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01.02.08

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Phaedra

INSOMNIAC: Henry Gayle Sanders stars in 'Killer of Sheep.'

REWIND

Three new DVD sets highlight past greatness

By Richard von Busack and Michael S. Gant


K iller of Sheep: The Charles Burnett Collection' (Milestone; $39.95) Director Charles Burnett made his 1977 indie film Killer of Sheep for around $15,000 on 16 mm film. This movie was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1990 and became perhaps the most important restoration of 2007 when it was blown up to 35 mm by the UCLA Film Archive, with a little help from the Stanford Theatre Foundation. It is now clear that the roster of the 1970s renaissance filmmakers—Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, De Palma—needs to include Burnett.

The film stars Henry Gayle Sanders as Stan, who has lost his ability to sleep and is trapped in a soul-killing job he can't afford to lose. His best friend, Bracy (Charles Bracy), tries to cheer him up without luck. Stan is also distanced from his unnamed wife (Kaycee Moore) and his child, Stan Jr. (Jack Drummond).

Visually, Burnett puts his seal on L.A.'s Watts—a sandy, distant railroad-crossed prairie with oases of lush plants—as surely as Jean Vigo put his seal on fog and canal boats in France. Uninterested in melodrama, Burnett shows the gentleness that surpasses all oppression.

The set includes a perceptive essay by critic Armond White; before-and-after versions of Burnett's lost feature My Brother's Wedding (1983/2007), now restored by the PFA; and an interesting new two-scene short about Hurricane Katrina, Quiet as Kept. This affectionate dialogue among a weary, cash-strapped family is the antithesis of a sitcom. —RvB

'Battlestar Galactica: Razor' (Universal Studios; $26.98) The BG hiatus has become nearly unbearable (season four doesn't start till April, so say we all), so the SciFi channel rustled up Razor and got it out on DVD just two weeks after its broadcast. Razor jumps back to the appearance of the Pegasus, commanded by Adm. Helena Cain (the name echoes The Caine Mutiny, and Michelle Forbes' nervous-finger routine recalls Humphrey Bogart's ball bearings). The familiar faces—Starbuck, Number 6, et al.—appear, but the story concentrates on a new figure, Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), Lee Adama's choice for XO of the Pegasus when he takes over.

In a series of flashbacks to 10 months ago and 41 years ago, Razor amplifies several backstories, while also charting a dangerous mission to a cylon ship. The jumbled chronology will confound all but devotees. Still, there's plenty to like, especially the first cylon-human hybrid marinating in its bathtub. The disc includes both the broadcast version and the "unrated, extended" version, which adds about 15 minutes. Cast and creator interviews, behind-the-scenes how-to's and the web "minisodes" round out the package. —MSG

'Lady Chatterley' (Kino Video; $29.95) In three versions of his novel, D. H. Lawrence tried to combat English prudery with a pastoral vision of love in the story of a cross-class affair between titled Constance and gamekeeper Mellors. Director Pascale Ferran adapts John Thomas and Lady Jane, the least known of the three versions. As played by Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, Oliver Parkin—the mild-tempered divorced gamekeeper—bears almost no resemblance to the studly Mellors. Ferran has stripped the Englishness from this account. Gone, too, is something fragrant: the Northern English dialect that proved that Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands) and her lover were literally speaking different languages.

The film won a scad of French Academy Awards—one of them for costuming, which sounds like a joke (unless nudity is the best clothing). And it would be a joke, except that Constance wears vixenish hunter's reds and scarlet velvet, matched with the golden reds of the woods. Lady Chatterley is probably the best fall-colored movie since the rousse Rene Russo starred in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

This is a woman's film, so most of the sexuality takes place in the faces, not in the bodies. And it finishes on a precise moment of realized happiness. It's the way one wants an affair to close if it is closing: with sad satisfaction and no guilt. The minimal extras include the English and French trailers and a photo gallery. —RvB


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