TOOTSIE, TIME BANDITS, and THE NIGHT PORTER Criterion Blu-ray Reviews

     January 17, 2015

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A collection of classic titles have hit the Criterion collection, with Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter all getting the Blu-ray treatment.  All of which were previously issued by the company before, though with Tootsie, it’s the first time it’s been in the collection since laserdisc.  That means many of the supplements are decades old, but they’ve also added new special features for their latest iterations, and my reviews of all three follow after the jump. 

tootsie-dustin-hoffman-jessica-langeDustin Hoffman is the heart of Tootsie, and it’s a role that was made for him.  He stars as Michael Dorsey, a temperamental actor who his agent (played by director Sydney Pollack) designates as unemployable due to his commitment to capital A acting.  His roommate Jeff (Bill Murray) is trying to get a play going, so Michael is trying to raise the eight grand they need to put the production on, and when his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) blows an audition for a soap opera Michael decides to transform himself into a woman and auditions for the role as well.  He gets it, and quickly falls in love with his co-star Julie (Jessica Lange) who’s been dating the show’s director Ron (Dabney Coleman), while Michael’s creation Dorothy Michaels becomes famous and attracts the romantic attentions of both co-star John Van Horn (George Gaines) and Julie’s father Les (Charles Durning).  All the while Michael has to keep this role secret from Sandy, and to maintain the illusion ends up sleeping with her, which makes his predicament even worse.

At this point in his career Pollack wasn’t known for comedy, as he made his name with pictures like Three Days of the Condor and The Way We Were, and it’s interesting to note that the film was originally to be directed by Hal Ashby, who made Harold and Maude and Being There.  Pollack didn’t make a lot of comedies after, and it’s likely it would have been a good film either way, but Pollack – who famously clashed with Hoffman while making the movie – does career best work here.  Hoffman, playing on his reputation of being a perfectionist, is in on the joke, but it’s not the sort of self-aware premise that grates as both the star and director see the truth in it, while the film focuses on how being a woman makes Michael see the world from the perspective of “the second sex.”

tootsie-criterion-coverAs a farce, Pollack plays the situational comedy of the piece in that most of the characters don’t know they’re acting funny or telling jokes and so Hoffman gets to be hilarious while deeply in character as he is stuck between these men who lust after him while also realizing that he treats women as badly as Ron does, and also finds out that Julie is a great person who’s been treated badly by the men she’s attracted to.  Though the film definitely feels of its period (at least musically, the soundtrack couldn’t scream 1982 more), Tootsie has aged beautifully, with the comic beats maybe a little familiar but they always delivers.  The performers are all doing great work, so much so you can forget that Bill Murray was in the movie and then rediscover how amazing he is in it.  Tootsie is a perfect movie, and it’s a testament to the film that the makers were concerned the film would be compared to Some Like it Hot, and yet that’s never a film I think of when I watch the movie.

The Criterion Collection presents the film on Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in English LPCM 1.0.  The film has been taken care of over the years, and looks fabulous in a new 4K transfer.  The movie comes with a commentary by Sydney Pollack that was recorded in 1991, and is fine, though many of the best anecdotes are repeated in the other supplements.  New for this release are two new interviews.  Dustin Hoffman (19 min.) talks about the film – and covers much of his career – in a delightful retrospective.  This movie was very important to him, and he’s a great raconteur.  Criterion also spoke to Everyone Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal (16 min.) who loves the film and talks about the movie’s greatness.  In this interview section there’s also a cut scene where Gene Shalitt (who appears briefly in the movie) interviews Dorothy Michaels (5 min.), though it appears everyone knows the footage would never be used in its entirety.  There are two making of’s included, one from 1982 (34 min.) which shows how Pollack and Hoffman would fight over the script in a fascinating way, and a 2007 retrospective piece (69 min.), which gets most of the main cast to talk about the making of the movie.  There are two “Screen and Wardrobe Test” pieces (7 min.), with footage of original director Ashby, nine deleted scenes (11 min.), which were all wisely scraped, and three trailers.

time-bandits-movie-imageTerry Gilliam’s Time Bandits announced that Gilliam was a force to be reckoned with behind the camera.  He was previously a co-director on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and had done the film Jabberwocky (a film that has few champions), but this 1981 film showed someone who knew how to create worlds and had a very peculiar vision.  The film announced Gilliam, and it could be argued it’s not only a great film, but also his most accessible.

