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January's DVD releases

Fancy a night in front of the box? Simon Evans has some great ideas from the latest batch of home entertainment releases

Scala_DVD_Front_CoverScala!!! (BFI, Blu-ray)

In the early Seventies the Scala, in King’s Cross, was an influential music venue – the cover shots for key albums by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed were taken there – but for much of its life the cinema was an important hub for London’s alternative culture of the Eighties and early Nineties. Now it’s the subject of this enjoyable documentary and, as well as gleefully recalling some of the bad behaviour that when on behind its imposing walls, the film is also, almost by accident, a lament for a lost London, once a place where outsiders of all kinds could find a home, now the plaything of property developers and oligarchs.

The Scala was home to many of those outsiders and punks, musicians, film-makers and all-round misfits, programming films by Pasolini, David Lynch and Tobe Hooper that mainstream cinema wouldn’t touch. One regular on its programme, the bizarre Thundercrack, was rumoured to exist in only one print, which the Scala projected until, supposedly, it wore out. Like many of the stories surrounding the cinema it’s hard to disentangle the myth from reality, mainly because the myth is often much more fun. And the same goes for the explanation for the Scala’s eventual demise – supposedly driven to the wall after being taken to court for screening Stanley Kubrick’s banned (at the time) film A Clockwork Orange. The rather more mundane truth appears to be that the lease ran out and the owners couldn’t afford to renew it. But when in doubt, print the legend.

This Blu-ray release features a selection of short films shown at the Scala during its brief lifetime, a look at 15 editions of the cinema’s coveted monthly programmes, and a guided tour of memorabilia and ephemera from the Scala archive.

British_Transport_Films_life_on_the_lines_DVD_front_coverThe British Transport Films Collection Volume 15 – Life on the Line (BFI, DVD)

British Transport Films, the in-house film production unit of the state-run British Transport Commission, was launched in May 1949 following the nationalisation of public transport the previous year. It went on to become one of the largest industrial film units in Britain and over a period of 35 years documented the radical changes that took place on the British transport network during that period as well providing an invaluable social and historical record of a nation in flux during the second half of the 20th century.

Always popular with film and transport enthusiasts, as well as anyone eager for a taste of nostalgia, the BFI’s series of British Transport Film collections has always been one of its biggest sellers and undoubtedly this latest volume will be no exception. Covering the years 1969 to 1986, the 14 films include Our Business is Moving, Sea Road to Britain, Life on the Line, TOPS for Industry and Round Trip to Glasgow, encompassing everything from a promotional film for hire cars and the launch of a new passenger express service to the Channel Tunnel. The set contains an illustrated booklet with new writing on the films by BFI curator and BTF expert Steven Foxon and post-war transport historian Stephen Edwards.

Doctor_Who_Series_17_dvd_front_coverDoctor Who The Collection Season 17 (BBC, Blu-ray)

The classic series of Doctor Who had started to go off the rails when it reached 1979 and Season 17, Tom Baker’s sixth in the role. Spooked by Mary Whitehouse’s clean-up campaign, the show had jettisoned the Gothic horror elements that had helped make Baker’s early years so interesting, instead opting for a more humorous approach, underlined by the appointment of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams as script editor. Series opener Destiny of the Daleks was not the best story to feature the tin pepperpots, Tom Baker’s taunt as he and his companion escaped through a window “if you’re the masters of the universe why don’t you follow us” broke the first rule of TV sci-fi – don’t draw attention to the basic absurdity of your protagonist.

But although three of the stories – Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden and the Horns of Nimon – all suffered from a mixture of pedestrian plotting, over-the-top acting and stretched budgets the season also boasted one slam-dunk classic, City of Death, a Paris-shot caper involving fake Mona Lisas, a time-travelling alien and cameos from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron. What was to have been the final story of the season – Adams’ Cambridge-set Shada – also had all the makings of a classic but was scuppered by a BBC technicians strike. Thankfully an excellent animated version features on this box set, which also features all the season’s stories newly restored for Blu-ray, and a multitude of documentaries and interviews. 

Also just released

Hidden_assets_dvd_front_cover.Following its screening on BBC4 the second series of the gritty crime series Hidden Assets is now available on DVD through Acorn media International. The new series sees an addition to the cast in Nora-Jane Noone, playing DS Claire Wallace, an ambitious newcomer who’s brought in to head up Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). Picking up a year after the traumatic events of series one, DS Wallace finds herself drawn into the Belgian-based investigation that tormented her predecessor. The first series set a high standard combining a gripping plot with well-drawn characters and this follow-up does not disappoint. A box set is also available featuring both seasons of the show…


Mayfair_witches_dvd_front_cover.In The Mayfair Witches (Acorn Media International, Blu-ray and DVD), based on Anne Rice’s acclaimed novels, The White Lotus star Alexandra Daddario plays a young neurosurgeon whose life changes forever when she discovers she has supernatural powers and is the heir to a family of powerful witches; and Jim Caviezel is a federal agent seeking to rescue a young girl from a Colombian drugs cartel in the US box office sensation The Sound of Freedom (Kaleidoscope, DVD and Blu-ray), based on a harrowing true story…


The_charlie_chaplin_circus_dvd_front_cover.The Circus was the last film that Charlie Chaplin starred in and directed during the silent era and finds the Tramp unwittingly becoming the star of the show after taking refuge with a circus troupe. This new release, now available on Blu-ray as part of Spirit Entertainment’s Criterion Collection, features a digital restoration of the film as it was rereleased in 1969, with a new score by Chaplin. Extras include an unused café sequence and related outtakes, as well as a 2003 documentary on the film…

25 Seconds to Eternity (BFI, Blu-ray and DVD) is a collection of films from art-pop pranksters The KLF AKA The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and The Timelords. It includes The White Room, an ‘ambient road movie’, assorted music videos and The Rites of Mu, a bizarre Summer Solstice event hosted by the KLF on the Scottish island of Jura; and Tilda Swinton is outstanding in Joanna Hogg’s film The Eternal Daughter (BFI, Blu-ray), which centres on a middle-aged filmmaker and her mother, who spend a few nights in an old country hotel. Ostensibly a gothic thriller, the film is much more than that, touching on themes of motherhood, memory and loss…

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