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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 11:06 pm 
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Watched Ossos a few months ago and at the time I liked it, but was a tad bit bored through how cluttered it is. Just finished rewatching it though and I've got to say that knowing all of the plot mechanics ahead of time allowed me to love it in addition to the respect I had on first viewing. I'm not sure if there's anything here that makes it unique compared to other minimalist directors, but it still manages to be great like a French painting. There us one small thing I had a problem with. I'm pretty sure this is not a political film so this complaint means even less, but I felt Costa through stylization romanticized his subjects greatly. It's not so much ennobling them as he casts them in such a silence and beauty as to give a sexiness to their life. It really comes across as a christian idolization of suffering which has always bugged me the few times when it comes up. Maybe the subsequent films abstraction will make this point moot, but at least as long as these films resemble life I can only imagine that romance will remain.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:40 am 
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This thread is an interesting read, because I'm not sure I've even seen so many cautious and apologetic reactions to something the viewer didn't seem to actually like. Ossos comes off as the product of a Bresson fan who doesn't understand Bresson, and so we get static shots and non-actors and so on without any necessity to the filmic style. A film does not need a strong narrative to succeed, but there should be at least some narrative logic to a narrative film, of which this film contains none. And then in the muck of this unsure footing the film denies even the most basic pleasure of the cinematic form by denying the viewer simple aesthetic pleasures of an actor's appearance by casting its roles with violently ugly faces. But these "real" people aren't even presented in a naturalistic fashion-- their mannerisms are so artificial and ill-rehearsed that I could probably guess every one of Costa's directorial instructions to the cast-- "Stand at the couch looking at the floor for fifteen seconds, then turn to look at me for three seconds, then turn to enter the kitchen," &c. And beyond the living bodies, don't inflate the import of the inanimate. Filming squalid locales is not tantamount to producing art out of said locales, and as with so many "art" films of late, the appearance of a foreign environment presented in a difficult, obtuse, amateur-hour manner under the auspices of the result being "above" more traditional (read: pleasurable, enjoyable, coherent) films is one big whatever. I look forward to the other films in the set, as I've heard so many good things about Costa by people whose opinion I trust, but Ossos is a pretty dire first taste.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:36 am 
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As evidenced above I kind of agree with you Domino. I'm not sure if you'll react the same way as I did to the other two, but I find Ossos to easily be the weakest film in the set. I wouldn't necessarily say the acting gets better as much as it gets better directed. It feels much less self-consciously artificial and closer I guess to My Dinner with Andre. I'm sure that comes across as a tad odd, but when thinking of the acting, especially in the very talkative Colossal Youth, that movie is the first thing to come to mind. I really believe that the direction of his films has been greatly overstated. His experimentation are not any different than what has gone done since at least Straub/ Huillet who he even made a doc about. Hell I think he's one of the weakest at this new minimalism. That said where I think he's really gathered traction and is as important as his fans make him out to be is in his use of DV. In a matter of speaking he's cracked the code. DV allows for more experimentation than film, but I had yet to see anyone use it in an appealing way. That's changed now with Costa who has given an abstraction to his look that hasn't quite been reached before. From his Ne Change Rien short it seems like he's even topped the work in this set. Maybe it is just the contrarian in me, but I find In Vanda's Room to be the best in the set. It's like a run through a museum rather than any experience I've had with film though. He paints Renoirs in photographs. Also he gets a fucking sense of humour in the later two which is a tremendous relief. I actually burst out laughing to the conclusion of a running gag in Colossal Youth to get an idea of the change of pace.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:29 am 
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I didn't fully warm to these films until Colossal Youth, which I recognized as a masterpiece from the outset. I pretty much agree verbatim with what zedz said about this set in the 2010 wrapup. Yes, there is room for improvement in Ossos, and In Vanda's Room was a chore for me to get through the first time, but you get to witness great strides of progression over the course of these three films and really watch Costa become a master before your very eyes. He also uses some of the same characters in all three films, who you get to see transform from one film to the next from casual drifters and documentary subjects to works of art meticulously positioned in front of Costa's camera. In that context, it's rewarding to go back and revisit the earlier films to remember the origins of these characters, which gives the films more value upon repeat viewings. It's certainly a difficult set (and all the more props to Criterion for putting it out), but I wouldn't trade it for a Colossal Youth standalone. The experience of going through all three films and the extras was something of a revelation for me, serving like a crash course in putting the necessary work in to learn to love a director.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 10:28 am 
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I agree with swo here. I also found one of the short films included (haven't seen the other yet) Tarrafal, as good as Colossal Youth... I think he's definitely improving.

