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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > History > City > Technology > Urban > Germany > Terrorism > Running > Ideology > Politics > Marx > Berlin, Symphony Of A Great City (1927/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)/Boston: The Documentary (2017/First Run DVD)/Marx Reloaded (2011/Icarus DVD)/Strange Victory (1948/Milestone Blu-ray)/TVTV: Video Revoluti

Berlin, Symphony Of A Great City (1927/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)/Boston: The Documentary (2017/First Run DVD)/Marx Reloaded (2011/Icarus DVD)/Strange Victory (1948/Milestone Blu-ray)/TVTV: Video Revolutionaries (2013/First Run DVD)

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

Documentaries have been around for about as long as film itself and this wide-ranging group covers over 90 years and counting of telling both telling AND showing us what we should know...

We begin with Carl Mayer's Berlin, Symphony Of A Great City (1927) that is still ever impressive and remarkable nearly a century later, part of a great cycle of 'city films; that showed how great these new cities with their opportunity, new industry, new technology and hopes for a better future shine here as much as they would have in any other country at the time. Few knew we were in between two world wars, but this is about hope, good people and a new sense of enlightenment post-WWI.

The filming, cinematography (by the legendary Karl Freund!), angles, editing (it is split into five sections) and other choices are top rate, ahead of their time and especially since most of what you see here was insanely annihilated because the Nazis took power and had to be stopped, a rare portrait of the brief greatness that once was there. Sure, Berlin managed to rebuild, but after watching this, you can see some very special things, ideas and ways of life were lost forever. What a fine gem!

Jon Dunham's Boston: The Documentary (2017) is made to deal with the ugly, evil, horrific bombing that hit the Boston Marathon a few years ago. It also inspired a solid feature film, but the smart thing I liked about this compelling 114 minutes is it shows how the race has been going on for 120 years (!!!) and how this also plays into the history and building of the city as one of the greatest the world has ever known. To top this off, it has excellent narration by one of the few men who would know and understand this best and first hand: Matt Damon.

In the end, it succeeds in making the big statement about not only Boston, but all great cities that have and will sadly, soon experience awful, nightmarish terrorist attacks as that is the era with a lack of leadership we are in and how the cities (New York being the big example from 9/11) are not just going to cease existing because horrible people who have ceased to be human find ways to justify such violence, none of which have, are or ever will be valid. Very impressive, consider it a must see ASAP!

Jason Barker's Marx Reloaded (2011) only lasts 52 minutes, but it is as good and to-the-point explanation of what Karl Marx discussed, how it could return as a stronger discourse and is not bad for that, but the references to The Matrix films make this one a bit silly. The animation for this is also a bit of a mixed bag, but I guess the idea is to introduce these ideas to younger people, even though that actual capitalist blockbuster movie trilogy is not necessarily compatible with the ideas here.

I'm maxed-out on Marx (or is that Marxed-out?) and pretty much knew everything here as what to expect, but some purists might object. Either way, it is not so long and I liked the shorter extra better (see more below).

Leo Hurwitz and Barney Rosset's Strange Victory (1948) is a very significant film that was also ahead of its time, showing the ugly side of the United States that still remains and tends to go underground, then resurface as the face of racial hate. It is also the hate that built this country on slavery and how hate gets revived every few decades (starting 1915, 1980, recently) because some people like holding onto power as cheaply as possible. Despite African American men helping us to win WWII in the U.S., they were still neglected, treated like garbage and won a victory that changed nothing in the U.S. in its segregationist ways, institutionalized racism and how the country was behind (always?) its greatest promises. Worse, the murder and violence with no legal or other remedy continued, Jim Crow laws, police brutality, the rise of the KKK, wholesale murder, neglect, irresponsibility and other ugly things the film is willing to go into.

