Great films, strange streams: The Crowd, Lone Star, & Sparticus

Not all great films get the home theater treatment they deserve. Here are three terrific films getting better home presentations…although they still need improvement.

The Crowd (1928)

Last year, I wrote an article about great films not available at home, and I put The Crowd first. This isn’t a lost work, but a masterpiece kept almost entirely unavailable outside of occasional screenings on Turner Classic Movies. No streaming. No discs. But I recently discovered that The Crowd is actually available to stream.

Told with daring photography, real locations, surreal sets, and subtle pantomime, The Crowd brings you through dizzying joy and wrenching tragedy as it follows the story of an ordinary man who refuses to accept that he’s ordinary. It’s on several All-time Best Films lists, including my own. Read my appreciation.

I recently discovered that you can stream or download the film from The Internet Archive. Finally, you can see The Crowd in your own home.

But this Internet Archive version has its problems. It’s not just the French subtitles, which you can easily ignore. It’s a little worse with the TCM watermark in the corner. The big problem is the absolutely horrible, video-like image quality. Well, that’s what you get for free. I’d easily spend money for a good restoration.

This is NOT what a good 1928 movie should look like

Lone Star (1996)

John Sayles’ masterpiece, Lone Star, has yet to be available on Blu-ray. I had purchased the Laserdisc soon after it was published, and then replaced that one quickly with the DVD. And as DVDs go, it wasn’t much. Image quality is just okay. The “SPECIAL FEATURES” include “Interactive Menus” and “Theatrical Trailer,” but nothing about the film. It’s the only Sayles disc I’ve ever owned or rented without a commentary track (John Sayles does great commentary tracks).

On one level, Lone Star works as a murder mystery in a small Texas border town. The murder happened nearly 40 years ago, and the sheriff suspects the killer is his own, recently departed father – who is also a local legend. But there’s much more going on than a 40-year-old murder. The Hispanic majority will soon take over local government, but some still pine for the days when people didn’t “want their salt and sugar in the same jar.” Even the more enlightened citizens can’t escape their community’s dark past, with its oral history about good and bad sheriffs. You can read more in my article John Sayles’ accidental trilogy: The Secret of Roan Inish, Lone Star, and Men with Guns.

A few days ago, I looked up Lone Star on JustWatch and discovered you could buy the HD version for only $5 through AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play, or YouTube. That’s only $1 less than a one-day rental! I don’t know how long this offer will last. And yes, the image quality is vastly superior than the DVD. (But I still wish Sayles would do a commentary track and make that available.)

Spartacus (1960)

Last summer, I bought the 4K Ultra HD disc (two discs actually; one is a Blu-ray) of the Kirk Douglas, Dalton Trumbo, Stanley Kubrick epic, Spartacus. I love the image quality. I love the audio quality. But I was disappointed by the extras – especially, the lack of a commentary track.

This very fictionalized version of the famous Roman slave revolt is simply the most powerful, intelligent, and coherent toga epic from the golden age of toga epics. And yes, I know that sounds like weak praise, but it isn’t. Stanley Kubrick’s only work as a director-for-hire gives us the glory of Rome while concentrating on the horror, cruelty, and exploitation of empire. Star and Executive Producer Kirk Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo a well-deserved screen credit, which helped end the Hollywood blacklist.

In 1992, Criterion released a Spartacus Laserdisc release with many extras, along with a then-new commentary with Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, novelist Howard Fast, producer Edward Lewis, film restoration expert Robert A. Harris, and designer Saul Bass. With that many people (all recorded separately and edited together), the commentary feels a bit fractured, but it’s still very much worthwhile. Ustinov provides the most intelligent comments. With the exception of Howard Fast (he didn’t like what they did with his book), all of these people are worth listening to.