30 Years of Scarecrow!

Scarecrow Video is celebrating 30 years of connecting people with their new favorite films and in honor of this landmark occasion, we’re launching a 30th Anniversary Fundraiser to lay the foundation for our next 30 years.
Proudly non-profit since 2014, your support has allowed us to keep this important collection alive. At 131,000+ titles (three times the number currently available from major streaming services), we give you the power to curate your own viewing experience like no corporation can.
You’ve also helped us develop unique community outreach efforts. Our screening room hosts free movies and lectures nearly every night, we’ve created programs that deliver meaningful content to families and seniors, and we are currently working with high schools and universities to provide educators with media and the expertise of Scarecrow staff to supplement their lessons.
But most importantly you have kept this collection — the largest publicly available collection in the world — growing and thriving. From international blockbusters to local micro-budgets, from anime to Zoetrope, Scarecrow provides unparalleled access to important, diverse voices and you make it happen.
To keep this collection thriving, please support us during our anniversary fund drive by visiting our GoFundMe. To show our appreciation, we’re offering gifts and opportunities to connect with Scarecrow in unique ways. Learn more about those here. Your gift will assure that this important collection remains publicly available, and you will be funding our continued effort to develop new ways to connect people with their next favorite films. Join us as we lead the way for videos in a digital age!

The Seasoned Ticket #7

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

This weekend sees the release of Mary Shelley, a look at the youthful years of the author of Frankenstein. The film has one admirable touch, which is that Elle Fanning, the actress who plays Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, was still a teenager when the movie was shot, which corresponds with the actual age of the preternaturally gifted writer. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour (whose Wadjda is well worth watching) otherwise takes a fervently female-first approach to the material, a perfectly appropriate choice that doesn’t generate a great deal of storytelling excitement.

The second half of the film revolves around the fabled summer of 1816, when Mary, her companion Percy Shelley, and her half-sister Claire Clairmont went to a villa on Lake Geneva and stayed with Lord Byron and John Polidori. The episode has been heavily mythologized already, and there are a few films we might mention that cover that very turf. To wit:

Gothic, 1986, directed by Ken Russell. I recall the guys at the Egyptian Theatre cranked the volume up really loud when they screened this, but then they always cranked the volume really loud. This tactic fit Russell’s head-splitting treatment of the material, an art-horror approach with lots of crashing thunder and heavy breathing. Natasha Richardson plays Mary, more thoughtfully than the movie seems to notice, and Gabriel Byrne and Julian Sands are Byron and Shelley; Timothy Spall goes full-on grotesque as Polidori. The music is by Thomas Dolby. It’s a crazy watch, and it supports my theory that Russell sometimes needed a little restraint to be at his best. But then he wouldn’t be Ken Russell.

Haunted Summer, 1988, directed by Ivan Passer. I liked this film at the time, although a more recent viewing was a disappointment. Passer creates a romantic, hippie-inflected treatment of the story, and he lucks out by getting the intelligent Alice Krige to play Mary. There’s something about the ensemble that reminds me of Passer’s friend Milos Forman’s approach to casting, which sometimes leaned toward plainness and simplicity; if Tom Hulce could play Mozart, why not Eric Stoltz as Shelley? And yet, maybe this particular group of historical characters needs more madness in its makeup. Laura Dern plays Claire, Alex Winter (yes, of Bill and Ted) is Polidori, and the interesting Philip Anglim is Byron. Anglim has an unusual story—he triumphed at the end of the 1970s in the original Elephant Man Broadway production, then seemed to flame out of an acting career.

Frankenstein Unbound, 1990, directed by Roger Corman. Corman’s latest film as director is a lively riff on a novel by Brian Aldiss. The story follows a time traveler (John Hurt) who drops in at the Villa Diodati in 1816, only to discover the actual Dr. Frankenstein (Raul Julia) on hand, along with Mary (Bridget Fonda), Byron (Jason Patric), and Shelley (Michael Hutchence, the INXS singer). I’m not sure the mish-mash entirely works, but it sure is fun to watch.

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, directed by James Whale. Here, the opening five minutes give us Byron and Shelley (Gavin Gordon and Douglas Walton) teasing Mary about how such an innocent-looking woman could conjure up a monster. Elsa Lanchester plays—gloriously—both Mary and the bride, an inspired touch that, as Lanchester later reported, underlined Whale’s theory about the monster inside everyone, especially the superficially pretty.

There’s also a very obscure Spanish film, Rowing with the Wind (1988), with Hugh Grant as Byron and Elizabeth Hurley as Claire. I haven’t seen it, but despite its obscurity, Scarecrow has it. Completists, be advised.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

New Releases for June 12!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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The Seasoned Ticket #6

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

Cate Blanchett is part of the ensemble of Ocean’s 8, the movie that seeks to place women on an even playing field when it comes to the cultural representation of wisecracking burglars. I haven’t seen the movie, but look forward to it, because heist films present a formula I find almost irresistible, and that cast is a doozy. But let’s pause to consider Blanchett for a moment, and some of the early, lesser-seen entries in the filmography of someone who has quietly established herself as one of the best actors around.

