BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Feb 20th, 2001 •

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Within minutes the visual/editorial style of the film asserts itself: cutting back and forth in time like memory would, only moreso, at the whim of the filmmakers. At times effective, at times redundant, at times distracting, it is what it is, like it or not. And if you don’t like it, the film will be a painful experience for you, one you are not likely to recommend or revisit despite its virtues, primary among them being Terence Stamp’s laconic, spiritually weighty performance. But if you were on the fence, the commentary track should win you over. A first, it pits the director (Steven Soderbergh) and the screenwriter (Lem Dobbs ) against one another in a relatively friendly, archetypal exploration of the adversarial nature of those two important roles in the cinematic process.

In addition, there is a degree of manipulation of the commentary track – repeating phrases… reverberation laid in under key words for emphasis… – which keep the experience in tone with the style of the film. And on another track, we get Soderbergh and Dobbs, but also Stamp, Leslie Ann Warren, Barry Newman, Joe Dallesandro, and Peter Fonda. Wish I’d been more fond of Fonda, but I wasn’t. Bearing his gums like a frightened, snarling mutt – which he never did in Ulee’s Gold, in which I loved him – he gives what felt to me like a surfacy performance.

Of incidental interest: Soderbergh uses old footage of Stamp from a film called Poor Cow to supply flashbacks. The program notes mention other films that used this technique, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Two Weeks in Another Town, and Sunset Boulevard. Another use of an actor’s past films to form a three-dimensional portrait, and one which moved me more than any of those mentioned, is the montage of John Wayne’s western roles in The Shootist, his last film, showing him aging thirty years in a mere minute, bringing him up to the final days of his life, both in the film and in reality. The Shootist is not yet available on DVD, but a good second laserdisc version in 1.85:1 was pressed a few years back.

(You can get more Soderbergh insights over deleted scenes from Erin Brokovitch on the Universal DVD release of that excellent film, which still tops my list for best costume design of 2000).

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