What To Get the Movie Lover Who Thinks He Has Everything?

How do you shop for the die-hard cinephile who already has a massively impenetrable movie collection?  How about a set of otherwise completely unavailable short films by Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ed Burns, Kevin Smith and even Jerry Seinfeld?  You've probably never even heard of 'em, but yes, such a collection exists!  It's a DVD set of The Concert for New York City, a huge concert that was held and filmed to benefit victims of the 9/11 attack.  And yeah, most of it's what you'd expect: a big stadium concert featuring a ton of musical performances by major acts like Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, David Bowie and Paul McCartney.  It's hosted by Billy Crystal and features little speeches and bits by celebrities like Richard Gere, Mike Myers, Mark Wahlberg and Hillary Clinton.  It's almost five hours long, spread across 2 discs.  It's all for a great cause, but in 2020, even if you're a big fan of these bands, you're probably going to want to play their properly recorded and mastered albums rather than load up these live versions on an interlaced DVD with fifteen minutes of jingoism between every two songs, right?
But here's where it gets interesting.  Besides all the rock stars, politicians, comedians and movie stars they got to appear at this concert, they signed up some of New York's (and NY adjacent) best filmmakers to contribute new, original films.  And thankfully, they don't just show us the films projected up on the monitors from far away as the live audience would've seen them.  The DVDs intercut the actual films into the concert footage.  So, in short, we get to just watch the movies properly.  And these are proper films.  They didn't just film Woody Allen sitting in front of a fireplace giving his best wishes and urging everyone to donate.  And unlike these festivals which just ask their attending filmmakers to film a little something on their iphones for them to stitch together into an exclusive program, they've actually produced legit short films, with scripts and actors.  Well... some more than others, but we'll get into that.
First up is Martin Scorcsese.  Leonardo Dicaprio and Robert Deniro introduce it on stage, and then we cut away to his film, The Neighborhood.  He's made a documentary about, obviously, the neighborhood he grew up in.  These are all pretty brief, but he includes vintage footage and then goes around visiting locations and people that inspired, or were directly depicted, in his early features.  For example, he shows the first shot on his first film, a shot looking down at a woman chopping meat in a butcher shop.  Then, he goes and finds her, now 97 years old, to visit the shop she still owns.  Sure, all these films are here to celebrate New York, but you don't have to be in the market for flag waving to get something out of this film.  Anyone interested in the films of Scorsese should find this microcosmic look into origins should enjoy this.
The best of these films, I'd say, is Woody Allen's Sounds From the Town I Love, where he gets a whole ton of great New York actors like Bebe Neuwirth and Griffin Dunne to read brief snippets of humorous dialogue one might theoretically overhear in the Manhattan.  It's certainly not his only one, but it's probably his sweetest love letter to NY, and it showcases his great comic writing.  I guess Woody knew this would play for a large, broad audience, because this is a real crowd pleaser.  And yes, that is Tony Roberts coming back for one final (his seventh) appearance in a Woody Allen film!
After that, admittedly, the films become more for completists only.  Spike Lee makes an attractive looking ode to the New York Yankees with his film, Come Rain Or Shine.  It's the only film to go wide for a 1.83:1 aspect ratio (everything else is 1.31:1).  But it's essentially a silent documentary set to a single song.  That brings me to Ed Burns low effort Lovely Day, which is essentially a music video for the song "Lovely Day" set to stock footage of smiling New Yorkers.  That was the only entry I found genuinely disappointing.  Kevin Smith's film, Why I Love #%!&@ New York, reminds me of those man-on-the-street segments he used to do for Leno, except this is clearly scripted with actors.  He goes around asking people what they think of "the bridge and tunnel" crown of New Jerseyians who routinely invade their city's hot spots on the weekend, and they trash them.  But then it ends sweetly when they all remember how New Jersey rescue workers contributed to the 9/11 disaster recovery.  Finally, Jerry Seinfeld apparently actually filmed his own film, The Greatest City On Earth, where he does some reasonably amusing comic bits on the street with locals.
So really, the Scorsese and Allen films are the only two essentials in this collection.  But most of them (as in: all apart from Burns') are at least worth the watch once you've got the set.  There's also a brief excerpt from a documentary called New York by Nic Burns, brother and frequent collaborator of Ken Burns.  Unfortunately, the films are interlaced just like the concert footage.  And when Spike Lee goes widescreen, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you it's non-anamorphic.  The DVD menus happily allow you to jump easily to each individual film, or to watch a version of the concert that only plays the musical performances.  There are no extras apart from a fold-out insert that gives credits for all the songs but doesn't cover the films; and apparently this DVD set includes several songs that were cut out of the CD set.  This is long out of print, so unfortunately your purchase won't go to help the relief fund anymore, but you can find this used pretty cheap, and it's a great way to get some genuinely worthwhile short films by some of your favorite filmmakers you won't find anywhere else.  For the serious cinephile, that's a neat little stocking stuffer.

No comments:

Post a Comment