Friday, June 02, 2006

Who is FANTOMA?...

... More like "Where WAS Fantoma?"!

Citing the usual distribution woes, Fantoma DVD's official website was recently quietly updated for the first time in more than a year, and R.W. Fassbinder's hilarious, nasty masterpiece Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? hit shelves on Tuesday, May 30... Even more surprising and happy-making, among the announcements are a short-n-sweet release calendar. On June 27th, another Educational Archives four-volume collection, this time in novelty "School Locker" packaging, and containing the four discs not included in the pricey and space-consuming (sense bitterness?) Lunchbox Edition. On July 25th, the Fassbinder Collection II repackages Fantoma's Martha and In a Year with 13 Moons discs. The only scheduled new film is Yasuzo Masumura's bloody/weepy Red Angel on August 22nd. The collections seem like obvious placeholders until a release is scheduled for the history-making long-promised Films of Kenneth Anger. Fantoma hints that the Anger discs will be available before the year is out... rocketing this up to the top of Kinetoscope's Most Anticipated list (for the Curious Reader: early reviews of Anchor Bay's Cemetery Man have cooled all anticipation. Blargh).

Kinetoscope doesn't usually bother with DVD news (I know where I go for that stuff, and it's the same places you go), unless I'm particularly jazzed about something. The excitement here is mostly over the return of the Fantoma label. Of the 100-or-so boutique labels worth paying attention to (investigate the sidebar for a primer), Fantoma's been a personal favorite. I like the catalogue, which spans Blue Underground/ Synapse world-class sleazo territory (Blind Beast), but tips more steeply into art house heavies (those Fassbindies that eluded Criterion) and cult genres. I like the attention lavished on minor works from important artists; Hercules in the Haunted World and Fando and Lis are two discs a viewer with even a passing interest in Bava and Jodorowski cannot be without. I like the undeniable editorial taste demonstrated when compiling the Educational Archives volumes, the kind of material Something Weird Video offers in an un-filtered deluge of DVD-R and VHS, which makes similar SWV titles grab-bag party tapes, but frequently dull. I like the uniformity of packaging, with title logo, and director's name listed in red, like the author of a book, along the black spines. A lot of the above may be true of other boutique contenders, but Fantoma's peculiar air of class and cool makes their discs more collectible -- and I'm a sucker for the smart collectible -- and their selection of supplements only when informative and useful elevates Fantoma product from other packed-with-junk but empty-at-heart cult discs.

Fantoma's track record is not exactly spotless, but I'm still glad they are in control of the Kenneth Anger films, even with the years of delays. They've always seemed to me a disreputable little brother to Criterion, and something about Criterion's austerity and reputation has stripped some trashy mystique from their cult and underground releases. Who, after all, feels as titilated or mind-blasted by Derek Jarman's film as they used to, after seeing Criterion's Jubilee? And even Criterion might have drawn the line at the encyclopedia-cum-treasure-chest of Fantoma's One From the Heart, a marvelous, overblown set aimed at so small an audience it's rumored to have almost sunk the DVD label like Coppola's film toppled his Zoetrope. That's the foolhardy movie-love I like in a DVD company, and the kind of devoted craziness that I pray is stalling the Anger DVDs.

Anyhow, welcome back, Fantoma. I was pulling for you the whole time, buddy. Just don't do it again.