Video Event of the Week: Are we perhaps talking about Disney's two disc Blu-ray of Ponyo, the phatasmagorical hand-drawn animated adaptation of The Little Mermaid from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki? Might Warner's Blu-ray or DVD of Where The Wild Things Are, the Maurice Sendak adaptation by director Spike Jonze, conceivably get the nod? Or against every standard of decent human behavior and taste, could Sony's various disc versions of 2012, the latest all-star apocalypse from director Roland Emmerich, possibly be The One(s)?
All worthy, to be sure (except for that last, which is really astoundingly stupid even by Emmerich's debased standards and, frankly, kind of offensive in a post-Haiti Earthquake world). But for my money it's simply got to be Shout Factory's thoroughly restored deluxe collector's edition of director Steve Binder's 1964 rock concert film The T.A.M.I. Show.
If you haven't seen it previously, this is a straight ahead document of a live event (shot at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium) featuring just about everybody who was anybody in American and Brit pop music at the time, with the obvious exceptions of The Beatles. Not that they're missed particularly, given the lineup, which includes several Motown greats (Marvin Gaye oozing charisma and cool, The Miracles with Smokey Robinson, and the astonishing eyes of Diana Ross with The Supremes) plus Lesley Gore singing her proto-feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me," a kick-ass Beach Boys set that's probably the last filmed document of the band with troubled genius leader Brian Wilson, a legendarily show-stopping performance by James Brown and a concluding set by The Rolling Stones that makes the word electrifying seem rather inadequate.
This is, of course, on everybody's short list of Best Rock Film Ever, and deservedly so, both for the music (most of which is amazing) and for its time capsule resonance (i.e., as a snap shot of a hard-to-believe-it-happened twitch of the zeitgeist).
Here's Shout Factory's DVD trailer to give you an idea of what I, for one, first witnessed in the darkened vastness of the Hackensack Oritani Theater sometime in early 1965.
After that, of course, further comment by me seems unnecessary, although honesty impels me to add that a little bit of Gerry Marsden's grinning teenybopper grandstanding in The Pacemakers' set goes a long way (and this isn't hindsight talking -- I thought the same thing back in the day). Also, Billy J. Kramer kind of stinks; Lennon and McCartney gave him some, admittedly, very good songs but as a singer, let's just say that he had a voice only Brian Epstein could love.
Various bootleg versions of this have been floating around for ages, of course, and I've seen a bunch of them, both in theaters over the years and more recently on DVD. Shout Factory's version, however, marks the film's debut on legit home video, and it's gorgeously transferred in high def (and widescreen -- yay!) from first generation film elements. Which is to say that this is the first time I've seen The T.A.M.I, Show looking as good as I remembered it at the above mentioned New Jersey movie palace, and if you've got a decent home theater I recommend you watch it with the legend Martin Scorsese opened his The Last Waltz with in mind -- This Film Should Be Played Loud.
Bonuses with the set include a very interesting running commentary by director Binder, a live TV vet who is understandably rather proud of what he wrought here, plus the original theatrical trailer and a couple of period radio spots.
Bottom line: You can -- and if you don't, I have serious questions about your taste and judgement -- pre-order it over at Amazon here.
Seriously -- what are you waiting for?
Okay, that taken care of, and given that things will doubtless be a little quiet around here for a couple of days, here's a fun and obviously relevant little project for us all:
The American Genre Film You Really Wish Was on Home Video But Currently Isn't!!!
Arbitrary rule: No "lost" films need apply. We're talking about flicks that are known to exist -- i.e., show up on tv or at revival houses from time to time -- but that, for whatever reason, can't be had on DVD at the moment.
Okay, and my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. American Hot Wax (Floyd Mutrux, 1978)
A week in the life of the pioneering rock deejay Alan Freed (a brilliant performance by the late Tim McIntire) and I can't think of another movie that captured the excitement of a nascent cultural and musical moment quite so vividly. It's never been on home video, even back in the VHS days: I lamented this last year, and the damn thing's still missing in action.
4. The Face Behind the Mask (Robert Florey, 1941)
Peter Lorre, wearing a surreal and creepy latex mask, is amazing as a naive immigrant who becomes the head of a sinister criminal gang after he's hideously disfigured in a tenement fire. One of the very best B-pictures ever made; Turner Classic Movies airs it from time to time, but there's no video release that I can find.
3. Once Upon a Horse (Hal Kanter, 1958)
Before Laugh-In, before even the sublime The Maltese Bippy, the then little known comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin made this actually quite funny western spoof. Not a masterpiece, obviously, but an interesting show biz artifact to say the least, and a DVD would be nice.
2 The Search for Bridey Murphy (Noel Langley, 1956)
The best-selling book about reincarnation this quickie cashed-in on was all but ubiquitous in its day, and although it's now almost totally forgotten its influence lives on in countless subsequent films and TV shows (hell, practically everything on the SyFy Channel, or however it's spelled, can be traced back here). In any case, a surprisingly good and even moving film, and the guy who wrote and directed it was one of the co-scripters of MGMs The Wizard of Oz, so it behooves beholding. Good luck finding it, of course.
And the numero uno you-can't-find-it American genre flick, I will brook no argument about this, absolutely has to be...
1. Among the Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941)
Albert Dekker, in a dual role, comes home to his ancestral mansion to find that his twin brother, who supposedly died in a fire when he was ten, is not only still alive but murdering people in the surrounding countryside. Said it before and I'll say it again, but this is possibly the creepiest proto-noir B of them all, with a brilliant Frances Farmer, and it's just astonishing that it's never had an official video release.
Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?