The Spirit of the Beehive

"They felt the film was ... simply unendurable. That no one would go see it."

DVD Watch

The Spirit of the Beehive

Criterion, $39.95

"Illogical obscurantism," "unbearably slow from reel 3 on," and "intellectually ponderous" aren't the usual tribute paid 1973's The Sprit of the Beehive, but they accent the best review Víctor Erice ever got. Franco's censors playing Ebert & Roeper? Fascists.

"They felt no one would go see it," nods the Spanish filmmaker on Beehive's second-disc documentary. "They felt the film was ... simply unendurable. That no one would go see it." Erice laughs, now. And best. The script no one could understand has long since borne out its wildest dream: original image. Inspired by a photo from 1931's Frankenstein, in which the monster kneels lakeside with a young girl, Erice's wonder and awe for one of cinema's "source" images produced a visual tone poem as unforgettable as James Whale's original creation. Only Boris Karloff is sorely and unfortunately missed. Otherwise, beginning with the children of remote Segovia province Hoyuelos chasing after a truck on the cobblestones of 1942, cheering, "The movie's coming! The movie's coming!" The Spirit of the Beehive paints its own ghost story.

Digitally restoring the filmmaker's Vermeer landscape, wherein the connective tissue is distance, the difference between movies and reality isn't anything 6- or 7-year-old Ana knows to distinguish. Neither did the actress Ana Torrent, whose reaction to Karloff emerging from the bushes to find a would-be playmate remains the centerpiece of what Erice captured on celluloid. For Ana, Frankenstein's monster is no metaphor, and not necessarily the spirit her sister Isabel claims. What unfolds thereafter does so filtered through a child's awakening gaze. "The film owes everything to her," acknowledges Erice. "It was she who guided me."

Also Out Now

Solo Con Tu Pareja (Criterion, $29.95): Like Martin Tupper on HBO's long-forgotten Dream On, the sexcapades of Brian Benben doppelgänger Daniel Giménez Cacho domino decidedly Almodóvar in Alfonso Cuarón's 1991 affair to remember.

Changing Times (Koch Lorber, $29.98): Deneuve and Depardieu together again (The Last Metro, A Choice of Arms) in André Téchiné's romantic distraction on the cyclical nature of first amour.

And some last-minute gift ideas from Marc Savlov ...

Forbidden Planet: Ultimate Collector's Edition (Warner Home Video, $59.98): A very young Leslie Nielson, the very hot Anne Frances, Robby the Robot, and monsters from the id get all Jungian on your sci-fi patootie. Classic.
DVD Watch

Oldboy: Ultimate Collector's Edition (Tartan, $39.95): Three discs of Park Chan-Wook's exquisitely disturbing ode to the vagaries of vengeance. Forced dental extractions never looked so good.

Millennium: Seasons 1-3 (20th Century Fox Home Video, $119.94): The X-Files' dark twin never captured the public like Mulder and Scully; nonetheless, Lance Henriksen's demon-haunted FBI profiler, Frank Black, remains the most nuanced of all of Chris Carter's agency characters. Creepy good fun.

DVD Watch

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Hollywood Box Set (Kino, $49.95): Five studies in mordant and amoral chiraroscuro, including the Bertolt Brecht-scripted Hangmen Also Die and Anatole Litvak's The Long Night.

The Art of Buster Keaton (Kino, $179.99): Eleven features (including The General, Sherlock Jr., and Steamboat Bill Jr.), 21 short films, and extras galore. Why the stone face?

DVD Watch

The Wicker Man 2-Disc Set (Anchor Bay, $19.98): Banish Neil LaBute's tepid remake from your mind while scaring the bejesus out of evangelicals everywhere. "A heathen, perhaps, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one."

The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (Sony Pictures, $59.95): As American as Mom, apple pie, and morally bankrupt District of Columbians, five Capra classics and Kenneth Bowser's smart Capra documentary, plus enough extras to satiate even that scurvy spider Mr. Potter (conspicuous in his absence).

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