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Blu-ray Review: The Hustler

4.5

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The Hustler

Two men, one older and one younger, walk into pool hall in midtown Manhattan and take in the place. The younger man, a hungry, uniquely talented pool shark named “Fast” Eddie Felsen (Paul Newman), surmises that the pool hall is like a church in the early morning, quiet and worthy of respect; the older man, Felsen’s partner and manager, Charlie (Myron McCormick), concludes that it’s a morgue, where the bodies of men with immense promise are slid onto the green pool tables and left to decay. This seemingly minor exchange occurs only a few scenes into Robert Rossen’s The Hustler, but the film itself, a financial success back in 1961, spends the entirety of its two-plus hours proving the grim wisdom of Charlie, who has come to think of the cocky, ambitious, but weak-willed Eddie as his surrogate son. Where Eddie originally sees salvation, retribution, and vindication, he comes to find only heartbreak, humiliation, pain, corruption, and death, not so much from the game itself as from the glory that the sport offers to those who have a talent for it.

As it turns out, Felsen has talent in spades, the kind of talent that gets people to turn their heads, but he’s also perfected the hustle and has, in the few decades he’s been alive, made his way in the world by suckering small-town players and traveling businessmen. He’s just mopped the floor with a group of local folk, in fact, when he enters Ames’s Pool Hall and calls out the legendary Minnesota Fats (a tremendous yet graceful Jackie Gleason), the heralded king of the cue ball; Fats, sporting a three-piece suit and a calm demeanor that would leave any competitor unsettled, agrees. The game goes on for well over 24 hours, during which Eddie has trouble finding his feet before surging ahead to make $18,000, finally losing nearly all of it in the games’ final hours, done in by a bottle of cheap bourbon and his obsession with not only taking Fats’s money but having him admit defeat.

The scene itself lasts for over 20 minutes and unfurls with an incredibly rhythmic, measured sense of visual storytelling; the sequence’s emotional potency eludes careful analytical dissection, yet it’s easy to see that it’s the work of a master of the medium. It’s a triumph for Rossen, as well as editor Dede Allen and famed German cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan, and in a way, the film seems to be chasing the high that Eddie felt when he had Fats on the ropes, a high made palpable by Rossen’s cinematic rigor. Eddie’s money goes into the pocket of Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), the dark figure perched behind Fats as the game goes on, while Eddie himself goes after a girl he meets at the local bus station. She’s not very impressed with him at first, but they meet again, at a local dive, and she takes a shine to him enough to give over her name, Sarah, played with startling poise and vulnerability by Piper Laurie.

Weeks later, Eddie and Sarah are living together, drowning in booze and in need of money. A perceived betrayal causes a rift between Eddie and Charlie, but Bert offers to take the kid on despite his opinion of Eddie as a “loser.” But pride remains the favored sin of Eddie, and following a cheap $100 hustle, a group of goons break his thumbs. The script, adapted by the director and Sidney Carroll from Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name, structures these events like fractured Stations of the Cross, but Eddie is hardly the only person who suffers and certainly isn’t the one who suffers the most. Following his recuperation, Eddie agrees to go on the road with Bert on the sole condition that Sarah accompany them to Louisville, where Bert has located a sure bet with a drunk, flamboyant Southern heir (Murray Hamilton, conveying delirious abandon and helplessness with precise subtlety) who likes to go slumming with criminals, gamblers, musicians, and loose women. Eddie sees the spotlight and is blinded by it, but Sarah sees only Bert, dressed and groomed like Mephistopheles on a business trip, and his tendrils wrapped around Eddie’s inflated ego.

Words mean a lot in Rossen’s film and perhaps part of the reason we never hear what Bert says to Sarah that sends her into an emotional tailspin is that the words would set the tone of the film off-kilter. When Bert calls Eddie a loser, he does so because he knows that’s the exact word that would inflict the most damage; he never calls him anything else because he doesn’t have to. Everyone is hustling, but it’s rarely about a game or money and more about emotions, our fears, and our silenced weaknesses. Bert knows that by controlling Eddie, with money and the promise of cheap glory, that he has some, if not full, control over Sarah, and when he calls upon that control in full force, the results are of the most tragic sort, ending in a scene of immense grief and dismay, emotions so hefty that the cinema has rarely seen fit to touch them with such odd purity as Rossen has here.

