Neon Musicals and Snow Westerns: on shelves and screens this month

Michelle Yeoh kicking butt in 4K? Sign us up!
Michelle Yeoh kicking butt in 4K? Sign us up!

Michelle Yeoh in slo-mo, Rococo misfits, New Hollywood auteurs in 4K and a lost revelation unearthed make up our Shelf Life highlights this month.

The existence of Valentine’s Day programming necessitates the existence of alternative Valentine’s Day programming. The most extreme (and, it should be noted, earnest) example of this that I’ve ever witnessed was a midnight show of Nekromantik 2, which the host asserted is a love story once you get past the whole “corpse” thing. That screening has come and gone, but there are a handful of repertory series this February suitable for attending either alone (blissfully or otherwise) or with a sweetie (ditto).

One to watch is Sapph-O-Rama, which originally played at NYC’s Film Forum in 2000 and relaunches in an expanded form—this edition features 30 films, up from ten—on February 2. The series spans a century of lesbian representation on screen, from the “artfully decadent” 1922 silent film Salomé through the subliminal lavender of the Production Code era to the rapturous 2018 documentary Shakedown, about an underground Los Angeles strip club built on Black Sapphic desire. And if you can’t make it to NYC? Well, long-distance longing is part of the Sapphic experience.

Bushman

4K restoration rolling out in theaters now from Kino Lorber and Milestone Films.

Bushman

Bushman 1971

The most revelatory discovery of 2024 so far (yes, the year just started, but still) is Bushman. The one and only film from director David Schickele, this 1971 docudrama captures San Francisco in the late ’60s through the eyes of Gabriel (Paul Eyam Nzie Opokam), an African immigrant whose experiences expose the foibles and hypocrisies of the hippie counterculture.

Gabriel—and, by extension, Paul, a Nigerian student whose friendship with Schickele inspired the movie—observes the corny white liberals and militant Black Panthers surrounding him from a dispassionate distance. This perspective makes Bushman both a time capsule and a timeless exploration of the immigrant experience: Gabriel/Paul describes a headspace where past and present, there and here—not to mention reality and fiction—combine. And that’s before the film’s dramatic third-act twist, which I won’t spoil but still resonates 52 years later.

Milestone Films and Kino Lorber are preparing Bushman for an art-house run, which is a big deal given that this movie was once so obscure as to be considered “lost”. A new 4K restoration (by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation and support from Peter Conheim, Cinema Preservation Alliance) has previously popped up at special one-off screenings, where some Letterboxd members were able to see it early. Michael says it’s “the most unique film I have ever seen, and instantly going in my top ten favorite films of all time.” Tyler adds, “This film absolutely blew me away. I didn’t really know what to expect, but was extremely impressed by the way it weaved the fictional story with the real documentary,” while Mahjong_Nor celebrates the “reminder that there will always be near lost masterpieces awaiting rediscovery from obscurity”. To find a theatrical date near you, check the Kino Lorber website.

Kamikaze Girls

Blu-ray available now from Third Window Films, and February 27 from Discotek Media.

Kamikaze Girls

Kamikaze Girls 2004

下妻物語

Although not quite lost, in recent years the 2004 Japanese teen comedy Kamikaze Girls has been stuck in out-of-print limbo. The tale of a Rococo misfit stuck in a small rural town and her hot-blooded brawler bestie, Kamikaze Girls anticipates the cartoon/video-game-inspired filmmaking of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, six years before Edgar Wright’s cult classic. But what really makes it pop is its whimsical documentation of the Lolita and Yanki subcultures, eye-catching opposites on the spectrum of millennial Japanese street style.

This is, in part, a film about embroidery, which makes it a strong recommendation for the TikTok “aesthetic” crowd all on its own. Tumblr has also gotten ahold of it, leading Letterboxd reviewers to make the story’s lesbian subtext into text. “Oh to be a girl in the early 2000s Japanese countryside with a whole Lolita wardrobe, pining after your futch biker gf,” Evelyn writes, while Chingy winkingly calls it the “ultimate girl-time movie” in a five-star review. Caro also says it’s “just like a big smile with neon pink braces,” which really sums up this film’s whole vibe.

Shelf Life stalwarts Third Window Films released Kamikaze Girls (via Arrow Video) on Blu-ray for the British market a while back. Now Discotek Media—a new label for this column—is releasing it in North America for the first time this February. The label promises a “heavily upgraded” transfer, which is welcome given that previous editions have suffered from imprecise subtitles and inconsistent color grading.

One from the Heart

4K restoration in theaters now and on 4K Blu-ray March 4 from Rialto Pictures and StudioCanal.

In a statement accompanying the “Reprise” version of his 1981 movie musical One from the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola says, “I’ve always loved One from the Heart, despite the disruption it caused in my dreams for American Zoetrope.” This thing flopped so hard, it almost derailed Coppola’s career—he filed for bankruptcy three times in the nine years that followed—but it was worth it. Matt Singer agrees, writing on Letterboxd, “If you’re going to squander millions of dollars, send your film company into ruins, and set yourself on the path to years making wine and for-hire gigs, you might as well do it on a stone-cold masterpiece.”

