This is a film i didn't catch in the theater, so the two disc set was a bit of a leap of faith. It was rewarded, because reviews were poor i was pleasantly surprised. Something like when we saw Howl's Moving Castle a few weeks ago, and lo and behold, it didn't suck, we could understand what was going on without having read the book, AND we caught some character points taken from the book that some reviewers who read the book missed. Now i know why people who haven't 'read the book' get so cranky when i criticize films on that basis. But i digress... kinda like Wes Anderson...
Yep, it's episodic, meandering, with no real plot. Does anyone actually watch an Anderson movie for crackerjack suspense and airtight storylines? We're not exactly in a golden age of cinema, but one of the gratifying trends is younger directors' embrace of Robert Altman's style of filmmaking - open stories showcasing a talented ensemble cast. The character parts, sets and music are as essential as the stars and the premise. In some ways, The Life Aquatic reminds me of Brewster McCloud, an Altman film i love beyond all reason. Of course, as Altman used the Houston Astrodome to create his fantasy world, Wes Anderson and his sensational production designer Mark Friedberg built theirs in a far more elaborate way.
Which brings us to the DVD specifically, and how it seems as though The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums were made for leisurely home viewing with extras. When you've seen the film two or three times, documentaries, interviews and artwork mean much more. It's nice to see a bit about the remarkable stop motion animation of Henry Selick and the wonderful Belafonte cutaway set. The music extras are the most unexpected delight. Mark Mothersbaugh gives some good tales of how he got an orchestra to sound like a Casio, and complete performances by Seu Jorge of all the Bowie songs he does in the film round out a package exceptional even by Criterion standards. The only thing missing is a disc with the original soundtrack. i yearn for that because my copy stinks. The Life Aquatic ST is the only thing i've purchased from AppleTunes that has such broken DRM that the quality is ghastly. Normally i burn a CD quality copy with liner notes but the copy Apple sent me was junk. Now i'm holding out for a used CD, because though i don't mind paying for music, i do mind paying twice because the product was misrepresented the first time. This soundtrack is da bomb, so it's hard to find. And folks wonder why there's pirating, and copyfight. Sigh.
Robert Anton Wilson is right about F for Fake. If you haven't seen it, you must, after you've prepared yourself to have your head screwed off and returned backwards. Fortunately, it's a fairly painless procedure, what with Orson Welles' charming, freewheeling but carefully crafted documentary approach, and Oja Kodar's remarkable beauty.
Generally described as Welles's exposure of fakery, in reality F for Fake is more a celebration of same. The most remarkable and appealing thing about the film is that it's really a sophisticated process whereby authenticating authorities become naked emperors, and the viewer becomes complicit in the scam. Constructed to confound faulty logic and undermine authority with every frame, this swingin' 70's film has a startlingly modern feel.
This is another grand two disc Criterion extravaganza, including a moving introduction by Peter Bogdanovich and a good audio commentary by actor and co-writer Oja Kodar and DP Gary Graver. Disc 2 has a terrific documentary about Elmyr de Hory, the greatest (known) art forger in history, the central puzzle of F for Fake. Clifford Irving ties into the de Hory story, and is represented by a Howard Hughes press conference exposing Irving's hoax, and Irving himself discussing it on 60 Minutes 28 years later. There is also a feature length documentary on Welles's unfinished works. All interesting, and that's not all.
But, in today's spirit of carping about what might have been in this release, they could have included It's All True, a documentary about the South American "good neighbor" film Welles shot during WWII. It's not a great movie; half documentary, half reconstruction, but it hasn't yet been released on DVD. Perhaps someone will work with Criterion and present It's All True and restore some of the vast footage Welles shot for the film deteriorating in storage at UCLA. The Criterion editors have a flair for the relevant extras that make a DVD a keeper.