Face Off

Art Hindle in "Face Off" (Agincourt International Production)

Maybe it's the approach of the holiday season that's motivating labels to dig a little deeper into their catalogues, or maybe it's the constant media rumble about the impending death of the DVD format driving them to release as many titles as they can handle before the whole system comes crashing down, man.

Whatever the reason, a new wave of rarities, obscurities and forgotten films hits the shelves almost every week, and honestly, I'm all for it. This week's bounty is particularly intriguing, so rather than rehash the failure of Tom Hanks' risible "Larry Crowne," let's dig into the deep cuts, shall we?

First and foremost this week is the Criterion Collection's boxed set of Krzysztof Kieslowski's exquisite "Three Colours Trilogy" -- the film series, based on the themed colours of the French flag, which stands as one of the finest cinematic accomplishments of the 1990s. Or at least it would be if Criterion had the Canadian rights to the set. Instead, it's only available in the U.S., though savvy shoppers will be able to find it at more resourceful video stores, or order it online from American retailers.

In the meantime, we denizens of the Great White North can content ourselves with Criterion's new special edition of "The Rules of the Game," which comes to DVD and Blu-ray this week in a fresh high-definition transfer and sporting the same excellent supplemental package that was produced for the first Criterion edition in 2004.

Jean Renoir's magnificent comedy of manners, set over a few days at an upper-class chateau where the bourgeois French elite indulge in feckless decadence as the clouds of World War II gather around them, is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Don't look to me for a contrary opinion; I think it's magnificent.

As with any great work of art, I discover something new about it -- and about myself -- every time I watch it. It's an essential film, not only for its profund understanding of social manipulation and the imaginary barriers of class, but for its richness of character and its abiding humanism. There are good people and bad people, and they do terrible things to one another, but as one of Renoir's characters famously remarks, "Everyone has his reasons." If you've never seen it, this new edition should be the very next disc you bring home.

There's another movie coming to disc this week that some would consider a classic, and perhaps even hail as an essential historical document. That'd be George McCowan's "Face Off," arriving in a Blu-ray/DVD special edition from Video Service Corp. in honour of its 40th anniversary.

An unabashedly Canadian answer to "Love Story," "Face Off" stars Art Hindle as a rookie Toronto Maple Leafs player who falls for a protest singer (Trudy Young), only to have her reject his goonish ways, forcing him to reconsider his choices as a hockey player.

Some people remember it fondly. Those people are crazy; they've willed themselves to forget the atrocious hepcat dialogue and wince-worthy hippie characterizations that pepper the film, focusing only on the 20-odd minutes of hockey footage that runs through the picture. McCowan convinced the NHL to let him shoot actual games, so his movie includes scenes of Hindle playing alongside Darryl Sittler and George Armstrong against legendary players like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr.

The hockey stuff is great. The movie around it, not so much -- and VSC seems to know this, acknowledging the picture's cheesier aspects by including the SCTV parody, "Power Play," as a bonus. The only other supplement besides the trailer is a commentary track featuring Hindle and Young, neither of whom have any illusions about the movie they've made. And you shouldn't fool yourself, either; if you're bringing it home for the hockey footage, you'll get your money's worth. But if you're buying it because you think it's a key film in the evolution of Canadian cinema... well, think again.

We've one more title to discuss, and it's a doozy. Having released the fully restored version of "Metropolis" last year, Kino now rolls out "Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis," an alternate cut of the film released in 1984. Moroder rescored Fritz Lang's 1927 masterwork with pop tracks by Bonnie Tyler, Freddie Mercury and Adam Ant, among others; the idea being that synth-based rock would help the MTV generation relate to Lang's glorious art-deco fantasy.

This was not a good idea. But it did make for a fascinating Bizarro-world version of "Metropolis," which disappeared from circulation a few years later. Seeing it again now serves two artistic purposes -- first, it makes you appreciate how powerful Lang's film was without the pop score, and second, it stands as a warning to never attempt anything like this again. That said, I'm now possessed by the urge to watch F.W. Murnau's 1922 horror classic "Nosferatu" accompanied only by mid-period Billy Joel singles. I may need some help here.

E-mail Norman Wilner at houselightsup@hotmail.com