Thursday, September 1, 2016

Still Looking For Mr. DVD

Back in the early days of DVD, some companies, like MGM and Warner, jumped with both feet into the new medium, emptying out their catalogue to snare market share. But a few companies, like Paramount and 20th Century Fox, merely dipped a tentative toe in the new video format, and then at inflated prices. Paramount was and continues to be a frustrating case, and it even appears to be intending to by-pass the hard disk format completely and concentrate on digital streaming. It is all about how to best utilize “limited” resources and making a “profit.”

Unfortunately some important films still go unreleased for reasons that are bothersome. Despite a HD-transfer made with the cooperation of the director, an “official” release of the 70s cult classic Massacre at Central High was apparently “nixed” by the film’s original producers. The same goes for the Beatles’ film Let it Be, which has also allegedly been re-mastered, except that the two remaining ex-Beatles are said to fear that releasing the film now while they are still alive might “hurt” the Beatles’ “image.” On the other hand, Leslie Caron’s defining role as Lili is without a decent surviving print, preventing a high-def transfer. One would have expected this film to be one of MGM’s early releases on DVD, but apparently the “best” print available is the old television broadcast version, recently released by Warner on video-on-demand DVD-R, and although it looks better than VHS, without major work it would look awful on high-definition. 

And that may be the intended fate of one film hidden away in a dark corner of Paramount’s vaults. “This film is currently unavailable,” according to this particular film’s Amazon Prime webpage. Furthermore, “Our agreements with the content provider don’t allow purchases” of this film “at this time.” 

The film I am referring to, of course, is 1977’s Looking For Mr. Goodbar. “Officially” Diane Keaton won her Best Actress award for Annie Hall, but her performance in that film, released the same year, was nowhere near Oscar-worthy as her performance in Goodbar (the same could be said of Marlon Brando, whose performance in Last Tango in Paris was perceptively more Oscar-worthy than his Godfather turn, again two films released in the same year). Obviously, there were “political” reasons why the more “mainstream” film was chosen to be representative.  

This is the second time I’ve posted about this film, and nothing has changed. Yes, there are DVD-R’s with official-looking artwork of the film in NTSC format, and I have purchased two of these, and they are of “passable” quality—meaning they are better than a VHS rip. The best-looking versions in DVD format just blow-up an avi file recorded from a PAL widescreen TV broadcast, probably out of Italy. None of these are even close to “HD” quality, and dark scenes in particular lack detail, while long and medium shots lack the kind of contrast you would hope for. However, close-ups and well-lit scenes are fairly clear and free of significant blurring during still-frame. Overall, the best prints I’ve seen rate about a “six” out of 10. None, of course, feature a stereo audio track. What this means is that if you are desperate to own this film, there are options, but one longs for a legitimate release from a high-quality original element with a stereo audio track, and an audio commentary from the principle survivors; producer Freddie Fields and director Richard Brooks have passed away, but Keaton and Richard Gere are still among the living, although from what I can gather, neither wish to acknowledge they were even in the film.

Why is this? Hell, even Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell have no problem acknowledging their participation in Caligula, and even joined in an audio commentary on the Blu-ray edition. As I discussed before, there are “political” reasons why the principles do not want to be associated with the “message” of a white woman who is a teacher of deaf children by day, and barhopping floozy by night (which she mistakes for “independence”),  has no real friends, rather seeking personal “fulfillment” through frequent one-night stands with strange men. She generally treats these men with indifference to their “feelings,” and eventually she offends the wrong one, a (maybe) gay man. Even then the feminist and the gay community were deeply offended by the film, despite the fact that it was based on a novel written by woman, who based the story on the real-life murder of Roseann Quinn; Quinn frequently had one-night stands with men she didn’t know, and her neighbors reported that they frequently heard late-night “fighting” from inside her apartment, although only on one occasion did they observe an instance where Quinn was physically injured. Her last “stand” was with a gay man named John Wayne Wilson, who claimed that Quinn had “taunted” him for not being able to “perform” sexually with her; an autopsy revealed that the last sexual encounter Quinn had was likely “consensual” and not rape. 

It is thus easy to see why Paramount and the film’s stars do not wish this movie to see the light of another day. Just last year in Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan wrote a piece entitled “You Can’t Kill Mr. Goodbar,” not about the film, but about the Quinn case and the “natural” violence of men, and women their “passive” victims. This is the usual politicizing of the issue, since not all men are “violent,” and not all women are passive “victims”; as I discussed in a recent post on the Sylvia Lykens and Dennis Jurgens deaths (and before that, on Texas’ “insane” handling of mother’s who kill), these are incidents that occur far more often than most wish to face honestly. It is not a matter of testosterone or size, but of something dark inside a person’s psyche that knows no gender difference. 

Judith Rossner’s fictionalized narrative of the Quinn murder portrayed the protagonist as masochistic, a racist, a homophobe and continuously inviting her eventual fate, rejecting anything that reflected a “traditional” life style. In that respect, the novel is far “worse” than the film. According to the book Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks, Brooks told producer Fields that Rossner’s novel was “a piece of shit,” that she “could not write” and the novel “did not work dramatically.” 

However, Brooks thought that there was a “great movie” in it. His adapted screenplay bears little resemblance to the novel outside surface details, the biggest difference being that Keaton’s Theresa Dunn is not the masochist actively inviting death, but someone out looking for a “good time” by “her rules,” as she tells her father when she leaves home and every man she invites to her apartment for a quick hit in the sack. William Atherton (“James” in the film) criticized what he thought was the 64-year-old Brooks not having a “firm grasp” of the current singles culture or the “women’s movement,” and that there had been some “disagreement” concerning the direction of the film dramatically, although Atherton has admitted more recently that he knew little of the singles scene himself back then. However, Fields thought that Brooks (best known for directing “controversial” films such as The Blackboard Jungle and Elmer Gantry, for which Burt Lancaster won a best actor Oscar) could bring the best out of the actress in the lead role, which he in fact did. 

The “problem” with Goodbar is that it is just too honest for its own good. Feminist critics claim that the film “re-victimizes” the victim by implying any kind of personal responsibility on the Dunn character’s part. Yet over and over again we see that Dunn (both in the novel and film, and likely in “real life” as well) was her own worst enemy. The film is far more honest than, say Jane Campion’s cowardly film version of In the Cut, having a “happy” ending rather than the one fated for the protagonist in the source novel, who was a self-obsessed user of people and whose political opinions led to false assumptions (usually about men), and eventually her own death. 

As I discussed before, the cost of “music rights” are the rationalization for the film being out of print on any video format since 1997. I don’t believe this for one instant.

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