The first time I saw Blanchett was the first time most people outside Australia saw Blanchett: the 1997 WWII drama Paradise Road. I still think this is one of Bruce Beresford’s gutsiest films, despite its wobbly moments, but the movie seems to have no public profile at all (it disappeared quickly in 1997, too). For many years, pop culture had a reluctance to acknowledge wartime Japanese atrocities, so Paradise Road may have been ahead of the curve on that point; it certainly doesn’t skimp on portraying the horrors of a Japanese internment camp. The cast of actresses is even more impressive than Ocean’s 8, with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Ehle, Pauline Collins, Wendy Hughes, and Julianna Margulies crowding the field. In many ways the standout is Blanchett, whose poignant role mysteriously becomes the heart of the movie. Roger Ebert criticized the film for being an anecdote—about how a group of women form a life-sustaining choir while imprisoned—rather than a full-fledged story. I suspect that might be one of the movie’s strengths.

Another under-seen Blanchett picture is Barry Levinson’s Bandits (2001), a very odd item. Like Ocean’s 8, it’s about thieves, this time a three-hander for Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Blanchett, partners in crime and shared affection. When the film is able to ignore the need to keep the story moving, it thrives; the stuff that works is all about behavior and outsider-ness and how actors can create a multiplicity of moods through sheer presence. Willis and Thornton were both in a groove they haven’t often captured since, and up-and-comer Blanchett is right there with them. But then this actress never seemed especially daunted by the stakes.

In this litany of early Blanchetts, I’d love to be more excited about two films directed by Gillian Armstrong, Oscar and Lucinda (with Ralph Fiennes, based on a Peter Carey novel) and Charlotte Gray, but although the latter contains a potent Blanchett turn, I can’t quite see how either movie comes to full, breathing life. Instead I’ll point in the direction of Tom Tykwer’s Heaven (2002). Like Eyes Wide Shut, it’s a project begun by one world-class filmmaker and completed by another—in this case, planned by Krzysztof Kieslowski, but shot by Tykwer after Kieslowski’s death. Blanchett plays an enigmatic woman who appears guilty of a monstrous crime. Giovanni Ribisi—bearable here in a way he rarely is—plays a policeman whose fascination with her leads the film to an unexpected, admittedly arty, but transcendent conclusion. Tykwer seems entranced by the Blanchett’s sharp intelligence and the architecture of her face (her head is shaved for part of the movie), and you can’t blame him. As these early appearances prove, she’s always been that good.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Shriek Presents: CRUISING

SHRIEK: Women of Horror is back! Since you last saw us, we’ve expanded and moved days and venues, but we’ve always been proudly sponsored by Scarecrow Video.

Continuing our annual Pride screenings, in June SHRIEK becomes SLASH: LGBTQ Horror! Join us June 17th to watch CRUISING at Naked City Brewery (all-day Sunday happy hour!), with special guest host Jeffrey Robert of Gay Uncle Time.

In CRUISING, a young cop (Al Pacino) must go undercover to catch a serial killer—in New York City’s gay leather community. Discomfort ensues; read more below.

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New Releases for June 5!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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The Seasoned Ticket #5

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

SIFF is bringing in Jean Renoir’s superb 1936 film The Crime of Monsieur Lange for a single screening on June 3. You should see it. It’s not terribly well known in Renoir’s filmography, doubtless because JR knocked off a couple of swell pictures called Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game over the following three years. But it’s a wonderful picture, and reportedly newly restored, although it would look good in 16 mm, frankly.

Scarecrow, of course, has a wealth of Renoir in stock. Too much to cover here, but just to pluck a couple of recommendations from the 1930s: Check out Toni (1935), a tale of provincial crime, a film that has long been applauded for its landmark location shooting and neo-realist approach to storytelling. It’s more than a historical footnote, however. Renoir has already developed a way of seeing, a casual-seeming but precisely observed way of treating people and situations. For Toni, Renoir said that he took an inherently dramatic story and tried to “avoid the dramatic,” which is, in its own way, a radical approach.

And if you’ve never seen La Chienne (1931), do that. Here is a very different tale of murder, taken from the same source novel that birthed the Fritz Lang masterpiece Scarlet Street (1945). And thus we have an opportunity to see how the vision of a great director shapes similar material—in this case, the directing signatures of these two giants are fascinating to trace along parallel lines. (You can also do this—same two directors—with La Bete Humaine and Human Desire, which share the Zola source novel, but those are not among the best films of Renoir and Lang.) La Chienne came early in the sound era, and you can see/hear Renoir pushing the possibilities of what was technically achievable at that time, all of which becomes part of the evocative mood of the film.