Rossen was the last of a myriad of directors, stars, and producers who had attempted to adapt Tevis’s novel, not the least known of which was Frank Sinatra, who Rossen would later consider for the role of Eddie after Newman declined due to a project with Elizabeth Taylor, which was later aborted. It’s fascinating to think what Old Blue Eyes could have done with the role, whether his magnetism could have been pared down to reach those moments of brutal sincerity in Eddie, but why waste time when Newman got everything so right? It’s no small assertion to crown The Hustler as the high peak of Newman’s career, but considering even his work in The Verdict, Cool Hand Luke, Slap Shot, and The Long, Hot Summer, there’s a humor, a languor, and a hidden honesty in “Fast” Eddie Felsen that Newman zeroes in on from the very first scene and responds to with an intensity that can’t be found anywhere else in the actor’s career. The performance certainly deserved its Oscar nomination, but Newman would only win the award a quarter-century later, for the same exact role in Martin Scorsese’s feeble sequel, The Color of Money, of which his performance was the only noteworthy accomplishment.

Scorsese’s film concerns Felsen, aged and cynical, begrudgingly agreeing to coach a hotshot rookie, played by a young Tom Cruise. Sure, Eddie Felsen’s life could only really be told in the shadowy realm of black-and-white photography, but aesthetic choices are the least of the problems with The Color of Money. Scorsese took to the story like a cinematic coroner performing an autopsy on a film that helped charter his own creative course, but was unable to summon even a single scene that would match Rossen’s work. Of course, Scorsese had his own brutal masterpiece of self-defeatism and psychological flagellation, Raging Bull, which does deserve to stand next to The Hustler, but The Color of Money was a failed exercise in nostalgia, an attempt to recapture some elusive magic that a young Scorsese had witnessed when he saw Rossen’s film on the big screen as a college student.

The Hustler concludes with Eddie’s second and final game against Fats, but this isn’t a celebratory scene, nor does it have the air of tension or catharsis. Instead, the weight of defeat seems to hang in the clouds of tobacco smoke that float above the solemn game that Fats and Eddie play, before Eddie confronts Bert and walks out of Ames’s Pool Hall for the last time. The film depicts the sport with considerable energy, helped by the fact that Gleason was an admired pool player to begin with, and billiards pro and technical consultant Willie Mosconi performed many of the trick shots. The game scenes are perhaps more engaging than those that focus on the dire desperation felt between Sarah and Eddie, but The Hustler never dithers, never plateaus, rather forever reaching for another emotion to play, much like Eddie. That the film revolves, in a very general sense, around a sport has often caused this masterwork to appear on lists of the greatest sports films ever made when, indeed, the film deserves to be ranked high on a list of great American films, regardless of genre or time period. More than a few scenes feature striped and solid balls being knocked around on a felt tabletop, but Rossen’s drive for storytelling emanates from those crippled souls who refuse to learn any way but the hard way, those who can see all the places the ball can go and should go, and yet can’t see where they themselves are heading until it’s too late.

Image/Sound

Color will always prove more difficult to transfer seamlessly to Blu-ray than black and white, but that doesn’t make a triumph in the arena of black and white any less of an achievement. Fox’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is such a triumph, presented in its original, engulfing 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Detail and contrast are fantastic, and clarity here is markedly better than the solid work done on the DVD release. Blacks are well saturated and beautifully balanced with the whites and greys. Pay special attention to how clean the transfer is, no debris and no major processing marks, and how shadow detail comes off in the poolhalls and the phenomenal Louisville party scene. The audio is just as noteworthy, especially for its handling of the rich dialogue and Kenyon Hopkins’s excellent, jazzy score. The mix keeps the dialogue slightly up front and balances it out well with the score and atmosphere noise, making for a sumptuous overall presentation. Savor this.

Extras

There’s a wealth of information to dig into with these extras, which are myriad in content. Throughout the nine featurettes, only three of which could be construed as superfluous, the story of the production, those who were chiefly involved, the release, the reception, and the legacy of the movie are documented with admirable attention to detail. On top of this, there’s an excellent audio commentary featuring, among others, Paul Newman, editor Dede Allen, assistant director Ullu Grosbard, and Time film critic Richard Schickel. This is a fine, entertaining listen that fills in the gaps that might be left over after the featurettes, and the mixture of voices gives a fully rounded sense of perspective on a diversity of subjects tied to the production. The choice to shoot on location in Manhattan and Los Angeles, and the work Newman did with pool legend Willie Mosconi, who served as a technical consultant, are just two of the more prominent subjects of interest—and rarely does the material dither in overall interest. An almost embarrassing amount of information for such a seemingly humble and simple film.

