Three films have been released to DVD this week that pretty much sum up many of the “revolutionary” feelings that abounded in the 1960s. All three are from The Criterion Collection, which puts out defintive versions of major and classic films from the silent era to the present.
First off is Lindsay Anderson’s “If ….” (1968), a landmark, daringly anarchic vision of British society set in a boarding school in late sixties England. Before Stanley Kubrick made his mischief iconic in “A Clockwork Orange,” Malcolm McDowell made a hell of an impression as insouciant Mick Travis, who, along with his school chums trumps authority at every turn, finally turning violent savior against the draconian games of one-upmanship played by both students and the powers-that-be. Mixing color and black-and-white as audaciously as it mixes fantasy and reality, “If….” remains one of cinema’s most unforgettable rebel yells. The restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, includes such extras as commentary featuring film critic and historian David Robinson and Malcolm McDowell; “Thursday’s Children” (1955), Anderson’s Academy Award-winning breakthrough documentary about a school for deaf children, narrated by Richard Burton; a 2003 episode from BBC Scotland’s TV series “Cast and Crew” about “If….,” featuring interviews with McDowell, Ondricek, director’s assistant Stephen Frears, assistant editor Ian Rakoff, and screenwriter David Sherwin; plus a booklet featuring essays by critic David Ehrenstein, screenwriter Sherwin, and Anderson.
What does the energy harnessed through orgasm have to do with the state of communist Yugoslavia circa 1971? Only countercultural filmmaker extraordinaire and art-house provocateur Dusan Makavejev has the answers (or the questions). His surreal documentary-fiction collision “WR: Mysteries of the Organism” (1971) begins as an investigation of the life and work of controversial psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich (the orgone box) and then explodes into a freeform narrative of a beautiful young Slavic girl’s sexual liberation. Banned in the director’s former homeland, “WR” is both whimsical and bold in its intersection of politics and sexuality … Pushing his themes of sexual liberation to their boiling point, Makavejev followed “WR” with “Sweet Movie” (1974), a full-throated shriek in the face of bourgeois complacency (and movie-watching). “Sweet Movie” tackles the limits of personal and political freedom with kaleidoscopic feverishness, shuttling viewers from a gynecological beauty pageant to a grotesque food orgy with scatological, taboo-shattering glee. With its lewd abandon and embracing of sketch-comic perversity, “Sweet Movie” became both a cult staple and exemplar of the envelope pushing of 1970s cinema. Both films, as per Criterion’s modus operandi, feature new, restored high-definition digital transfers, supervised and approved by Makavejev, as well as commentary, essays and features.
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