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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Shakespeare Behind Bars, The Wildest Show In The South & In The Box (Ironweed Film Club No. 8, July 2006)
Shakespeare Behind Bars, The Wildest Show In The South & In The Box (Ironweed Film Club No. 8, July 2006)
Ironweed Film Club // Unrated // July 1, 2006
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Ironweedfilms]
Review by Preston Jones | posted August 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies
"Make not your minds your prisons." – William Shakespeare

As DVD Talk's fearless leader Geoff Kleinman explained earlier in 2006, Ironweed Film Club "is a new DVD club focused on creating discussions around socially relevant and progressive topics. It is a subscription-based club which sends out a monthly ... DVD containing at least one feature and several shorts." Now in its eighth incarnation, the Ironweed Film Club seems indeed dedicated to providing, as it says, "independent movies by fearless filmmakers ... provocative films you won't find at the local multiplex or chain video store."

It's a unique concept, one which encourages group viewing of challenging, often compelling films that might otherwise slip through the cracks unnoticed – it also provides helpful context to further flesh out films that might not otherwise be digested and fully considered. Having flourished over the last few months, one hopes that Ironweed Film Club becomes even more visible so that film lovers, perhaps those removed from thriving urban centers that provide outlets for them, can partake of worthwhile movies and feel connected to the vital fabric of cinema.

Shakespeare Behind Bars is the centerpiece of this eighth volume; Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson's absorbing documentary is potent and poignant, following a handful of Kentucky inmates who stage Shakespeare's "The Tempest." I'll skip any further summary of the plot (for that, check out my colleague das Monkey's excellent review of Shakespeare Behind Bars) but will say that this film is one of the more affecting looks at life in a correctional facility that I've seen.

Director Simeon Soffer's 1999 documentary The Wildest Show In The South: The Angola Prison Rodeo runs about 30 minutes and covers exactly what the title promises: a look at the inmates who risk any number of broken bones, blood and contusions to participate in what appears to be an American equivalent to running with the bulls in Pamplona. It's not nearly as affecting (or involving) as Spitzmiller and Rogerson's feature length effort, but it is amusing and presents a little-seen side of prison life.

The deceptively simple, yet quite powerful animated 1999 short In The Box is directed by Michal Strauss concludes this volume, saying quite a lot about the nature of freedom and psychology of captivity with no dialogue and an incredibly brief running time. It's a memorable, playful work that serves to underline the impact carefully considered images can have.

All told, this eighth volume from Ironweed Film Club is a well-curated, handsomely mounted affair that places three worthwhile cinematic experiences in one place and allows viewers to take the journey at their own pace; if you haven't yet taken the plunge with this forward-thinking approach to exploring films a little off the beaten path, then visit www.ironweedfilms.com and join the Club.

The DVD

The Video:

Shakespeare Behind Bars is presented with a clean, clear 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer that conveys Shana Hagan's hand-held images with sharpness and richness – a lot of the film deals with drab, earthy colors but when vivid blues and greens appear, they pop without bleeding. The Wildest Show In The South: The Angola Prison Rodeo is presented with a 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer that suffers from grain and blown-out colors, as well as a little smearing. Soffer switches between color and B&W stock but neither really looks all that sharp. It seems like this particular film might be a VHS port. In The Box is presented with a 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer that has a few moments of grain but nothing truly distracting.

The Audio:

Each film included on this compilation is presented with a serviceable Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack that warmly and accurately conveys dialogue and score with no distortion or drop-out. None of the three movies have any show-stopping sonic moments so an immersive soundfield isn't necessary – what's here gets the job done.

The Extras:

None of the supplemental material from the previous release of Shakespeare Behind Bars has been included here, although an eight minute interview with Rogerson and Spitzmiller is included. A Web link to the Prison Library Project (www.claremontforum.org/prison.html), an informational screen about the Ironweed Film Club and a witty one minute, 35 second introduction to the three films completes the package. I'm assuming that the folks at Ironweed assume you'll provide post-film discussions in lieu of surfing through an EPK or checking out some deleted scenes.

Final Thoughts:

This eighth volume from Ironweed Film Club is a well-curated, handsomely mounted affair that places three worthwhile cinematic experiences in one place and allows viewers to take the journey at their own pace; if you haven't yet taken the plunge with this forward-thinking approach to exploring films a little off the beaten path, then visit www.ironweedfilms.com and join the Club. Recommended.

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