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RICHARD KUIPERS takes a guided tour around some of the films from a handful of modern maverick directors in this collection on video, and picks Performance, starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, as the must-buy. But several others are also worth considering.

Warner Home Video's Maverick Directors collection contains at least a couple of essential items no matter what your taste in cinema. What's impressive about this batch is the mix of elegant works by acclaimed masters of cinema and the more outre excursions offered by some of filmdom's more unhinged practitioners - mavericks, as the banner suggests. Alongside the beauty of Badlands, Atlantis and Dreams, the obsessive visions of Ken Russell, Abel Ferrara, William Friedkin and Donald Cammell/Nicholas Roeg add spice to this fine collection of films.

Loud raspberries to Warners, however, for inexcusably releasing these titles in pan and scan instead of widescreen, which would preserve the original aspect ratio and the integrity of the filmmaker's vision. They did it in the UK, why not here?

The Devils, Ken Russell's depiction of religious perversions in 17th century France, was one of the early recipients of an R classification when released in 1971. It still has the power to shock, not least for offering one of Oliver Reed's best performances before he hit the sauce and it's also your only chance to see Vanessa Redgrave whip herself into a sexual frenzy while playing a hunchbacked nun.

Cruising, which inspired gay rights protests outside cinemas in 1981 and cost Al Pacino and director William Friedkin their reputations (Pacino recovered, Friedkin didn't), is a thriller worthy of re-evaluation. A bleak and brutal walk on the wild side, Friedkin's film about an undercover cop (Pacino) on the trail of a killer in the heavy leather gay underground is a film which oozes sleaze and wears it well.

"On the subject of sleaze"

On the subject of sleaze, no-one does it better or more consistently than Abel Ferrara whose breakthrough film Ms .45 (released as Angel Of Vengeance theatrically and on rental video in Australia) is represented here. After debuting with the outrageously titled porno flick, 9 Lives Of A Wet Pussy (1977), Ferrara served notice of his true intentions with the notorious "video nasty" Driller Killer (1979), playing the titular anti-hero under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine. He hit critical and commercial paydirt with this stylish Death Wish variation which pushes the urban vigilante concept about as far as it can go. Its mute heroine Thana (Zoe Tamerlis, who would later co-write Bad Lieutenant with Ferrara under the name Zoe Lund) suffers not one but two violent sexual episodes on her way home from work in New York's garment district.

The potency of unspeakable horror inflicted on someone who cannot speak vividly realised as Thana's initial act of justifiable homicide snowballs into a revenge odyssey of almost operatic proportion. What makes Ms .45 stand out is the intensity of its vision and the style Ferrara imparts on a meagre budget. Tamerlis is mesmerising as she transforms from mousey seamstress into a sexy assassin dressed in a nun's habit; her actions inviting our approval as she washes the same kind of scum off the streets that Travis Bickle talked about in Taxi Driver.

This is Ferrara and writer Nicholas St John's first great New York story; their stunning exercise in urban madness setting up a string of gritty explorations of the city's sleazy underbelly in Fear City (1984), China Girl (1987), King Of New York (1990) and The Funeral (1997). In the annals of exploitation cinema Ms .45 is about as good as it gets.
When Donald Cammell committed suicide on April 23, 1996 his filmography amounted to just four features in nearly 30 years. Performance, which he co-directed with Nicholas Roeg (Cammell wrote the script and directed the actors, Roeg directed the camera) is his outstanding achievement and one of the greatest of all works of cinema. Filmed in 1968 and not released until 1970, Performance is a freak among films produced by major studios.

"arguably the first great rock clip ever made"

Seduced by the idea of having a film "starring Mick Jagger" Warner Brothers handed total freedom to Cammell, Roeg and producer Sandy Lieberson until presented with the kind of film which had the wives of studio brass running for the door and their husbands disowning a film which would take another year to be released.

What no-one was ready for was a brilliantly conceived and executed study of the nature of performance, art and violence wrapped up in the story of a cockney gangster on the run, Chas (James Fox), hiding out at the house of reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger). In the course of the film their personalities deconstruct, reconstruct and finally merge, each turned on by the performance of the other. The clash of decadent rock'n'roll bohemia with seedy criminal glamour makes Performance an astonishing, multi-textured sensual feast.

The incorporation of flashbacks, flashforwards, rapid montage and image solarisation was years ahead of its time and its use of music, primarily composed by Jack Nitzsche, remains so influential that 30 years later it inspired director William Friedkin to yell at Nitzsche while he was crossing a street in Hollywood, "Performance - the best use of music in a film, ever".

Jagger's performance of Memo From Turner is arguably the first great rock clip ever made. Sex, death, drugs, art, artifice, identity and violence - all are contained in this one-of-a-kind masterpiece which demands multiple viewings and is THE must-buy item in this collection.

The Maverick Directors Collection
Available to buy for the first time:

Abel Ferrara's Angel Of Vengeance (aka Ms .45). A young mute woman is driven to acts of disturbing vengeance. The climatic shoot-out rates as one of the most surreal and disturbing climaxes of all time. Dubbed in English. Rated R 18+.

Luc Besson's Atlantis. The acclaimed director of Nikita and The Big Blue presents a work of fascination, a 'marine opera' that explores the beauty and terror of the sea. Unlike any documentary you have ever seen. Rated G.

Terrence Malick's Badlands. A spare and chilling tale of two young lovers on the road - to Badlands. Stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Terrence Malick's other acclaimed directorial credits include The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven. Rated M 15+.

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup. Cinematic close-up of mid-sixties mod London. A cult classic by a film-making master. Stars Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemming and Sarah Miles with a searing sound track by Oscar-winning composer Herbie Hancock. Rated M 15+.

William Friedkin's Cruising. Oscar winning director of The French Connection and creator of The Exorcist and To Live and Die in LA. Stars Al Pacino as a New York cop who infiltrates the lurid culture of male S&M to trap a killer preying on homosexuals.Rated R 18+.

Ken Russell's The Devils. Starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Based on the John Whiting play and Aldous Huxley novel that centre on the staggering true-life dementia of events in 1634 France. An era of plague, mysticism and trial by torture is revived in all its macabre reality. Rated R 18+.

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. Cited as an inspiration for directors from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas, Francis Coppola and Martin Scorcese, Kurosawa is "widely regarded as the world's greatest living director" (Los Angeles Times). Dreams is a visionary and deeply personal work that explores the cost of war, the perils of nuclear power and humankind's need to harmonise with nature. In Japanese with English subtitles. Rated PG.

Co-directed by Donald Campbell and Nicholas Roeg -Performance. Starring Mick Jaggerand James Fox. A modern movie legend. Performance is an underground classic. Rated R 18+.

Also re-released in this collection:

Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, a confronting tale of madness, murder and the media.. Rated R. Stars Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey jnr, Tommy Lee Jones.

Philip Kaufman's epic erotic romance, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, an eloquent and sensual love story set in Prague during the Russian invasion of Czechosolvakia in 1968.
Rated M 15+. Starring Daniel Day Lewis and Juliette Binoche.

July 20, 2000

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Maverick Directors Collection ($19.95 ea)
Australian video release: July 14, 2000
Warner Home Video

Abel Ferrara's Angel of Vengeance (aka Ms .45) 1981

Luc Besson's Atlantis, 1991

Terrence Malick's Badlands, 1973

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, 1966

Ken Russell's The Devils, 1971

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, 1990

William Friedkin's Cruising, 1981

Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's Performance, 1968/1970

Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, 1994

Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988

Richard Kuipers visits the house from Performance known as 81 Powis Square, Notting Hill Gate. (The actual address is 25 Powis Square)

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