BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Feb 8th, 2000 •

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The behind the scenes crisis was every bit equal to the onscreen drama of Paul Schrader’s directoral debut. The fledgling helmer hired three egotistical, uncooperative actors who, within a week, and from that point on, were not speaking with one another and often didn’t last beyond a single take before walking off the set, causing the director and his cinematographer to completely rethink shooting so that they could get what they needed with the first camera set-up or risk losing it. This is detailed openly by Schrader on the commentary track, nursed along by interviewer Maitland McDonagh. He doesn’t fill in much of his responsibility in the psychodrama, but one can imagine how his inexperience opened the floodgates for the horrors that befell him at the hands of Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto. It would have been a different film stylistically if his cast had been mature and generous, or if he had been a seasoned director, and the wonder is that it emerged a powerful piece despite the pyrotecnics, and that the characters portrayed appear to care about one another, without which illusion the story’s tragedy would have been ineffective.

Pryor is good in one of his first non-comedic performances, but he’s also quirky and uncomfortable. Keitel and Kotto are both effective, and have their special dramatic moments. The title sequence is one of the best I can remember, not far behind Walk on the Wild Side or Doctor Strangelove: galvanic, metaphoric, using a Bo Diddley standard set to undustrial noise by Jack Nitzsche (recently deceased, as famous for his music as he was notorious for pistol whipping former girlfriend Carrie Snodgrass), it sets a tone that stays with one throughout. Schrader discusses Nitzsche’s creation of it a bit. I could have used more.

Of incidental interest: the car assembly-line scenes were shot in the Checker Cab plant, which went out of business the following year. So we’ve got not only a beautiful milieu, but a document of a dying species.

(Schrader appeared at the NBR screening of Affliction and gave an enlightening and anecdotally enjoyable background to the film, but there’s no commentary track on the DVD. Worse, after the miserable pan&scan transfer of Light Sleeper to laserdisc, I wrote Schrader and told him to please supervise the transfer to DVD. What we have is a similar lousy quality transfer to the LD, and no commentary track.)

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