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The Top 10 Criterion Blu-rays of 2017

Posted by Amoebite, December 18, 2017 01:57pm | Post a Comment

Top 10 Criterion Blu-rays of 2018

Has Criterion gone punk?? Based on the top selling Blu-rays at Amoeba this year it looks as if the primo purveyors of classic, foreign, and arthouse films found much of their success in alternative and cult-y titles by such provocateurs as Alex Cox, Terry Zwigoff, and John Waters. Perhaps it's a slight exaggeration, but based on the thin presence of films for Francophiles and classic film buffs, it seems that the prestigious label has gotten more angsty and alternative. Regardless, Criterion, as always, released a stellar collection of films in 2017. Here are the 10 best-selling Criterion Blu-rays at Amoeba.

Read all of our Best of 2017 lists.

Sid & Nancy Criterion Blu-ray Amoeba Music

10. Sid & Nancy 
Directed by Alex Cox, 1986
Released Aug 22, 2017

The long overdue Blu-ray release of Sid & Nancy has been one of the most anticipated Criterion releases in recent memory, and it couldn't have come at a more poignant time in lead actor Gary Oldman's career. Now regarded as a Hollywood mainstay, and garnering Oscar buzz for his recent portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hours, Oldman broke through to audiences in Cox's kinetic cult flick about the infamous, short lived, heroin-fueled relationship between Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (played by an equally fascinating Chloe Webb), before her gruesome, unsolved death by stabbing. Packed with extra documentaries, archival interviews of the real Vicious and Spungen, commentaries by the cast and crew, and more, this is the ultimate edition of the beloved punk-classic. 4K digital restoration.
Rebecca Criterion Blu-ray Amoeba Music 9. Rebecca 
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1940
Released Sept 5, 2017

Considered a favorite by many die-hard Alfred Hitchcock fans, Rebecca was the director's first production in Hollywood, after making a name for himself across the Atlantic. Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier star is this psychological melodrama, in which the bliss of their new marriage becomes overshadowed by the memory, and possibly spirit, of Olivier's dead first wife. Filled with visual style, atmospheric special effects, and superb performances, Rebecca signaled the arrival of a new master in Tinseltown, and took home the Academy Award for best picture. The new Blu-ray is filled to the brim with special features, including various archival interviews with cast and crew members, three radio adaptations (including one by Orson Wells), screen tests, and a new conversation by legendary film critic Molly Haskell with Patricia White. 4K digital restoration.

Giving up the Ghost: Ghost World

Posted by Charles Reece, April 15, 2012 11:57pm | Post a Comment
   

[This essay originally appeared as part of a roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian.]

Reading Daniel Clowes' Ghost World again got me to thinking about John Barth’s nihilist novel, The End of the Road. The latter begins at a bus station; the former ends at a bus stop. And much like Barth’s protagonist, Jacob Horner, Enid spends the duration of the story searching for an identity, but only succeeds in finding what she’s not. Horner is a middle-aged academic type who’s managed to think himself into a hole, not seeing any potential action as better grounded than another -- sort of an infinite regress of self. Thus, he’s sitting in a bus station in a state of existential paralysis, not able to even come up with a good reason to get on a bus and leave his former (non-) life behind. The abiding gloom that pervades all of Ghost World's vignettes -- undercutting Enid’s hipper-than-thou detachment from those around her -- is a sense that she’s headed to the same destination as Horner: nowhere.

I figure there must be some consilience here, since kinukitty’s main reason for not liking Clowes’ book -- that it’s neither real nor funny -- reminds me of Barth’s prefatory defense of his story:

Jacob Horner […] embodies my conviction that one may reach such a degree of self-estrangement as to feel no coherent antecedent for the first-person-singular pronoun. […] If the reader regards [this] egregious [condition] (as embodied by the [narrator]) as merely psychopathological -- that is, as symptomatic rather than emblematic -- the [novel] make[s] no moral-dramatic sense. [p. viii]

I realize that if one has to defend something as funny, it’s never going to make it so to those not laughing. This is particularly true of existentialist humor, since it’s kind of the obverse of prat falls, namely only funny when it happens to me. So I’m going to stick to the reality of Enid’s predicament. The End of the Road is a bit abstract, where Horner goes through a series of fanciful psychotherapeutic treatments in search of a cure (the search is, of course, at the insistence of a psychiatrist). The most relevant of these is mythotherapy, which involves acting in a chosen character role with the purpose of having it stick through habituation -- an irrational solution to a rational psychosis. Clowes treats the identity formation of teenagers in much the same way, but with a recognizant teen who, like Horner, can’t ignore the ontological arbitrariness undergirding the whole process. Just because teens regularly slip into an adult role without much of a hitch doesn’t mean that there’s not a good deal of truth in her depicted inertia.

