“Masterpiece: The Collection” . . . Who knew that couture could be so cutthroat?

We have told you many times . . .  many, many times . . . that the DVDs released by PBS Distribution are masterpieces. Another wonder: The all-new fashion-centric miniseries Masterpiece: The Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. World War II is over and stylish clothes are back as Paris recovers from the horrors of the Nazi occupation. Richard Coyle, Mamie Gummer and Tom Riley star as a family struggling to build a fashion empire at any cost.

The beautifully shot series won accolades during its UK debut in 2016, with The Telegraph calling it “possibly the most glamorous series on TV,” The Guardian finding it “captivating … glossy and murky at the same time,” and The Huffington Post praising its large cast as “first-rate from top to bottom.”

Indeed!

Focusing on the Sabine family, composed of business-savvy Paul (Coyle), his wealthy American wife, Helen (Gummer), and his brilliant but dissipated designer brother, Claude (Riley), the program also stars Frances de la Tour as Paul and Claude’s overbearing mother, Yvette, who will stop at nothing to advance her boys’ careers—often to their dismay.

Set in 1947, The Collection captures a turbulent era in French history, when partisans hunted down Nazi collaborators and anyone with something to hide shunned the past and embraced the future. Fashion became the perfect expression of this impulse to look ahead. Wartime rationing, drabness, and erotic restraint gave way to alluring displays of color, form, and fabric in women’s clothes—for those who could afford them.

The Sabine family firm is at the forefront of this exciting but ruthless pursuit, and Paul has been chosen by the French government to lead the battle to reclaim the nation’s preeminence in the couture world. Widely regarded as the genius behind his studio’s stunning designs, Paul is in fact purveying the work of his brother, Claude, an unbridled sensualist who can’t restrain his amorous impulses. In free moments, Claude works in a frenzy to sketch new gowns, often consigning them to the wastebasket, where they are retrieved and turned into the Sabine collection’s latest sensations.

Into this superficially elegant universe comes hard-boiled American reporter Stan Rossi (Stanley Townsend) with suspicions about Paul’s past, but so far little to go on. Assigned to photograph a fashion story for Rossi, Billy soon parts company to become the Sabine studio’s official photographer. In the process, he elevates the worker Nina to be the signature model for the firm—much to the chagrin of the reigning top model, Dominique (Poppy Corby-Tuech, who plots revenge.

Adding to the turmoil, police Inspector Bompard (Allan Corduner) enters the picture when Yvette’s scheme to get Claude under control goes horribly awry, leading to an investigation that threatens the entire Sabine enterprise.

Who knew that couture could be so cutthroat?

The Big Moolah would have loved “Sisterhood of the Squared Circle”

No fighting about it: It’s time to show my age as I proudly remember the day I met, Mary Lillian Ellison, better known as The Fabulous Moolah. The time: The late ’50s. The place: Paragon Park, Hull, Massachusetts.

Moolah was there doing what she did best: wrestling. And making moolah. How good was she? She was the first female inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame and was affiliated with the organization for fifty-two years. She held the world’s women’s championship for twenty-eight years beginning in 1956. At the age of 76, she reclaimed the title for a final time.

I can’t recall her opponents, and it doesn’t matter, since Moolah was the Mama of Woman Wrestlers. She died in 2007, yet we got a chance to revisit with her by reading Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy’s riveting romp, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling (ECW Press, $18.95). The book’s foreword was penned by WWE Superstar Natalya.

Once a staple of carnival side shows, women’s wrestling has come into its own in recent years. Under the guidance of Stephanie McMahon, WWE has made a commitment to the women’s division, shifting attention from the “divas” of years past to competitive matches featuring talented women wrestlers. The book includes more than 100 wrestler profiles, from trailblazers like Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah to today’s stars like Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley.

Featuring rare photos and exclusive interviews, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle presents the fascinating history of women’s wrestling more extensively than ever before.

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There’s only one piece of Moolah memorabilia I like better: Her autograph! And I have it! I also recently visited her grave.

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What a way to celebrate this year’s end: A never-before-released live recording by Ella Fitzgerald

Forget the champagne and finger sandwiches. The best way to close out the year is with the important Verve Records and UMe release, the last gem celebrating their year-long celebration of Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial.  More than 60 years after it was recorded, Ella At Zardi’s will finally be released on CD and digital December 1. 

