National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

August 26 - September 1, 2007 Issue | Posted 8/21/07 at 2:37 PM

 

Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict (2007) - Pick

Othello (1966) - Pick

Romeo and Juliet (1936) - Pick

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) - Pick

Wise words from Dave Barry: “You aren’t the only one who doesn’t understand the situation in the Middle East.”

For countless Americans who don’t know Hamas from Fatah, Isidore Rosmarin’s scrupulously nonpartisan documentary Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, new this week on DVD from ThinkFilm, isn’t a bad place to start.

Blood and Tears recounts the history of the Israeli state from its 1948 founding to the Six-Day War of 1967, which led to Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, to the Oslo Accords, to the present state of conflict. All sides, Palestinian and Israeli, militant and moderate, are explored in an impressive array of interviews, from Israeli prime ministers and Hamas leaders to ordinary Jewish and Muslim residents. The parts are impressive; the whole less so. Dramatic TV-style editing, a grating soundtrack, and a minimal narrative largely confined to awkward scrolls give the finished film a disjointed, amateurish feel. There are also a few jarring mistakes, such as the onscreen dictionary-style definitions of Judaism and Christianity that erroneously equate “the Old Testament” with “the Torah” and “the New Testament” with “the Gospels.”

Still, overall impressions emerge with some clarity. For one, the ongoing violence is in neither side’s interests, benefiting only a handful of leaders who use the conflict to hold onto power; for another, hope for the future lies in those on both sides who prefer peaceful coexistence to victory at all costs.

The latest DVD release of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (a recent DVD Pick) not enough cinematic Shakespeare for you? Warner Bros, which released the Hamlet special edition, has also released a trio of older Shakespearean adaptations, available separately or in a boxed Shakespeare Collection with Hamlet. Most intriguing, and problematic, is the 1965 Othello starring Laurence Olivier and the other actors of the National Theater. Essentially a filmed version of the stage play, Othello showcases one of Olivier’s most impressive thespian achievements, affecting a baritone voice and a striding, military gait — all in realistic blackface that may be too uncomfortable for many.

“Women’s pictures” director George Cukor (Little Women, a Vatican list film) helmed the 1936 Romeo and Juliet. It was considered the best filmed adaptation of the play until Franco Zeffirelli came out with his version in 1968. Its great strength is its lush production values and strong performances; its great drawback is the maturity of its stars, Leslie Howard (42) and Norma Shearer (34).

Theatrical director Max Reinhardt took his first stab at film directing in the 1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with mixed results. (Co-director William Dieterle and cinematographer Hal Mohr were brought in to help out). A mixed cast of British stage players (Olivia de Havilland as Hermia) and Warner regulars (Mickey Rooney as Puck) make for a bumpy but not unenjoyable ride.

Content advisory

Blood and Tears: Documentary urban-warfare violence including explosions, shootings and discussion of suicide bombings. Teens and up. Shakespeare Collection: Innuendo, stylized violence. Teens and up.