Monday, July 30, 2012

Trailer Not on the DVD: Firstborn (1984, Michael Apted)

We've waited a long time for Michael Apted's well-acted, sincere domestic drama Firstborn to hit DVD and Blu-ray.  It's finally come thanks to Olive Films and their partnership with Paramount (who couldn't be bothered to release this and just about any other deep catalog title themselves).  Per Olive's usual m.o., there are no extra features to speak of on the Firstborn disc.  I don't care that much about supplements, however as you can probably gather from visiting this site, I do wish that all films came with their theatrical trailers and television spots.  I'm not sure why Olive never includes trailers on their Paramount discs, as I've heard conflicting things from folks who have direct connections with Olive.

It has been said that there can be music rights issues with trailers, particularly if said trailers contain pop songs; in the case of Firstborn, the television spot contains Manfred Mann's Earth Band's 1984 single "Runner" (released in time for the Olympics that year) while the trailer uses "No Guarantees" by the Nobodys.  Both songs also appear in the movie proper (in fact, the video for "Runner" plays on a television in an early scene).

Teri Garr and Peter Weller are completely convincing in their roles, as are the kids played by Christopher Collet and Corey Haim (in his film debut).  As DVD Savant says in his review, this film and its players are ripe for rediscovery.  Weller impresses as bad guy Sam, particularly when one considers that he was playing that good-natured goofball Buckaroo Banzai in the same year.  Garr is known primarily for her comedic chops; here, she demonstrates how adept she could be in drama, offering a moving, often heartbreaking turn as a single mother at her most vulnerable.  Haim's work is a far cry from the slicker, more affected persona he took on in his Teen Beat glory years and has added resonance due to his tragic early demise.  Collet, who stars as the titular "firstborn" son has always been one of those actors I wish we had seen more of, such is the strength of his performance here; as it turns out, he has retired from the screen and he and his wife live mere blocks from my home where they operate a Pilates studio.  Haven't run into him yet.  The actor has the distinction of having starred opposite two of the future stars of Sex and the City in his two major feature film roles...Sarah Jessica Parker in Firstborn and Cynthia Nixon in 1986's The Manhattan Project.

In this shoot-from-the-hip Onion interview, Garr leaves almost nothing unscathed, including Firstborn. "That was my idea, because I wanted to stretch myself, and do something dramatic, and be in competition with everybody else. Glenn Close and Meryl [Streep], blah blah blah. And it was, once again, a sexist arrangement. It was about a tough guy who takes drugs, and I'm just a doormat. I help him and then I get addicted myself. It was supposed to be about how the man influences the son—which I truly believe in, in a Freudian way. But it didn't turn out that way at all. It was all about drugs or something. While we were making it. The producers and the director would be going, "Let's slam him against the wall," or "Slam him against the refrigerator!" And I thought, "Hmm, there's a lot of violence here." It was very macho. It wasn't right, as Kevin Meaney would say."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rupert Pupkin Presents "Bad Movies We Love"

My old friend Rupe was good enough to invite me to participate in his "Bad Movies We Love" series.  I told him I'm not totally enamored of that school of thought, but I offered to do something on a flawed,  perhaps "incoherent text" that I'm quite fond of:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Director's Cut?

Prompted by the publication of a new monograph on Philip Kaufman by Annette Insdorf, the Film Society of Lincoln Center recently presented a 35mm print of Kaufman's The Wanderers.  FSLC dubbed the screening a "Director's Cut," and the print, indeed, came from Kaufman's private collection, but after watching it, it seemed to me to be a pre-release version of the film, perhaps shown to test audiences or exhibitors before the actual release date and before final editing tweaks took place.  This "director's cut" contains numerous scene extensions and 1 or 2 other entirely new scenes.  While they were fascinating to see, especially for someone like me who knows the film backwards and forwards, none of them improved the film to any appreciable degree.  On the contrary, most of these bits highlighted either some shaky acting or over-writing or a little bit of both.  The release version, which is perhaps 5 minutes shorter, is tighter, obviously, and more effective, a case of the old "less is more" school of thought.  All that said, it would be wonderful to see this extra material as a supplement on a future Blu-ray release (we can dream, can't we?).

As an example of what I'm talking about, in the theatrical release version, Turkey (Alan Rosenberg) is slashed by a Ducky Boy after he puts his hand on the gang member's shoulder and propositions him with an invitation to a go somewhere like a park.  A frightened, bleeding Turkey then runs and climbs from an ever-expanding phalanx of Ducky Boys before falling to his death. 

The "director's cut," has Turkey explicitly ask the Ducky Boy if he wants a "blow job," to which the Ducky Boy responds with "Blow job?" and then viciously knifes Turkey.  Turkey is then surrounded by a group of angry Ducky Boys to whom he pleads that he is "not a faggot!" and, in fact, a Marine (this coming after Turkey and a group of Fordham Baldies drunkenly sign up for Marine service).  After this, the film transitions to what we see in the "regular" version of the film as Turkey is chased and terrorized to his death. 

One of the most effective aspects of the release version of The Wanderers was that the utterly frightening Ducky Boys remain silent throughout; having the Ducky Boy verbally respond to Turkey's blow job offer, however, weakens the overall cinematic presentation of the Ducky Boys.  Further, having Turkey more explicitly express his sexual desires and then loudly proclaim his heterosexuality is unnecessary; the writing is too on the nose.

There is another example later, in the "director's cut," of a character (John Friedrich's Joey) telling another (Tony Ganios' Perry) that he is, in fact, straight, not a "fag."  If it was, in fact, truly Kaufman's desire to have this dialogue be as direct as it is in this alternate version of the film, I'd be curious to know what the motivation was and why it was cut.  It may have been deemed to risque for 1979 audiences by the studio, but as the film stands now, in its shorter theatrical release length, the handling of this homoerotic material (which appears throughout the film and Richard Price novel) is more deft, more sophisticated, and smarter than what I saw the other night at the Walter Reade.  Where the "director's cut" spells things out for the audience, the theatrical release version, shows us all we need to see.

Even with all of this additional material, one scene I've always been curious about remained m.i.a.  It is illustrated in this lobby card and German still depicting a post-coital Ken Wahl and Karen Allen. The banjo Nina (Allen) strums is a tantalizing link to the later scene in which an out-of-place Richie (Wahl) spots her entering Folk City to see a young Bob Dylan perform "The Times They Are A- Changin'":

ADDENDUM: Michael Sragow confirms in this New Yorker piece that what screened at FSLC the other night was, indeed, a true "Director's Cut." Even with that knowledge, I must remain partial to the theatrical release.