The problem with me with Ossos is the inclusion of the prostitute character who is played by the same actress as in O Sangue and Casa De Lava... She came across as really artificial in this one and I'm glad Costa dropped her from the rest of the films (I believe the Nurse character was also played by an actress, but she felt more natural)

Costa's an interesting one for me; I think the modern minimalist movement is one of the high points in cinematic history, and Costa contributes to that, but the Fontainhas films are all flawed in places: I couldn't get past Ventura reciting that poem from Casa de Lava throughout - Costa says the film is about himself as well as Ventura, so I guess that's a nod to him, but it feels a bit jarring.
Still, the film is great, filled with encounters with slight variations, and a great ending. I've only seen it once though I think I need to see it again to really put it into words.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 3:09 pm 
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I'm also going to jump on in here and agree with Swo. While a film like his first, O Sangue, struck me perfectly as a weird mix of minimalist, art-house Tourneur and which seemed to have a lot more cohesive narrative (though it still isn't a fully narrative film). Ossos is a different film though and like everyone else here, it didn't work for me, especially as a real actress like Mariya Lipkina sticks out terribly in a cast of regular (i.e. the ugliest people he can find) and that Costa doesn't fully understand these people. Having grown-up in a working class neighborhood of Los Angeles with a single parent, we were substantially broke for a good part of my childhood. To me, in Ossos, Costa has a strange anthropological viewpoint of poverty and romanticizes to the point where it's almost silly. It's obvious that Costa was conflicted during the making of the film as the film isn't sure what it wants of the people, narrative and even the locales.

And In Vanda's Room was one of my most difficult viewing experiences. Just to see heroin addicts (which remind me of the lowest points of lives of two friends) freebasing and shooting up while rambling on and on was just so difficult. The idea of someone casually putting down a camera and filming this seems unbearable to me, but after viewing Colossal Youth, it's certainly grown on me a bit. It's still no masterpiece and the film certainly doesn't have to be three hours as I feel it repeats itself frequently, but on a purely technical level, In Vanda's Room is nothing short of an achievement as it's the first film I've ever seen shot on miniDV that doesn't look like an unfocused mess (see any Joe Swanberg or Aaron Katz to understand where I'm coming from). As a piece of solely visual art, it ranks among the most beautiful films in the set. The strange aura of the green digital grain in this low lit rooms makes watching the film substantially easier.

Colossal Youth is an out-right masterpiece and one of the best films of the last ten years. It should completely open the floodgates for filmmakers without money as it uses digital in such a creative and beautiful way (of course it won't).

The only other experience I can compare the set to is The Human Condition where with from the first film to the last in the set, you can see the directors going from merely good to fantastic and honing their skills.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 9:52 pm 
Dot Com Dom
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So, to its credit, In Vanda's Room drops the Bresson emulation, but in its place is an even more ill-informed reliance on artificial naturalism that suffocates all it depicts with inert malaise. Since Costa again denies his film the simple elements of basic narrative coherence in favor of a parade of drug-addled squalor, the picture limits its own usefulness at the outset. But what is shown rings false as realism since we all know that "real life" isn't as uninteresting as the vignettes depicted in this film. This is of course because we're involved in our own lives. But this film refuses to let the viewer involved in the life of the creatures it exploits. So, to what end then? The disheveled ciphers who populate the film remain just that, ciphers, and without any way in, the only role the viewer can inhabit is that of a judge. So what's left is a three hour exercise in distanced cultural and socioeconomic superiority. The film's style stresses that these people aren't worth getting to know or observe except at a cold, safe distance, and it's Costa's condescension both to these alleged nonentities and to the viewer that irks me the most.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 12:04 am 
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I will have to agree completely. Someone mentioned about his films even being slightly erotic and hyperbolic statements about his place in cinema is secured with even one shot. I will certainly give him the benefit of making his films look great, but In Vanda's Room can be quite a chore. The strange distance makes attempts to make Vanda Duarte a tragic figure but instead makes it her a non-entity. It's the same problem with so many new films that in their attempt to create their impression of reality, it ends up becoming something unlike the world I understand. All I have to do is eat a good meal, have a drink or see a friend and you realize how cold these types of films can be.

I don't know if the feeling is exactly socio-economic superiorty as it's guilt for not being an unattractive, heroin addict and for having gone to a good university. People in the real world that Vanda lives in would never see a film like this. It's why I have so much more respect for a good genre film than this.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 12:28 am 
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The Elegant Dandy Fop wrote:
It's the same problem with so many new films that in their attempt to create their impression of reality, it ends up becoming something unlike the world I understand. All I have to do is eat a good meal, have a drink or see a friend and you realize how cold these types of films can be.