To be sure, this is a bourgeois dilemma, requiring enough leisure time to reflect on the construction of one’s identity. The working class has to learn their roles quickly if they want to endure. A day laborer in Horner’s place would simply starve. Class division is explicitly drawn out in Enid’s moribund friendship with Becky. Becky just assumes she’ll have to work after high school, whereas Enid’s dad is pressuring her into college. Enid’s intellectual background is alluded to when discussing her dad’s political interests, which she equates to sports. As she explains, since her family would be the “first ones they’d have shot” during a revolution, there’s little point to true political commitment. A choice between academia or the workforce isn’t any more significant. Becky relates to Enid’s views in much the same way that someone who desires the privileges money affords will act towards those who have always taken their wealth for granted. Becky may affect her friend’s class-based despondency, but she begins to be “cured” upon going to work. Meanwhile, Enid continues her search for an authentic self in the same manner that she began the book, analyzing pop culture:


Just like the rest of us, Enid was born into the media-saturated “Society of the Spectacle,” which makes it damn hard to distinguish the real from its image (“spectacle”). There are plenty who’ve given up the fight, claiming that the shadows on Plato’s cave are reality. It’s this crisis that leads to ironic detachment. Consider what R. Fiore calls the Warhol and Anti-Warhol Effects, which Slavoj Žižek suggests, in The Fragile Absolute, are two sides of the same coin. As sublime imagery became increasingly commodified (think a well-made BMW ad), modern artists increasingly focused on holding the place of Art intact (renewing or creating the “there there,” to borrow a reference from the aforementoned kinukitty). This was done, as a way of separating itself from the beatification of crass commercialism, by filling the spot with crud: a toilet, coke cans and the like. It has the (“Warhol”) effect of focusing the attention on the constraints, or construct, of Art, rather than the depicted object. Capital is quick to adapt, of course, so this shock tactic is of diminishing returns. If I’m correctly following Žižek’s Lacanese, this wide-scale commercial co-optation of not just the aesthetic Sublime, but pretty much anything that once gave off a sense of “authenticity,” has resulted in our no longer being able to identify ourselves in relation to these (formerly) Master Signifiers. Instead, the Self has become fractured, its consistency

sustained by relationship to the pure remainder/trash/excess, to some ‘undignifed’, inherently comic, little bit of the Real; such an identification with the leftover, of course, introduces the mocking-comic mode of existence, the parodic process of the constant subversion of all firm symbolic identifications. [p. 39]

Enid Coleslaw, in other words. Her problem is that she can’t give up the Cartesian ghost; she’s looking for the old-fashioned Cogito, while living in a postmodern world. She tries to define herself by attempting paradoxically to establish defining connections through an ironic detachment from pop culture detritus, as if she can divine an auratic dimension to an anachronism like the Hubba Hubba Diner with its long-haired waiter, Weird Al. Or consider how she “authentically” dresses as a parody of 70s punk. These things can only sustain an identity if a person already believes (or acts as if she believes) in their significance, which is exactly what Enid can’t do. All signifiers carry equal weight, which I suggest is hardly a flaw in her reasoning. Hell, it’s not even possible to call her condition “nihilism” without conjuring thoughts of Mike Myers on SNL, or those three phony Germans antagonizing The Dude with a ferret. Mass culture has even detached us from our detachment. Thus, Enid’s one true act (to borrow from the Lacanians again) is to get on the bus, cutting all her symbolic ties: a symbolic suicide. I’m inclined to see all of this as a good deal more than superficial tragedy. But, then again, one might point out that I have the time to blog about a comic book.

Is There a 78 Revival Going On?

Posted by Joe Goldmark, March 5, 2012 05:00pm | Post a Comment
To check out extensive LP label and price guides, head to the Vinyl Beat website!