Craig Warnock stars as Kevin, a young boy who is fascinated by history and whose parents are boorish louts.  One night a horse rides into his bedroom, and it turns out that his room is a hub for time travel.  He ends up joining a gang (which includes Kenny Baker and David Rappaport) who have stolen a map from the supreme being so they can travel through time to get rich through thieving.  They have success when the meet Napoleon (Ian Holm) because he likes that they’re all short, but have less luck with Robin Hood (John Cleese), while they also visit Ancient Greece (where Sean Connery plays King Agamemnon) and the Titanic, but they are guided by Evil (David Warner) to his lair as he thinks he can take over the world if he gets ahold of the map.

Gilliam can go too far into his own head, as we’ve seen in some of his later films, but this film shows Gilliam striking the right balance between a certain Steven Spielberg-esque whimsy and the more out there ideas – much as Tim Burton did early in his career, which is interesting as both Burton and Gilliam got their start in animation.  This may be the only Gilliam film that feels like something that could have just as easily be made by Spielberg, and it definitely has a childish spirit even if the film isn’t just for children.  I ended up seeing the film when I was five and the ending disturbed me, but in later viewings (when I was old enough to think about my parents as not my everything) I got it.  It’s also got a playful attitude about history as the boy jaunts from one period highlight to the next with each historical figure given a great twist to their character.  But it may be most impressive when it delves into pure fantasy in the otherworld elements, where a giant unintentionally wears a boat for a hat, and the byzantine mazes of Evil are haunting in their conception.  It’s a movie of funky charms.

time-bandits-criterion-coverCriterion’s edition brings back the commentary done for the laserdisc, which features Gilliam, co-writer Michael Palin, and stars Craig Warnock and David Warner.  It’s a sharp track which is pretty honest (I love that Gilliam knows he’s ripping off Alien in some design work).  The film is presented widescreen (1.85:1) in a new 2K master that looks positively perfect and in English LPCM 2.0, which sounds great.  This is the sort of film that could have probably stood to have a new surround remastering, but it’s not necessary.  New for this release is the piece “Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits” (24 min.) which gives the spotlight to production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson’s work on the film, while new to the collection releases is a feature length interview with Gilliam entitled “Terry Gilliam and Peter von Bagh” (80 min.) where the director talks about his career.  Also included is a Shelley Duvall interview done on the Tom Snyder show (9 min.).  Criterion must have gotten new access to the Snyder archives as his interviews have been featured on a number of recent releases.  A still gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer round out the supplements.

My assumption is that Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter got the Blu-ray treatment because if people makes lists about S&M films to tie in with the upcoming release of 50 Shades of Grey, this film will be front and center.  Dirk Bogarde stars as Max, the titular night porter who spent his time in the war running a concentration camp.  Currently he has no trouble with the tribunals as there is no one who will speak out against him, but he and his former cronies get nervous when Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) comes to town and stays at Max’s hotel.  She can attest to the atrocities that Max and others carried out, but like another of the hotel patrons, she too wants to relive their time in the camp.

the-night-porterFor many people the film is defined by the image of Rampling wearing a Nazi hat, suspenders, pants and nothing else, and it’s a striking, provocative image (that also recalls Marlene Dietrich).  The film explores these S&M themes, and it’s one of the few films to explore the desire to be kept prisoner and the sticky balance of master and servant that isn’t straight pornography (though it, like Last Tango in Paris, have both been accused of being porn).  I’ve never much cared for the film as the film’s conclusion is less interesting than the ideas around it – perhaps I’m misreading the film – but I watched it under the lens of something my mother told me about one of her gay friends.  He was sexually molested by his father and he realized he liked it.  Which gave me an in as I’ve never had a defining sexual fetish.  What if you found out in the midst of barely surviving and acting as a whore and taking a beating from the Nazis that you enjoyed it? How terrible would that revelation be, but if it defines your sexuality, how could you run away from it? Or is it a situation where that because it was your first experience that it’s all you know? Since no other film gets into these gray areas of sexual desire, it’s fascinating in context, but on a whole, it’s a hard movie to love.

The Criterion Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.85:1) and in LPCM 1.0 mono from a gorgeous new 2K transfer.  Previous editions had few supplements so the new additions are welcome.  Director Cavani made some short documentaries for RAI, and so she introduces (5 min.) “Women of the Resistance” (50 min.) which talks to the women of the Italian resistance and what they did to help and fight.  There’s also an interview with the director specifically about the film (9 min.) where she talks a lot about the controversy surrounding the film.

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