World on a Wire Update, Plus Vanya

Consumer-citizens of the United States, rejoice! Criterion has announced that they will be releasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder's wonderful science fiction epic World on a Wire in February. Diligent and obsessive readers of this here blog may remember that I swooned over World on a Wire both here and at Strange Horizons back in September, and I remain as swoonful toward it as before. The DVD/Blu-ray will include a 50-minute documentary about the film by Juliane Lorenz, one of Fassbinder's most frequent collaborators and the head of the Fassbinder Foundation. Lorenz has created documentaries for some of the other DVD releases of Fassbinder's films in the U.S. and elsewhere, and I've enjoyed all of the ones I've seen, so am looking forward to this one quite a bit.

And in equally magnificent — indeed, perhaps even more magnificent — news, Criterion will also be releasing Louis Malle's final film, Vanya on 42nd Street. It's one of my favorites, a movie that has been important to me since the day I first saw it at the Angelika in New York during my freshman year at NYU — accompanied by Carol Rocamora, whose Chekhov course I was taking at the time, and for whom I later did work as a production manager and a copyeditor. My VHS of the film is wearing out, and it will be a real thrill to replace it with the Criterion Blu-ray. I know of only one other film of Chekhov's work that affects me as deeply as some of the great stage productions I've seen — Nikita Mikhalkov's Unfinished Piece for Player Piano, which is a much freer adaptation of Chekhov (created from elements of his first play, Platonov, and some short stories). Vanya on 42nd Street uses David Mamet's adaptation of a translation of Uncle Vanya, and while there are vastly better versions (Carol Rocamora's, for instance!), the synergy of the actors along with director André Gregory is pure magic. I disliked Wallace Shawn as Vanya for a while, but have grown to love him in the role. And Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov gives one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. And Phoebe Brand and Jerry Mayer are charming and brilliant and sad and hilarious. And— Well, I'd better wait. In February, I'm sure I'll want to write about the details, and about watching the film again, for what will be something like the 15th time (I used to watch it at least once every 6 months, and used it with a couple of classes years ago).

If you can't wait till February, Amazon has the film available online, and the old DVD is back in stock after having been unavailable for years (it seems to be still unavailable outside the U.S., alas). I expect Criterion will do an excellent job with the remastering of the image, and though it's not a film that has the sort of striking cinematography that World on a Wire does, nonetheless the intimacy and immediacy of the staging will, I expect, benefit from the new image and higher resolution.

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