Overall

This hardboiled, emotionally potent Cinemascope sonata of addiction and self-defeatism makes for one of the strongest Blu-ray releases Fox is likely to produce this year.

Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton Director: Robert Rossen Screenwriter: Robert Rossen, Sidney Carroll Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Running Time: 134 min Rating: R Year: 1961 Release Date: May 17, 2011 Buy: Video, Book

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Blu-ray Review: Forty Guns

Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.

4.0

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Forty Guns

Though shot in a drum-tight 10 days, and on a low budget, writer-director Samuel Fuller’s raw, punchy noir-western Forty Guns isn’t a film of half-measures. As it acquaints us with Tombstone, Arizona, the parched Cochise County town where its action takes place, the 1957 film does so with an unbroken dolly shot that runs the entire length of main street, taking in something like 50-plus actors in choreographed motion and encompassing both an exposition dump and a startling zoom-and-pan reveal.

When Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), the territory’s domineering land baroness, conducts her daily business via horseback, she does so with all 40 of her grizzled hired hands in tow, a thunderous spectacle trotted out for matters both large and small. And when a tornado rips over the hills, realized by Fuller and his crew as a high-powered dust storm that renders the landscape a grainy, swirling abstraction, Stanwyck is right in the middle of the fray; the script called for Jessica to be dragged along with the hoof of a runaway horse, and Stanwyck insisted on performing the daredevil maneuver herself, much to the chagrin of producers.

Bold expressionism and brawny physicality were staples of Fuller’s filmmaking career—qualities surely indebted in some part to his experiences as an infantryman and cameraman during World War II—and in Forty Guns the entire cast is synchronized with that sensibility. The film is possessed of an earthy eroticism, evident in a number of scenes dedicated to watching Tombstone’s men bathe openly under the afternoon sun, as well as in an insistent streak of sexual innuendo in the dialogue, wherein any talk of a man’s gun is quite transparently an allusion to his cock.

Upon the arrival of pacifistic U.S. Marshal Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan), carrying a warrant for the arrest of Jessica’s rotten brother, Brockie (John Ericson), in town with siblings Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), the townsfolk’s dormant sexual energies are expulsed, with Wes angling for local gunsmith Louvenia (Eve Brent) and Griff himself going after Jessica. In a place where gunfire is the prevailing expression of emotion, violence and sex thus become intimately entangled—a link visually represented when Wes and Louvenia’s mutual desire is consummated by an eccentric down-the-rifle-barrel POV shot that Jean-Luc Godard would crib for Breathless only three years later.

This suggestive visual punnery aside, the structure of Forty Guns ultimately accommodates a shift from lewd flirtation to emotional vulnerability, with the at-first caricatured threat of violence becoming a real and deadly threat indeed, as new bonds are sewn and prior allegiances are fissured. Griff, having vowed to retire his six-shooter, awakens Jessica’s sensitive side in the process of spending time with her, breaking down her desperado roughness with his nonviolent, levelheaded enforcement of the law.

The moment when Jessica seems to have fully emerged as a more complicated woman than she initially appeared is among the film’s most beautiful: When she and Griff find shelter from the aforementioned tornado in an abandoned barn, a lilting crane shot descends from the rafters to find the lovers entangled from head to toe in a pile of hay, the camera finally landing in an intimate two-shot to survey their nostalgic exchange without a single cut. It’s a scene of aching tenderness in the midst of bawdy farce and jolts of brutality, but such a commiseration of souls proves fleeting in a land of hardened alliances and quick triggers, and it’s this very union that acts as the catalyst for an accumulating body count.

The film’s tonal swing from goofiness to severity is best exemplified in the three Tombstone ambushes conducted by Brockie. The first, seemingly the result of a drunken whim, is a maniacal shooting spree played mostly for shock laughs (save for the mood-puncturing casualty of an innocent blind man), and concluded by Griff’s swift pistol-whipping of the terrified Brockie. Mirroring this is a more coordinated attack later in Forty Guns when a wedding is interrupted by a surprise bullet, immediately throttling the mood from revelry to tragedy—and leading to a hymnal-led funeral scene to rival those in John Ford westerns. Finally, the third ambush in Tombstone finds Griff again marching calculatedly toward a menacing scene, only this time unsure of the whereabouts of the aggressors. Fuller stages the scene as a high-wire standoff between three disparate points of threat, juicing the dramatic irony to a breaking point until Griff expertly diffuses the situation, but not without preventing another death.

Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope at a time when the format was largely reserved for color productions, Forty Guns‘s deep chiaroscuro anticipates the characters’ deadly impulses and the grave directions that the drama takes. It all leads to a climactic showdown of remarkable savagery that seems to confirm an irrepressible violence within the hearts of even the most upstanding among us—though it’s followed then by a studio-mandated corrective to it, a scene that partially aims to clear the dust churned up by such a bleak capper. Fuller includes a line of dialogue that complicates the uplift, but even if he hadn’t, Forty Guns‘s damning treatise on gun infatuation and the incapacity to transcend one’s nature had already landed its heaviest blows, leaving a bitter aftertaste that no smearing of schmaltz could quite undo.

Image/Sound

Studio-shot interiors are granted a superb degree of contrast, with the deep, inky shadows doing full justice to the film’s celluloid origins, in addition to mirroring the bottled-up anxiety and rage in the characters. Meanwhile, location work in the foothills of Arizona is awesomely vivid. When Barbara Stanwyck or Barry Sullivan ride across the landscape on horseback, the subtle gradations and tones of the arid ground are as compelling as the action being depicted. And suitably for a film at least partly about the destructiveness of firearms, the howling gun blasts heard on the audio track are enough to get the attention of the neighbors, if not too loud to overwhelm the at-times hushed dialogue and gentle desert ambiance.

Extras

The meatiest supplement here is “A Fuller Life,” Samantha Fuller’s affectionate feature-length tribute to her father’s experiences as a journalist, infantryman, and filmmaker, unconventionally presented as a series of readings from his autobiography, A Third Face, by directors and actors who knew him. Not all these participants seem equally enthusiastic about the project, and the documentary consequently has some dry, overly wordy passages. But the access to Fuller’s treasure trove of personal material—clips from his old bylines, footage from WWII, and production files—makes it never less than a fascinating excavation for acolytes of the artist.

Similarly rewarding in this regard are the three other bits of deep-dive Fuller content: an entertainingly candid 1969 interview with the director that can be played as a commentary track, a printed excerpt from A Third Face that goes into some detail about Forty Guns‘s production, and a newly shot interview with Fuller’s second wife, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter that plays like a heartfelt stroll down memory lane. Rounding out the package is an essay by film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a new interview by critic Imogen Sara Smith, who, in a welcome pivot from all the attention lavished elsewhere on Fuller, conducts a fairly thorough examination of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Forty Guns, hailing it as an impassioned summation of a career that was on the decline by the late ’50s.

Overall

Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Jidge Carroll Director: Samuel Fuller Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 80 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Release Date: December 11, 2018 Buy: Video

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Blu-ray Review: Let the Corpses Tan

The solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.

3.5

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Let the Corpses Tan

Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan might rekindle a familiar debate regarding style and substance in art and whether the distinction matters in discussions of aesthetics. Riffing on 1970s-era Italian crime films, Cattet and Bruno Forzani get so lost in their catalogue of fetishes that they lose grasp of the snap and tension that drive even a mediocre heist narrative. That’s partially the intention here, as the married Franco-Belgian filmmakers are aiming for a wandering bloodbath that stews in their characters’ obsessions, which presumably parallel their own, but those obsessions often feel trivial, distracting from the abstract plot.

In Let the Corpses Tan, Cattet and Forzani announce their self-consciously derivative intentions with explosions of paint that suggest blood as well as the act of ejaculation. This link—between art, sex, and violence—is the thread purportedly uniting the film’s various shoot-outs, sexually and religiously inflected fantasy sequences, and odd camera angles, lurid color stocks, and splintered editing. Luce (Elina Löwensohn) is a painter living out among the jagged and sunbaked cliffs presumably somewhere along the Mediterranean, where she drinks, works, sunbathes, fucks, and keeps the company of a traditionally motley collection of misfits. Some of these misfits have just robbed a truck carrying hundreds of kilos of gold, brutally killing several guards and police officers in the process. These acts are played nearly for comedy, with explosions of blood that echo Luce’s splattering of paint against canvases. And the crimes bring the police upon Luce’s desert idyll, triggering a shoot-out that spans the majority of the film’s running time.