Exactly! Reality isn't boring for those living it, only for those looking in from the outside without any sense of what they're actually seeing. A film should depict its subject from within, and so many art house films of late confuse judging with observing-- one requires an understanding, the other doesn't. Ray Carneyites, take note: presenting what seems to be a dull conversation between two people in a film isn't actually depicting the conversation as it pertains to those two people-- it's presenting an external judgment. An interesting conversation in a film, filled with witticisms or deft dialog, feels more real than an awkward one because A, the conversation would be interesting from within, and B, we remember our own conversations as more compact, concise, and clever than they actually were. When a filmmaker attempts to replicate an experience we the audience is supposed to relate to, they have to replicate something resembling our memory of it, which is as glossy as any good scripted dialog and not all fumbles and flubs.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 12:41 am 
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I don't think he is trying to represent reality though, not even the impression thereof. Everything comes across as music or trying to warp an image into sounds. I do hope Zedz jumps in because he's more of an expert. And actually if I had a complaint about In Vanda's Room, which I don't. is that there is too much narrative. The characters do have arcs and events happen in their lives. It's not much of a story, but I think it qualifies as a semi-traditional narrative at it's core. At the very least I was never bored in both my watches.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 12:52 am 
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knives wrote:
Everything comes across as music or trying to warp an image into sounds.

What does this mean?

Reality here is in quotation marks, but the argument that In Vanda's Room is more of a narrative film than some sort of quasi-doc art house mishmash makes defending the film even more inexplicable, because it totally dive bombs on any level necessary for a successful narrative.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 1:23 am 
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I probably phrased thing terribly, but what I meant wasn't that he's trying to develop a narrative so much as there are still elements of a narrative present in this film (Colossal Youth is much more deliberately a narrative film). In Vanda's Room has the stuff with her cousin's and friend's (I don't remember nor care) going to jail for example. It's mostly in having characters that he holds onto a traditional narrative. This is the only element preventing the movie from being perfect to me and what keeps my main complaint on the whole trilogy (that he romanticizes the poor). If his short for Ne Change Rien is any indication that negative aspect is completely gone and I can just follow his rhythms (to give an idea of what I mean by visual music). With all that poorly said I still think it's in his painterly use of DV that he is special not so much on the constructing of some story. So Costa's goals ultimately are neither of the things that you suppose he is trying to be. Like I mentioned earlier it is closer to watching a museum exhibit. Go at your own leisure and enjoy the hypnotizing visuals.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 2:00 am 
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Colossal Youth is much more of a narrative film and when watching it, I don't feel like I'm being smothered like watching In Vanda's Room. That isn't to say I necessarily hate In Vanda's Room as it has it's qualities. The structures of the film and the way they seem assembled has less to do with music which (John Cages and Stockhausens aside) have structure. Even pop music usually has a A-B-A-B-C-A-B structure. The way Costa works is like a photographer taking photos and picking the order of photos. Too bad sometimes if you don't contextualize photos, they end up being merely pretty pictures. Costa doesn't really contextualize it. Ne Change Rien and Colossal Youth are fantastic as he's obviously starting to get a grasp on his conflicted style from the first two films in the set where the way the characters act start to feel more filmic and back to the style of his first two features.

And Domino, thank you acknowledging some of the Carney-ite nonsense. A lot of those films he supports that feign the idea of reality like Team Picture, Dance Party, U.S.A., Hannah Takes the Stairs or In Between Days have almost no basis in reality. I can place a camera and film my friends and family and all the dialogue and action is more interesting than what these films present. You hit it perfectly that when you recall conversations, we never recall all the "uhhhs" or "likes". Part of the fun of cinema is that it trims the fat of the world. And worst of all the the bloodlessness of these films. In real life, my emotional range is constantly changing. With the girl I love, I can lose my temper one minute and love her the next (which is an easy example and explains why romantic comedies work so well is because we put up with each other because we love each other). They all attempt to emulate Cassavetes style of more realistic dialogue and looser story structure without ever realizing that Cassavetes is a man who really sticks to traditional structure and has a deliberately written script.

I really would never like to personally know people who's world view is like the ones in those films.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 2:34 am 
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If you subject these films to the same rules that other films have followed to succeed, you may find little use for them, but for me, the experience was all about learning to appreciate a completely different style of filmmaking. Not necessarily one that is inherently better than all other forms, but one I find very enriching regardless.