Recorded on February 2, 1956 at Zardi’s Jazzland in Hollywood, Ella At Zardi’s features the entirety of the evening’s two-set, 21-song performance, which captures an inspired Fitzgerald, backed by a stellar trio comprised of pianist Don Abney, bassist Vernon Alley and drummer Frank Capp, singing and swinging in front of an animated, adoring crowd, just days before she’d go on to record the album that would catapult her to stardom.

The concert was originally recorded by Norman Granz to celebrate the creation of, and Fitzgerald’s signing to, Verve Records, which Granz founded largely to give Fitzgerald the attention that he felt she wasn’t receiving at her then-current label, Decca. Ella At Zardi’s was planned as the label’s inaugural release but shelved in favor of the now-classic studio album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Song Book, which kicked off a best-selling, signature series of Song Book releases. The Zardi’s tapes languished in Verve’s vaults for six decades.

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Ella At Zardi’s captures the brilliance and inspiration Fitzgerald’s performances embodied at the time. As veteran jazz journalist Kirk Silsbee observes in the album’s liner notes, “We can hear a fluid and joyous singer who operates with almost giddy authority. Ella manages to find a way of swinging almost every number, no matter the tempo. Ella uses her intelligent phrasing and rhythmic sense in inventive and exhilarating ways. Her repertoire was vast and she didn’t always remember the correct lyrics of a song. But the way she spontaneously redesigns the text in the most musical of ways is Fitzgerald’s signature.”

Ella At Zardi’s caps off Verve/UMe’s slate of releases in celebration of “Ella 100,” which has included the four-CD set 100 Songs For A Centennial; the six-LP vinyl box set Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George & Ira Gershwin Song Books and Someone to Watch Over Me, which marries Fitzgerald’s vocals with new instrumental tracks by the London Symphony Orchestra. The centennial has also seen the first-ever digital releases of her rare early singles for the Decca label.

Ella At Zardi’s stands out for its history-making rediscovery of a vintage performance by one of jazz’s greatest artists. As Granz enthuses in his stage introduction, “This is for real; for me she’s the greatest there is—Miss Ella Fitzgerald!”

Edgar Allan Poe dead? Nonsense. He’s “Buried Alive”. Just ask Denis O’Hare and Kathleen Turner

No wonder we love Edgar Allan Poe’s works . . . the Gothic gems deal with questions of death, including its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead and mourning.

No surprise we ate PBS Distribution’s American Master: Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive. Missed it on TV? It’s now on DVD. Written and directed by Eric Stange, this new documentary draws on the rich palette of Poe’s evocative imagery and sharply drawn plots to tell the real story of the notorious author.

Starring Tony-winning and Emmy-nominated actor Denis O’Hare  and narrated by Oscar- and Tony-nominated, two-time Golden Globe-winner Kathleen Turner, the program explores the misrepresentations of Poe as a drug-addled madman akin to the narrators of his horror stories. This caricature is thanks, in large part, to a high-profile obituary filled with falsehoods, written by his literary rival Rufus W. Griswold. Determined to re-invent American literature, Poe was an influential–and brutally honest–literary critic and magazine editor, who also invented the detective protagonist with his character C. Auguste Dupin, refined the science fiction genre and popularized short stories, actually writing more comedies than horror.

An orphan in search of family, love and literary fame, Poe struggled with alcoholism and was also a product of early 19th century American urban life: depressed from the era’s culture of death due to the high mortality rate and the struggles of living in poverty. Poe famously died under mysterious circumstances and his cause of death remains unknown.

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Filmed in Boston Harbor’s historic Fort Independence at Castle Island, this program combines dramatized re-enactments with O’Hare of key moments in Poe’s life, readings from Poe’s works by O’Hare, Oscar-nominated actor Chris Sarandon and actor Ben Schnetzer, and interviews with authors including Marilynne Robinson, Matthew Pearl, Jeffrey Meyers and Zach Dundas, director Roger Corman and others who reveal how Poe tapped into what it means to be human in a modern and sometimes frightening world.

