downside to DVD distribution of nontheatrical works


By contrast, Alexander Gutman's 17 August (2009) is a revelation for every one of its sixty-three minutes, using shots taken through barred windows to show a prisoner, Boris Bezotechestvo, serving a life sentence (for three murders) in perpetual solitary confinement, where all he can do is pace the floor, mumble to himself, anticipate the rotten meals he's given, and almost certainly go horrifically insane. The subject recalls Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1962 novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the cinematic style is clearly modeled on that of Aleksandr Sokurov, employing lengthy takes, leisurely digressions to people and activities outside the main "action," and occasional interpolated tiffany necklaces shots whose purpose is deliberately ambiguous. The film is at once unreservedly physical and unobtrusively metaphysical, contemplating the nature and effects of time while recording a real-world atrocity that's all the more distressing when you remember that the American penal system has become a cutting-edge innovator in this particular form of torture.

17 August is a textbook specimen of nontheatrical film, and Cinema Guild deserves great credit for circulating it. My one complaint is that the minimalist packaging, with no extras and skimpy liner notes, provides virtually nothing in the way of background information on tiffany accessories the filmmakers or the circumstances of the production, which would be especially interesting to have in the case of this highly unusual documentary. The same goes for most of the releases I'm discussing here; it's the most unfortunate downside to DVD distribution of nontheatrical works.

Moving in a different direction, I checked out a few entries in the author-biography genre, to which I've always been partial. The most conventional of the films, ironically, focuses on the most unconventional of the authors. Who's Afraid tiffany rings of Kathy Acker? (2007), directed by Barbara Caspar and released by Women Make Movies, chronicles the postpunk novelist, poet, and all-around free spirit who gathered a cult following in the Seventies and early Eighties, grew more widely famous when Grove Press published her novel Blood and Guts in High School in 1984, and completed many additional books before her death from cancer at age fifty. She also wrote Bette Gordon's marvelous film Variety (1983).

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