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Buy one of the following DVDs Richard von Busack mentioned in his article:

'M. Hulot's Holiday'

'Mon Oncle'

'Fiend Without a Face'

'The Devil and Daniel Webster'

'Haxon (Witchcraft Through the Ages)'

Takashi Miike's 'Dead or Alive' (unrated director's cut)

'Bob le Flambeur'

'The Art of Buster Keaton'

'The Man Who Laughs'

'Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris'

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Scroodge Buster: For the silent film seeker cue Kino's 11-DVD set of 'Art of Buster Keaton'.

2003 Gift Guide

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Silver Scene

DVDs for the season, with all the jingle bells and whistles

By Richard von Busack

OUTSIDE, there are germs. There are muggers, animals that might attack and teenage snipers gone spiral-eyed from too many viewings of The Matrix. Inside the house, it is warm, safe and dark, and there is no cover charge. It's an easy choice.

Buying movies online for loved ones is just as easy a choice--this way, they won't have to risk the outside world either.

For the most shut-in of the shut-ins, consider a subscription to Netflix (www.netflix.com, $19.95 a month). The 5-year-old Los Gatos-based website is still the king of online film rental organizations, with free shipping both ways, 15,000 titles and no overdue fees. At any time, subscribers can keep at least three of their DVDs indefinitely. Netflix is beginning to offer exclusives, such as the not-to-be-missed documentary Daughter From Danang, and frequent commentary from the knowledgeable yet affable film critic James Rocchi.

Few companies are as aptly named as Criterion ("principle taken in standard of judging," defines the OED). Known for the highest quality film restoration, and the utmost in scholarly annotation, Criterion Home Video (www.criterionco.com) boasts yards of titles. Too late for the Christmas season--but there's always Russian Orthodox Christmas--is their long-awaited reissue in DVD of M. Hulot's Holiday and Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati. Mon Oncle is a gentle comedy about an out-of-step Parisian; it is remembered especially for its keen satire of architectural crime (such as goes unpunished in the valley, so chockablock with ugly housing). Criterion's catalog includes works by Truffaut, Fellini, Hitchcock, Bergman and Michael Powell. The average price for Criterion's DVDs is steep, though; on www.amazon.com, the titles run about $36.

This connoisseur video company also distributes wilder stuff, such as its restored version of 1958's Fiend Without a Face. (The Fiend, a flying brain with a prehensile spinal cord, just had a cameo in Looney Tunes: Back in Action). Criterion's film notes say, "Fiend Without a Face is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Created on a high-definition Spirit Datacine and enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions, this new digital transfer was mastered from a 35 mm composite fine-grain master. To further enhance the picture, thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed." Sweet! I'm not sure what a Spirit Datacine is, but I'm convinced that this is exactly the right tool to restore a flying-brain movie to the visual splendor its creators intended.

Criterion's selection of classics of the macabre should be popular during the light-starved, ghost-haunted solstice. Check out William Dieterle's too-little known The Devil and Daniel Webster (perfect viewing in hard and corrupt times). Criterion's edition of 1922's Haxon: Witchcraft Throughout the Ages, was taken from a master owned by the Swedish Film Institute. It is a DVD that no goth should be without.

The even-more hard-core person on the holiday list might deserve a treat from Something Weird video (www.somethingweird.com), Earth's most sumptuous treasure chest of ciné mauvaise. The one-stop shop for the peculiar works of the late Doris Wishman, plus vintage smut, elderly burlesque reels, 12 volumes of old anti-ciné16 educational films (titled Campy Classroom Classics) and several volumes of the Dusk to Dawn Trashorama Show of drive-in movie ads and coming attractions. Perfect for that special someone who longs to see the dancing hot-dogs cartoon at least once more in her life. Almost nothing in the Something Weird catalog is more than $20.

Kino (www.kino.com) is still in the business of rereleasing films for theatrical exhibition, from Takashi Miike's odd and poetic policiers to J.-P. Melville's Bob le Flambeur. Its site is indispensable for fans of silent film on DVD. If their warehouse caught fire, the first thing I'd grab is the 11-DVD volume Art of Buster Keaton ($160). Most of Kino's DVDs are priced in the neighborhood of about $20.

Some of the newest offerings are hard-to-find films by Paul Leni, an expressionist master who died too young. His movie Waxwork (1924) is one of the first horror anthology films. Leni's The Man Who Laughs (1928) stars Conrad Veidt as the disfigured antihero. Veidt gave Batman's creator, Bob Kane, the idea for what the Joker should look like.

Just past the 25th anniversary of Jacques Brel's death, Kino offers Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (about $20), the first release of a musical revue that's been out of print for decades. The selections include Brel himself singing his hit "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (A hit as "If You Go Away"--the lyrics were massacred in translation by Rod McKuen). Brel's cabaret music will apply to the listener a layer of class and world-weariness as thick as the lacquer on a Lexus.

With such websites, you can turn the TVs of you and yours into shrines of cinema greatness, while the rest of the world goes nuts outside.


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From the November 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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