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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Culture > Native American > Silent Cinema > Food > Genetic Engineering > Photography > Pol > In The Land Of The Head Hunters (1914/Milestone Blu-ray Set)/Open Sesame: The Story Of Seeds (2015/Truemind DVD)/Through A Lens Darkly (2014/First Run DVD)

In The Land Of The Head Hunters (1914/Milestone Blu-ray Set)/Open Sesame: The Story Of Seeds (2015/Truemind DVD)/Through A Lens Darkly (2014/First Run DVD)


Picture: B/C+/C+ Sound: B/C/C+ Extras: B/C+/C Main Programs: B



Here are some new documentaries, including an early silent classic restored that includes reenactments that added up to a vital work of film...



Any silent film that has survived in any form is more than ever, remarkable and under the dual circumstances of no film preservation at the time and nitrate film that can catch fire on its own and is not easily extinguished means we lost well over half (and as much as 80% of the earliest films!) of the films ever made. Some film are luckier in that more footage is found as fans and lovers of cinema work to get the films saved. Edward S. Curtis' In The Land Of The Head Hunters (1914) is one such film like Lang's Metropolis (1926, reviewed elsewhere on this site) that was partly save, then further saved recently with the discovery of more footage,


A semi-documentary that includes rare footage often loaded with sometimes obvious reenactments, such films became very popular in their time, especially the likes of Nanook Of The North, a huge box office hit that apparently no one expected to make a penny. Milestone has decided to make no less than a 2-disc Blu-ray set devoted to the film with the new restoration in high definition its centerpiece, then add other versions and as much extra footage and bonus pieces possible, resulting in yet another top rate, archival release film fans and scholars can really get deep into. You get to see this landmark film and record of the Native American Gwa'wina tribe from every angle possible, including the same great people today, continuing the traditions, culture and pricelessness of a people who existed long before the United States was ever thought of. This already makes it one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year, on the level of any Criterion or limited edition/exclusive release. This is one of those films so important, you have likely seen some clip from it and not even known it. Now, you should see it all.


Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by film scholars (et al) Bill Holm, Andy Everson & Aaron Glass, the 1973 In The Land Of The War Canoes version of the film that was the only surviving version until now running only 44 minutes, a Stills Gallery, Turning Point Ensemble (3 minutes) clip showing the scoring of the new version, a 2008 Cultural Presentation by the actual Gwa'wina Dancers (83 minutes), Documents Of Encounter: The Head Hunters Reconstruction Project (38 minutes) and The Image Makers & The Indians (1979, 16 minutes) piece on how Holm and War Canoes reconstructor George Quimby put the 1973 version together.



M. Sean Kaminsky's Open Sesame: The Story Of Seeds (2015) continues the story of how too much genetic engineering of food is destroying its nutritional value, much worse and literally endangering the planet and human race, no matter what the propaganda says otherwise. Through history and interviews, we see a great group of people and food lovers fighting against total corporate ownership of the food supply and a restoration project as important as saving any film.


Turns out that long before any company wanted to copyright and own the genetic structure of any seed or food, a crisis was brewing over the many varieties of various fruits and vegetables being grown were being grown out of existence out of limited-life cross-breeding and hardly anyone saving the basic seeds that are referred to as heirloom types. We learn how a few were recovered (think of something like corn, where you might have had 100 types, but now only a few; its that bad a situation) and everyone from fans to seed banks are doing everything they can to spread these seeds al over the place, get people to love, save and preserve seed and how (of course) this adds to the variety, flavors, nutrition and eating possibilities we should have never lost to begin with.


One key to all this is to make sure the seeds have basic elements that cannot be registered as owned by anybody so anyone can go back to growing food and other things they want and like without a crazy lawsuit telling them no or making the criminals in an almost Kafkaesque way. The five companies are making billions on their whittled down versions of something nature makes best, but the originals remain the best and this solid documentary shows a vital movement beginning and hopefully, one that takes permanent hold so we do not have yet another unnecessary manmade crisis.


Extras include seven extras pieces like How To Save Tomato Seeds 101, Seed Magic, Seed Money, New Mexico Chili, a director interview and interview with the great Vandana Shiva, who tends to be the greatest thinker of many on the subjects of seeds, food, nutrition, health and the ecosystem. She cannot ever say enough!



Thomas Allen Harris' Through A Lens Darkly (2014) echoes In The Land Of The Head Hunters as it not only also is about preserving the history of people oppressed and victims of genocide, but how you capture that photographically as well as accurately. Like Native Americans, African Americans became the target (the biggest since Native Americans) of negative images that degraded, demeaned and were meant to undermine them being taken seriously. Focusing mostly on still photography, this solid program (running a rich 92 minutes) shows us the artists, thinkers and even activists who have gone out of their way to guarantee an accurate record over the years of these lives and how having control of your image is so vital instead of surrendering it to racists, bigots and hatemongers.


Many of the images are striking, beautiful, honest and let us into a world hidden, almost forgotten, almost disposed of and with as much truth as wordless images can deliver. This is also a great work about how priceless great photography is, something being taken for granted (especially lately) in this age of easy, if generic, digital images. Highly recommended.


Extras include 14 short videos and text biographies.



The 1080p 1.33 X 1 monochromatic restoration with colored tinting and toning in digital High Definition image transfer on Land can show the age of the materials used since it is a reconstruction of a film that is lucky it survived at all, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film (including ones included on this set) and I give it points for the colors looking correct, so it rates near-excellent despite some footage only surviving in 16mm if that. Expect some frames where the image has all but disappeared. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the DVDs are a little soft as expected for the format, but both also make for compelling viewing and look as good as they can in the former.


As for sound, DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) all-music for a silent film 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes on Land are obviously going to be the best here since they are all music and no old sound from a controlled studio situation. By comparison, both DVDs surprisingly offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that try to expand the sound, but Seeds comes up a little short by making the sound a little weaker than it needs to be throughout, so be careful of volume switching and high levels as you may be used to doing for documentaries anyhow.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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