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2007 Gift Guide

Great DVDs for Every Taste and Budget

Gift ideas to bring smiles to cinephiles

The DVD set of the season—just out this week—is the monster box Ford at Fox (20th Century Fox). It’s the kind of comprehensive collection Hollywood studios rarely do, offering 24 feature films by legendary director John Ford, plus a new career-retrospective documentary, on 21 DVDs. The set comes with a deluxe hardcover book, previously unseen photos and lobby card reproductions. It lists for $299.99, but it is retailing at most outlets for around $200.

Ford began his career at Fox and worked there, on and off, through the early 1950s. Alongside well-known (and previously available) classics including My Darling Clementine and The Grapes of Wrath are a wealth of superb rarities: epic western The Iron Horse, in both the American and European release versions; the World War I dramas Four Sons and Pilgrimage; three surprisingly charming rural comedies starring Will Rogers; Drums Along the Mohawk, newly restored to its Technicolor glory; and the taut naval drama The Seas Beneath. If you’re a fan of the Duke, however, he’s absent—except for a bit part in the IRA drama Hangman’s House, the famous John Wayne/John Ford collaborations were all made at other studios.

There are other less pricey, but still terrific, gift sets for the cineastes on your list. Killer of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection (Milestone) pairs, on two discs, the recently restored theatrical release Killer of Sheep with two versions of Burnett’s 1984 feature My Brother’s Wedding, and four shorts. The Coen Brothers Gift Set (MGM/20th Century Fox) is the happy result of MGM distributing their video product through Fox, as the Coens made some of their best films for companies now controlled by these studios: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and Fargo. Last year’s release of four of Ernst Lubitsch’s German silent films sold so well that Kino on Video has just added a fifth, the hilarious 1920 comedy The Doll; it’s available separately or as part of the newly repackaged (and attractively priced) box Lubitsch in Berlin. And, in honor of his recent death, there is Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks (Criterion), which features brand-new transfers of Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring.

The masters of the box set, Warner Home Video, have released some uneven efforts of late. The new Leading Ladies Collection Vol. 2 is a real mixed bag; why, for example, represent Joanne Woodward with an oddball comedy (A Big Hand for the Little Lady) when the fascinating, Paul Newman-directed Rachel, Rachel sits in the Burbank vault? And, in the matter/anti-matter department, why pair Susan Hayward’s finely honed hysteria (I’ll Cry Tomorrow) with the method-acting quirkiness of Sandy Dennis (Up the Down Staircase) and Diane Keaton (Shoot the Moon)? Even less appealing is the Stanley Kubrick: Director’s Series set, which excludes the Warner-owned Barry Lyndon and Lolita in favor of The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut; you can at least buy 2001: A Space Odyssey separately.

On the other hand, the traditional Warner excellence is in evidence on The Jazz Singer 3-Disc Deluxe Edition, which offers the groundbreaking early sound film—with a magnificently restored soundtrack—and four hours of entertaining comedy and/or musical short films. And the Loony Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5 is, like the four previous sets, essential.

Of all the major studios, Paramount has, over the years, shown the least interest in releasing—and the least expertise in marketing—its older films. That changed a tiny bit this year with the Martin & Lewis Collection Vol. 2, and DVD reissues of Stanley Donen’s Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, and Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. The studio actually went back to the original VistaVision camera negatives to generate sharp widescreen transfers that glow with vibrant colors.

Two other classics that look better than ever are G.W. Pabst’s adaptation of Brecht-Weill’s The 3 Penny Opera (Criterion) and Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin: The Ultimate Edition (Kino). Both were restored by German experts in German archives, and anyone who only knows these films from the previously available crappy prints (with poorly translated subtitles and indifferent soundtracks) should check out these DVDs.

Finally, some 2007 releases already have received the deluxe treatment. Hot Fuzz: 3-Disc Collector’s Edition (Universal) makes this wonderfully violent action comedy available with a dizzying array of extras previously issued only in limited DVD editions. Hairspray: 2-Disc Shake & Shimmy Edition (New Line) is the perfect gift for the showtunes-loving teenager on your list. And Live Free or Die Hard: Unrated Edition (20th Century Fox) corrects the absurdity of the film being theatrically released in a PG-13 version; if Bruce Willis can’t yell “Yippie-ki-yea, motherfucker,” he’s not really John McClane.

—Shawn Stone


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