Porky Pig 101 (Warner Archive)
The classic Looney Tunes characters currently occupy a weird spot on the pop culture landscape. They’re too famous to fade away, but they’re not exactly a part of everyday life anymore. Everyone knows who Bug Bunny is, but when’s the last time you watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon without actively seeking one out? Once inescapable, the Warner Bros. characters haven’t really had a hit vehicle since Space Jam over 20 years ago and it’s not like they’re Saturday-morning fixtures anymore. For the current generation of kids — and the one before it, really — they’re threatening to become as obscure as Bettie Boop.
Porky Pig 101 won’t likely change that by winning over new fans, but it’s an extremely welcome project for pre-existing fans. Past DVD and Blu-ray releases have taken a greatest hits approach, throwing a lot of great cartoons together with loose or no organizing principle behind them. This five-disc DVD set tries a different method, with over 100 cartoon shorts starring Porky Pig together in chronological order, from his 1935 debut in “I Haven’t Got A Hat” through 1943’s “Porky Pig’s Feat.” The structure allows fans to watch Porky develop his distinct personality as he goes from a less distinct, and much fatter, pig to the neurotic, stammering, good-hearted porker we know and love.
It’s a tremendous, welcome undertaking, though one probably best consumed a few shorts at a time. It’s also, as a screen warns on each disc, uncensored, meaning parents might want to think twice before exposing their kids to the bad behavior and, especially, insensitive racial attitudes captured within. In other words, Porky and friends will have to win over new fans some other way.
The Lost World (Flicker Alley)
No, not the Jurassic Park sequel. This 1925 film adapts the Arthur Conan Doyle novel that introduced the idea of a land out of time to mass audiences and inspired everything from King Kong to, well, Jurassic Park. It’s an early showcase for effects master Willis O’Brien (King Kong) and it remains an entertaining film in its own right, making it all the nicer to see it getting the features-packed Blu-ray treatment.
Documentarian Murray Lerner, who died this past month at the age of 90, made many contributions to the world of film and music over the years, including this invaluable document of the Newport Folk Festival between the years 1963 and 1965, which was released in 1967. Highlights include Dylan going electric, of course, but its pleasures come more from its survey of the folk scene at the time, and the crowds it drew looking to get in touch with the sound of America in the middle of a troubled decade.
Alfred Hitchcock’s first film for an American studio, Rebecca arrived after much fighting with producer David O. Selznick, who’d grown used to directors who did things his way, not their own. However fraught the behind-the-scenes drama, the spooky, emotionally rich adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel earned a Best Picture Oscar and earned acclaim for stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson, whose Mrs. Danvers’ remains one of the most-imitated screen villains.
However fraught the behind-the-scenes drama, the spooky, emotionally rich adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel earned a Best Picture Oscar and earned acclaim for stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson, whose Mrs. Danvers’ remains one of the most-imitated screen villains.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Universal)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Sony)
It was a good month for Steven Spielberg fans thanks to the Blu-ray and 4K re-release of two of his greatest films. We covered both E.T. and Close Encounters earlier in September, but here’s a reminder that there are some movies worth seeing again and again and here are two of them.
Certain Women (Criterion)
Also worth a periodic reminder: Kelly Reichardt is one of the best directors working today. Released late last year, this film serves as a fine introduction to what she does so well, reworking several Montana-set stories by Maile Meloy into a subtle, moving drama starring Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone (in what should be a breakthrough performance).
David Lynch: The Art Life (Criterion)
This low-key documentary offers a behind-the-scenes look at the great director as he recalls his early life and career while working on some art (and smoking heavily). It’s un-flashy but will be highly satisfying to anyone fascinated by Lynch, who comes off as a thoughtful, hard-working fellow who can’t imagine any other way of living and remains grateful for the breaks he got. (There’s also an amusing story about Peter Wolf.)