- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Dating back to Steve James' justly acclaimed 1994 "Hoop Dreams," the documentary has proven a particularly

fertile form for indie filmmakers. Director Lucy Walker contributes another excellent addition to the verite roster with her award-winning Devil's Playground, new from Wellspring Media. It's our…

Video pick of the week

"Devil's Playground" ($24.98 DVD/$19.98 VHS) focuses on an arcane Amish rite of passage called "rumspringa" (literally "running around") that temporarily liberates formerly strictly cloistered youths to drink of the secular "English" world the titular "devil's playground" then, presumably properly terrified, return to the fold.

Drink is definitely the operative word here as Miss Walker's cameras capture the teens throwing endless, wild keg parties, gyrating to rock 'n' roll and generally condensing a lifetime of frat-house-styled excess into a few draining months.

As in most dramatically compelling documentaries, a central character emerges in the person of young Faron Yoder, a stringy, quick-witted preacher's son who soon finds the path to secular disaster drug addiction, a dealing bust, death threats and a state of alienation that sees him torn between two increasingly inhospitable worlds. "Devil's Playground" also profiles several returnees, as well as other permanent runaways, such as 23-year-old Velda, who lives a relatively sedate life but, due to her limited Amish education, discovers opportunities hard to come by.

Director Walker remains objective but compassionate as she offers her insights on an unusually cogent commentary track, shared with producers Steven Cantor and Pax Wasserman. "Devil's Playground" is that model documentary that communicates both the truth of hard facts and the emotional power of superior fiction.


Two vastly different tele-series make their homevid debuts next week. BBC Video introduces the smashing 1969 Victorian epic The Forsyte Saga, the show that paved the way for the long-running "Masterpiece Theater" series. Based on John Galsworthy's best-selling novels and starring Susan Hampshire, Nyree Dawn Porter and Eric Porter, "The Forsyte Saga" arrives in a seven-disc set ($149.98) containing all 26 episodes, along with bonus featurettes. The series is also available in a 13-cassette VHS set ($99.98).

A&E Home Video keeps sci-fi pioneer Gerry Anderson's fans satisfied with the 5-DVD Fireball XL5: The Complete Set ($99.95). Originally aired in 1962, the 39-episode black-and-white series explored the wonders of imaginative puppetry (or "supermarionation") in a futuristic outer-space setting. The remastered set includes audio commentary, an archival photo gallery and other extras.

The 'A' list

Look for a quintet of recent theatrical comedies to make their video debuts in the coming weeks. Columbia/TriStar bows the fast-vanishing Eddie Murphy/Owen Wilson buddy romp I Spy, loosely based on the groundbreaking 1960s TV series with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, along with the youth comedy Stealing Harvard, starring Jason Lee and the seemingly ubiquitous Tom Green.

Paramount Home Video presents the indie Mostly Martha. Artisan Entertainment introduces Roger Dodger, featuring Campbell Scott. All will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Warner Home Video, meanwhile, goes the sell-through route with its low-key caper comedy Welcome to Collinwood ($22.98 VHS/$26.98 DVD), with William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell (of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind").

Musketeers on the move

Anchor Bay Entertainment (anchorbayentertainment.com) celebrates the 30th anniversary of Richard Lester's irreverent 1973 Dumas adaptation The Three Musketeers by releasing that fan fave, along with Mr. Lester's 1975 sequel The Four Musketeers, in a two-DVD special edition ($34.98). In addition to the films, the set contains Parts I and 2 of a new featurette, "Saga of the Musketeers," including new interviews with original stars Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Michael York and Christopher Lee, plus other bonus features. The set is available now.

Collectors' corner

Video newcomer Ardustry Home Entertainment kicks off with three DVD debuts bargain priced at $9.98 each. Gregory Hines and Vincent D'Onofrio star as a paraplegic and a blind man, respectively, who enter a whitewater raft race in the uplifting Good Luck. On a scarier note, kidnapper Adrien Brody plays dangerous mind games with cop Maura Tierney (of "ER") in the suspenseful Oxygen. Italian fright maestro Dario Argento puts a fresh spin on Gaston LeRoux's Phantom of the Opera, starring daughter Asia Argento and British thesp Julian Sands. The discs are due next week.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: For longtime fans of Ethel Merman, can you suggest sources of Anything Goes and Call Me Madam videotapes?

Joseph Schmidt, via e-mail

Unfortunately, those Merman musicals have yet to land home video releases.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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