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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Urban > Gangs > Crime > Poverty > Politics > Cold War > Family > Holocaust > WWI > WWI > Flyin' Cut Sleeves (1993*)/David Susskind: Interview with Nikita Khrushchev (1960*)/Heimat Is A Space In Time (2019/Icarus DVD*)/Lost City Of Cecil B. DeMille (2016/Random*)/Vinyl Revival (2020/Weiner

Flyin' Cut Sleeves (1993*)/David Susskind: Interview with Nikita Khrushchev (1960*)/Heimat Is A Space In Time (2019/Icarus DVD*)/Lost City Of Cecil B. DeMille (2016/Random*)/Vinyl Revival (2020/Weinerworld/*all MVD DVDs)/What's My Name: Muhammad Ali (2019/HBO/Warner DVD)

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

Here's a very interesting group of documentaries, including a few must-see releases and all with something to offer...

I actually wanted to start with Rita Fecher's Flyin' Cut Sleeves (1993) about her life and how she grew up around gang culture of the time in early 1970s Brooklyn. In a piece that only lasts an hour, she goes around and videotapes friends and associates from back in the day, reflecting on their lives, then is able to flash back to footage of them when they were younger and in various gangs. It is remarkable that anyone interviewed any gang members, let alone filmed them. Some footage is in black and white, some in color, while some color holds up, other film was already fading a few decades later.

It makes for a key companion piece to what we usually see of New York City of the time, from money to crime and lately, how punk, disco and rap/hip hop were partly or totally born there (depending on whom you ask) at the same time. This is so interesting, it would be nice to see someone give Fecher (or someone she approves) the time and money to go around and interview anyone who would still be willing to talk and update the situation with more insight. Maybe someone could even restore the old film footage, do 2K or 4K transfers on it and find new footage unseen.

Definitely, this one is worth a look.

Arriving as another crisis sweeps the globe, David Susskind: Interview with Nikita Khrushchev (1960) is a 3.5 hour record of the legendary visit of the infamous 'we will bury you' Soviet Premiere arriving at the U.N. during the fall in the U.S. just before John F. Kennedy would succeed Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. He agreed to do a long interview with a solid translator and the exchanges were interesting then, and more so in context as within a few years, we would have the Bay of Pigs incident and its follow-up, which almost destroyed the planet with a nuclear war: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

You can see how smug Khrushchev is here, how manipulating, as he jokes and brags about being 'peace loving' and takes subtle cheap shots at the U.S. throughout the program, knowing his country (the USSR) would be secretly sending in nuclear missiles to Cuba if they had to, decided Kennedy was much weaker than Eisenhower (they were very wrong) and how he thought l all around. In a few years after this display, he was removed from power when kennedy triumphed, but not before Kennedy was assassinated. (Jackie Kennedy sent him a message informing him she kew he had nothing to do with it, and she was correct.)

Cheers to Susskind, who handles the exchanges with intelligence, grace and class, more than holding his own against a master manipulator who almost got us all killed. Its shows like these that gave Susskind his reputation and we already covered the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. show on DVD, we hope to see more soon. This is a must-see release.

Thomas Heise's Heimat Is A Space In Time (2019) cleverly covers three generations of the director's family starting with the years before WWI, then winding to the present day, dealing with the ups and downs of Germany, Nazis, the world and with its current footage of places of the past, reminds us why we sometimes forget important things, things we should never forget, too easily. It is very long at 218 minutes, but I have to admit that he does keep it visually interesting and with a limited budget.

The starting point is an anti-war essay his grandfather wrote in 1912 and it goes from there very smoothly, with all kinds of private, vintage pictures, documents and any other personal footage he could find to share. I've seen many a phony attempt to do such family biographies by just stringing things along with shallow chronology and not saying much, but Heise does the opposite and that is why if you have the time and patience, you'll want to see this one.

Peter L. Brosnan's Lost City Of Cecil B. DeMille (2016) tells the winding tale of how the director (no relation to the actor who played James Bond in a few films) spent a rollercoaster ride of more valleys than peaks to uncover the massive, legendary set Producer/Director Cecil B. DeMille built for his original 1923 silent epic feature film version of The Ten Commandments. The second film to ever use Technicolor (it was two strips at the time, expensive and did not have a full range of color) albeit in small segments, the film was a hit. So what happened to the set?

He theorizes it was buried, finds out where the film was shot and goes there. What follows are endless obstacles, limited funding, usually no support, a shocking lack of pride in Hollywood on its filmmaking past, people shamelessly trying to stop him and all kinds of other twists and turns. The 90 minutes here starts out a little rough, but eventually picks up and tells a parallel tale of the filmmaking career of DeMille, which is when it really kicks in and gives context to why any dig is so important and even historically priceless.

While we wait for the 1923 film to be restored for today (and both it and the 1956 VistaVision, full Technicolor version with Charlton Heston to arrive on disc in the 4K format), this is worth seeing despite some rough spots just for its history lessons and just how ambitious Hollywood could be at its best.

Pip Piper's The Vinyl Revival (2020) tells us about a worldwide movement where CDs have become played out and the sonics on most (especially old ones, obviously) are dated and might as well be worn out cassette tapes. With shaky streaming and download options, usually with compression issues to boot, plus two formats that failed to replace CDs (DVD-Audio (with a capital 'A' and menus worthy of a Commodore 64) and Super Audio CD (the one that still survives for audiophiles)) that were both knocked out by Napster to some extent, vinyl has made a seemingly unlikely comeback.

The truth is, vinyl never really went away, this shows how the independent shop movement for such titles grew in the U.K. in particular, set up new communities for loving music and how music fans helped save the music business from some of its neglect and even ignorance in parts (some vinyl was pressed to break and even ruin needles as CDs first arrived so people would get mad and switch) as we interview fans, shop owners, experts and musicians. I wished this one were longer and it should have been, but it is worth a look because it is that interesting. It is certain it is not the last chapter on the subject either.

Finally, HBO Sports presents the definitive documentary on the famous boxer Muhammad Ali in this two part film, What's My Name - Muhammad Ali (2019), that sports fans won't want to miss. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), the film explores the many facets of Ali's life including being a champion boxer, a social activist, his personal life, and ultimately an important cultural figure.

Of course, the subject has been covered in many documentaries by now, but this one is still not bad, though it cannot help but offer overlap versus all that has come before and will only be fresher to those who did not see much else on the subject. It also reminded us that Michael Mann's feature film Ali with Will Smith has yet to be announced on 4K disc.

Now for playback performance. Sleeves (newer footage is in color with older black and white and color film) and Nikita (all black and white video, with some old video dropouts!) are here in 1.33 X 1 and can be rough in places, but look about as good as they can. Heimat, Cecil and Revival are all here in anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image presentations that are just fine for the format, with Heimat have the best clarity throughout.

All DVDs but Ali offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound, though some of it is Mono in parts, while Sleeves (actually PCM 2.0 Mono) and Nikita (with some expected rough patches) are entirely so. Location audio issues also turn up in all release.

What's My Name is presented in anamorphically enhanced standard definition with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and a lossy 5.1 English Dolby Digital mix. The film is a mix of interviews and archival footage, all of which comes across fine here for the format. An HD presentation would deal with some of the compression issues, however, looks fine.

All releases can have analog or low-def digital videotape flaws from their older footage including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, cross color, faded color (including some film footage) and tape damage.

Extras include Sleeves and Cecil with Original Theatrical Trailers and Vinyl comes with a nice booklet, while Heimat comes with a booklet and a 15 minutes Q&A from NYFF with Director Heise.

- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Ali)



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