Again, I got more what In Vanda's Room was doing after watching Colossal Youth, which I think is a more successful execution of Costa's attempt to present life as art, if only because the visuals in the latter film are much more painterly. Costa has an impeccable way of framing his subjects and their environments that positions them as archetypes of the human experience. In this way, I am almost tempted to think of Costa more as a painter than as a filmmaker. I get the most out of these films when I think of them more as museum installations, letting the visuals just wash over me as I am invited into these intimate, if often ugly, moments in others' lives. I don't get a sense that Costa is judging these characters at all, but rather that he is attempting to draw out all the beauty he can from these people, this place, and this digital medium that he obviously felt such an innate connection to.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 4:44 pm 
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I haven't got a lot to add, really.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, and as swo has reinforced, what I like about this sequence of films is the way it traces Costa's evolution as a filmmaker. In all three films he's trying to deal with essentially the same subject: this discrete community with which he's fascinated but from which he's excluded, and in each film he's trying different, evolving approaches to move from the outside inside.

In Ossos, he's using the tried and true European arthouse model, and I think it fails badly, for many of the reasons domino cites. He's grafting the Bressonian approach onto the material willy-nilly, with little regard to whether it works for the subject. For me, the result is stiff and artificial and unconsciously condescending. Art cinema as the white knight that comes to rescue / ennoble the real impoverished - not that Costa is alone in this wrongheaded approach - it's a very crowded field.

In Vanda's Room makes great strides in terms of technology and in Costa's approach / attitude to the material, and I think it will in time be recognised as a landmark film if only in formal terms, in terms of its mastery of the aesthetic of digital. But while I love its pace and its look, I think the film still hasn't solved Costa's conundrum and consequently has dramatic problems and problems of voice. In one sense, it feels as if he has surrendered too much to the supposed 'reality' of his subjects, without fully understanding just how slippery and stylized any conception of 'reality' must be. So for me a lot of the film is cluttered with signifiers of realism in the place of persuasive verisimilitude (or, on the other hand, persuasive artistic stylization). There are breathtaking sequences where Costa seems to burrow through to the very rarefied and difficult areas he's striving to access, but elsewhere all I can see is the striving. At a much simpler level, I think the film's mission of finding classical beauty within contemporary squalor is achieved, and it's on that visual level that I think the film's power and influence is achieved.

With Colossal Youth, it seems to me that Costa has attained a much better balance between his own artistic expression and providing a voice for his adopted community. Perhaps because he's more confident in his relationship with that community he can be more flexible with it, and get away from problematic ideals of 'realism'. And I think the treatment of light in this film is also more flexible and interesting than the well-achieved but sometimes stifling painterly qualities of In Vanda's Room. Plus I think the way in which he ties the evolution of the community into his own ideas and expression in the film shows a much greater narrative sophistication and invention than the previous films.

Finally, if Costa's relationship with narrative is a sticking point, you're still got Ne Change Rien to look forward to, where narrative is stripped right back down to the simple dynamics of rehearsal, and you can just lie back and soak up the aesthetics.

EDIT: Oh, and I should mention that the extras on this set are invaluable in terms of understanding Costa's project and evolution, but his somewhat vaporous personal expression means that you often have to dig for the important information. Gorin is very useful in giving some shape to his discussion with Costa.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 30, 2010 3:05 am 

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There's a school of thought (including one of the essays in the Criterion set) that tries to elevate Costa to the level of the second coming via the following argument:
1/ Ossos represents 'the best' of what can be achieved through 'traditional' (35mm) methods of filmmaking.
2/ Collosal Youth is massively superior to Ossos.
3/ The drawn out semi-documentary digital video approach Costa takes in Collosal Youth must therefore represent a giant futuristic leap forward for the cinematic medium.

