How Uncle Joe won the war and saved planet Earth

Although IHF's DVD of The Fall of Berlin/Padeniye Berlina (1949) has been out for a while now, not many know it exists, let alone know where to pick up a copy, as its distribution has yet to reach the broad arm of the Amazon.com empire. (Some specialty online retailers do carry the title, and if you're in Toronto, it is available at Bay Street Video - one of KQEK.com's advertisers.)

We don't normally write epic reviews, but Fall is one fascinating artifact from the Stalin era, and it's impossible to cover such a surreal gem in 500 words since so much effort went into creating this monster, which concludes with the Red Army's Reichstag assault - staged on location in war-ravaged Berlin, using the pock-marked, skeletal remains of the actual edifice, with masses of Soviet soldiers, and plenty of war toys. Then there's the propaganda content that should have war movie buffs salivating for more - although this may be the apex of the Stalin genre and Uncle Joe's Deification on Film.

Fall was also scored by the great Dimitri Shostakovich, and while it's not really his best work - the libretto for the finale is laughably over the top - the film's notable for epitomizing the kind of ideological 'social realism' fodder the composer had to stomach and score after he fell into disfavor with Uncle Joe. (In coming weeks, I'll feature an examination of Shostakovich on DVD, which will include some unique documentaries and dramas recently released on disc.)

As a contrast, we also have the first title that's part of KOCH Vision's new agreement to distribute classic NFB (National Film Board of Canada) documentaries. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen is a 1965 follow-along from directors Donald Brittain and Don Owen, and while previously released under the Winstar banner, the reissue from KOCH replicates the same content, including four Cohen-related shorts: "I'm You're Man," "Poen," "A Kite is a Victim," and "Angel."

This week there's also a unique music slant, as we cover the latest rock-docs from Music Video Distribution/Sexy Intellectual: Led Zeppelin: The Origin of the Species, and The Rolling Stones Under Review: 1962-1966. These are solid and highly informative docs using many interviews and rare clips - worth a peek for fans and novitiates curious about the early years of each band.

We're also continuing in covering every film music DVD out there - and there ain't many - like Michael Kamen: Concerto for Saxophone. The late Kamen will forever be associated with the greatest action score of all-time (Die Hard) and music for the iconic 1980s/90s buddy cop satire & franchise (Lethal Weapon), and it was in 1990 that he recorded his first original concert album. Kamen was the ultimate bridge between the worlds of classical music and rock - largely because he played instruments and wrote music for both camps - and his involvement with Metallica, Eric Clapton, and Roger Waters, to name a few, resulted in lots of great music before he passed away in 2003.

In the imminent print issue of Music from the Movies, I've chosen to use the handful of available film music DVDs to single out some key production aspects that would make a perfect concert DVD - something fans came close to receiving with the must-have releases of Morricone Conducts Morricone and Arena Concerto.

DVDs are the perfect venue for fans who simply can't drop a few hundred dollars (or more) to visit a country and catch Morricone in concert, but it takes skill and substantial funds to craft a DVD that evokes the sounds and spirit of a live event.

(The teaser image above is a rear ad from an old 1988 Soundtrack! - Vol. 7/No. 26 - which trumpets a concert that never happened: Jerry Goldsmith with the Toronto Symphony. It's the closest T.O. ever came to enjoying what New York, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, and much of Europe experience with some frequency: live film music.)

Lastly, do check out our interview with Christophe Lennertz, the Emmy-nominated composer of TV's Supernatural who may become the Emmy-winning composer of Supernatural, if Sunday night's telecast on August 27th favors this talented composer of scores such as Clive Barker's Saint Sinner, and the upcoming features Tortilla Heaven, and Shark Bait/Pi's Story.

Coming next week: an unnecessary remake, refreshing Argento, and the latest cheekiness from popomeister Tinto Brass.

Technorati Tags: DVD Reviews, Stalin Propaganda, Shostakovich, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, Supernatural TV


Olympia's North American Debut & Frizzell Talks Horror

Summertime's often been a period where the studios release wartime flickers - dramas, soap operas, actioners, and the rare comedy - and this year's a bit more surprising for the documentaries and little-seen epics that have surfaced. Granted we've been dipping backwards to visit some titles as leads for the recent wave, but a big surprise was the appearance of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia - the classic documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The re-militarization of Germany under Hitler was in plain view throughout the doc, particularly the opening ceremonies, and the film's release in 1938 as an example of new film technique developing under the Third Reich kinda makes it tangential to the summer wartime wave.

Although a director-supervised transfer of the film appeared on laserdisc from Criterion, Pathfinder Home Entertainment is the first North American label to commercially release the film on DVD, and the results are very mixed. Our review deliberately checks out the extras, particularly the rare newsreels archived on the 2-disc set, with some comments about the overt wartime propaganda therein.

The review is also the first to use our WKME feature - basically hyperlinked text that loads a fresh page of sidebar comments, footnotes and reviews - which in Olympia's case, offers a review of the rarely seen 1940 film, Wunschkonzert. Released on VHS PAL in Germany, the film is unique - and perhaps largely forgotten - for using footage from Riefenstahl's film as cleverly intercut background footage to launch a wartime romance between two distanced lovers later separated by war.

(Many unique titles are mentioned in our Olympia review, and over the coming weeks we'll add capsule reviews for some that are still unavailable on DVD; while not actual DVD reviews, they'll offer brief WKME overviews, and we'll mention those new additions in this column.)

Olympia, from our end, is also the key culprit in our delayed July update, which includes a pair of reviews: Les Dalton, the grandly blundered live action version of the famous Morris-Goscinny comic book, released by Chrystal in a gorgeous DVD; and Maroon, Andre Gladu's latest installment in his three-part history of the Creole in Louisiana, and their influential music.

This is one title that, as of this writing, hasn't popped up in the IMDB, but is another fine example of the great documentaries made by the NFB (National Film Board of Canada), whose works are slowly (and finally!) making their way onto broadly distributed commercial DVDs. This 2-disc edition from Music Video Distribution also contains Gladu's prior entries, Zarico and Liberty Street Blues, and is worth checking out.

Lastly, we continue with our interviews & profiles, and offer a breezy conversation with film composer John Frizzell. With Lucky McKee's The Woods finally getting theatrical and planned home video play, and Stay Alive arriving on DVD September 19th, Frizzell talked to KQEK.com about the stylistic opportunities the horror genre frequently gives adventurous and skilled composers.

Coming next: vintage Leonard Cohen and The Rolling Stones, The Fall of Berlin in appropriated Agfacolor, and some exploitive trash to balance out the coming week.

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