 

 

 

 

“The Farthest: Voyager in Space” takes viewers on an exciting exploration

File this DVD under: far Out. PBS Distribution has released The Farthest: Voyager in Space, a new program about NASA’s historic Voyager mission to explore our solar system and beyond. With participation from more than 20 of the original and current mission scientists, engineers and team members, the film tells captivating tales of one of humanity’s greatest achievements in exploration. From supermarket aluminum foil added at the last minute to protect the craft from radiation; to the near disasters at launch; to the emergency maneuvers to fix a crucial frozen instrument platform, viewers will get a sense of how difficult—and rewarding—space exploration can be. The documentary was an official selection in the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival as part of the festival’s Viewpoints program. (DVD includes an 18-minute  bonus feature titled Second Genesis, featuring Cassini mission scientist Carolyn Porco (who also worked on Voyager), exploring the possibility of finding life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Featuring a soundtrack of evocative period music including songs from Pink Floyd, stunning cinematography, vivid CGI animations of Voyager traversing the solar system, and original groundbreaking photographs taken by the twin spacecraft, the film tells the story of one of humanity’s most ambitious scientific endeavors. Voyager revolutionized planetary science, resolved key questions about the outer planets and raised intriguing new ones about the evolution of our solar system. Originally approved to travel only to Saturn and Jupiter, the spacecraft used gravity-assisted slingshot trajectories to take advantage of a once-in-176-year planetary alignment to extend their missions, with Voyager 2 also visiting Uranus and Neptune.

After completing its mission to Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 1 turned its camera inward and, at the insistence of the eloquent and insightful astronomer Carl Sagan, took one of the most famous images of Earth ever captured. As described by Sagan in the film, the image showed Earth as a pale blue dot on which “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives . . .  on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

The two spacecraft, equipped with a fraction of the computing power of a modern cell phone, sent back unprecedented images and data from all four outer planets and many of their moons. As they continue their journey into interstellar space, they carry with them a literal record of our existence that may outlive us all. Sagan was one of the masterminds behind perhaps Voyager’s most iconic feature, The Golden Record, which carries greetings, music and images from Earth to intelligent beings they may one day encounter. The program reveals how this famous record was created and how it presents humanity to any creatures that may find it.

Four decades after they left Earth, Voyager 1 has traveled more than 12 billion miles and Voyager 2 more than 10 billion. Both nuclear-powered spacecraft continue to send back data. In 2012, Voyager 1, which is traveling at more than 320 million miles per year, became the first human-made object to leave the bubble of our solar system—ushering humanity into the interstellar age.

Robert Redford demonstrates how lightning was caught in a bottle . . . musIc to your ears!

Teresa Brewer suggested we put another nickel in the Nickelodeon so we could hear “music, music, music!”

Now Robert Redford steps up to the plate (or platter) by narrating American Epic, the essential that explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world. PBS Distribution has released this journey back in time to the “Big Bang” of modern popular music. 

In the ’20s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets. Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone. Country singers in the Appalachians, Blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians were all recorded. For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coalminer in Virginia or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country. It was the first time America heard itself.

Virtually no documentation of these extraordinary events survives and nearly ninety percent of the recording masters have been destroyed. A vital part of American cultural history has been lost.

Over three episodes, narrated by Redford, American Epic rescues this history. The remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage and photographs, and exclusive interviews with music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses to the era. 

 American Epic represents a 10-year odyssey undertaken by director Bernard MacMahon and producers Allison McGourty and Duke Erikson, and audio engineer Nicholas Bergh that involved tracking down countless long forgotten musicians, restoring the music that they recorded and reassembling the technology that created it. Along the way they brought some of the most important figures in contemporary culture to help them on their quest. Executive Producers Jack White, T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford have lent their support to what Redford calls “America’s greatest untold story”. 

The DVD also includes the feature-length film The American Epic Sessions for which the team has reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system from the ‘20s, and invited Jack White and T Bone Burnett to produce an album of recordings by twenty of today’s greatest artists. In this beautifully filmed musical feature, these artists are given the chance to pass through the portal that brought the world into the modern era.

Engineer Nicholas Bergh has reassembled this recording system from original parts and it is now the only one left in the world. The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears. The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor. In the ’20s, they called this “catching lightning in a bottle.” All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements. 

