Prior to garnering an Academy Award nomination for The Weather Underground, documentarian Sam Green stormed the festival circuit with the 45-minute video doc The Rainbow Man/John 3:16, a debut with similarities to Green's more recognized work. Ostensibly a short biography of "Rockin'" Rollen Stewart-the rainbow-wigged hippie who went from pot dealer to sporting-event mainstay to born-again Christian to convict-The Rainbow Man is also about what it's like to be one of those fringe characters that everyone remembers but no one really knows anything about. Interviewed in prison, Stewart speaks in an exhausted monotone about his trip through popular culture, pointing out that he learned how to be a phenomenon by watching celebrities, and learned about the emptiness of the high life from those same celebs.
The Rainbow Man is a little derivative of Errol Morris and a little predigested-it's about the shallowness of fame, etc.-but it's full of potent moments, keyed to Stewart's ghostly presence in the background of seemingly every major televised event of the '70s. Stewart set out to prove that merely by being seen on TV a few times, he would begin to be treated like a famous person. He was right-people saw him so much that they assumed he belonged. And they were happy to have him around, until he stopped dancing like "superfan" on camera and started holding up banners with Biblical verses. The mass media only cared again when Stewart created the "character" of a backsliding Christian terrorist, as a perverse way of spreading the word. The faithful either need to be silent or provocatively insane if they want to be on TV.
Other Cinema's Rainbow Man DVD (available exclusively from www.othercinemadvd.com) includes other Green shorts, including the haunting experimental piece N Judah 5:30, in which riders on a subway train are cast in a subtly strobing green light, giving them an almost 3D look, and Pie Fight '69, a look back at a puckish prank pulled at the 1969 San Francisco International Film Festival, at the height of the tension between the youth culture and the establishment-even the artistic establishment. The disc also includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Ladies And Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains, the cult exploitation musical that started out as a punk cash-in and later inspired a new generation of punks, who bought the phoniness as part of the package. Watched all together, the disc tells a compelling story of how the motives behind idealism get compromised, and how radicalism peters out into commercialism, if not exhaustion.
♦Warner DVD serves up a couple of discs for Stephen Sondheim fans: The 1973 whodunnit The Last Of Sheila (co-written by Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, directed by Herbert Ross) and the 1979 Broadway hit Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (available in its taped-for-PBS 1982 production). The former is a murder mystery and a puzzle, with Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane and Racquel Welch forced to play a sick game with movie producer James Coburn, who intends to reveal their darkest secrets. The film's tricky construction gets in the way of its lightly bitchy '70s Hollywood expose; but the DVD restores balance, adding a gossipy commentary track by Benjamin and Cannon, with drop-in comments by Welch (recorded separately).
As for Sweeney Todd, it remains tunefully nasty, with George Hearn playing the heartbroken Victorian barber who butchers Londoners and gives the meat to a baker played by Angela Lansbury. Sweeney's not as personal or moving as Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George or Into The Woodsit's more a metaphorical social crituque-but when Hearn and Lansbury romp through the song "A Little Priest," imagining how various classes of people would taste, it's hard not to be amazed at Sondheim's gleeful misanthropy.
♦Delayed for two months by an aspect ratio glitch, MGM's The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD Collection finally hits the shelves, with pristine digital transfers of Hour Of The Wolf, The Passion Of Anna, Persona, The Serpent's Egg and Shame. Each disc is packed with special features, including commentary tracks from Bergman scholars and cast members, and critical breakdowns of where these highly symbolic, impressionistic works fit into the '60s world cinema picture. The set also includes a bonus disc of interviews and on-set documentary featurettes.
♦The elusive cult director Abel Ferrara is both the mastermind behind and the subject of the new double-disc DVD edition of the 1990 crime drama King Of New York (Artisan), which sports a commentary by Ferrara, a commentary by his producers, a documentary about the influence of hip-hop culture on the movie, and a documentary about what a kook Ferrara is.
♦The second series of the British sitcom The Office (BBC) is even more squirm-inducing (and funnier) than the first, as Ricky Gervais's delusional middle manager David Brent gets a new boss and a new set of employees, none of whom understand his constant stream of bad jokes or his sloppy management style, cobbled together from inspirational quote books and a lifetime of watching TV. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman's over-smart and under-ambitious Tim Canterbury still pines for the receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis) and suffers the foolishness of his deskmate Gareth (Mackenzie Crook)-a dynamic which explodes into real, heart-rending drama by the last of these six episodes. The DVD is sparse on bonus features, but it does include a set of deleted scenes and outtakes as funny as the main program. (You won't ever again be able to think of the line "Now here under 'weaknesses,' you've put 'eczema,'" without chuckling.) This is a landmark series, and an essential purchase.