A case in point is the new release of Slings & Arrows [Acorn], the Canadian series about life at a top regional theatre not dissimilar to the Stratford Festival. "Slings & Arrows" — which was first broadcast in 2003 (Season 1), 2005 (Season 2) and 2006 (Season 3) — might not have made an enormous impact when it was first broadcast in the United States, but a stateside following developed with the release of the first season on DVD and increased with the release of the two subsequent seasons. A set of the entire run was released in 2008, the 18 episodes supplemented by interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a clutch of deleted and extended scenes (which turned out to be an icing-on-the-cake bonus for those who love the series).
Now here comes the six-disc Blu-ray box, with all of the above plus commentaries on three episodes. Take the commentary on Season 1/Episode 1 from creator/writers Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne and Bob Martin (AKA The Drowsy Chaperone's "Man in the Chair"); what "Slings & Arrows" fan doesn't want to hear them sitting around talking? I have twice recommended "Slings & Arrows" in this column, lavishing praise on its incisive and wildly extravagant love of the theatre. Enough already; if you haven't yet discovered it and don't do so now, you don't deserve the rich entertainment it will bring you.
As an aside, I have more than once marveled that these marvelous actors — many of them veterans of the professional Canadian stage — are all but unknown to New York theatregoers. (The exception being William Hutt, who gives an astonishingly good performance during the final season as an actor playing Lear while he is dying of cancer — filmed while Hutt was, indeed, dying of cancer. Hutt starred with Gielgud and Irene Worth in Edward Albee's 1964 play, Tiny Alice.) Which is a way of mentioning that Stephen Ouimette, who plays the very dead artistic director Oliver Welles, is at this very moment appearing with Mark Rylance and David Hyde Pierce at the Music Box in La Bete. *
Quality has been the Criterion hallmark. You or I might not be attracted to all the titles on their list, as they seem to pride themselves in cutting across genres and cultures; but the great films of world cinema are indeed represented. Criterion has, in an almost quaint manner, seen fit to number their releases as they go along. (They are up to about 550, although that number includes multi-film sets but does not include their Eclipse series of lower-cost films without extensive bonus features.) All of which is to say that Criterion disc #2 has now been issued on Blu-ray, Akira Kurosawa's majestic Seven Samurai. Why, dear reader, should you be interested in a three-and-a-half hour, black-and-white, Japanese-language cowboys-and-indians — or, rather, peasants-and-brigands — Western from the far, far East? Well, why not ask yourself why "Seven Samurai," despite the elements in the preceding sentence, repeatedly lands on "best movie ever" lists, and remains unforgettable to most everyone who has seen it. And why it remains one of the most influential films of the past 50 years, and especially well-suited for repeated viewings?
As expected, the Blu-ray process brings new dimension to Kurosawa's sweeping battle scenes. What I did not expect, though, was what Blu-ray would bring to the smaller scenes, to the closeups; for all its spectacle, the richness of "Seven Samurai" is in the intensive character studies Kurosawa brings us. And these seem, somehow, laid more nakedly bare in this splendid new edition of one of Criterion's — and our — favorites.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released Updated and Expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at [email protected])
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