 

Fly the friendly skies . . . and visit some of the scariest airports

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s super, man.

City in the Sky, a three-part BBC-PBS co-production now on DVD, goes behind the scenes with rare access to showcase what keeps hundreds of thousands of flights aloft daily. At any given moment, more than one million people are traveling by airplane, in 100,000 daily flights moving 30,000 feet above the Earth. This airborne metropolis and the armies of professionals needed to make it all work are captured.  From hidden cities of luggage below ground to the steady hands guiding flights around the globe, the program goes behind the scenes with rare access to uncover the invisible global networks and complex logistics that have allowed air travel to soar to new heights.

From the coldest airport in the world (in Yakutsk, Russia), to one of the busiest (in Atlanta, Georgia), to the most dangerous (in the Himalayan town of Paro, below), the series takes viewers to remote, little known places such as the world’s largest luggage storage facility and the storage tanks in Europe and southeast America that hold and transport millions of gallons of jet fuel through underground pipes.

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Though international in scope, the program highlights key American airports and aviation hot spots coast-to-coast, including:

· Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, one of the three busiest in the world and America’s most advanced in passenger and airline traffic flow

· Phoenix’s MedAire, Inc., at Banner University Medical Center, where a team of doctors and emergency specialists is on-call 24/7 to help cabin crews with mid-air medical crises

· Seattle’s Boeing facility, which has developed a radical new material that has led to the biggest change in airplane design since the ’20s

· The Bangor, Maine International Airport, which boasts the size of a major international hub because it serves as the first U.S. point of arrival for troubled airliners crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The program gives viewers a new appreciation for the paper stub or digital ticket that unlocks a precisely choreographed journey that starts the moment they walk into an airport terminal. Signage, lighting and flooring are designed to keep travelers on a flowing path to their gates. Vast underground machines give baggage the ride of its life from check-in to pick-up.  Even non-consumer-facing parts of the industry bring fascination: the world’s largest cargo storage in China, for example, sees one-fifth of all global shipping come through its facility.

A short recap of each episode follows:

“Departure”
Learn what it takes to get a million people off the ground—from building the world’s biggest passenger plane to controlling the flow of passengers through the busiest airport on the planet to the perils of takeoff in the coldest city on Earth.

“Airborne”
Examine the hidden army that keeps your plane safe, and explore just what it takes to keep the “city in the sky” functioning and safe between take-off and landing. Learn why flying has become safer than ever.

“Arrival”
What goes up must come down—and getting passengers safely back to earth depends on complex global networks and some astonishing technology. Around the world, 100,000 flights a day make touchdown—almost every one safely. Learn what’s involved.

Finally! “Funeral Parade of Roses”, Toshio Matsumoto’s queer masterpiece, hits Blu-ray

A question (and answer) to place somehow in your brain should you ever get on Jeopady! The answer: Funeral Parade of Roses. The query: What film did Stanley Kubrick cite as a direct influence on his dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange?

Long unavailable in the U.S., director Toshio Matsumoto’s shattering, kaleidoscopic masterpiece is one of the most subversive and intoxicating films of the late ’60s. It’s a headlong dive into a dazzling, unseen Tokyo night-world of drag queen bars and fabulous divas, fueled by booze, drugs, fuzz guitars, performance art and black mascara. The flick drags into stores November 17.

An unknown club dancer at the time, transgender actor Peter  gives an astonishing Edie Sedgwick/Warhol superstar-like performance as hot young thing Eddie, hostess at Bar Genet — where she’s ignited a violent love-triangle with reigning drag queen Leda (played by Osamu Ogasawara) for the attentions of club owner Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya).

One of Japan’s leading experimental filmmakers, Matsumoto bends and distorts time, freely mixing documentary interviews; Brechtian film-within-a-film asides; Oedipal premonitions of disaster; his own avant-garde shorts; even on-screen cartoon balloons, into a dizzying whirl of image and sound. Featuring breathtaking black-and-white cinematography by Tatsuo Suzuki that rivals the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, the film offers a frank, openly erotic and unapologetic portrait of an underground community of drag queens.

Who must we 感謝 for a key work of the Japanese New Wave and of queer cinema? Cinelicous Pics and The Cinefamily, who have beautifully restored the film in 4k from the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements.

