BluRay/DVD Reviews

GOD TOLD ME TO

By • Aug 26th, 2003 •

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(Blue Underground) 1976
92 mins / 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16X9 monitors / Not rated.

Larry Cohen is high in the pantheon of independent filmmakers. Against all odds, he has written/produced/and/directed a slew of budgetarily-flawed but highly personal, high-concept features, many of them collection-worthy. And then there are the films he’s written but not directed, such as BEST SELLER (MGM Home Entertainment) or the recently released PHONE BOOTH.

Of the films he has personally shepherded to release, GOD TOLD ME TO is probably the best, and definitely my favorite. It has been released in an excellent 16X9 transfer by Blue Underground, along with a few other Cohen classics – Q and BONE.

All have commentary tracks featuring the filmmaker, fascinating listening because of the trials and tribulations he went through to make his films, and absolutely baffling in the lack of bitterness with which he relates these epic tales of indie guerilla warfare.

GTMT is rich with ideas, none of which I intend to spoil. At the outset we’re following a New York City cop (Tony Lo Bianco) as he becomes personally drawn into a rash of unrelated shootings in which the perps claim they were doing God’s bidding. Where this takes you is the great fun of it, and I would be doing the film and all of you a disservice by spilling even one bean. Along the way we enjoy performances by Lo Bianco, Andy Kaufman (his first), Robert Drivas (particularly good), Sylvia Sydney (particularly good, even for her!), and Sandy Dennis.

The commentary track is conducted by Bill Lustig, Blue Underground’s President, who has directed a film scripted by Cohen, so they have a warm connection. Much of interest is brought to the surface at Lustig’s prodding. Originally set to be scored by Bernard Herrmann, the great and tempestuous composer watched the film, dined with Cohen and his wife, and then went home and passed away in the night. Martin Scorsese called Cohen to tell him the bad news. In addition to relating the story, Cohen muses on the fact that GOD TOLD ME TO was the last film Herrmann ever saw.
It has been strongly suggested to Cohen that GTMT was an influence on THE X FILES, and whether or not it’s true, a case can certainly be made. He also believes that M. Night Shyamalan saw the film – the similarities between GTMT and UNBREAKABLE are awfully close. And he identifies some of his stock footage as being ‘outs’ from the Space 1999 British TV show (on DVD from A&E, reviewed elsewhere on this site), referring to the series’ star as “Rotten Landau.”

If you love this one, you should immediately spring for Q, a wonderful horror/noir, with a peak performance by Michael Moriarty that dominates the narrative in grand noir style, and solid complementary thesping from David Carradine. About the mystery surrounding a prehistoric flying reptile that swoops down and plucks Manhattan dwellers off the streets and rooftops and then returns to the Chrysler Building to nest, it’s a dynamite script smoothly realized, perhaps the best realized of all Cohen’s indies in terms of flow. There are none of the clumsy match cuts and awkward framing his economically hamstrung filmmaking usually includes, none of the dreadful foley footstep effects which mar GTMT (but can’t keep it down).

BONE is more of an art film effort, but still fascinating and hard-hitting, with a weird performance by Yaphet Koto. In addition, invaluable as a teaching tool, there is half an hour of assembled black & white footage from an earlier false start on the film, using different cast members and an entirely different visual style.


Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Larry Cohen and Bill Lustig.


Credits:
Written, produced and directed by Larry Cohen. Music by Frank Cordell.

Cast:
Tony Lo Bianco,
Sandy Dennis,
Sylvia Sidney,
Sam Levene,
Robert Drivas,
Richard Lynch,
Deborah Raffin,
Andy Kaufman.

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