The film’s desert setting is memorably beautiful and punishing, and Cattet and Forzani milk it for quite a bit of its erotic potential, gazing at Luce’s often nude body as she sweats in the sun while the coterie of grizzled thugs ogle her. Pleasurable for their own sake, such scenes also affirm the notion of the gold heist as a re-channeling of unfulfilled sex. A little of this symbolism goes a long way, and amusingly so, though Cattet and Forzani keep indulging jokey metaphors, from a lamb roasting sensually on a spit to a martyr fantasy in which Luce is tied nude to a stake, her breasts lactating champagne.

The latter sequence offers a juxtaposition of cruelty and sadomasochistic sex that might’ve been startling in a film less grab-bag in nature—if, say, the scene had been allowed to serve as a narrative culmination, suggesting that the heist and hostage situation inspires in Luce a reckoning with forbidden desires. In this context, however, it feels as if Cattet and Forzani are merely adding another whimsy to their woodpile in order to certify their bona fides as cult rebels. There’s another violent and sexual fantasy sequence later in the film, which seems present just to give the audience a nude shot of another actress, and the images are festooned with leather, guns, insects, skulls, and seemingly endless close-ups of the bad-ass bank robbers’ faces.

Let the Corpses Tan is diverting when watched for 10 minutes—and which 10 minutes you choose doesn’t really matter, as the film runs in circles, re-digesting its conceits as characters stalk and kill each other. In the end, Cattet and Forzani’s pastiche is less reminiscent of Italian crime films than of Quentin Tarantino’s own brand of orgiastic cinephilia, and this contrast elucidates why Let the Corpses Tan feels so hollow. Though Tarantino is also a trickster enthralled with formalist gimmicks, his best films have emotional texture, expressing the longing that drove him to movies to begin with. Cattet and Forzani are too cool for such vulnerability.

Image/Sound

On the whole, Kino Lorber’s transfer leans a bit on the dark side, leading to more muted reds, greens, and golds, especially throughout the film’s daytime sequences. Still, the graininess of Manuel Decosse’s 16mm cinematography is ably preserved; the acute textural details found in the film’s endless array of close-ups of sweaty, expressive faces and objects in motion are beautifully rendered. The nighttime sequences, often shot with a blue filter, still offer ample contrast between the deep black shadows and carefully lit bodies that move gracefully in and out of them. The 5.1 surround and stereo sound tracks are particularly impressive, offering an evocatively layered and full-bodied mix that highlights the film’s intricate sound design. The crackle of fire, creaking of leather, and bursts of gunfire sit forward in the mix, replicating the sensorial overload of the theatrical experience.

Extras

Film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Queensland Film Festival Director John Edmond, who have known each other for years, evince an amiable rapport on their engaging audio commentary, and while this frequently leads them into light-hearted digressions, they do manage to cover a large amount of ground regarding the cinematic influences that inform Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s aesthetics. Their discussions of ’70s Italian crime films, gialli, and spaghetti westerns are informative if a tad predictable. More fruitful and compelling are the stretches where their talk veers into the unexpected, such as the influence of Satoshi Kon on the filmmakers’ sense of narrative structure and the film’s playful warping of time through rapid-fire editing. Perhaps most enlightening is when Heller-Nicholas and Edmond link Let the Corpses Tan, for its plethora of associative metaphors and reliance on sexual and religious iconography, to George Bataille’s Story of the Eye and the work of Kenneth Anger. The only other extra included is a theatrical trailer.

Overall

Kino Lorber’s edition of Let the Corpses Tan is fairly slim on extras, but the solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.

Cast: Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbé, Marine Sainsily, Pierre Nisse, Marilyn Jess Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Screenwriter: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 92 min Rating: NR Year: 2018 Release Date: January 8, 2019 Buy: Video

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Blu-ray Review: A Dry White Season

This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.

4.0

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A Dry White Season

The opening shot of A Dry White Season depicts two young South African boys, one black and one white, laughing and merrily playing ball with each other. This moment of harmony, a tacit reminder that racism is learned, is soon torn asunder by the viciousness of South Africa’s apartheid system. The forces of division at work in the country are charted after the tranquil opening, with the black child, Jonathan (Bekhithemba Mpofu), arrested and brutally caned for attending a peaceful student protest and the white boy, Johan (Rowen Elmes), seen playing rugby with schoolmates who are, of course, all white. Soon we learn that Jonathan’s father, Gordon (Winston Ntshona), works as a gardener for Johan’s father, Ben (Donald Sutherland). When Ben sees the bloody cane marks on Jonathan’s buttocks, he immediately begins rationalizing the actions of the police, unable to admit that they acted irrationally. Johan, upon glimpsing the same wounds, can only gape in horror.

