Resurrected: Top 12 Reissues, Reprints, and Restorations of 2012
by Eric Hatch
A lot of thrilling cultural items came into this world over the past twelve months. But my 2012 experience was equally defined by books, records, and films that were lovingly restored and reissued—or, in a few cases, discovered and given their first proper release. Here’s a dozen that I can’t get out of my head.
THE DEVIL, PROBABLY
Robert Bresson is that rare filmmaker whose career spanned five decades, yet whose fiercest, darkest visions came late in life. This 1977 film, Bresson’s second to last, was made when the director was 76 years old, but feels like the work of an angry young man. Long unavailable on home video and brilliant from first shot to last, its portrait of the stormy revolutionary energies of its time brings to mind Fassbinder and punk rock more than it does the classic French cinema in which Bresson has his roots.
DONNIE AND JOE EMERSON: DREAMIN’ WILD
Look at the goofy cover to this late-70s, rural-Washington record, made in a home studio by teenaged brothers. Now look past it, and listen. From dreamy post-Beach Boys harmonic pop to harder-edged psych and basement funk, this record (thankfully) sounds nothing like its dollar-bin cover—except, perhaps, in the whiff of wide-eyed rock-and-roll wonder shared by both. The standout track on Ariel Pink’s 2012 release Mature Themes, “Baby,” has its original, superior version here, and that’s a solid point of reference for this bafflingly great, ahead-of-its time record.
HEY CABBIE by THADDEUS LOGAN
When I first moved to Baltimore in the mid-‘90s, my roommate and I discovered this endlessly intriguing time capsule, self-published in 1984 by vice-cop-turned-cab-driver Thaddeus Logan. In an inimitable voice that mixes cop-speak with sophisticated wry humor and street smarts, Logan gives us the real deal about Baltimore neighborhoods and night life 30 years ago. I rank this alongside David Simon’s Homicide (the book) and John Waters’ films and essays of the period as the best documents of Baltimore in the 1980s. For years I gave away each copy I came across as gifts to friends, ending up without one myself right around the time they became highly ebayable, so I couldn’t be more excited that it’s back in print (alongside a promising new sequel I haven’t yet cracked open).
HIGH RISE by J.G. BALLARD
I’d long been hungry to read this out-of-print J.G. Ballard novel, which describes the descent of an ultra-modern apartment tower into Lord of The Flies-esque, Cronenberg-worthy chaos and violence. For my money this disturbing 1975 volume, which you could read in one immensely pleasurable evening, is the best thing Ballard ever wrote.
ALFONSO LOVO: LA GIGANTONA
This one’s a grower. The most obvious sonic comparison for this Nicaraguan Latin jazz record, unreleased for forty years, is early Santana—a reference, I know, unlikely to fire up the imagination of the average Shank reader. But the more youlisten, the more you notice how exceptional the arrangements and production are here, with stabs of R+B horns melting into bubbles of psychedelic dissonance and hypnotic folk melodies, producing an almost dub-like kitchen-sink effect. Santana, maybe: but think Santana sitting in with early Earth, Wind and Fire as produced by the Os Mutantes crew, and you’re a lot closer to this record’s unique sound.
ON THE BOWERY
One of the finest organizations in film preservation and re-release is Milestone Films, a dedicated couple (in life and business) who for 22 years have uncovered and restored such essential, truly independent works as Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep; Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles; and Shirley Clarke's The Connection and Ornette: Made in America. Recently they’ve turned their attention to maverick filmmaker Lionel Rogosin, who gave the world two exceptional features: the Apartheid-defying Come Back, Africa, which we screened within Maryland Film Fest 2012, and this amazing, no-holds-barred look at seedy New York in the 1950s. While it’s not strictly a documentary, Rogosin’s on-location, amateur-cast fictions retain more of the grit, grime, and passion of real life than any documentary could.
PERSONAL SPACE: ELECTRONIC SOUL 1974-1984
I love the focus of this compilation: post-Shuggie Otis soul, disco, and funk music that exploded out of the technological advances in, and affordability of, home studios in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of these songs have a naive or even novelty aspect to them, but this isn’t one of those compilations of oddball “outsider” music that favors quirkiness over listenability. Quite the contrary, the sleek cuts selected sound as professional and exciting as many big-budget electro productions of the time. These four imaginative sides of vinyl didn’t leave my turntable for several weeks, and work equally well on a lively Friday night or mellow Sunday afternoon.
When asked to name my favorite film of all time, here’s my answer: this 1981 psychedelic horror masterpiece by Andrzej Żuławski, as cinematically soaring as anything from Kubrick, as labyrinthine as anything from Lynch, and as deviant as anything from Fassbinder. In anticipation of its long-overdue theatrical re-release, I collected short written tributes to Possession by filmmakers and noted Baltimoreans.
ECCENTRIC SOUL: A
RED, BLACK, AND GREEN PRODUCTION
Knowing that both Baltimore and DC had active jazz and soul scenes in those genre’s golden eras, I’ve been frustrated with how obscure the music of those regional scenes has remained. This excellent double-LP compilation of ‘70s soul and funk from producer R. Hosea Williams’s Silver Spring, Maryland studio is a welcome step toward fixing that. Expertly compiled by Numero Group, who vie with Light in the Attic for the title of the Criterion Collection of the vinyl reissue game, this is an important and deeply soulful collection.
WAKE IN FRIGHT
The tastemakers over at Alamo Drafthouse, who show me a good time each year within the SXSW Film Festival, are branching out into repertory-film distribution. This first (I believe) restoration project from them, a deranged Australian tale of dropping out of society (“The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence” – Nick Cave), is a stunnner. With enough drinking to make Bukowski look like Mary Poppins, this lost talisman of addiction and nihilism is a bad trip indeed--and a real gift to lovers of uncompromising ‘70s cinema.
WENDY RENE: AFTER LAUGHTER COMES TEARS
For collectors of Southern soul, this is perhaps the most exciting release of the year. Wendy Rene is best known for a handful of singles on Memphis’ sister labels Stax and Volt, most notably the party hit “Bar-B-Q” and the moody title track to this compilation (famously sampled by RZA on the first Wu-Tang Clan album). About half her released output has been hard to track down for decades, and the other half has sat unreleased in the vaults. For the first time we now have a complete collection from one of the greatest voices in ‘60s soul, and it’s uniformly excellent.
WORLD ON A WIRE
The third and final Fassbinder reference on my 2012 list is a hefty work by the man himself, given the much-deserved Criterion treatment. This glorious madman left behind 40+ films in his 17 or so years of activity before dying at age 37. Here we have one of a handful of his films that never previously had a home-video release, a two-part conceptual sci-fi movie made for German television. One of the earliest and most compelling works by anyone to deal with virtual reality, it also ranks among my single favorite filmmaker’s most diabolical and thought-provoking.