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2 Box Sets Bring Classic Films Together For The 1st Time

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. So if you are still searching for last-minute gift ideas for the film enthusiast in your life, no need to panic. We have got film critic Kenneth Turan here with a couple of new box sets that bring some classic films together for the very first time - great gift ideas. Kenny, good morning to you.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So let's talk about this first box set. It sounds like it brings a bunch of films together from a maestro of Italian cinema. Tell me what we're talking about.

TURAN: Well, this is "Essential Fellini." It's a huge box set from Criterion, which are kind of a gold standard of reissued box sets - you know, 14 of Fellini's films. There are lavishly illustrated books. You open this box, and you kind of enter into the magical world of Fellini.

GREENE: Well, what is that magical world of Federico Fellini for people who don't know? What are the movies like?

TURAN: Well, you know, it's - they're interesting because they have two different strands to them. I mean, his earlier films kind of really were naturalistic, kind of slice-of-life comedies, Italian life. And gradually, as he got older, the films took on a more fantastical aspect. Some of his later films - "Juliet Of The Spirits," "Fellini Satyricon" - were very wild and crazy. And his most famous films kind of hit the balance between those two poles - "La Dolce Vita," "8 1/2" - those are the films that he's best known for.

GREENE: Do you have a favorite?

TURAN: I do have a favorite, and it turns out I found out researching this that it was Orson Welles' favorite as well. It's called "The White Sheik." It's from 1952. It's the first film that Fellini directed by himself, and it's got kind of a wild story. It's based around the concept - in Italy at the time, there were something called fumetti, which were comic books that were not drawn but illustrated with photographs. And they were deeply romantic adventure stories. And this is about a young bride who comes to Rome. And she - you know, her husband thinks they're on their honeymoon, but she has another agenda. She wants to meet her favorite character, the White Sheik, who's a Rudolph Valentino kind of character.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

TURAN: And she gets swept up into this amazing, comic, romantic, insane world. And it's just - it's a spectacular film.

GREENE: I love the twist. You're on your honeymoon with someone who gets swept up by someone else.

TURAN: Yes. And when her husband finds out, as obviously he will, I mean, the contortions he goes through, the looks on his face are really classic.

GREENE: Well, so that's one box set. There's another new box set out with some classics from right around the same period, right?

TURAN: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. The last films in the set called "The Jewish Soul: 10 Classics Of Yiddish Cinema" - you know, Yiddish film is a kind of cinema that's not that well-known, that maybe only a hundred films were made between, like, 1930 and 1950. And this has got two of my favorites and one that is considered the all-time best Yiddish film by most people. It's called "The Dybbuk."

GREENE: And what's that about?

TURAN: It's a supernatural romance. It's very atmospheric. It's very mystical. It's about a young man who is supposed to be - you know, he's in love with a young woman. This is in the Hasidic community of, like - I don't know - 18th-century Poland. And the only way they can come together is he dies and becomes a wandering soul who inhabits her body.

GREENE: Wow.

TURAN: It's really spooky, and it's really beautifully made. And it's just kind of - it will knock you out, you know? It's just a film of a quality that you're not expecting to see.

GREENE: I don't think I even knew Yiddish-language film was a thing. That sounds really cool.

TURAN: They were not made to be known by people outside the Yiddish-speaking world. No one who made these films ever imagined that, you know, they would be talked about on National Public Radio. They're kind of the home movies of a culture.

GREENE: Well, thanks for bringing these ideas to us, MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan. Always great talking to you.

TURAN: Great to talk to you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF NINO ROTA'S "AMARCORD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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