Bergman, Welles, ‘Lebowski’ and other classic video gift suggestions for the holidays
Even in this age of streaming and downloads, home video is the ideal gift for movie buffs who want collectible copies of their favorite films. No matter the gift recipient’s cinematic proclivities, you will find — cue Stephen Sondheim — something for everyone.
Here are some suggestions to help make the season bright for classic-movie fans.
‘Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema’ (Criterion)
Not just a film school in a box, but a curated film festival in a box. Criterion’s 30-disc Blu-ray box set is a Bergman-palooza with 39 career-spanning features, including 18 never before released by Criterion.
But that’s not all, folks. You also get a 248-page book with illuminating essays, the theatrical and full-length television versions of “Scenes From a Marriage” and “Fanny and Alexander,” interviews with key Bergman collaborators (among them Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow and cinematographer Sven Nykvist), two rarely seen shorts directed by Bergman, making-of documentaries on several of his films, and profiles of the director.
‘Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection’ (Rhino)
The Golden Globe-nominated bio-pic “Stan & Ollie” is a golden opportunity to introduce a new generation to “The Boys,” the beloved comedy team whom even cutting-edge comic Lenny Bruce once called “a delight.” Laurel & Hardy have long been ill- or under-served on home video, but this 10-DVD set is thoughtfully curated.
None of their silents are included, but it does contain the Oscar-winning short, “The Music Box,” and their best-loved feature films, “Sons of the Desert,” “Way Out West” and “The Bohemian Girl.” Special features include “A Tribute to Laurel & Hardy” featuring Dick Van Dyke and Chuck McCann, both friends with Laurel; three shorts in which the duo cameo; and “The Tree in a Test Tube,” their only color film.
‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (Criterion)
Orson Welles’ long unfinished final film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” was at last completed this year and is now playing on Netflix. That leaves one last Holy Grail for Welles fans: the director’s cut of his second film, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” a film that his studio wrested control of, cut more than 40 minutes and tacked on an unintended happy ending. Until Welles’ version is found, there is this impeccable new Criterion Blu-ray release, which features a 4k restoration of the film. Special features include audio commentaries by Welles scholars Robert K. Carringer and James Naremore and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, new interviews with Welles biographers Simon Callow and Joseph McBride, a new video essay on the film’s cinematography, a 1970 Welles appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” and audio from a 1978 American Film Institute symposium on Welles conducted by Peter Bogdanovich. (Also available on DVD.)
‘The Outer Limits — Season 2’ (Kino Lorber)
This two-season anthology series doesn’t have the cultural cachet of “The Twilight Zone” and is mostly known for its “There is nothing wrong with your television set” opening. But it took TV sci-fi and horror beyond the “Zone.” Kino Lorber released the first season earlier this year. Here is the second, which contains several benchmark episodes, including “Soldier,” written by award-winning sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, and the two-parter “The Inheritors,” starring Robert Duvall.
The wealth of special features include film historian episode commentaries, an interview with Joseph Stefano, who produced the show’s first season, and a Museum of Television & Radio tribute. (Also available on DVD.)
‘Dietrich & Von Sternberg in Hollywood’ (Criterion)
Before Bergman and Ullmann, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands and Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy, there was director Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. This Blu-ray box set contains all six films they made for Paramount between 1930 and 1935, including the Oscar-winning “Shanghai Express” and “Blonde Venus” (the one with the ape suit). The special features include a 1971 television interview with Dietrich, a 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of “Morocco” featuring Clark Gable, interviews with film scholars, and new documentaries about Dietrich. (Also available on DVD.)
‘Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra’s World War II Documentaries’ (Olive Films)
This time of year, people are mostly watching Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” — including a newly restored version just released by Paramount. Less known is Capra’s contribution to the war effort with a series of propaganda documentaries that brought home the reason Why We Fight. This one-disc set contains “Tunisian Victory,” “Prelude to War,” “The Battle of Russia,” “The Negro Soldier,” and “Your Job in Germany,” which was written by Theodor S. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). Capra biographer Joseph McBride introduces each film and also presents an analysis of the series in the bonus feature, “Frank Capra: Why We Fight.” (Available on Blu-ray and DVD.)
‘Sid Caesar: The Works’ (Shout! Factory)
‘Ernie Kovacs: The Centennial Edition’ (Shout! Factory)
These are two essential and definitive box sets for TV comedy geeks. The five-DVD Caesar set contains the first-ever home video release of the 1973 compilation film, “Ten From Your Show of Shows,” plus 11 hours of brilliant sketch comedy culled from “The Admiral Broadway Review,” “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s World.” The bonus features include a 1967 reunion special, and a 2014 Paley Center for Media tribute featuring Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Billy Crystal.
The nine-DVD Kovacs set honors the artist who turned TV comedy up to 11 with surreal blackouts, outrageous characters (the gorilla-suited Nairobi Trio) and technological stunts. “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and the “Late Show With David Letterman” had Kovacs indelibly in their DNA. Archival goodies include a color version of Kovac’s legendary wordless show, “Eugene”; the only existing solo interview with Kovacs; his award-winning Dutch Masters Cigars commercials; and a rarely seen pilot costarring Buster Keaton.
‘A New Leaf’ (Olive Films)
Elaine May, 85, is Broadway’s new darling in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” Olive Films has given its Blu-ray Olive Signature treatment to her directorial debut with a new 4k restoration. Walter Matthau stars as a profligate playboy who squanders his inheritance and plots to marry (and murder) a socially awkward millionairess (portrayed by May). Special features include audio commentary that chronicles the dark comedy’s fraught history; an interview with the film’s assistant editor; and a featurette, “Women in Hollywood: A Tragedy of Comic Proportions” with director Amy Heckerling.
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)
Simply — wait for it — out of this world! This 4k UHD presentation of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking, bar-elevating sci-fi masterpiece was mastered from the 65mm original camera negative. The audio track was also restored and remixed. The special features, too, are a blast, including commentary by stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, several featurettes about the making of the film and its impact, and an audio-only 1966 interview with Kubrick.
‘The Big Lebowski: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition’ (Universal)
This deluxe Blu-ray gift set — with a 4k restoration of the Coen brothers’ cult phenomenon, complete with collectible bowling ball bag, bowling ball pencil holder and polishing cloth — really ties the room together.
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