CriterionCast

Joshua Reviews Ely Landau’s King: A Filmed Record…From Montgomery To Memphis [DVD Review]

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Sometimes, occasionally (read: rarely) the body of filmmakers, producers, and everyone in between out in Hollywood known as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will give their highly sought after awards to those who truly deserve it. However, as has become par for the course, they get it truly and impressively “wrong,” or as much as can be subjectively said.  And it’s not something that’s only become an issue recently.

Kino Lorber has released a new DVD for the brilliant and era defining documentary King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery To Memphis, and while it’s known as an Oscar nominee (it lost the Best Documentary feature to Woodstock) it has become incredibly hard to view, and frankly, deserves to be known as one of the greatest documentaries of all time.

A breathtakingly currated collection of archival and newsreel footage looking at the life and times, rise and ultimately assassination, of one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this film (from Ely Landau) is a stunning look at the growth of an entire movement and its iconic figurehead. Entered into the National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress back in 1999, the film has been recently restored, and clocking in at just over three hours in length, the film is as moving a film as you’re likely to see, and the lack of talking heads (save for the Brechtian intermissions involving the likes of Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster (not to mention Charlton Heston and Harry Belafonte) proves this film’s brilliance.

Entirely in black and white, the film is inherently a character study. Giving a brooding sense of black and white nature to a world that, at that time, fit that bill culturally and politically to a T, King is truly a portrait of an era, as much it is as a portrait of a man. That’s the ultimate conclusion of the picture is that King was never just a man. He was a symbol for a movement that was ready to break either into political upheaval or into utter violence, at a single point. The intermissions involving the aforementioned actors and actresses adds a great deal of esoteric levity to the picture, but it’s ultimately the collection of real footage piled together by the likes of producers Landau and Richard Kaplan that makes this film a time capsule of an era on the brink and one that will forever stand as a monument to a man, a myth, a legend and the movement that he led and became the flag flown for.

The film is quite lengthy, but with as much detail given to this narrative, including early speeches, march shots and even his funeral, the film is as engrossing a watch as this writer has seen in years. Originally shown as a “one-time-only” style event, the film is now available on DVD from Kino (after a 2-disc DVD hit from a non-profit group entitled A Filmed Record, INC, back in 2011), and it’s glorious. The transfer here is superb, and while there are no supplements and the film itself is split over two discs, it’s an absolute must own for anyone with a heart that is currently beating.

The lack of a Blu-ray is a tad upsetting. Kino has been rather scatterbrained with the releases of Blu-rays throughout their run, and this one may be the most puzzling. The restoration is so great, and the film itself is so important and influential, that one would think that, in the world where a film like Martin Campbell’s The Sex Thief gets a Blu-ray release, a film like this could. It’s an odd choice, but with a film this important and seemingly hard to see, beggars truly can’t be choosers here. And the lack of supplements is problematic. The transfer is great, but historically, this is so important, a third disc with supplements should have been included. Restoration videos, retrospectives, interviews, anything really. It’s, again, a really bizarre choice. However, for a historical record, this is one of the most important home video releases in recent memory. A beautifully composed historical record, the film is a meditation on a man and the movement he led, and how while on the brink of violence, he himself was able to change the world through peace and sheer will. It’s just one of the greatest non-fiction films ever made.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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