Full transparency: all Blu-rays reviewed were provided by Fun City Editions, Arrow Video, MVD, Kino Lorber, and Criterion.
Well, folks, things have heated up considerably since I started doing these reviews last fall. I’ve reached out to so many great distributors and all of them have been kind, helpful, and generous with what they allow access to and there are some genuinely amazing new discoveries this past month.
Joining the round-up we have Arrow Video with its release of post-war Japanese New Wave director Yasuzo Masumura’s cult satire Giant and Toys, a movie about avarice and the water/vinegar mix of western influence on Japanese salaryman culture. In association with Arrow, MVD’s “Rewind Collection” has put out an extended director’s cut of a 1997 Hong Kong action-cinema-inspired barnburner, Drive. Criterion comes in strong with its own underrated film in the Tyrone Power carny-noir Nightmare Alley, based off of the controversial and extremely racy novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. Fun City Editions returns this month with a little seen Robert Forster/Nancy Kwan two-hander called Walking the Edge, a low-budget and slick-sounding neo-noir and revenge film.
However, our main segment focuses on two art-centric docs released by Kino Lorber: the impassioned and red-hot Chris McKim documentary about queer East Village artist David Wojnarowicz, Wojanrowicz: F**k You You F*ggot F**ker, as well as the more whimsical and pragmatic look into graphic artist M.C. Escher’s process, life, and dreams with M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity. Joining me for that segment will be the lovely and engaging new Operations and Visual Arts Manager at the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation, Amanda Hutchins!
Honestly, May has probably been the most interesting month to date, filled with movies packing much style, heft, and aesthetic. Give it a listen and I’m sure you’ll find something to watch while the cicadas hum in the background as spring winds down and summer starts peeking its head through.
Also out this month…
Kino Lorber has put out two films that I think deserve some attention. The first being…
Stories about found family through adversity and social status will always have a special place in my heart. They’re stories about how we as humans will not only set aside our minor differences in order to lift each other up and support each other when the social odds are not in our favor, but how we find those connections that run as deep as an ocean trench, connections that result in relationships which transcend whatever the “normal” make-up of what a family is. Here stands Madame Rosa, a film that stars a fully transformed Simone Signoret (who you may best remember from Room at the Top, Army of Shadows, and Diabolique), playing a French-Jewish Holocaust survivor and former sex worker who now runs a boarding house for the unwanted children of other sex workers. One child in particular, an Algerian boy nicknamed Momo (played by Samy Ben Youb), develops a close relationship with Madame Rosa despite the ever-churning and ever-escalating Arab-Israeli conflict and the post-war stigma still held against both Jews and Arabs.
The film itself starts off nearly episodic, with director Moshe Mizrahi taking you through Madame Rosa’s routine and the colorful cast of characters, including a stable of charming and adorable children who are never played as jokes but also never played to be pitied. Some are a bit too young to fully comprehend their situation in life but Madame Rosa is a woman who won’t sugarcoat things. Life has been incredibly difficult for her, but she’s a survivor and the best she can do is give these kids a fighting chance at a future. As the movie progresses, however, it becomes more about Madame Rosa’s declining health and the relationship she develops with Momo. At the time of release, this was and is still seen as an allegory for the Arab-Israeli conflict and while that’s certainly a good read, it transcends that by having the film shift to Momo’s coming-of-age story of taking care of a woman who is a little less than a mother and much more than a caretaker and how that clashes with their perceived identities. Winner of the 1978 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Madame Rosa is a softly sweet and moving movie that has obvious relevance to what is still happening in the world, but it’s a nice reminder how relationships can grow from something hard and impersonal into something with depth.
Madame Rosa is available through Kino Lorber.
In 1972, days after being labeled with the moniker “Hanoi Jane” by the western media, F.T.A. was a box-office dud. Pulled from theaters after a week (it largely suspected that government intervention was at play — see pages 131 to 132) and made with $5 and a prayer, F.T.A. is a lost anti-war USO tour doc featuring the talents of folk singer Len Chandler, the recently late but always great Paul Mooney, Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, and a host of other friendly faces performing for crowds of anti-Vietnam War soldiers and conscientious objectors. The film chronicles this mix of A-list celebs, Hollywood leftists, and musicians doing stops across Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines to promote and lend a voice to the growing anti-Vietnam War sentiment that had been spreading at the time by doing a variety show, complete with sing-alongs like the titular “F.T.A.” (“F**k the Army”), vaudevillian sketches about the ineptitude of those in charge of the military, songs about misogyny and abuse women experience within the military, reading from Dalton Trumbo, stand-up comedy, and more. It’s a raw labor of love and defiance from Fonda and Co.
I single out Jane Fonda because so much of the narrative of her career has centered around her leftist politics, how outspoken she was and continues to be about the American government and its criminal treatment of its own citizens and abroad, and how much it impacted the American perception of her as a star. Luckily, time and changing attitudes has proven her right, so the emergence of a film like this adds to her legacy. Yes, the film is rough around the edges, but as a document of a time where the people on the ground talked about their war experience and the performers actually took the time to get their hands dirty to spread awareness, it’s a welcome rawness. There’s a whole sequence with pro-war vets disrupting the show and you see how Donald Sutherland and the crowd react to such a situation. It paints a picture of a vocal minority there to disrupt a gathering of people fighting or even just commiserating around something they see as unfair and unjust. As with a lot of things from the late 20th century, it’s woefully relevant in the 21st.
The film features a brand-new and in-depth introduction by Jane Fonda herself as well as an interview. There’s also another feature-length doc from director David Zeiger called Sir! No Sir! (2005) about the anti-war movement, which features footage used in F.T.A., as well as a couple of incredibly informative and contextual essays by David Cortight and Dr. Mark Shiel. Fonda threw her weight behind the equally as revelatory Nationtime for Kino Lorber a few months ago, so it’s nice that she continues her work in getting these movies about these not-as-distant-as-you-think events of the past and perpetually pertinent films about resistance and change to a larger audience than the ones that saw them upon release.
You can pick up F.T.A. from Kino Lorber.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.