Diana Ross’ “new” album is (she promises) a “special gift”, sent to her fans “with love”

There ain’t no mountain high enough, but Motown/UMe has scaled pretty high. On November 15, they unleash Diana Ross’ “new” album, Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection, a memorable music journey that celebrates her iconic legacy. The 15-song collection contains some of Miss Ross’ biggest hits of her career. The CD also includes a special gift to her fans: an exciting new dance club remix of her No. 1 hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Coos the 73-year-old Miss Ross: “I send this special gift to you all. This collection is from my heart to yours, and I send my love, thanks and appreciation to you for my joyous amazing journey. It’s so much fun.”

Ross will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Music Awards on November 19, during which the show will pay tribute to her remarkable career. Ross’ impact in music, film, television, fashion and popular culture is unprecedented. A renowned superstar, she is one of the most successful and influential recording legends and iconic entertainers of all time.

Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection track listing:

  1. I’m Coming Out
  2. More Today Than Yesterday
  3. The Boss
  4. It’s My House
  5. Endless Love *
  6. Upside Down
  7. You Can’t Hurry Love **
  8. Touch Me In The Morning
  9. Love Hangover
  10. Take Me Higher
  11. It’s My Turn
  12. Why Do Fools Fall In Love
  13. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  14. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)
  15. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – The ANMHE ‘Diamond Diana’ (Remix)
    *   with Lionel Richie
    ** with The Supremes

Dastardly and dramatic and a heaping of unctuous piety: Welcome “Poldark Season 3”

The election results are in from yesterday . . . but we always knew PBS Distribution would continue being a winner by releasing Poldark Season 3 on DVD and Blu-ray. Does George Warleggan finally have the upper hand against his archenemy, Ross Poldark? Can George’s growing power in Cornwall cement his control over the fate of his populist foe? Dream on! Follow the latest thrilling exploits of Ross Poldark and his fiery partner, Demelza, starring Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as the intrepid eighteenth-century duo.

The new season costars Jack Farthing as the dastardly George and Heida Reed as his bewitching wife, Elizabeth, now estranged from her first love, Ross—or is she? Also returning are Caroline Blakiston as Ross’s crusty Aunt Agatha, whose passion in life is tormenting George; Beatie Edney as the irascible servant Prudie; Luke Norris as stalwart Dr. Dwight Enys; and Gabriella Wilde as Dwight’s secret fiancée, the fetching heiress Caroline Penvenen.

Last season, TV Guide was captivated by Poldark’s “myriad pleasures, not the least of which is Aidan Turner’s swarthy charisma as the chivalrous and perilously proud crusader of Cornwall . . . Poldark is the sort of great escape you would be foolish to resist.”

Critics have been equally enthralled with Season 3, which recently aired in the UK. London’s The Independent lauded the “action-filled opener,” with its panoply of plot developments that “helped the atmospheric drama gallop out of the starting blocks.”

And gallop it does. Episode one introduces fresh doubts about the paternity of Elizabeth’s impending baby, along with some consequential new characters, including Ellise Chappell as Elizabeth’s pretty cousin Morwenna. Hired as the governess for Elizabeth’s young son (by her previous marriage to Poldark’s cousin Francis), Morwenna is soon a pawn in George’s grand game to win political influence.

Morwenna would prefer to share company with Demelza’s strapping brother Drake, a lay minister played by Harry Richardson, but George intends her to marry the recently widowed Reverend Whitworth, portrayed with unctuous piety by Christian Brassington. Whitworth gives every indication of being a rank libertine, to the horror of the upright and innocent Morwenna. Meanwhile, George manages to abuse every privilege he accrues in his ruthless climb to power.

Also enlivening the new season are a mysterious plague of frogs, a thwarted famine, and Aunt Agatha’s eagerly anticipated one-hundredth birthday party, which has a catastrophic catch. But the most stirring action involves the French Revolution, which manages to ensnare one of the program’s main characters in its Reign of Terror, prompting Poldark’s most dangerous mission yet.

Perhaps even more perilous—at least for his psyche—is Ross’s cooling attitude toward Demelza. Reckless to a fault, he appears to be throwing it all away—a magistracy, a seat in Parliament, his lands, and even his red-haired beauty. What on earth could he be thinking?

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