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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Biopic > Biography > Autobiography > Coming Of Age > African American > Mental Illness > Racims > The Learning Tree (1969/Warner Archive DVD) + Lillian’s Story (1995/PAL Region Free Import) + Iceman (1984/Umbrella/Region Four Import DVDs)

The Learning Tree (1969/Warner Archive DVD) + Lillian’s Story (1995/PAL Region Free Import) + Iceman (1984/Umbrella/Region Four Import DVDs)


Picture: C+/C-/C+     Sound: C+/C/B-     Extras: D     Films: B-/B-/C



PLEASE NOTE: Tree is a Warner Archive website exclusive and can be ordered at the link below.  The Iceman import DVDs here can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Zero/0/Free PAL format software, while Lillian’s Story can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Four/4/ PAL format software; both can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the website address provided at the end of the review.



Three older dramas have arrived on DVD that are unusual and unusually released, so that is why they are grouped together.


Gordon Parks was a very successful writer and one of the few African American directors who worked regularly in the 1969s and 1970s.  Along with The Color Purple, his book The Learning Tree is one of the most widely available books on the Black Experience in better schools and libraries across America.  Parks also did the feature film adaptation of his book in 1969, now available as an on-line exclusive on the Warner Archive website.


The story of the young man Newt (Kyle Johnson) growing up in the racist, segregated south is a realistic, often honest and hardly politically correct look at the triumphs and tragedies of his life and those around him.  It is honest about the racism, poverty, oppression and real growing pains no matter what is happening.  The film holds up surprisingly well and was made to be a big screen event film by Warner Bros. at the time.  It is very faithful to the book and deserves revived interest.  It could have been the basis for a Black New Wave if Blaxploitation had not arrived.


Jerzy Domaradszki’s drama Lillian’s Story (1995) is a bold work that deals with mental illness, sexual abuse and even incest as the title character (Ruth Cracknell) has to reconstruct her life to find some happiness in her old age, surviving a living hell and dealing with immense unhappiness throughout her life.  We learn about the sources of the pain through many flashback sequences and the script slowly unravels the truth about how she landed up in a mental institute, how she got out and much more.


Playing her at a young age in an amazing performance is Toni Collette, who is fearless throughout in dealing with very painful material.  This Australian film was underseen (especially outside of its home country apparently) and deserves a much better fate than it received.  Hope this DVD release helps.


Finally we have Fred Schepisi’s Iceman (1984), part of a cycle that Robin Wood helped to dub the “more human than human” films where we learn more about ourselves by meeting “the other” in a fantastic character.  In this case, timothy Hutton plays the head of an arctic expedition that finds a man (John Lone) from 40,000 years ago in a block of ice.  Remarkably, they are able to cut him out and in a “scientific miracle” find a way to revive him.


What follows was already predictable from films before this cycle and Lone is remarkably good in the title role, but the film ultimately does not add up to much despite some good efforts on the part of the cast and even with Norman Jewison co-producing, it is another Schepisi film that does not add up for me.  However, it remains a curio and seems to use some of the same locations and props as John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  Lindsay Crouse also stars.



The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Tree and Iceman are looking good, but not great with softness in both cases (both were shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision), but Tree tends to have a better print with a newer transfer and the DVD-R quality might hamper it slightly.  Color can look really good, but not always and not what you would expect from a film that was issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor prints that are now very valuable and highly collectible.  Iceman was also shot for a big screen and it shows, with the PAL definition (540i) making this more watchable, but it needs a newer transfer.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Tree is very good for its age with limited distortion and is clean overall, while the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Iceman has good Pro Logic surrounds and has the best sound here.


The 1.33 X 1 image on Story is very noisy and we cannot be certain about the correctness of the framing, while the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is also down at least a generation and weak, so be careful of volume switching.


None of the discs have any extras.



As noted above, you can order the PAL DVD imports exclusively from Umbrella at:





You can order Learning Tree at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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