Gangs of New York

Miramax Home Ent., $29.99

WHY IS THIS DVD(out July 1) superior to the original theatrical release of Scorsese's epic about Gotham's bare-knuckled past? Because the best thing about the flick is its incredible set and exhaustive historical research, which this two-disc package explains in intriguing detail. You can get a 360-degree view of the Five Points and other highlights of the set, and discover which Jacob Riis photos inspired which buildings. Scorsese's commentary (drawn from his All Things Considered interview with Terry Gross) is packed with insights, though it's a bit desultory, and many sequences go by with no comment at all. Who knew the opening battle scene between Liam Neeson's Irish thugs and Daniel Day-Lewis' anti-Irish racist thugs was based closely on Chimes at Midnight and the dish-smashing scene from Potemkin, or that Day-Lewis' accent was based on a recording of Walt Whitman's adenoidal twang?

Scorsese notes that instead of his typical in-your-face mayhem, he mostly keeps the moments of gory impact off-screen, cutting away to the less shocking aftermath. The violent shots here comprise "stuff we'd normally throw awaythe completions of actions." That way, he could pack the movie with wall-to-wall violence and still get an R. Some of the DVD's historical stuff makes sense of baffling aspects of the film; e.g., the Plug Ugly gang got its name by putting barrels over fireplugs to prevent rival gangs' fire trucks from using them. Gangs is a failure because it's overstuffed with historical lore and bereft of convincing characters, and lacks any coherent narrative. This DVD shows the deep thinking that went into one of the most boneheaded movies in history. TIM APPELO

BONEHEADED IN a different way is The Real CancĂșn. Also out July 1, there's a Barbra Streisand four-pack, with commentaries, including What's Up, Doc?. (How did she ever get the microphone away from windbag director Peter Bogdanovich?) If you love her in A Mighty Wind, there's a lot more of Parker Posey in her 1995 indie breakout, Party Girl. The Farrelly brothers have expanded There's Something About Mary, as has Luc Besson his La Femme Nikita, while Wings of Desire offers a commentary from Wim Wenders. EDS.

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