The flaw in this argument is that Ossos is actually an utter failure of a film, an ill-conceived, sub-Bressonian bore by a jejune filmmaker with only the most tangential grasp of both his subject and the possibilities of cinematic form. Even the briefest of comparisons to a genuinely successful modern 35mm filmmaker like Dumont, or even the Dardennes (who, amongst others, have made more than a case for "grafting the Bressonian approach onto the material" zedz) will underline this point, as did the film's meagre festival performance, followed by it's prompt disappearance, when it first came out. The process of making In Vanda's room, however, seems to have opened Costa's eyes and, by the time we get to Collosal Youth, he actually has something to say and has worked out an effective, indeed impressive, means of saying it. I still contend that Colossal Youth would look better shot on 35mm, or at least 16mm (and, whilst Collosal Youth was the best film in Cannes 2006, I imagine the DV images lost a lot of their power when projected onto that massive screen in the Lumiere). In short, despite the hyperbole, there's nothing genuinely epochal about Costa, or Colossal Youth - no formal territory that Godard (eg. Numero Deux), Straub and others haven't explored in decades past, and the use of video is a budgetary compromise, albeit one that pays off, nothing more. But it's still an excellent piece of a work, and it's a pity that Domino and many others will have their opinions coloured by the first two films (Ossos in particular), not to mention those who won't be able to afford the set and will therefore miss out altogether. The dubious pleasure of watching a jejune filmmaker develop his chops is hardly a good enough argument in favour (imagine insisting that Paths of Glory be forever boxed with Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, or Satantango with The Outsider and The Prefab People, or indeed Le mepris with Les carabiniers and Une femme est une femme).


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 30, 2010 1:15 pm 
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I haven't finished the set yet, colossal youth is still waiting so I can't give a full followup to this post but I do want to say that without dv equipment it probably would have been very hard to develop the intimacy with the community that these three films are founded on. You think it would look better on film but Costa might argue that they wouldn't exist at all without video.
I think that your putting too heavy a burden on Ossos and In Vandas Room simply because you feel they are overpraised. In Vandas Room especially is a good film, as is The Prefab People and Une femme est une femme. They are just films where the filmmaker proceeded to top himself later.

Colossal Youth is never going to be sold at walmart so I wouldn't worry about it not being available individually for mass consumption. If someone wants to try it they can rent it on netflix. I loved the interviews with Gorin on this set so I think it's a worthy package even if you don't like the first two films. These are movies I've been waiting to see for years. I'm very happy with it. As far as this vein of filmmaker goes I would love to see Criterion drop an Alonso box in the same manner.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 30, 2010 1:23 pm 
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Alan Smithee wrote:
Colossal Youth is never going to be sold at walmart so I wouldn't worry about it not being available individually for mass consumption. If someone wants to try it they can rent it on netflix.

They actually can't though.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 30, 2010 2:56 pm 
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Good lord, I think Nothing actually just agreed with me. What a way to end the year!


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:51 pm 
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I stand corrected. It was previously available. In Vandas Room and Ossos are still available on Netflix. That don't make no sense.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 31, 2010 12:59 am 

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Alan Smithee wrote:
without dv equipment it probably would have been very hard to develop the intimacy with the community that these three films are founded on.

One person can operate a film camera just as well as a video camera if they make the effort. With 16mm, the levels of light required are similar to video too. But it would have pushed costs up, given the amount of footage that Costa supposedly shot, and so may have made the project impossible on a budgetary level. It also would have been less trendy...

Agreed that a blu-ray set of Alonso's first 2.5 films would be quite welcome, if acceptably priced (ie. almost certainly not from Criterion!). Fantomas doesn't really hold up on it's own, it's more of an extra, but the other two are of relatively equal quality and both quite short - all 3 films + extras over 2 discs, $40rrp, would be about right in the current market.

Alan Smithee wrote:
That don't make no sense.

Presumably somone lost / fucked up the Collosal Youth disc and even Netflix can't afford to replace it - rather underlines the point, I believe. For my own part, there are a few people I'd like to lend the Colossal Youth disc to, but haven't, for very much the same reason. Have no doubt that the price of this set is very quantitively preventing a lot of people from seeing Colossal Youth - which is silly, as it's a 2006 production for which no new master needs to be created, ie. a film that should be available for $10 on Amazon by now. Actually, I'm a bit surprised that a UK label like Second Run hasn't already released it at this price.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:38 am 
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I'm sure you'll like to know Nothing that MOC does have plans to release the films individually eventually.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 31, 2010 4:14 am 

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Any individual release of Ossos would be fawning fanboy idiocy - and massively unprofitable, as the fawning fanboys will aleady own the Criterion (as will all those who give a fig about bounteous special features, etc). Peerpee would be wise to just stick out Collosal Youth bare bones asap; this would cost virtually nothing to produce, but make it R0 NTSC and RRP it under $25 and it should outsell the Criterion pretty quickly.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:20 am 

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Wait, does this mean MoC isn't releasing Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?? (In which case, I'll probably just get the new Portuguese DVD eventually.)


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:30 am 
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I believe I heard that New Wave Films will release Hidden Smile with a Straub film or two, if sales for their Straub disc were good enough.


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