Combustible Celluloid

Digital Watch

DVDs from the Kobal Poll

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1988 I was a young film enthusiast with not much in the way of guidance. Fortunately for me, a book came out that changed my life. The historian John Kobal conducted an international poll of film critics, filmmakers and other people involved in the world of film, and constructed a book-length list of the 100 greatest films ever made.

The book arrived under my Christmas tree that year, and in the 15 years since, I've made an effort to see every one of the 100 films. Since some of them are irritatingly difficult to find, I'd only made it up to 76 as of a few weeks ago. But these five DVDs recently arrived and brought me up to 81. I'm in the home stretch!

#25: Tokyo Story (1953, Criterion Collection, $39.95)
I just can't recommend this Yasujiro Ozu masterpiece enough. The film alone -- about relationships between parents and grown children -- delves into such painful levels of beauty that it could change your life. But Criterion's double-disc set makes it even more worthy. Start with the stunning new black-and-white digital transfer. Then Ozu scholar David Desser provides a commentary track and critic David Bordwell contributes a written essay. The second disc includes the film's trailer, a two-hour documentary on the life and career of Ozu, plus a 40-minute tribute to the great Japanese filmmaker by eight other acclaimed international filmmakers including Paul Schrader, Claire Denis and Aki Kaurismaki.

#35: The Apu Trilogy
Pather Panchali (1955, Columbia/TriStar, $29.95)
Aparajito (1956, Columbia/TriStar, $29.95)
The World of Apu (1959, Columbia/TriStar, $29.95)
Indian director Satyajit Ray forever changed the face of Indian cinema with this practically homemade trilogy depicting the life of a village boy as he grows up and tries to make his way in the big city. Ray pays special attention to the small details of the story, which inevitably make up the substance and the poetry of life. None of the discs come with any extras, the English subtitles are non-optional and the transfers aren't exactly spectacular, but the films are highly recommended nonetheless. A then-unknown Ravi Shankar adds his spirited score to the mix.

#40: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, Criterion Collection, $39.95)
Alain Resnais' feature debut was praised almost unanimously upon its release and became known as an all-time classic just a few years later. Barely anyone has bothered to dispute it. It's a beautifully elegant film -- written by the French playwright Margeurite Duras -- and its plea against the atomic bomb is truly heartfelt, but it has an icy deliberateness to it, and a lack of spontaneity. A French actress making a film in Japan meets a Japanese architect and they share a brief fling. She tells her gruesome story; she fell in love with a German soldier at the end of WWII and he was killed just hours before the liberation. As a result, she was locked in a basement for years. After Resnais finishes his preaching, nothing remains but the painful final hours of the two lovers in late-night Hiroshima. These final scenes resonate with a touching beauty. The new Criterion disc comes in a gorgeous black-and-white fullscreen transfer, with lots of extras and a commentary track by critic Peter Cowie. Best of all is the music and effects track, which allows the viewer to dump the movie's heavy, heavy dialogue.

#62: Ashes and Diamonds (1958, Facets, $29.95)
This great film by Andrzej Wajda is considered the greatest Polish film ever made, and I'm sure that's not too far off the mark. Taking place just after the liberation of Poland at the end of WWII, several private factions still feel the need to fight. But the young James Dean-like Zbigniew Cybulski wonders why, especially after he meets and falls in love with a beautiful barmaid. The story takes place over the course of one day and depicts the failed assassination attempt of a new Communist district leader and the subsequent second try. The achingly charismatic Cybulski virtually makes this film work all by himself; after the film's release, legions of young Polish men rushed out to buy copies of his trademark dark glasses. Facets' digital transfer has the expected film flaws, but they're not enough to ward anyone away from seeing this classic.

#83: La Strada (1954, Criterion Collection, $39.95)
A landmark in Federico Fellini's career, La Strada showed him just beginning to get away from Italian Neorealism and into the fanciful imagery that defined his later work. Here, it's still pure and human enough to work like magic. The lovely Chaplinesque waif Giulietta Masina stars as Gelsomina, who is sold to a circus strongman (Anthony Quinn). Masina's Chaplin-like performance makes the strongman's cruelty all the more heartbreaking. Criterion delivers the film in another indispensable two-disc set, complete with a feature-length documentary, a commentary track by author Peter Bondanella, an introduction by Martin Scorsese, an essay by Peter Matthews, and the original English dubbed soundtrack featuring the voices of Quinn and Richard Basehart.
Best Buy Co, Inc.