santa-graph, american

december is here and your holiday shopping clock is ticking. not to worry. i'm here to help.

for all of you who didn't get everything you needed on black friday/cyber monday, welcome to the vitagraph, american holiday gift guide for 2010. below are some of the best things i have come across this year. if you are short on ideas for the cinephile in the family, these suggestions might help.

for the locals:

if you're from austin, or someone you love lives here, you should consider a one-year membership in the austin film society. it's one of the most thoughtful gifts i have ever received. starting at $30, they are a bargain. you get free admission to their essential cinema series for an entire year, which showcases films from home and abroad that you will seldom get the chance to see anywhere else, much less on the big screen. you also get discount admission to their avant cinema and documentary tour series and to events at the alamo drafthouse and the arbor plus advance shots at premieres and other red carpet events. if you want to go with them you can get a pair of memberships for $50. if the recipient is a budding filmmaker you can also opt for the higher membership levels, starting at $50 for one, that include access to other AFS resources, eligibilty for fiscal sponsorships and more. support local cinema!

for the quiet type:

you may have already read my impressions of criterion's new edition of charlie chaplin's modern times (1936), their 3 silent classics by josef von sternberg and about our upcoming screening of buster keaton's sherlock jr. (1924) and fritz lang's metropolis (1927). if you have someone on your list that enjoys silent cinema like i do, i would like to recommend, in addition to the aforementioned titles, kino's three-disc set of louis feuillade's fantômas: the complete saga.

these five films, made between 1913-1914, mark the appearance of the first master criminal in cinema history. everyone that follows, from dr. mabuse to keyser söze, is indebted to the man behind this mask. this is the rosetta stone of crime thrillers and it comes with a couple of short bonus featurettes and two commentary tracks. who is fantômas?!

for the music lover:

ok, so if silence isn't their bag, dig this!

both the t.a.m.i. show collector's edition (1964) and the best of soul train recently hit the dvd shelves! the t.a.m.i. show, the holy grail of concert films, has long been unavailable in any version except shoddy bootlegs and this version has restored the beach boys material that was removed from the initial theatrical release. between this and the best of soul train, you get marvin gaye, stevie wonder, chuck berry, the supremes, the soul train scramble board, the jackson five, barry white with full orchestra (!), afro sheen commercials, the rolling stones attempting to follow james brown (the worst mistake the band ever made, according to keith richards) and sweet don cornelius action.

you'd be a fool not to get this.

for the explorer:

these won't be for everyone, but if you have someone with more avant-garde sensibilities on your list, these are some of the most fascinating experimental film sets this year.

both eclipse series 19: chantal akerman in the seventies and by brakhage: an anthology, volumes one and two are simply amazing. these two filmmakers tread ground that most never come near. there is nothing safe or sanitized here. akerman is a perfect stillness. her camera is gently insistent, never wavering in its gaze, asking you to look and then look again until you begin to see through the mundane to the sublime underneath. brakhage, on the other hand, was moving in a million directions at once, filming it all, at times escaping the bonds of the camera altogether. he will make you reconsider what you think movies are and what they are capable of.

for the mistie in the family:

2010 saw not one, but three new mystery science theater 3000 collections arriving in stores (volumes XVII, XVIII, and XIX).

the special edition of volume XIX has this collectible gypsy figure in it. keep circulating the tapes!

for the bogart lover:

you have a couple of ways to go here. the essential collection has practically everything it. all the big ones are here - the maltese falcon (1941), casablanca (1942), the big sleep (1946), treasure of the sierra madre (1948) along with twenty others, not to mention fifteen full-length commentaries, fourteen historical featurettes, newsreels, cartoons, a book and more. if they love bogart, but don't already have all of these, this is damn near perfect. if they have a lot of the titles included in the box, or that price tag is too steep, a nice alternative is the commemorative edition of the african queen (1951). finally released on dvd this year, this set includes a second disc with the original lux radio broadcast with bogie and greer garson and a reproduction of katharine hepburn's out of print memoir of the making of the film.

for the criminally-minded:

the red riding trilogy is a grim and gritty fictionalization of circumstances surrounding the yorkshire ripper case in the north of england in the mid-seventies. among contemporary crime fiction, only the wire is superior. this universe of corruption, bureaucracy, greed and horrific murder is thoroughly inhabitable and completely compelling. if you prefer the golden age, turner classic movies just released the james cagney: greatest gangster films collection. in addition to white heat (1949), the set includes three other lesser known, but no less deserving, cagney pictures and is packed with commentaries, newsreels, shorts and featurettes that let you re-create the experience you would have had seeing these films in the theater. top of the world, indeed.

for someone you must like a whole lot:

this elia kazan collection has the heftiest price tag in this bunch but you can find it for prices that break down to less than $7 per disc if you shop carefully. it's almost worth the whole price tag just because it means america, america (1963) is back in print. if you have a serious fan of american film in the fifties on your list, this one will knock them out.

for the sartorially splendiferous:

any nitwit can slap a movie title on a t-shirt and call it a day. the folks at last exit to nowhere go the extra mile. with an eye for the little details, they create clothes for discerning movie geeks. ever wanted a shirt from the pub in withnail and i (1987)? well, you're looking at it. would you like to show the world that you are a long-time listener, first-time caller to adrienne barbeau's lighthouse radio station in the fog (1980)? they can fix you up. clever folks, neat idea. check them out.

for the reader:

film noir - the encyclopedia edited by alain silver, james ursini, elizabeth ward and robert porfirio is the book about film noir, as far as i am concerned. it's just a must have. it's great for hard-luck dames, two-bit gumshoes and anyone else with even a passing interest in the morally ambiguous world of post-war film. definitive. the new biographical dictionary of film - updated and expanded by david thomson is a different animal altogether. it is voluminous but not a comprehensive reference, as the title may lead you to believe. there are some brilliant bits of analysis and some equally infuriating. he and i definitely don't see to eye to eye on a number of the entries (tom cruise, akira kurosawa) but, damn it, he is witty and eminently readable. his take on richard gere: "there are times when richard gere has the warm effect of a wind tunnel at dawn, waiting for work, all sheen, inner curve, and posed emptiness. and those are not his worst times". ZING! half the time you'll want to throw the book across the room. every copy should come with his home phone number. either way, it's a great read and he certainly gets conversations started, and here at vitagraph we are all about that.

for the person who has everything:

check these out!

jon-paul kaiser took a bunch of mini munny vinyl toys from kidrobot and reconfigured them to be the seven samurai (1954)! unfortunately, these aren't available in retail stores but he does do custom figures on commission. you can contact him via his blog. he's in the UK and it's awfully close to christmas, so i doubt anything could be done for this year. it could be pretty expensive, as well. i haven't inquired about rates. but, if you have someone that this would be suited to, you can start working toward next christmas or any other special occasion. what would you have made? the universal monsters pantheon? the original ocean's eleven (1960)? the marx brothers? the dirty dozen (1967)?! how cool would it be to have a li'l lee marvin, charles bronson and ernest borgnine? a tiny john cassavetes would be just about the best present in the world.

well, i hope that helps. in the interest of keeping it manageable, there were tons of other things that i left off. if you'd like to talk about some of those, or add your own good ideas, please feel free to put it in the comments section. ho ho ho.


  1. I'd be happy with pretty much anything from that list. The Mother Black Cap tee-shirt is awesome.

  2. yeah, those guys at last exit do some pretty good work.