One reaction to the digitization of our world has been the resurgence of vinyl and record collecting. People say it’s because a record feels real and sounds better than its CD or MP3 counterpart. Also dropping a needle on a turntable feels like a throwback to simpler times. Some people are taking it even further.

Some collectors are going to the roots and discovering 78s. BTW, these aren’t vinyls; they’re actually made out of a shellac mixture and are pretty fragile compared to vinyl. 78s have a broader tonal spectrum of 400hz to 10,000hz and they sound noticeably better than a 45, LP, CD, or MP3. There’s more music in their grooves!

However, there are some prerequisites for collecting 78s. First you need a turntable that can play them. A good portable ‘50s electric tube record player that can be bought at a garage sale for $50 - $100 will suffice. Purists will get an old wind up Victrola from the ‘20s or ‘30s that’s a real piece of furniture. Some prefer the cheap new designer players. They’ll work, but only until you get something better. The next step is to get a 78 needle if needed and to get your player in working order. Finally, you need to appreciate some of the music from before 1956, because there ain’t no Madonna 78s.

            


The rest is fun. There’s plenty of ways to find cheap 78s, such as garage sales, thrift shops, Craigslist, Amoeba (see Amoeba's online selection of 78s), and record swaps. Select the genres that resonate, and then start collecting and listening. There’s nothing like hearing Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” for instance, played on a 78. It’s a visceral experience.

There’s been articles written about 78 collectors like John Heneghan (pictured below), there’s references in movies like Ghost World (pictured to the right) to collecting, and famous collectors like R.Crumb and Terry Zweigoff. There are also dealers like John Tefteller and Kurt Nuack who specialize in high-end 78 collectibles such as some of the pre-war blues records, which can go for up to $5,000 each.

Here at Amoeba, we’ve been selling 78s inexpensively ($1 and up) since we opened and we’re now also archiving some of them for our future web site.

Speaking of 78s, if you have some to sell or know of a collection, Amoeba is always buying

Ghost World - Walking Amongst the Living Dead

Posted by Miss Ess, May 11, 2010 04:01pm | Post a Comment
I had completely forgotten how good a movie Ghost World is, and I also can't believe it's been almost 10 years since it first came out in 2001!


I don't think I had seen it again since then, and watching this film again with 9 years more life experience under my belt was enlightening in a way. I kinda can't believe this film ever got made, with its explicitly outsider view of the world and brash bitterness.

That said, Ghost World, based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, is hilarious and accurate when it comes to commentary on our ever-more conglomerated modern world and the rough task of even attempting to remain an individual within it. Enid (Thora Birch) and her best friend Becky (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school -- free at last to blossom further into the budding creative types they already are! But is it possible to grow up and not sell out? I love Enid and Becky's dry, honest take on the people and places that surround them, and how the film portrays adolescent boredom and minutiae in all its pathetic, short-sighted and unabashedly self-assured glory.

When they meet 78 collector Seymour (fully embodied by Steve Buscemi), Enid's world opens up further. She learns about integrity and idiosyncrasy in a way that the surrounding city itself can't teach, with its hip hop jukeboxed "50's" diners and "sell up" policy-laden multiplexes...

My favorite character in the film is Enid's caftan-ensconced, spiky haired art teacher, who has a background in performance art (of course!), played to consummate perfection by Illeana Douglas. In fact, anyone who has sat through a high school art class will no doubt twitter in recognition of and amusement with its particular players, portrayed flawlessly here.

Ghost World has something so many films these days lack: subtlety. It's up to the viewer to gauge a scene as hilarious, obscene, truthful, confusing, tragic, whatever it may be. Director and San Francisco local Terry Zwigoff presents Enid's world to us, and through that shows, to those of us who are willing to see, anyway, the increasing difficulties of living an authentic life in a world where everything is a corporate lie. Looking in on Enid's experiences for around two hours at the very least left me feeling less alone in that particular challenge.

Ghost Blogging: Ghost World Roundtable

Posted by Charles Reece, December 27, 2009 08:48am | Post a Comment

I guess I should've posted a link to the entertaining Ghost World roundtable that I participated in over at Noah Berlatsky's Hooded Utilitarian. A fun time was had by most, if not all. It begins here.