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Best of 2011: Books and DVDs

Mon, Dec 19, 2011

The end of the year means many things to many people, but most of all it means lists. We aren't immune to list-making, and starting today our curators will be taking a look back at 2011 and picking a few of their favorite things. Today we kick things off with Director of Film/Video David Filipi's and Associate Film/Video Curator Chris Stults's selections of notable DVDs and books. We'll be posting more lists as the year draws to a close, so keep your eyes on the blog and our Facebook page for updates.

Chris Stults:


For film lovers: Devotional Cinema (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2003)
The most explosive and expansive stocking stuffer imaginable! This tiny volume, written by one of the most sublime filmmakers of our time, contains a vast amount of insight and wisdom about cinema and art. Dorsky primarily references films by Dreyer, Ozu, Antonioni, and Rossellini, but these slim 48 pages offer an even broader guide to becoming a mindful film viewer and to experiencing film as a transcendent art.

For kids (of all ages): Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me (Jenny Slate & Dean Fleischer-Camp, 2011)
One of the hits of the just-past Zoom: Family Film Festival and a YouTube sensation, Marcel the Shell arrives in book form! With lovely illustrations, the book contains favorite jokes from the videos as well as brand new ones. The book also provides parents with an opportunity to imitate Marcel's distinctive voice. (If you've never seen the Marcel the Shell videos, click here.)

For those who like to linger: Nox (Anne Carson, 2010)
Containing poetry, collage, letters, and translation of a Latin poem by Catullus, Nox is more of an object than a book. Made in response to her brother's death, Carson's book is an elegant, dense memorial that draws the reader in and makes the experience of reading slow down. You slow down to study the words, images, tones. You slow down to experience time. You slow down to savor. You slow down to remember.

For those who want something you can't find on Amazon: Prism Index magazine issues 1 & 2
These lovely multimedia magazines, created in a limited edition of 500 copies with handmade silkscreen covers and sewn bindings, contain writings, drawings, a DVD of films, and a CD of music. Compiled with love by Columbus native Jeff Bowers, each volume encompasses a diverse and enticing range of artists, writers, and filmmakers. Many of the names (which include Abigail Child, Azazel Jacobs, Bill Plympton, Jay Duplass, Jay Rosenblatt, Mike Kuchar, Sam Green, Stephanie Barber, Su Friedrich, Tomonari Nishikawa, Virgil Widrich, and others) will be familiar to frequent Wexner Center patrons.


Fishing with John (John Lurie, 1991)
Somehow, even with a DVD release by the Criterion Collection, this 6-episode TV series has never developed a cult following of the size that it deserves. The show is a dry parody of fishing shows, with musician (The Lounge Lizards) and actor (Stranger Than Paradise) John Lurie as the host. Each episode saw him with a different guest (Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper, and Matt Dillon) as they encountered often subtly surreal situation that upend television conventions, blending fiction and documentary in sly ways.

Henry Hills: Selected Films 1977‒2008
Released on John Zorn's label, Tzadik, this DVD offers a wonderful opportunity to discover some of veteran experimental filmmaker Henry Hills' finest work. Full of virtuoso editing and resonant meanings, Hills' films make it clear that he was working in New York art scenes simultaneously with Zorn's musical improvisations and the Language poets. You can see the music, poetry, and film scenes of downtown NYC in the 1980s in Hills' collage film Money, with appearances by Abigail Child, Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay, Christian Marclay, and John Zorn, among others. 

Scott Walker 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijak, 2006)
Scott Walker has been one of the most original and elusive musicians of the past decade. This documentary, one of the most vital music docs in recent years, not only offers a rare glimpse of Walker, through interviews and footage of him in the studio recording his monumental 2006 album The Drift, it also features an amazing sequence where some of Walker's more notable fans (including David Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, and Radiohead) listen to Scott Walker's music and comment on both the music and their own personal relationship to it.

Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986, blu-ray)
This new edition by the Criterion Collection allows one of the defining (and genre-busting) films of the 1980s to finally receive its due.

