The Great Escape, “Tell Me” on Criterion Channel, and More: Jim Hemphill’s Home Video Recommendations
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Growing up female

The Great Escape had been a dream project for director John Sturges for years before The Magnificent Seven's success finally enabled him to make it in 1962 and the countless hours he spent thinking about and planning the epic of World War II , are evident in every flawless setting. The true story of a group of Allied officers who plan and carry out a daring escape from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. The Great Escape is an exciting celebration of the ingenuity and skill of a director who honors his characters with his own impressive skills. The film lasts 172 minutes, but never stays behind or feels sluggish or important. It is long because Sturges takes so much time to correctly define and develop each member of the massive ensemble and to precisely depict the screws and nuts of the escape. Sturges was one of the greatest directors of all time when it came to getting an audience used to geography, and this talent pays off tremendously when it comes to determining the layout of the prison camp and the logistics of the escape. Like Sturges & # 39; earlier Bad Day in Black Rock, it's a clinic on how to use the Cinemascope frame as a tool for visual storytelling, and like The Magnificent Seven, it has a relaxed, anti-authoritarian sense of humor that's all the more effective for Sturges is & # 39; expert juxtaposition of disrespect and tragedy. Criterion's new Blu-ray release of The Great Escape is cause for celebration given the typically careful retransmission of the company and the return of Sturges & # 39; fantastic audio commentary from the label's Laserdisc release in 1991. Again, there are many other extras, from additional cast and crew comments and several documentaries to an excellent interview with Michael Sragow about Sturges & # 39; career and how The Great Escape fits. I've always found Sragow to be one of the most insightful of all American critics, and his work with the Criterion Collection in recent years has been on Blu-rays like the company's great Bull Durham release as well as on the Criterion Channel streaming service as valuable as anything he has ever done.

Speaking of the Criterion Channel: This Saturday the platform will release a great series that offers the opportunity to see several rarely shown films by pioneering directors. "Tell Me: Filmmakers, Women's Stories" is an impeccably selected selection of 24 films that represent a wide range of approaches – cinema verité, essay film, confrontational agitprop – to tell women stories in film. All of the films featured range from Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill's deeply personal Joyce at 34 (Chopra's exploration of her efforts to reconcile motherhood with her career) to Leilah Weinraub's rough and intimate shakedown (a report of eight years in the life of a Black Lesbian Strip Club) are indispensable, starting with Julia Reichert's documentary Growing Up Female from 1971. Working with Jim Klein, Growing Up Female examines the choices women make and the social forces that influence them with incredible depth, insight, and clarity . Reichert records her conversations with several girls and women of different ages and backgrounds and proves to be just as sensitive and testing for an interviewer as she knows how to capture authentic and insightful moments with her camera. The things her subjects say are often amazing, especially when she points her camera at men (and even worse, some women) who emit the most retrograde nonsense that can be imagined without a hint of irony or self-confidence. Reichert, who won the Oscar for American Factory director Steven Bognar this year, is one of the titans of documentary making, and Growing Up Female is a great introduction to her work. In addition to the films already mentioned, "Tell Me" also contains films by Chantal Akerman, Barbara Hammer, Yvonne Rainer and many other important directors. An introductory conversation between actress Jenny Slate and metrograph programmer Nellie Killian, who curated the series, provides a useful context.

My last recommendations for the week are two wonderful films that are streamed on Kino Lorber's KinoNow platform. The first, Michael Schlesinger's The Adventures of Biffle and Shooster, was released in 2017, but pretends to be a lost slapstick classic from the 1930s. Nick Santa Maria and Will Ryan play Benny Biffle and Sam Shooster, a Depression-era comedy team whose antics are captured in a collection of short themes that faithfully reflect the style of the farce of the early sound era. Schlesinger's screenplays for the short films are almost exhaustively funny, packed with kitschy but funny word games and inventive gags, and his crew, from ace cameraman Douglas Knapp (an early employee of John Carpenter at Assault on Precinct 13) to exceptional art, Costume and hair and makeup departments, the appearance of the sources of the film nailed flawlessly. An additional bonus: a wonderful supporting role of the late, great Robert Forster. Biffle and Shooster is pure pleasure for film fans, as is Matt Barry's beautiful new documentary Cinevangelist: A Life in Revival Film. Cinevangelist is a celebration of the life and work of film historian George Figgs, a Baltimore film programmer who has owned and directed several major repertoire cinemas and is committed to making great films accessible to a recognized audience. Cinevangelist is essentially an extensive conversation with Figgs and a loving tribute not only to his subject but to all the men and women in the revival exhibition world who spread the gospel of cinema without having expectations that people love about films, that you might love. It is a beautiful little film.

Jim Hemphill is the author and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently available on DVD and Amazon Prime. His website is


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