Friday, January 5, 2007

DUST DEVIL - Annotating the full DVD Edition

Wendy is reborn and faces down a phalanx of South African Casspirs on the highway.

January 5, 2007
DUST DEVIL – Annotating the full DVD Edition

I suppose it was inevitable that I would comment further on Richard Stanley’s DUST DEVIL – The Final Cut. His opus, a 5 Disc DVD edition, was published in September, 2006. Now, please don’t quibble with my terminology. Opus it is. This work is not merely the release of an anthology set of his films. Richard is a master of visual expression but he also clearly loves to write and to talk, and he is very good at both. His creative vision is laid down in these five discs, chapter by chapter. With Richard Stanley you get a content rich environment.

The “Final Cut” was actually premiered in Montreal in 1997, but it took almost ten years to have it transferred to DVD. That is a ‘Red Rose’ pity. (Canadians of a certain age will know what I mean.) Richard has been to Canada several times, and I certainly hope he brings a new film to Vancouver some time soon. For now the single best way to enjoy his work is to buy or borrow the Subversive Cinema 5 disc set. I did buy many quality DVDs in 2006 but only two sets really knocked me out. When it comes to extended edition product, my terms are unconditional. I have no shelf space for junk. A 2nd or 3rd-dip DVD has to warrant repeated viewings, it must demonstrate high craft, it should be informative, and must show me important content which I have never seen. Or even better, things I have longed to see, and are only now created. The only other 2006 release which I’ve enjoyed on that level was Peter Jackson’s KING KONG – the Deluxe Extended Edition.

Is it a just a bare coincidence, I ask myself, that these two heavyweight video publications rattle my cage in the same year? I think not. Convergence my friend, requires the active handiwork of many thinking men. Peter Jackson got his career inspiration from the original King Kong, and so did Richard Stanley. Ten years ago Stanley told a reviewer that his father had a “huge” obsession with King Kong, and that as a youngster he was exposed to repeated screenings of the 1931 film. He believes Kong was the first movie he ever saw. He added that “my father's obsessive love of Edgar Wallace and King Kong probably rubbed off by communicating to me that somehow this was important.”

Consider what is contained in this "Limited Collector's Edition".
I'll help you.

Disc 1: DUST DEVIL - The Final Cut

* The Feature Attraction on this disc is The Final Cut, the Director’s own vision of the story, as delivered to Festival audiences in 1997.
* A commentary feature with Richard Stanley talking about production issues and other good things. Interview taping was conducted by Norman Hill of Subversive Cinema. This is all content with no blowing of kisses; Richard could talk the ass off a mule.
* An interview with director Richard Stanley and his Composer, Simon Boswell, which runs for over 30 minutes. It broadens coverage of the film but also delves into Richard's career.
* Dust Devil “Home Movies.” This is a collection of footage shot for personal enjoyment. There wasn’t any DVD back in 1991 so it not as staged as what we get today. How often have you heard Peter Jackson say “Save that for the DVD!” ?
* Dust Devil the 16mm Scrapbook. This is a sequence of production stills that are flipped like book pages.
* Original 16mm theatre trailer for the original 16mm, 85 minute version of Dust Devil.
* Stills Gallery. More production stills of course.
* Text biographies of those involved in the project.
* Trailers. Trailers for other Stanley films and other Subversive Cinema DVD releases, including a DVD trailer for Dust Devil.

Disc 2: DUST DEVIL “Work Print”

* This is his work in progress cut, that clocks in at 115 minutes. The extra 7 minutes may be very crude, but are certainly worth viewing. Decide for yourself.
* Included is an Intro segment by the director.
* No chapter selection menu is provided, but the Print is divided into chapters, allowing the viewer to get closer to the extra sequences.