David Filipi:


Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (J. Hoberman, 2011)
J. Hoberman's book on American Cold War cinema occupies an unfortunately rare spot in today's film book market: it's a rigorous, meticulously researched cultural history that can be enjoyed by enthusiasts as well as academics. I found myself keeping a list as I read, noting all of the films I wanted to see or revisit.

Meta Maus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus (Art Spiegelman, 2011)
If you think you already have Maus sitting on your shelf and can skip this latest version, think again. Meta Maus is Spiegelman's exclamation point on a large part of his life spent answering questions about perhaps the most groundbreaking graphic novel ever created. Inside you'll find essays, interviews, examples of other works, biographical information, notes, sketches, and a digital version of the epic that allows you to search more easily for specific images, words or passages.

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design (Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham, 2011)
Don't judge this book by its cover. It looks like a well-designed coffee-table book on the outside, but on the inside Saul Bass is a rigorous study of the life and work of one of the 20th-century's great graphic designers. Although he worked in numerous fields, Bass is best known for his unforgettable opening credit sequences for films including Psycho, Vertigo, Carmen Jones, Spartacus, and The Man With the Golden Arm.

 Walt Disney's Donald Duck: “Lost In The Andes” (Carl Barks, 2011)
Fans of the great Carl Barks, creator of Uncle Scrooge and scores of influential Duck stories, can rejoice! Although there have been numerous reprints of his work over the years, Fantagraphics has delivered the first volume in what promises to be a historic series of high-quality reprints of all of the Barks stories. Barks has influenced a diverse array of artists, ranging from George Lucas to Bone creator Jeff Smith, and his popularity has always been even greater throughout Europe than in the United States.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: “Race to Death Valley” (Floyd Gottfredson)
Although not as celebrated today as contemporary Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson created a newspaper strip that placed the internationally recognized animated cartoon star into a long-running, action-packed serial that set the stage for the Disney print comics to follow, including Barks's Duck stories. This version from Fantagraphics is lovingly reprinted and first-rate in every way.


Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
Olivier Assayas's Carlos was one of the great films of 2010, but most American audiences were forced to see the shortened, three-hour version of the life of terrorist Carlos “the Jackel.” When we screened it at the Wex, we presented the full five-and-a-half hour version, and it's this version that the Criterion Collection has released. The running time may appear formidable but Edgar Ramirez's seductive performance, along with Assayas's masterful use of music, violence, and sex, makes it seem much shorter than many films a fraction of its length.

Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932)
Island of Lost Souls has always been one of my favorite pre-Code horror films, and it remains refreshingly creepy, even shocking, in the present day. What really makes this Criterion release for me, however, are the extras, especially the thoughtful interviews with former Devo bandmates Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale. These aren't tacked on extras. The pair's comments on the film that inspired the name of their first album (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!) are a real treat for fans of both the film and the band.

Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán, 2011)
Patricio Guzmán's moving documentary essay is not only one of the best films of the past year but also one of the great docs in recent memory. As in past films such as Battle for Chile, Guzmán examines the history and legacy of the brutal Pinochet regime, this time ruminating on the search for the remains of Pinochet's victims buried in the barren Atacama desert, home to one of the world's most important observatories where astronomers search the heavens for celestial bodies.

The Quintessential Guy Maddin! 5 Films from the Heart of Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2010)
Zeitgeist Films gives Canadian maestro Guy Maddin's the home video treatment he deserves with this box set of five of his feature films (including a remastered version of Careful from 1995) and a slew of terrific extras including audio commentaries by Maddin, a documentary on his early career narrated by Tom Waits, a selection of shorts, imagined audition reels, and more. If only My Winnipeg was available on DVD/blu-ray.

Raffaello Matarazzo's Runaway Melodramas (Eclipse Series 27) (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1949‒1955)
I was excited about this Criterion box set release, through their Eclipse label, for the simple reason that I was familiar with the work of Italian director Raffaello Matarazzo by name only. Matarazzo was famous for a series of entertaining, high melodramas created at a time when Italian neorealism was captivating the film world. I'm looking forward to working my way through the entire set.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
I'm not sure what would be more interesting: someone that would GIVE Salo as a Christmas present or someone that would ASK for Salo as a Christmas present.
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