Director Euzhan Palcy spends much of the film’s first act visually delineating the extent to which South Africa has been divided under apartheid. In the black townships of Soweto, for example, there’s scarcely any vegetation to be found in the drab, arid ground. Meanwhile, Ben’s home and other white communities are verdant with irrigated, perfectly manicured lawns. And while Ben has a friendly rapport with Gordon, he never forgets his assumed superiority to the man, who must address his boss as Mr. Ben in even their most informal moments. Ben’s initial inability to consider that the police crossed a line with Jonathan changes when the boy is killed and buried in an unmarked location. When Gordon attempts to find the whereabouts of his son’s body, he too is abducted, tortured, and murdered, leaving Ben so stunned that he’s shaken from his oblivious privilege.

The remainder of the film tracks Ben’s attempts to get answers for these shocking events and the fallout it brings to both Gordon’s family and his own. Seeking justice for Gordon, Ben takes his case to a human rights lawyer (Marlon Brando, giving perhaps his weariest and least showy performance), who can only solemnly urge the man to drop this case, as it will never be upheld by an apartheid judge and will only bring him misery. This grim prophecy soon proves true as Ben’s increasingly zealous quest to broadcast the atrocities of the government earns him the enmity of a brutish police captain (Jürgen Prochnow), alienates his wife (Janet Suzman) and daughter (Susannah Harker), and enrages Ben’s colleagues and friends. It even brings further horrors onto Gordon’s surviving family, who are systematically harassed and evicted from their home in retaliation for Ben’s behavior.

In maintaining her focus on both families rather than just Ben’s, Palcy traces the pervasiveness of apartheid’s methods of reinforcing the status quo using everything from social stigma to outright violence. That Ben, riddled with guilt and horror, tries to honor his dead friend and ultimately makes things worse for Gordon’s widow is held against the man, but the director nonetheless foregrounds the near-impossibility of an individual resisting a regime devoted to an ideology like racism. Palcy does occasionally confront Ben with his ignorance, as when he wistfully tells his black driver, Stanley (Zakes Mokae), how they’re both equally African as he reminisces about growing up on a farm, only for Stanley to sarcastically bring up other aspects of “real” African life, such as having to carry one’s ID papers everywhere or being thrown in prison. Ben, embarrassed, trails off and falls silent. Yet Ben is consistently presented with complexity and empathy as he slowly becomes politically aware, and if A Dry White Season ultimately illustrates the high cost of true allyship in a system of segregation, it nonetheless also respects the willingness to make that sacrifice in the face of injustice.

Image/Sound

Sourced from a 4K restoration, Criterion’s transfer retains the thick grain of the film but marks a significant upgrade in color depth and texture from previous home-video editions. In particular, the bright shades of the white communities pop in comparison to the impoverished and infertile soil of drab Soweto townships, and the blood spilled by bullets and torture looks especially vivid. The lossless stereo track nicely balances the predominantly dialogue-driven soundtrack with the occasional bursts of chaotic violence in the police’s crackdowns on demonstrations, losing no fidelity at any point.

Extras

A half-hour interview between director and co-writer Euzhan Palcy and critic Scott Foundas digs into the former’s life, from her childhood cinephilia to her art studies in France and early support from François Truffaut. Palcy offers copious insights into her career and her approach to A Dry White Season, from building out the source novel’s black characters to her clandestine trips to Soweto to interview survivors of security force arrests and torture. Palcy also contributes an interview in which she breaks down five of the film’s scenes from the research went into them to her filming. Impressively, Criterion unearthed a long-sought interview that Palcy conducted with President Nelson Mandela on the first anniversary of his election in which she questions him on the future he envisions for South Africa. A 1989 interview with Donald Sutherland is also included, as is footage of a 2017 South African National Honors Awards ceremony in which Palcy was bestowed with the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo for her work in illuminating the anti-apartheid struggle to the international community. Finally, a booklet contains an essay by film professor Jyoti Mistry, who explicates how Ben is developed as a genuinely moral agent and not simply a bystander to atrocity.

Overall

This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Jürgen Prochnow, Zakes Mokae, Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando, Winston Ntshona, Thoko Ntshinga, John Kani, Susannah Harker, Rowen Elmes Director: Euzhan Palcy Screenwriter: Colin Welland, Euzhan Palcy Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 106 min Rating: R Year: 1989 Release Date: December 12, 2018 Buy: Video

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