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The Rhett Stuff: Clark Gable romances Vivien Leigh in the restored 'Gone With the Wind.'


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2004 Gift Guide
Gifts for the festive film lover
Holiday gifts for the Paris Hilton wannabe
Musical cure-alls for the difficult giftee in your life
Clutterless gifts
My big fat art books guide
Scandalous gifts for the lusty angel in your life
Expert gift recommendations for your favorite workplace prankster
Holiday happenings

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It's a Wrap

Gifts for the festive film lover

By Richard von Busack

THERE ARE a few films that—as Umberto Eco said of Casablanca—aren't a movie, but are the movies. Gone With the Wind (around $27, from Warner Home Video) is such a trove of ideas that directors ever after have been trying to imitate its particular magic. It's still the one Civil War movie everyone approves of: the antiheroine Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, seems to represent the spirit of the South under siege by the brutal North, as represented by blockade runner and city slicker Rhett Butler. And that off-screen surrender after she's carried up that mammoth red-carpeted staircase: a sexual Gettysburg. The expanded DVD edition on sale for this holiday season includes numerous extras: biographies of the cast, commentary by Rudy Behlmer who wrote a well-researched, if somewhat partisan, biography of Louis B. Mayer once. Also on the disk are an interview with Los Gatos' own Olivia de Havilland (who played Melanie) and footage of both the original premiere in 1939 and the Civil War Centennial reissue in 1961.

This winter, hordes will be heading out to see the film version of Phantom of the Opera. As Andrew Lloyd-Webber's operas are an unshakable argument in favor of deafness, the silent version of Phantom needs no excuses. Milestone Video (milestonevideos.com), a refreshingly eclectic foreign, silent and nonfiction outlet, is offering a fine seasonal gift for the goth in your life: the DVD The Phantom Of The Opera: The Ultimate Edition ($24.95). It's the slightly slow yet indelible version of Lon Chaney Sr.'s elaborate story of revenge, set in the catacombs of the Paris Opera. The disks include both versions of this classic—the 1927 original release and the 1929 rerelease with Technicolor sequences. A crimson Chaney, skull-faced in his Masque of the Red Death outfit, is real nightmare material. Lon Chaney is even more scary than Dick Cheney.

Silent, and less deadly, are Kino Cinema's myriad box sets, which can be got direct through kino.com. Their desert-island-worthy selections of Chaplin and Keaton from years past are still in print, and they've added selections of work by some of the masters of German Expressionism. The Fritz Lang Epic Collection ($74) is a boxed set of five of Lang's influential and still-thrilling silent films. It includes Lang's paranoid Spies, the inimitable Metropolis—pretty much the last word on the dystopic future, nearly 80 years later, his rocket-jockey epic Woman in the Moon and a silent-version of Wagner's operatic forebear to Lord of the Rings, Die Niebelungen.

F.W. Murnau's dreamy silent cinema is different than most of the German Expressionists. Though he made the deathless vampire movie Nosferatu, he was a more delicate spirit. As seen in his classic Sunrise, Murnau liked the morning mist as much as the other German directors liked their thunderstorms. Kino's boxed set on Murnau ($89) is essential viewing. Included are Nosferatu, his too-little seen Faust (with his Mephistopheles looming over a medieval village like Godzilla), his version of Moliere's Tartuffe, the almost-without-intertitles melodrama The Last Laugh and his South Seas story Tabu.

I find Wong Kar-Wai's movies both precious and arduous. But there's no question that Kar-Wai was the one director who best depicted the mood of Hong Kong as it waited for the takeover in 1999. A sense of exile-to-come is present in his movies, in the same way the films of the German Expressionists seem to foretell the political hammer looming over Germany. Kar-Wai's films are always visually beautiful—they're regretful, richly nostalgic and as piercingly sweet as the tinned pineapple the cop wolfs down in Chungking Express. The film is about Hong Kong's night market and the people who live, die and vanish around it; it was brought to America by the urging of Kar-Wai's big fan Quentin Tarantino. Chungking Express is one of the five in the Wong Kar-Wai Collection Kino is offering—these include As Tears Go By (1988), Days of Being Wild (1991), Fallen Angels (1995) and Happy Together (1997). In their way, they're all perfect alternative holiday movies—sad, dark tales lit in rainbow neon colors, as if by Christmas lights.


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From the November 17-23, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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