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Outrageous Fortune: Thirteen and a half hours of watching Richard (Mark McKinney, left) flip out on Sanjay (Colm Feore) on 'Slings and Arrows' is almost too good to be true.

Out of the Box

DVD releases of 'Slings and Arrows' and 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' shatter expectations.

By Michael S. Gant and Richard von Busack

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
One disc; Kino; $29.95

Soviet-Armenian director Sergei Paradjanov's 1964 masterpiece of life in the Carpathian Mountains, "forgotten by God and people," tells the story, somewhere in the past, of the peasant Ivan (Ivan Mikolajchuk), who loses the love of his life, wanders in exile and participates in celebrations and lamentations. Eventually, Ivan marries a bright-eyed, faithless villager (Tatiana Bestayeva) who cannot lure him back from the ghostly appeal of the woman he lost. The Georgian filmmaker's extraordinary sensuality combines the dreaminess of Vigo with the feeling for the natural world of Herzog. Yet this director was alone in innovation and Jungian power. Fawns and lambs, horses and fires, eggs and apples, storms and streams--all are contemplated with a morning-of-creation awe. Some of the ideas here turn up in the modern cinema: the mysterious log barge coursing down a river in the fog as its crew looks for a dead woman is all over Apocalypse Now; a tree bursting into flames to symbolize orgasm can be seen in Pleasantville. Kino's print of this much-mutilated film is very good, if not visually restored, and includes scenes that didn't make it onto earlier video issues. The coming attractions include the good news that Paradjanov's The Legend of the Suram Fortress is also being reissued by Kino. A slideshow of the director's fine art is as beautiful as it is enlightening; less so is the underwhelming 2002 documentary Islands, comparing the career of Paradjanov with that of his great friend Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Rublev). Out-of-context film clips try to illustrate both artists' sufferings at the hands of Soviet censors and judges. In Paradjanov's case, they knew who they were after--Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is perhaps the least Soviet movie ever made in the U.S.S.R. (Richard von Busack)

Slings & Arrows
Seven discs; Acorn Media; $59.95

The Canadian TV comedy Slings & Arrows ran for three seasons (2003-2006) and just 18 45-minute episodes. The box set (with an extra disc of interviews) will leave you wanting more but admiring creators Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne and Bob Martin for knowing how to bow out on top. Combining The Office and Waiting for Guffman, the show follows the fortunes, egos and libidos of the New Burbage Festival of Shakespearean Theatre. Kid in the Hall McKinney plays the bumbling executive director with the ultimate nondescript name, Richard Smith-Jones. His administrative assistant, Anna (Coyne), is an overstressed but chipper office enabler who fixes the copy machine, rides herd on the interns and serves (begrudgingly) coffee. Artistic director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) suffered a breakdown during a performance of Hamlet seven years before and now lives in the theater's storeroom ("How's that going?" "It's an easy commute," he quips). His one-time lover, Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), is a neurotic diva. The festival's emeritus director, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), is run over by a ham-delivery truck early on but returns as a ghost giving Geoffrey staging advice. Visiting director Darren Nichols (Don McKellar of Twitch City) hates theater and favors Roland Barthes-style deconstructions, including a Romeo and Juliet in which the leads never look at each other. Each season follows a single main play--Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear--with the offstage antics mirroring the onstage text. In my favorite subplot, Richard, worried that the festival's aging subscribers are literally dying in their seats, hires a New Age ad agency headed by a Nixon-quoting visionary named Sanjay (Colm Feore), who embarks on an ad campaign featuring billboard come-ons like "Bite Me" and "Piss Off": "You know who thought this up? An idea-blast team composed of a puppeteer, a professional figure skater and a 9-year-old child!" he explains to an apoplectic Richard. The show manages to be raucous, profane, witty and, best of all, really in love with the agony and ecstasy of putting on a play. (Michael S. Gant)

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