Sunday, 12 December 2010

Milestones / Ice - the French DVD

Now that we are in dying weeks of 2010, I can safely say my favourite DVD release of 2010 has been the French label Capricci's 2-disc release of Robert Kramer's 1969 film Ice and his 1975 masterpiece Milestones. Ice focuses on an underground revolutionary group plotting and staging guerrilla style attacks on an American government locked in a war with Mexico. Kramer examines the workings of the organization from within the group, focusing on the tactics, strategies, and the difficulties of achieving the success of their aims in the face of internal squabbling, brutal and oppressive punishment by the police and the sheer difficulty of co-ordinating their efforts with other revolutionary groups, with similar ends but differing means. Ice was shot on b/w 16mm film stock and has an incredible vérité feel to it, remaining to this day quite a radical, thought provoking film, which fans of Pontecorvo's Battle Of Algiers and Conta-Gavras' State of Siege should seek out...

Ice's running time of two hours might seem excessive for a political thriller, but it's modest in comparison with Kramer's 1975 epic Milestones, which runs about 3 hours 20min. The film is essentially a huge patchwork of various people - including a film maker, an anti-war activist released from prison, a troubled Vietnam vet, a blind potter, a young woman preparing to have a baby - all working out their lives and problems of living in America in the 70's against the backdrop of the Vietnam conflict. Like Ice, Milestones is a sort of "fictionalized" (and scripted) documentary but some 5 years on from Ice, Kramer's direction has loosened up and the film has some stylish flourishes - Kramer uses a wide angle lens in some sequences (lending a strange exaggerated depth of field), and the director employs some Nouvelle Vague-ish licks - jump-cuts, over-lapping dialogue, and a free sense of editing, with Kramer dropping in newsreel footage and photo montages of slave trade documents, tenement poverty and the brutal, shameful treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States. Two sequences standout amidst this huge tapestry - an astonishing, surreal nightmare, and an unflinching child birth sequence. Epic in form, epic in content, Milestones remains a key work of American Independent Cinema.

Milestones and Ice are available as a 2-disc French DVD courtesy of Capricci. Both films are presented with optional removable subtitles (in French or Spanish). The full-frame transfers of both films are not without their problems. Ice is the worst of the two. The transfer itself is fine, but the print used is well worn, with lots of debris, lines, tears and scratches. On the plus side, the image is bright, has good contrast and detail is sharp. By no means, a Criterion remaster, but nevertheless a perfectly acceptable transfer considering the rarity of the film. Milestones which was shot in color and is the better of the two, transfer wise, with less damage, evidently sourced from a good 16mm print (less troublesome than the one used for Ice) and featuring strong detail and good color. Audio for both films is fine, each of the films having a minimal amount of music anyhow. Neither film contains any extras. Capricci's DVD set comes in a fold-out cardboard sleeve, with both discs housed separately along side some stills from both films. Highly recommended !

Robert Kramer is well represented on French DVD. In addition to the Milestones / Ice DVD, there are DVDs of Cities of the Plain (his final film, from 2001), a double-bill DVD featuring Doc's Kingdom / Walk the Walk ('87/'96) and a 3-disc edition of Kramer's long-form road movie masterpiece Route One USA (1989). Unfortunately Doc's Kingdom / Walk the Walk have hard coded subtitles, and the French language Cities of the Plain has no English subs. Thankfully Route One USA is a superb set, with an excellent transfer and extras, and featuring removable subs. The 4-hour film spread over 2 discs, the third disc being an audio CD of the music from the film.

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard of this filmmaker or these films! I thought my eclectic friends and relatively well known film professors - especially Tony Williams - who has written a few books - would have at least made me aware of someone doing work like this. I will have to delve in!