Juxtaposing footage of the WWII triumph with Holocaust footage and horrid living conditions (et al, The Great Depression hurt persons of color even worse than white persons, unless they were sympathizers to all people) and it took WWII to help get the U.S. out of that awful financial period that should have never happened to begin with. Of course by the 1950s, the makers were witch hunt targets and like Salt Of The Earth (1954, reviewed elsewhere on this site), the film was a financial failure and was almost lost.

Fortunately, this priceless, honest document about the dark underside of the U.S. survived and has been restored by several parties, including Milestone Video, releasing this landmark work on Blu-ray that should be required viewing for all history classes. Its reissue in late 2018 could not have been better timed!

Finally. Paul Goldsmith's TVTV: Video Revolutionaries (2013) tells us of another important independent-minded TV troop that innovated the medium, but is less know than cutting-edge comedy teams from the time (though Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were briefly part of this, as well as John Belushi showing up, thus alumni from Saturday Night Live and SCTV were not far from all this) and like original Punk Rockers and access cable groups, found the idea of using increasingly cheaper (relative to the behemoth videotape cameras with 2-inch videotape the big three networks, PBS and local TV stations eventually took on as successors to 16mm film) more than serviceable.

Most of the early work is in black and white like the portable Sony cameras that had to be plugged into a separate reel-to-reel videotape unit and had distortion like nothing since the early kinescope days of live TV, but TVTV started at the 1968 political conventions and they already had an effect when they got anti-war protesters into the Republican show not knowing Ron Kovic (later played by Tom Cruise in Oliver Stone's Born On The Fourth Of July) in what landed up being a big fight and shouting match.

They would flow up by covering several other key events and cover them in a way that was ahead of what we were seeing on TV, including the Oscars (1976 for 1975 films) and a Super Bowl (The Steelers clobbering the Cowboys in what would be a long-term rivalry) and more that I do not want to ruin. The way they collapsed is that they got commercial, tried comedy, left the documentary work they thrived in and though the documentary does not say this, got tricked by NBC into putting themselves into a cover and self-destructing. What a loss, but was it a political and financial hit job? That's for another documentary.

Either way, this crew was way ahead of their time and though you may not have ever heard of their names before, they deserve a huge debt of gratitude for what they did and it is nice they are finally getting some credit for it. See this one soon too!

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on Berlin and Victory are all shot on 35mm film (flammable nitrate for that matter!), and though they can show the age of the materials used, they look better than the three later productions despite some minor damage and issues. And this is not just because they are the two Blu-rays here. That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the three DVDs (Boston, Marx and TVTV) with a mix of film and videotape (digital & analog, plus some HD) all well edited and showcasing their stories and ideas clearly. However, you do get some videotape flaws including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, cross color, faded color and tape damage that are unavoidable.

As for sound, both Blu-rays offer PCM 2.0 Mono that is just fine for their age (Berlin with more recently recorded music) and the three DVDs settle for lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. They are about as good as you can expect with the multiple sources involved (save Berlin music score for its great silent footage).

Extras are included on all releases except TVTV, with Berlin having a feature length audio commentary track by filmmaker Alex Barrett, Boston has a piece about its music score and its world premiere screening on WBZ, Marx adds the great animated full-color short cartoon by Ruiz called Marx For Beginners and Victory adds the most extras, including...

Leo Hurwitz's stunning 1964 epilogue to Strange Victory celebrating Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.

Leo Hurwitz speaking about Strange Victory, courtesy of Ingela Romare, from her 1992 film, On Time, Art, Love, and Trees: A Meeting with Leo T. Hurwitz.

Barney Rosset speaking about Strange Victory, courtesy of CUNY TV City Cinematheque and interviewer Jerry Carlson.

and six amazing films from Hurwitz's years as a member of the Worker's Film and Photo League and Nykino, Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC:

National Hunger March 1931

Bonus March 1932

Hunger March 1932

America Today

World in Review

and Pie in the Sky (starring Elia Kazan!)

- Nicholas Sheffo


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