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Taking reading and movie-watching literally

Summer used to be the time people caught up on the reading they had always meant to do. In Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth parodied the ritual pulling out of Tolstoy's War and Peace around the pool or on the beach. Roth observed an ideal situation-not beach fiction but great fiction on the beach-that should inspire movie lovers as well.

With the increased availability of movies in various delivery formats following their initial theatrical runs, when people simple don't have the time to get out to theaters, summer relaxation offers the opportunity to catch up.

Thanks to tablets and smart phones, this summer's reading doesn't have to be limited to Tolstoy, Robert Caro or those James Brown and Nile Rodgers biographies; summer reading ideal can include movies, too, especially movies where you literally need to read-the subtitles.

Conversation Piece

Burt Lancaster stars in Luchino Visconti's quasi-autobiographical story of an dying professor assessing his appetite for life when a greedy, narcissistic family invades his estate. Many of the themes Visconti explored in his film version of Mann's Death in Venice are re-examined in this mostly interior-set film, which goes both deeper yet lighter. It's a wise man's view of sexual folly unlike any other.

Each close-up of each ravishing face (Lancaster, Helmut Berger, Silvana Mangano) is worth several pages of great prose. Visconti's 1974 masterpiece is one of the New York Film Festival premieres left out of this year's NYFF retrospective. It's rarely shown, but this new DVD offers it in an aspect ratio that preserves its widescreen beauty. (Raro Video)

Film Socialisme

Jean-Luc Godard turns the ends of both film and of socialism as we know it into a provocation, going into the bold cinematic and political territory of the present as no other filmmaker can. This film contains some of Godard's most perplexing yet charming études: two parent and child sequences-one jazz, one classical-that symbolize cultural and spiritual indoctrination.

Godard plays with the idea of a "readable text" by creating special subtitles in "Navajo English" that poetically fracture language into verbal codes. Simultaneously analyzing people, the world and the media between them, he teases sound and image. The visual experiments confirm Godard's pitch-perfect compositional and color skills. An opening sequence aboard a cruise ship symbolizes the state of the world, afloat/adrift between new media and old means of conveyance. Prophetically, the ship is named Costa Concordia. (Kino Lorber)

Going Places

Bertrand Blier's debut comedy is as outrageous now as it was back in 1974. Newly released on DVD, it shames contemporary sex comedies as timid and juvenile expressions of sex and romance. Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, at their physical peaks, portray a pair of louts who roam a small town looking for sexual release at the expense of available women (or each other, if the mood hits).This contemporary surrealist sex farce is perched between erotic daydream and pre-Viagra nightmare. Blier tests social conventions as well as the fragile if bodacious male ego-especially when the unarousable Miou-Miou achieves fulfillment the alpha male duo cannot provide. Going Places shocks, amuses and makes you think. (Kino Lorber)

The Clowns

Fellini's examination of the circus and clown tradition pays tribute to conventions of comedy and caricature that are at the core of his "serious" films. This rarely shown documentary offers a trove of the "Felliniesque"-from outrageous faces and acrobatic movement to universal pathos. It also predates what came to be thought of as the "mockumentary," through Fellini's ingenious way of making his documentary investigation as absorbing and fascinating as a fully scripted drama. Instead of mocking narrative convention, Fellini expands the storytelling boundaries of filmmaking, all the time expressing his unique sensibility. Not just for fans of Fellini but for cinema and performing arts enthusiasts, too. (Raro Video)

No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo and Vilmos

For cineastes, this is the year's worthiest documentary, a look back at the twin careers of great cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs. These Hungarian immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1960s, bringing New Wave experiments with natural lighting and mobile cameras that changed the look of American cinema. Between them, Zsigmond and Kovacs shot most of the best and important films of the 1970s' American Renaissance period-McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, The Long Goodbye, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Easy Rider, Paper Moon, Five Easy Pieces, Nickelodeon, Shampoo, The Deer Hunter and more.

Actually, there are no subtitles to read here, but director James Chressanthis brings the cross-cultural art movie experience closer through the personalities and creativity of these major artists. (Cinema Libre Studio)

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