MINNEAPOLIS - ST. PAUL,
On DVD: New life for overlooked
Man" and avant-garde films from the early 20th century get a second
Randy Salas, Star
December 17, 2005
From unseen cinema to "Unseen Cinema," two
new DVDs traverse more than a century to bring us films that many people
The first is the recent Ron Howard boxing film "Cinderella Man,"
which quickly went down for the count after its theatrical release,
despite high expectations. The other is a remarkable seven-disc set
of unusual and experimental films made from 1894 to 1941.
"Cinderella Man" is based on the inspirational life of boxer
Jim Braddock, who triumphed over personal and financial hardship to
become a champion. With the Oscar-winning pedigrees and drawing power
of director Howard, writer Akiva Goldsman, producer Brian Grazer and
stars Russell Crowe and RenÃ©e Zellweger, the film's success
But when "Cinderella Man" came out, relatively few people
saw it. A highly publicized money-back guarantee by some theaters pushed
its box-office take to $61.6 million, still disappointing considering
the $88 million it reportedly cost to make the film (plus marketing
costs) and the people behind it.
But Tuesday's DVD release will give "Cinderella Man" a chance
at a comeback, just as an aging Braddock returned to the ring after
being discarded to become a winner. What those who missed it in theaters
will see is a fine, not great, film that's buoyed by Crowe's portrayal
That also describes the DVD (Universal, $29.98) -- fine, not great.
Like the film, the extras on the disc, which devotes an entire side
to the supplements, are too slick and formulaic.
Amid deleted scenes and various featurettes devoted to the history of
boxing, the legend of Braddock and the production of the film, one nine-minute
segment stands out: a conversation among Howard, Goldsman, Grazer and
novelist Norman Mailer as they watch film highlights of the championship
bout between Braddock and heavyweight champion Max Baer. The filmmakers
often seem uncomfortable with the setup, but the enthusiastic Mailer,
a boxing expert, puts viewers right in the ring.
"He's got one thing: He's got tremendous punch," Mailer says
in vocalizing Braddock's thoughts about the overconfident Baer. "If
I don't let that get in my way, I can beat him."
If only Mailer offered historical commentary during the movie, too.
The easy-talking Howard provides good production anecdotes in his understated
solo commentary track, but additional commentary tracks by Goldsman
and co-writer Cliff Hollingsworth are redundant and uninvolving. Pairing
Mailer with Howard and having just one audio track would have been ideal.
While the "Cinderella Man" DVD is notable for what it lacks,
the aptly titled "Unseen Cinema" (Image Entertainment, $99.99)
gets props for what it has: 155 films totaling about 19 hours on seven
discs. There's so much on the set -- beyond our ability to cover in
this short space -- that a book ($18.95) and website (www.unseen-cinema.com,
where the book can be ordered) are devoted to its content.
The discs are broken down by theme -- "The Mechanized Eye: Experiments
in Technique and Form" and "Picturing a Metropolis: New York
City Unveiled," for example. My favorite disc is "The Devil's
Plaything: American Surrealism," whose expressionistic "The
Telltale Heart" from 1928 takes the classic Edgar Allan Poe short
story to eerie depths of depravity.
Some of the avant-garde films, such as 1919's "The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari," have come out on DVD before, but many have not been
available since their original release, and some have never been widely
seen. Culled from 60 film archives around the world, they have been
fully restored with new scores and surely look and sound better than
While "Cinderella Man" is a history-based film that's worth
renting to see what you missed in theaters, "Unseen Cinema"
is history and deserves a spot on any serious film fan's shelf.