Thursday, September 21, 2006

Out There Video

The joys of DVD are wild and varied. Between companies like Blue Underground and Anchor Bay, long lost cult classics are seeing the light of day. Another upstart video production company, Tartan Video continually dazzles the market with releases that alternate between Asian gems (known as Asia Extreme) to American grindhouse experiments. Within the last eight months, Tartan video has released films onto commercial American shelves (i.e. Blockbuster video) that expose visions from internationally recognized auteurs like Chan Wook Park and Takashi Miike. But the real niche of Tartan video is the odd surprise from lesser known gems, such as Kelvon Tong's "The Maid" and Kong Su-Chang's "R-Point". Tartan video also seems to own the distribution rights to a majority of Kim Ki Duk's work. Though I'm not a fan of Duk's usually obscene and intellectually challenged ouevre, the opportunity to hold this negative opinion of this Korean filmmaker is, in itself, largely due in part to the surprising availibility of his work. How can one expect to carry any opinion about something without ever having the opportunity to view it? That's the real advantage given to cinema lovers from Tartan video- love it or hate it, at least they're one of the few distribution companies giving audiences glimpses at the alternative.

As mentioned above, Tartan video doesn't limit itself to Asian oddities. In it's vast catalog also exists a variety of lost classics, either due to rights, content, or the lack of a viable audience outside of New York's Times Square. Probably the most indispensable release from them within the last year was Victor Janos "Last House On Dead End Street". Filmed and released (barely) in 1977, this grindhouse classic came and went. Generally regarded as the film of a madman, the director's name, Janos, never appeared on another film. Some people believed the story and images were based on fact. Some of the film's porn loops, interspersed throughout the film, may have been actual images from this director's own snuff film. The truth was that "Last House On Dead End Street" was financed independently from Roger Watkins, a porn producer who worked up into the 80's. The bottom line is that the film itself- a host of bad acting, stark brutality and poor editing- ingrained all that was nasty and vile about the American grindhouse cinema. It represented the opposite of traditional American film- financed, produced and marketed to the lowliest common denominator of the movie-going public and dumped into theaters in certain red light sections of large cities. Now seen, largely, as the fore runner to the independent movement of the late 80's and early 90's, a majority of these films truly didn't deserve a release. But the ones that survive, such as "Last House On the Left", now employ a home on smaller labels such as Tartan video. Once again, whether you decide to rent and give into the unrelenting nastiness on the screen is your own choice, but it's gratifying that it's there if you wish to.

If anyone senses a theme here, it's that I hold a fairly democratic view on things. More options, for better or worse, can never be a bad thing. When you look over the catalog of companies like Tartan or No Shame, which dedicates its release slate to an even higher degree of esoteric films than Tartan, one can't help but feel alive over the possibility of viewing choices outside the mainstream. Whether grindhouse or Italian crime films are your bag, baby, the option is there. Unlike niche markets or art house cinemas that dot the landscape in ever-growing minorities, at least 80% of my movie watching now occurs on DVD. This is not due to a lack of good 'new movies' as so many of the public loves to decry. I live within 10 miles of 2 art house theaters, but the choice of trudging out in traffic, paying eight dollars and having someone knee me in the back or spill popcorn on me pales in comparison to the small pleasures of lining up titles in my Netflix queue and discovering a new talent like Jun Hwung Jan's sci-fi head splitter "Save the Green Planet" or savoring the ugliness of the Paul Morrisey/Warhol "Blood For Dracula" and "Flesh For Frankenstein". That just sounds much better. Right? And all of the mentioned titles are available from Tartan. Check them out.

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