* SECRET GLORY is Stanley’s documentary about Otto Rahn, a German writer who worked for Hitler’s S.S. Rahn became convinced that he had found where the legendary Grail was hidden, and with the financial support of the S.S., he began a quest of sorts, to uncover it. It began as a research project Stanley did for Britain’s CHANNEL 4 Television, intended to exploit public interest in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Stanley will undoubtedly return to this subject in another documentary film or even a feature, This is a work in progress, and Richard has plenty of unused footage stored somewhere.
* A commentary featuring Richard Stanley and Norman Hill discussing the origins of this film and the evolution of the project. Stanley is a walking encyclopedia of Nazi culture and all of it is verifiable, if you have a large enough library. I do.
* An interview with Richard Stanley with even more information on the making of the film.

Disc 4: Voice of the Moon and The White Darkness

* Voice of the Moon is video mood piece that Stanley edited and set to music from cans of 16mm film he shot while living (and fighting) with Mujahadin rebels in Afghanistan, during the last days the Soviet occupation. The only narrative is a Sufi poem, beautifully supported by Simon Boswell’s haunting music. At that time he also met the Taliban.

*A Commentary track once again with Stanley and Norman Hill. What emerges is Richard’s sensitivity for the plight of the Afghani’s and the fact that he is also brave man. Further, he clearly relishes teasing the audience with bits and pieces on his encounters with the Taliban and also his part in the mystery surrounding the notorious death of Carlos Mavroleon. [Read “Addicted to Danger”, in the Feb. 1999 issue of VANITY FAIR].
* An Interview with Richard Stanley. The subject is of course the “making of” his Voice of the Moon, a project originally funded by UNICEF, but never finished.
* The White Darkness (clever title that) was commissioned by the BBC and documents current Haitian voodoo practices, while speculating on their origin. I think Richard has nailed it on this one. I learned much, and am convinced by his imagery and his insight. He is steeped in the legends and cultural lore of so many races, that one can readily detect the influence of intelligent parents. This guy sat on a copy of The Golden Bough, and it’s still stuck to his ass!
* Commentary track on The White Darkness, again with Stanley and Norman Hill.
* An Interview with Richard Stanley dealing with production, and also how much fun he had messing with the American peace keeping force which descended on Haiti in 2000.

Disc 5: Simon Boswell: Dust Devil Score

* This is not a DVD, but a CD recording of the score of the film. It is very good and the score was clearly written with input from Richard, as it incorporates some samplings designed to cue the audience when the homage bits to Sergio Leone are coming up.

Crowded into the case are also three colour booklets. A book of essays on the three documentaries, a Production Diary for DUST DEVIL and a comic book written and drawn by Phil Avelli. Also, the DVD case has a reversible slip cover.

I first learned of this DVD set in a review Moriarty posted to AIN’T IT COOL. The movie sounded intriguing enough - a horror flic set in Namibia during the pullout of South Africans forces. The fact that the movie director was himself South African, and had also written documentaries on Nazi culture, Haitian society and the guerrilla war in Afghanistan, grabbed my interest like pubic hair caught in a zipper. He was punching all the buttons as he ascended the elevator of my many interests. How could so much material be crammed into one DVD release? It can, and was. This man is a great story teller but he is also a teacher and a good researcher. I’m a details freak. One of my favorite features in Jackson's KING KONG - Deluxe is the program on the historical research and superb digital restoration of New York during the Depression. It’s simply unparalleled.

Consider this – A scholarly book was also published last year by Viking Press, which covers the subject Richard explores in SECRET GLORY. The book is heavily dependant on the archives of Das Ahnenerbe, the elite Nazi Research and Educational Society founded by Himmler in 1935. Until I encountered Richard Stanley I had believed that the author (who incidentally lives near Vancouver) was very thorough. Then when I viewed Richard’s SECRET GLORY, and listened to him describe his own research, I realized he had uncovered a wealth of material on a fascinating figure who should not be overlooked. The best selling book has only a single mention of the name Otto Rahn, and no mention of Richard’s film.

I think we can trust this guy, and I happily acknowledge his quality. Let's hope he has a very productive 2007.

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