Mother Lode

GETTING THE BUGS IN: In the early days of widescreen movies, producers actually shot two versions of the same film, one for theaters equipped for Cinemascope and another in standard format. (For those not up on movie technical data, widescreen processes like Cinemascope and Panavision create an image that is 2.35 times as wide as it is high, whereas the traditional Academy ratio was 1.33:1, approximately the dimensions of a TV screen.) The computer-animation pioneers at Pixar have added a new twist to the process in preparing a full-screen version of A Bug's Life for video: Rather than go through the usual process of scanning the film and dropping off nearly half the image, they used the original computer data to create a new 1.33 version that reconfigured all of the important visual components. (If you're interested in making a comparison, a letterboxed version is also available; the DVD contains both.) It's an interesting idea, but how many other film producers have the luxury of keeping the entire cast and sets on their hard drives when it comes time to prepare video transfers? Speaking of Pixar, the video also contains their marvelous Oscar-winning short "Geri's Game," possibly the finest example of computer animation to date.

And speaking of letterboxing, someone could teach the folks at Simitar Home Video a thing or two about screen size: They recently released The Thin Red Line -- not last year's Terence Malick film but the 1964 version starring Keir Dullea. Their "letterboxed" version takes the original Cinemascope frame and squeezes it into a 1.85 frame, making it suitable only for those who have always wondered what the landing at Guadalcanal might have looked like in a funhouse mirror.

SHELF LIFE: The ghosts of Warhol, Wilde and Marc Bolan smile down on the most original movie of 1998, Todd Haynes' science-fiction/glam-rock musical/ film à clef Velvet Goldmine (Buena Vista Home Video). It's rental-only now, but save your pennies and hope for a letterboxed sell-through version later this year....

Three montage classics of Soviet silent cinema, Sergei Eisenstein's Strike, Dziga Vertov's Kino-Eye and Aleksandr Dovshenko's Arsenal, all newly restored (or, in the case of the Vertov film, pieced together from the few materials that remain), are now available from Kino on Video.... First Run Features' series of artsy '60s soft-core Euro-porn continues with a pair of films from Jose Benazeraf, The Fourth Sex and Sexus, the latter having nothing to do with the Henry Miller novel of the same name but boasting a musical score by Chet Baker.

Just out are two of the most highly praised (but barely seen) imports of recent years, Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry (Home Vision Cinema) and Bruno Dumont's tough (if misleadingly titled) Life of Jesus (Fox Lorber). Also on the international front: Russia's Academy Award-nominated The Thief (Columbia Tristar) and a timely story of an American soldier in Bosnia, Savior (Columbia Tristar), starring Dennis Quaid and produced by Oliver Stone.... Originally produced by Motown and reissued by Quentin Tarantino (who also slipped a scene into Jackie Brown), the 1973 Detroit 9000 (Buena Vista Home Video, rental only) is neither pure blaxploitation nor straight cop action, instead choosing to casually play its race card from both sides. Alex Rocco plays a frustrated, street-smart cop forced to accept the Shaft-like Hari Rhodes as his partner on a highly publicized robbery case. The film wears its racial compromises as heavily as do its heroes, and it's less energetic than the average New World production of its time; as '70s drive-in fodder goes, it's less an undiscovered classic than a pleasant late-night diversion. Still, veteran actor Rocco (the next candidate for B-movie career recovery, now that Robert Forster has been thoroughly revived) has probably never been better.

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