice of “then and there” the story on display is full of heart and wonder and I couldn’t recommend viewing this highly enough. I would love to see Julia work on another project soon as she had a real feel and talent, though I can’t picture it having the life-long passion that is on display here. As of this writing it is streaming on Netflix, but you would do yourself better service by getting a DVD copy and devouring the full contents and then share viewing with others- make this the beloved dog-eared book you passed around in college.
Retro Release- When someone mentions “Manos- The Hands of Fate” inevitably the first thing uttered along with that worst-of-the-worst movie title is the memorable MST3K episode that rediscovered this terrible flick. With its major exposure to those that would have otherwise never watched it, “Manos” has become shorthand for the nadir of filmmaking.
“Manos” has been lovingly (if not necessarily MISGUIDEDLY) remastered and restored in a blu-ray release, one that some might say is undeserving of a $20,000 El Paso, Texas lensed movie made by a once (and future) fertilizer salesman & one that has lapsed into public domain. Benjamin Solovey had discovered a workprint of the film a few years back and made it his mission to release (or, more appropriately, unleash) the cleanest version possible. That a film that has looked as muddy as any, well, ever can be cleaned up to these results is truly a marvel. I won’t go into specifics into the storyline- the “lost family weekend” is easily viewable on countless platforms, so looking for plot points in this column will yield you nothing. If you are a fan then you know what’s going on and if you aren’t then I would recommend seeking an overview elsewhere.
The same atrocious acting, pace & story problems aren’t resolved by better visuals and audio, but it does (even without the “robot commentary”) make it a bit more accessible- in other words it probably won’t make converts of “Manos” haters, but it IS nice to have around. Nice touches are included as extras: Actor Tom Neyman (“The Master”) is joined by his real-life daughter Jackey, who played the horrendously-dubbed little girl Debbie for an audio commentary on the making-of the film. As Tom passed away late last year it is a nice inclusion (actors and crew left from the project are for the most part gone) & fortuitous that the disc assemblers were able to get him involved. Along with the commentary, included is a concise (30 minute) overview of the making-of entitled “Hands- The Fate of “Manos”“ overseen by Solovey- a basic oral history of the making, distribution and eventual revival of the film; a 6 minute segment covering the restoration process; a pretty useless 4 minute “Manos” re-enactment done in puppet form as well as a “grindhouse” version, which is the way every public domain DVD collections company sends out this title.
This title has been out for about 18 months now, but I bring it up to highlight a disturbing issue going on behind the scenes. Though “Manos- The Hands of Fate” fell into public domain in 1966, due to first-time director Hal Warren failing to secure any copyright notice for the film, Hal’s son Joe Warren is now trying to wrestle away control from the masses, even though that window has long been closed to anyone trying to secure those rights. After multiple (and failed) attempts to basically extort undeserved monies from those building on the “Manos” legend in the form of re-releases as the one reviewed here; sequels; written materials and such, the younger Warren is now trying to control the actual use of the name “Manos” for his own gain. This looks to be a protracted fight and one that could go either way. It is a shame that the Warren family no longer owns exclusive use of the film that they devoted their time and monies in to, but the law is the law and expired rights have befallen numerous small and big time producers and even Hollywood studios over the years, and an exception shouldn’t be made here. As George Romero wishes that his seminal classic “Night of the Living Dead” hadn’t fallen out of his controlling hands, it can also be looked at as if it hadn’t there is no way that it would be as widely regarded and viewed as if it has been to selective screenings- and “Manos” would be hamstrung similarly. I mean- do you REALLY think you would be as regarded had the public not had unlimited access to it?
Nope, not a chance.
Leaving Netflix Selection- “The Mirror” (UK 2014) is a sticky little movie about a haunted eBay purchase (aren’t MOST eBay purchases?!). The plot and setting is threadbare and the writing uninspired, but as an example of “found footage” flicks, you could do worse. Netflix is saying “goodbye” to “The Mirror” at the end of April 2017.