We disembarked from the ship around 8 AM yesterday (more on the cruise later) and since the flight home was in the evening I figured I’d have a few hours in town once we reached London. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. First the coach drive from the Southampton port to Heathrow (where I wanted to dump my bag with “left luggage”) took three hours because of an accident on the motorway, detours etc, and then the train journey from Heathrow to Bond Street took longer than I’d figured – over an hour. With the schedule thus thrown out of gear plus some work I had to do in town, this left me with a grand total of…four minutes in my favourite DVD haven, the HMV store on Oxford Street. So I steeled my heart, looked away from the World Cinema section in the distance and concentrated on the Special Deals and Box Sets section near the store entrance. Didn’t do too badly given these constraints. Here’s what I picked up:
- Michael Haneke’s Hidden (Cache) and Fernando Meirelles’ City of God – I have pirated Palika Bazaar DVDs of both films but the discs are heavily scratched and don't have much of a future and the special features weren’t working, so…
- The rotoscope-filmed A Scanner Darkly, based on the Philip K Dick novel. I first heard about the movie from Space Bar and am looking forward to seeing it. (More on the film and the animation technique used here and here.)
And three fine box-sets:
- Fred & Ginger – four Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films: Swing Time, The Gay Divorcee (smirk smirk), Flying Down to Rio (I think this is the one with the immortal shot of RKO’s chorus girls dancing on an airplane wing in mid-flight) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Super films all, full of those wonderfully elegant dances, but I also love the DVD packaging – lots of great stills of Astaire and Rogers as well as a few colourful postcards. I’ve written before about my love for well-packaged DVDs; buying discs from Palika, no matter how cheap and how good the prints, can never quite measure up.
- Jean de Florette and Manon Des Sources – two of my favourite French films, marvelous human dramas directed by Claude Berri and performed by some great actors – Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteil, Yves Montand and Emmanuelle Beart among them. These are strong morality tales about guilt, greed and retribution (the story involves a farmer drawing his simpleton nephew into a scheme to cheat their neighbour, and the repercussions of these actions), but they are made with the gentleness, empathy and quiet instructiveness that marks the work of Kieslowski. Worth watching back to back if you have four straight hours to spare.
- A long sought-after Werner Herzog box set featuring Aguirre, Nosferatu the Vampire, Fitzcarraldo, Woyzeck, Cobra Verde and My Best Friend, Herzog’s documentary tribute to his favourite actor and muse Klaus Kinski. This set came so cheap that it didn’t matter that I already have Aguirre on DVD separately.
The Astaire-Rogers and Claude Berri box-sets mustn’t have been selling too well because they were part of HMV’s “3 DVDs/DVD sets for £20”, which made the purchase dirt-cheap by Brit standards. Usually if I’m shopping in London I avoid doing the mental currency conversion thing, because in that case you may as well just not buy anything – if you have money to spare and you're planning to do even a limited amount of shopping, it's much more practical to think of one pound as being the rough equivalent of Rs 20-25. But these discs were reasonable even considering the real currency rate: 15 films for under £50 all told. Original prints, proper packaging and special features all intact (there are some great features on the Scanner Darkly disc, including audio commentary by Philip K Dick’s daughter and a couple of documentaries about the rotoscoping process).