So what’s so special about One from the Heart? Shot entirely at Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios (reportedly at devastating expense), it’s breathtakingly ambitious in its scope, a gloriously artificial love letter to cinematic artifice as a conduit for emotional truth. “It’s one thing to dream up something like this, but quite another to usher it into reality with such gonzo craftsmanship and artistry,” as Sam notes. Downtown Las Vegas has never glowed brighter than in this “neon-soaked Wizard of Oz”, whose colorful fantasias—at one point, Nastassja Kinski grows to giant size, cooing nursery rhymes illuminated by cool blue neon—take the breakup of two ordinary people (Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest) to extraordinary heights.

Coppola supervised the new 4K of One from the Heart, which gets its “Reprise” subtitle courtesy of never-before-seen footage, new titles and nineteen minutes of material replaced with new source scans for the currently touring theatrical re-release from Rialto Pictures and StudioCanal (which also comes to 4K Blu-ray on March 4). It’s a film that’s shaped by its contrasts: the story clashes with the style, which clashes with Tom Waits’ smoky barroom soundtrack. There are so many details to fixate on here—myself, I’m obsessed with the decision to frame crowd shots wide enough that you can see the soundstage ceiling.

The Heroic Trio / Executioners: The Heroic Trio 2

4K Blu-ray available February 20 from The Criterion Collection.

The Heroic Trio

The Heroic Trio 1993

東方三俠

1993’s The Heroic Trio is another film whose legend has persisted for decades, but whose reputation has grown as more people have been able to actually see it. This hyper-stylized Hong Kong superhero movie was directed by Johnnie To but has absolutely nothing in common with the gangster epics he’s most famous for. This one has the bright colors and stylized Art Deco sets of a Tim Burton Batman film, combined with some of martial-arts movies’ greatest hits. We’re talking flying guillotines. Billowing capes. Slo-mo shots that make actors look like they’re flying. Maggie Cheung riding towards the camera on a motorcycle with Michelle Yeoh and Anita Mui flanking her on horseback. Enough babies in peril to make John Woo clutch his pearls.

“The action alone is so visually kinetic and maximalist that it’s honestly dizzying. A non-stop barrage of borderline slapstick choreography, wide-angle lens movement, fog machines, squibs/gore gags, bizarre angles, and colors,” notes Josh. But the technique is there, in what More_Badass calls producer “Ching Siu-Tung’s hyper-energetic unbounded wuxia style.” For the Yeoh heads out there, rest assured that she shows off her action-choreography skills in the lead-up to the film’s deliriously over-the-top finale, about the most exhilarating fifteen minutes of cinema you’ll find anywhere.

Reflecting on The Heroic Trio, Jaime writes “this is the greatest superhero movie ever made… one that keeps building up on some of the most out-of-this-world set pieces and never lets down from there.” The film gets canonized by The Criterion Collection this February in full 4K UHD. It comes in a set with its sequel, Executioners, which has its moments but whose more political post-apocalyptic storyline doesn’t click as well as the comic-book lunacy of the original. It is a Christmas movie, though, so keep that in mind when the holidays come around again.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

4K Blu-ray available February 6 from The Criterion Collection.

When you think of a Western, what comes to mind? Harsh, arid desert? Maybe the majestic scenery of Monument Valley? Probably not the filthy snow banks of the Pacific Northwest in winter, which is one of the many iconoclastic things about Robert Altman’s “dream Western” masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller. This is one of my favorite films of all time (it currently sits in my Letterboxd top four, in fact), and I love it for its blend of humanism and grit.

It’s not just me: McCabe & Mrs. Miller currently holds a 4.1 average rating, which is impressive for a title that’s been logged more than 58,000 times. In one of multiple reviews of the film, Will draws a line in the proverbial sand (mud, whatever), saying “this is as good as movies get. If you don’t like this, consider another art medium.” Evan asks, “why isn’t this widely regarded as the greatest Western of all time?,” citing the risky storytelling, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond’s “astonishing, snow-doused” lensing and the chemistry between the leads as proof of its greatness. Yes, yes and yes.

It’s a character-driven tale about the romance between a shabby-but-proud madam (Julie Christie) and a gold-toothed hustler (Warren Beatty) in the fictional mining town of Presbyterian Church. But what’s really interesting about it is its commentary on America as a land of capitalist ambition and small-time swindlers, a theme later taken up by Portland’s own Kelly Reichardt. McCabe & Mrs. Miller is also on The Criterion Collection’s home-video slate for February, newly restored in 4K to bring you back down to cold, slushy Earth after the heady overstimulation of this month’s picks.


‘Shelf Life’ is a monthly column and newsletter by Katie Rife, highlighting restorations, repertory showings and re-releases in theaters and on disc.

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