Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2011/Sundance Select/IFC Blu-ray)/Black Like Me (1964/VSC DVD Set)/Surviving Progress (2011/First Run
Features DVD)/We Can’t Go Home Again
(Don’t Expect Too Much) (1973/Nicholas Ray/Oscilloscope DVD Set)
B-/C/C+/C Sound: B-/C/B-/C+ Extras: B/B/B-/B Films: B/C+/B/C+
four new titles that deal with social issues and alternative views worth at
least a look if not more…
Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2011)
is the remarkable story of the political activist and artist of the title
(pronounced I Way-Way) who was part of a new openness from China that brought
him to New York City where he became both an artist and a man who participated
in protests going back to supporting those who paid a big price for the 1989
Tiananmen Square protests. Instead of
just leaving things at that, he became more self-aware and by the time he
returned to his home country, was unhappy enough with how the government
handled the results of a devastating earthquake that he decided to start to
country like the U.S., China does not
do much of this and if it does, it usually keeps whatever information it
obtains as secret. Weiwei intended to
not allow that and in this fine documentary that goes back and forth between
his present and his past, we see the rise of an advocate for the Chinese people
against the still-communist country whose success may be great, but is being
undermined by some inability to change and adjust to the future. It is also a rare look at world politics by
default and is one of the surprise documentary releases of the year.
not say much more and even if I did, the situation is ever-changing, but he and
his supporters are on the Internet and this amazing story is far from over. In the future, Weiwei will be seen as a
groundbreaker for a future China
or a man who did his best to make things better and almost succeeded. We’ll see which.
include an Interview piece, Trailer, Deleted Scenes and full feature length
a real life story, Carl Lerner’s Black
Like Me (1964) tells the story of a man (James Whitmore as John Howard
Griffin) who, unhappy with racial segregation in his South, decided to
investigate just how bad it can be by using chemicals, pills and other disguise
methods to pretend to be African American, chronicle everything that happens
and write about it. A bold exercise in
journalism, especially then, he is lucky to be alive considering what was going
on at the time. Despite being in
practical “blackface”, Whitmore is actually very effective here and if
anything, the resulting story rings as true as ever with the recent (and
especially latterly, forced) retro-racism and blatant hate in our political
impressive is the supporting cast including Al Freeman Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne,
Will Geer and Clifton James, plus nice location shooting make this a
well-written, well-paced narrative worth (re)visiting, even when some parts
have dated. Unfortunately, the most
important parts have not and it was a brave film to make at the time that is
never exploitive, condescending.
include a booklet with illustrations (including the original theatrical poster)
and an excerpt from John Howard Griffin’s biography Reluctant Activist by
Robert Bonazzi, while a bonus DVD gives us the hour-long Uncommon Vision: The Life & Times Of John Howard Griffin.
cycle of documentaries looking at our future in possible trouble, Mathieu Roy
& Harold Crooks’ Surviving Progress
(2011) asks us to consider the cost of progress and if it a way we cover up
things going badly, if it also a way we tell ourselves such “progress” at any
cost is worth it. Running 86 minutes, it
is an intense look at the downside of all this and how it could cost us our
whole world if we are not careful if more responsible adults do not step up and
fix things, as well as prevent what has grown to be a very long list of abuses
only accelerated by recent obstructionist politics.
Scorsese wisely Executive Produced this with the producers of The Corporation
and though a few points did not work for me, I was in agreement with most of
what this release had to say and is as underseen as it is
under-recognized. I would like to see
this one catch on, the sooner the better, and strongly recommend it.
include a Round Table on the film, Scorsese introducing the film at its New
York Premiere and Extended Interviews section.
we have Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home
Again (1973), made after so many major Hollywood productions including Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without A Cause, Ray is one of the great, gutsy filmmakers
and he decided like many great directors (think Brian De Palma and Robert
Altman) to work with student filmmakers on the rise and try to make something
different than what they were making to begin with. In this case, a multi-screen, counterculture
look at how he sees a Communal way of life working.
one hand, it will recall work by Andy Warhol and even Godard’s Maoist period,
but Ray is also trying to break up the idea of the single frame by overlapping
several images at once to make a new kind and sense of cinema which would have
been more impressive at the time pre-mass media video era. This is more like a documentary than a
narrative and is interestingly different than his previous works and that of
many of those making counterculture cinema at the time, but it also still has a
tendency to run on (like watching Warhol’s Sleep
in all 8 hours), but the point is to communicate the experiences seen by having
the viewer watch it the long way.
work for some more than others, but it is honest filmmaking and he was making a
point that holds up 40 years later. Now
you can see for yourself.
include an illustrated booklet with two essays on the man and his filmmaking,
while a bonus DVD adds two extended, separate interviews with Jim Jarmusch and Bernard
Eisenschitz, 1977 Camera Three
profile of Ray, a piece on Ray unfinished 1977 film Marco, rushes from Marco
and a dream sequence with and directed by Ray from the Wet Dreams anthology
called The Janitor.
1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Never
is a combination of various formats from standard definition digital video,
analog video and newer HD shooting and it is the best-looking of the four
releases here, though the others might be able to compete in Blu-ray form. Progress
is here in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and shares the same kind
of video sources. Black is here in 1.33 X 1 and anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1
versions that are a matter of preference and come from a nice print, but these
are older transfers and detail is a bit soft throughout in both cases as this
is the second releases of the film on DVD.
leaves Home with a mix of anamorphically
enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and 1.33 X 1 images throughout. That means it is also softer than expected,
but is lucky to survive at all.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is on Never and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Prop Logic works well
here) on Progress are the sonic
champs here with their share of location audio issues and older monophonic
audio. Home has lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that is recently mixed and
sounds almost as good, but the recordings show their age and the film’s budget
limits. That leaves Black with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono that sounds a little more
compressed than it should.
- Nicholas Sheffo