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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Art > Artist > Filmmaker > Counterculture > Talk SHow > Radio > Politics > Economy > Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground (2018*)/Dick Cavett Show: New York Radio Pioneers (1972 - 1995*)/Encirclement (2008/IndiePix DVD)/David Susskind Archive: Interview With Dr. Martin Luther

Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground (2018*)/Dick Cavett Show: New York Radio Pioneers (1972 - 1995*)/Encirclement (2008/IndiePix DVD)/David Susskind Archive: Interview With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963*)/Monochrome: Black White & Blue (2019/*all MVD DVDs)/Where's My Roy Cohn? (2019/Sony Blu-ray)

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

Its awards season and here are some remarkable documentary releases, et al, worth seeing and knowing about...

Chuck Smith's Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground (2018) tells the story of the sometimes forgotten artist and filmmaker who by only 18 years old, had a surprise underground hit with her 16mm film Christmas On Earth, cementing her presence in the Underground art movement that is now forever legendary, influential and so vital to the arts today. Artist and publisher Jonas Mekas had a huge archive of her work and life, becoming the main source for this documentary biopic.

We learn about her birth and life, times with the likes of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, then her life with Allen Ginsberg that she hoped would become something more, but he was too tied up with his own 'trip' and too unemotionally available to her or anyone else. Though a short 78 minutes, it is rich with interviews, rare footage and priceless details, making it a must-see on this list.

A trailer and tribute to Jonas Mekas called ''Keep Singing'' are the only extras.

The Dick Cavett Show: New York Radio Pioneers (1972 - 1995) is yet another solid DVD set of the great talk show hosts work that includes Bob Elliot & Ray Goulding (a very successful comedy team from the 1960s in particular who were around for 50 years, et al; two shows), Howard Stern (three shows) and Don Imus that offer rare insight, include the usual smart questions, revealing answers and plenty of laughs. It is also a marker of how times change and all just get better with age. Plenty is left in the archive and I hope more DVDs are on the way ASAP.

There are sadly no extras.

Richard Brouillette's Encirclement (2008) is a Canadian mini-series that looks at some awful trends that are eroding democracy, progress, civil rights and economies as privatization, globalism and how it is ruining nature, lives and the planet. Noam Chomsky shows up, but the other interviewees are less heard, from Canada, often speak French and give very specific detail on how this all happened, why, who is benefitting, how voters have been manipulated where there even is voting and the terrible results.

What is most amazing is this is now about 12 years old and it is as accurate as it is prolific, arriving on DVD as timely as it ever could and not really needed any serious updating. How come we know these things and cannot stop bad things from happening? This series helps to answer that question.

There are also sadly no extras here either.

In what I hope with be the first of many releases, The David Susskind Archive: Interview With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963) has a classic, priceless, key, rare interview with the Civil Rights leader which has been much sampled and quoted. We have even seen stills and the like from this, but here it is in its entirety at 107 minutes and it also reminds us how smart and great Susskind was, though we do not see enough of his work. Everyone should see this one at least once.

There are sadly no extras.

Another Civil Rights documentary, Jon Brewer's Monochrome: Black White & Blue (2019) includes King (he is on the cover with several other images) is a brutal look at history, slavery, genocide and how the rise of music like Jazz and Blues in a very thorough, even intriguing way that includes some great footage, stills and interviews. Chuck Berry, Morgan Freeman, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood, Carlos Santana, BB King, Slash, Robert Cray and many others tell the stories that synthesize into a well done look at history without mystifying anything. Definitely worth a look.

There are sadly no extras here either, but this runs a good 90 minutes.

Finally we have Matt Tyrnauer's Where's My Roy Cohn? (2019) about the infamous attorney who came to prominence helping Joseph McCarthy in his 1950s witch hunts of 'communists' (though it was also to go after Jewish Liberals, despite Cohn being Jewish) and how it all came crashing down when Cohn tried to protect their assistant who he also happened to like intimately. We see the homophobic spectacle it was and has often been censored as being.

Brushing off this disaster, Cohn continues to hide his sexuality as he gets involved with all kinds of business, politics and criminality, trying to also run away from the failure of his family's big bank that failed when the 1929 Crash happened, then crashes one of his family's other businesses (Lionel Trains, which managed to survive afterwards) and how his take-no-prisoners approach helped the Right (and extreme Right) in the U.S. and beyond via his association with Donald Trump.

A long overdue expose on a man who turned out to be a key figure in the 20th Century has finally arrived and it is also a must-see, extremely well done, with excellent archive footage and history7 that has been too hidden for too long. Go out of your way for this one.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary by Director Tyrnauer and a Q&A session he did after a big screening of this film.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Cohn looks the best of the releases here, with well shot nee interviews and archival footage that can show the age of the materials used, but many of the clips are in amazing shape. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless sound has good editing and sounds as good as can be expected, so the combination is solid.

The 1.33 X 1 on Cavett (NTSC analog color videotape), Susskind (black and white NTSC videotape) and Encirclement (16mm film) have their flaws, but look fine, while the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Monochrome is a little softer and rough overall, but the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Rubin is better and as good as any DVD here. Where applicable, analog videotape flaws including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, cross color, faded color and tape damage. It is rare on these programs overall.

Rubin has lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but much of the archival audio is monophonic, while the rest of the DVDs offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (later Cavett episodes are simple stereo, a second option on Rubin and the only option on Encirclement) with Cavett and Monochrome not always as clear as one wishes they could be. Otherwise, this is good enough.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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