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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Industrialization > Art > Profile > War > Information > Library > France > Politics > Biograph > Alain Resnais: Five Short Films (1948 - 1956/Blu-ray)/Gorbachev. Heaven (2020/DVD/both Icarus)/Julia (2021/Julia Child/Sony DVD)/Marionette Land (2021/MVD DVD)

Alain Resnais: Five Short Films (1948 - 1956/Blu-ray)/Gorbachev. Heaven (2020/DVD/both Icarus)/Julia (2021/Julia Child/Sony DVD)/Marionette Land (2021/MVD DVD)

Picture: B (DVDs: C+) Sound: B-/C/C+/C+ Extras: C/C-/D/C+ Documentaries: B-/B-/B/B-

Now for a new group of documentary releases, some more timely than anyone could have expected...

We start with some of the early short films from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Alain Resnais: Five Short Films (1948 - 1956) has the legendary filmmaker in his early prolific prime when he was making remarkable short film after remarkable short film, especially Night and Fog (1956,) one of the greatest short films of all time. The shorts here, per the press release, are...

The 1957 Cannes Film Festival winner All the World's Memory (aka Toute la memoire du monde) 21 minutes, 1956. This homage to the National Library of France takes us on an impressive architectural and impressionistic tour. [The cinematography is especially impactful.]

Guernica. 14 minutes, 1949, Co-directed with Robert Hessens. The devastating bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, features Picasso's paintings, drawings and sculptures.

Paul Gauguin, 13 minutes, 1949. The artist's own writings and artwork are used to trace his creative journey, from losing his job in finance, the catalyst for his commitment to paint, through to his final days in Tahiti.

The Song of the Styrene (aka Le chant du Styrene,) 13 minutes, 1957. Alain Resnais carries out a poetic investigation into the origins of plastic. It is the perfect example of how to turn a commissioned industrial film into a lyrical, satirical film masterpiece. [I liked this one very much and live the ending!]

And the Winner of the 1950 Academy Award for Best Short Film, Van Gogh, 18 minutes, 1948. This boundary-pushing short evokes the life of Vincent Van Gogh, using his paintings as the only visual material.

A solid treasury of smart, important works that have now been saved, I hope all of his early shorts get the same grade-A treatment and any serious film fan or filmmaker should see these and all of his many films. They hold up very, very well.

A glossy paper pullout on the shorts with illustrations and interview with Resnais and film scholar Laurence Braunberger is he only extra. For more on Resnais amazing work, go to this link for more coverage of his films:


Vitaly Mansky's Gorbachev. Heaven (2020) in itself is a remarkable, rare interview with the man who oversaw the end and collapse of the USSR, The Soviet Union, the lead of the Warsaw Pact that is no more. But Mikhail Gorbachev has rarely been talked to about the events, what he might think now and what valuable, priceless things he may have to share when he is not showing what a masterful politician he still is capable of being. Living in a former satellite country of the USSR in his final years, now a widow with his wife sadly gone, in a nice place fans and friends have built for him.

Not knowing the horrendous Ukraine invasion was only a matter of mere months away from the time of this interview, not imagining Vladimir Putin would cross post-WWII lines like he murderously is as this posts, talks about how and why the USSR fell, dealing with Reagan, the U.S., others in the USSR autocracy (including how rude Putin was, but Chernobyl never comes up like it should have) and is he a scapegoat for the USSR's fall or is it more complex than that?

We also see personal, private moments, non-political moments and a man who is late in life after changing the world and being shockingly forgotten and even thrown away. That in itself stands as a metaphor for so much since the USSR fell. He never speculates on the USSR being reformed and likely thinks it is not possible, but it also shows that some better people are in the power structure of Russia, but can they possibly ever hope to prevail? The actions of Putin's Russia so bad, the country will be forever scarred by the results and never be the same again. Not knowing what will happen next now, I highly recommend this interview documentary, especially since it may tell us something we do not even know about yet.

Trailers are the only extra.

Julie Cohen and Betsy West's Julia (2021) is another solid documentary on how a woman who once worked for the secret service and wanted more than a conservative, conformist life for herself found her calling in cooking and a good husband that supported her 100%. A biography that starts with her childhood, it slowly builds up to her getting her massive, groundbreaking book published and suddenly finds herself with a hit TV show on the new NET (later PBS) public television network starting with her home station of WGBH in Boston.

From there, she takes off as a star, groundbreaker, icon and changes the entire food industry forever, even when most people did not know that yet. We get new details, photos and audio that previous profiles and biographical programs on her did not offer, plus it is newer, so the continued influence can be shown, including in interviews with famous TV chefs now and so many more. I was surprise this was being made and thought it might be too soon, but it more than delivers and is a worthy new addition to the legacy that Child continues to make possible long after we lost her. Highly recommended!

There are no extras, but you can read our coverage of one of the older documentaries on DVD Julia you should also see at this link:


Alexander Monelli's Marionette Land (2021) is a pleasant surprise of a tale of an artist named Robert Brock, a stage actor an talent who is also a big Broadway fan, but also has knowledge of stage craft. As a result, he launched a marionette theater years ago in his hometown of Lancaster, PA, as this is his story.

Fans of feature films with Puppetoons, as well as films and TV shows with SuperMarionation, marionettes of all kinds continue to be underrated, amazing and more beloved than I think the many realize. Even in this age of advanced ultra high definition CGI visual effects, there is nothing like seeing such real-life creations in action, some of which even try to imitate all forms of puppets and marionettes themselves at times.

Here's a man doing this all himself, the costumes, voices, operation of almost if not all the marionettes and pulling off shows night after night. As we watch, COVID arrives and changes things, plus Brock, living with his mom above where the stages are, is fearless in showing his personal and private life. Maybe more than he should have, but bold just the same.

This runs a solid 84 minutes and is worth going out of your way to see. Brock has also set up a YouTube channel, which you can look up right now for more information.

Extras include an on camera Q&A on the film, feature length audio commentary track on the film by the director and main subject, Original Theatrical Trailer and Deleted Scenes.

Now for playback performance. All the shorts on the Resnais set are in 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition, save Song Of Styrene in Dyaliscope, EastmanColor and 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition. They can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the films and Styrene is not only in the best shape, but the best-looking film among all the works we are covering here. The monochrome works are fine and though some of the art is obviously in color in real life, where applicable, it looks good. The PCM 2.0 Mono is just fine throughout all the shorts and are likely not to sound much better than they do here and they are all subtitled, of course.

As for the DVDs, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image (1.85 X 1 on Julia) look as good as they can in this older, low def format, but Gorbachev has some issues with lack of light from location shooting, including shots beyond the control of the filmmakers. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Julia and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on the other two DVDs also sound as good as they can in the older, compressed codec, but Gorbachev has location audio issues that happen more than they should have. Good thing it is subtitled.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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