Incidentally, when The Crime of Monsieur Lange played in New York in 1964 it was championed by Andrew Sarris at the Village Voice, then in the midst of his push to bring the auteur theory to America. His piece on the film is reprinted here, and is a splendid example of how you do it.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Movie Postmortems: BLADE RUNNER 2049

by John S.

Movie Postmortems is a series that reviews certain films which showed promise but misfired, critically and/or commercially, upon release. Join us in our attempt to find out what the hell happened.

(Movie Postmortems will run on an alternating schedule with Cinema Jackpot!)

 

THE CASUALTY: Blade Runner 2049

THE CASE HISTORY: June 1982. A highly-anticipated film titled Blade Runner opens in North America and earns about $6 million at the domestic box-office. Not a bad debut for this buzzed about blend of futuristic sci-fi and film noir starring newly-minted star Harrison Ford, hot off the Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film’s pedigree also includes director Ridley Scott, whose smash hit two years prior, Alien, redefined the sci-fi horror genre and its heroines. Blade Runner appears to be shaping up as another score for both Ford and Scott.

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New Releases for May 29!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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The Seasoned Ticket #4

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

In ye olden days a critically-lauded director like Hong Sang-Soo might have gained a public profile beyond the film festival world; his movies are distinctive, recognizably his, and just difficult enough to remind you that you’re seeing something outside the multiplex. I can’t see that Hong’s work is breaking through to the mainstream, despite the undeniable charm of being a recent Film Comment cover boy. That’s a shame, because this prolific filmmaker (three movies released in 2017) is not only doing something cinematically distinctive, he’s also providing a great deal of pleasure.

His 2017 film The Day After plays May 25-27 at the Northwest Film Forum. It’s a typical work, both amusing and sneakily emotional, and rendered in lovely black and white. The story revolves around an extremely weak-willed writer/publisher (Kwon Hae-hyo), whose wife has just intuited that fact that he’s having an affair; the other woman (Kim Sae-byuk) worked in his office, but has apparently been gone for a month. We meet a young woman (Kim Min-hee, whose performance in On the Beach at Night Alone was maybe the best of 2017) who will replace the mistress at the office—and the way the boss treats her during her first day on the job, he may be thinking about replicating the extra-marital adventure. Then things become complicated. The film has its share of glorious moments, especially when extremely serious things happen that nevertheless play as cosmically funny. You could almost believe there’s a system in place that arranges these misadventures around the writer’s life—and “believing” in something is a central concern of the film’s characters. This is a terrific movie, even though it seems slight.

Hong’s films often have a slim premise, and most of them are more tantalizingly surreal than The Day After. They’re akin to the work of Yasujiro Ozu and Eric Rohmer, in a couple of senses anyway: they maintain a very similar tone from film to film, and they are sometimes hard to tell apart. The latter observation is not meant as a knock—Ozu and Rohmer are two of my favorite filmmakers—but as a way of suggesting how the director’s consistent view of the world creates an imaginative cosmos in which ideas and situations are re-visited and re-examined. In fact, Hong’s films re-visit similar situations within the same movie, as he sometimes plays with storylines that seem to be (though without explicit explanation) coming from alternate, or parallel, universes.

For instance, in Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)—one of Hong’s best, methinks—the first half of the film is taken up with the way a movie director kills time while visiting a town for a film event, meeting a young woman and participating in mutual flirting. Inexplicably, the second half of the film shows the same day playing out in a consistently different way, with—I think—a crucial difference: In the first half, the director is dishonest about his life, and in the second he’s more forthcoming. This makes a profound difference in how the scenarios play out. It’s a little like Alain Resnais’ mind-bending pair of 1993 films, Smoking and No Smoking, adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s plays, which run through a myriad of possible story turns based on whether a character lights up a cigarette at the beginning or not.

If you want to scour Scarecrow’s shelves for more of Hong’s films (they’ve got Smoking/No Smoking too), here are links to a few of my past reviews that have opened in Seattle.

In Another Country

On the Beach At Night Alone

Woman On the Beach

The Day He Arrives

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Founder George Latsios’ Top 10 Favorite Films On Video

Scarecrow’s founder George Latsios passed in 2003 but the amazing gift he left behind for film lovers has grown and flourished. George loved ALL movies, from blockbusters to obscure cult classics, and that passion is embodied in the Scarecrow collection and the unique variety it offers.
As part of our 30th Anniversary, we’re sharing highlights of Scarecrow’s history. What follows is George’s All-Time Top-Ten List. His descriptions really convey the love he felt for these movies. We strive to carry on that spirit and aim to inspire it in others by connecting them with films they’ll treasure forever.

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