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Seven special laserdiscs

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Laserdiscs aren’t just another way to wrap the same old potatoes. They also offer a whole menu of unique new kinds of entertainment. Such as:

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Before releasing it, RKO Pictures shortened Orson Welles’ second masterwork from nearly two hours to less than 90 minutes and destroyed the outtakes. Criterion couldn’t resurrect the lost footage, but it provides the next best thing: the complete shooting script and storyboards, still photos from cut sequences, an audio commentary that explains what belonged where, and a still-frame text essay on the film’s production. A+

Notorious (1945)
Mastered directly from the original camera negative, this Hitchcock disc offers extremely rare first-generation video fidelity; it is to the cassette what Hitchcock is to Brian De Palma. As sparring agents who fall in love while entrapping postwar Nazis, Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant glisten irresistibly in velvety black and white. A second audio track details how Hitchcock developed the movie with David Selznick; supplemental ”chapters” give you the trailer and a page-by-page transcript of scenes that were dropped. A

Winchester ’73 (1950)
Select the left audio channel and you hear the soundtrack of Anthony Mann’s fine lean Western about rival rifle aces. Select the right channel and you can listen to the film’s star, Jimmy Stewart, as he charmingly drawls, stutters, mumbles, and generally aw-shucks his way through rambling reminiscences. A-

The Graduate (1967)
Mike Nichols’ wide-screen comedy of manners hasn’t looked so good since the Johnson presidency. The film’s long, static shots, ruined in the cropped tape version, speak volumes when showcased in the letterbox format. A thoughtful thematic analysis runs on an alternative audio track; after the film come screen tests, a gallery of on-set photos, and text essays on the novel and movie. A+

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(1977) Which is better, Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie or his 1980 ”Special Edition” of it? Here’s a three-disc set that lets you decide. It restores the original cut (never released on tape) and appends extra ”Special” scenes to the end of each disc side; you can program your player to plop them into proper sequence. Big bonus: an ingenious, three-way split-screen documentary about the film’s special effects, plus a still-frame annex of over 1,000 production photos, sketches, and storyboard panels. A-

Vienna: The Spirit of the City (1990)
Twenty minutes of motion footage and 15,000 — that’s right — still frames detail what seems like every atom of Vienna’s geography, architecture, culture, and history. An accompanying booklet with an extensive index helps you journey quickly to whatever building or epoch you wish. While a few segments veer into ”Sprockets”-style grotesquerie (an ”Orgy and Mystery Theater Group” makes punk rockers look tame), elegance prevails. A-

Herbert Von Karajan: New Year’s Concert Vienna 1987 (1990)
One in a projected series of 38 Von Karajan releases available only on laserdisc, this lovely performance of familiar Strauss pieces was re-edited and remixed from live broadcast tapes under the late conductor’s personal supervision. The maestro’s every gesture brilliantly illuminates the music, and ballet dancers, prancing horses, and the sumptuous interior of Vienna’s Musikverein concert hall decorate the proceedings. A+

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