Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A PASSAGE TO INDIA: Blu-ray (Columbia/HBO Pictures 1984) Sony Home Video

In 1970, a somewhat bewildered David Lean faced down a particularly hostile New York City Press Club out to trash his latest screen epic, Ryan’s Daughter.  Lean, who could be counted upon as caustic and exacting on the set was, I suspect, thinner skinned when it came to taking criticism – especially when it was grossly unwarranted. But by 1970, the elegant world of film-making Lean grew up with, and had been a major contributor to, had decidedly moved on. And the critics on this particular afternoon were ready to pillage and pelt Ryan’s Daughter with their baskets full of rotten eggs in belligerent scorn; underhandedly analyzing it as not being the movie they wanted to see, rather than critiquing it for the myriad of qualities it so palpably possessed. To the critics, the adjudication on Ryan’s Daughter became something of a blood sport; a means to bludgeon its resplendent and unabashedly romanticized story, grafted onto a backdrop of civil unrest in Ireland; the picture, rechristened as little more or even better than a creaky melodrama; Lean, seemingly grasping to resuscitate his reputation as one of the most renowned film makers, as well as reestablish the aura, majesty and spectacle of his own, Doctor Zhivago (1965).
To his everlasting regret, as Master of Ceremonies for this ‘event screening’, Richard Schickel, put the proverbial final nail in Lean’s coffin of creativity by inquiring, “How could the director of Brief Encounter (1945) make such a piece of shit as Ryan’s Daughter?”  It should be noted that Ryan’s Daughter never devolves to that level of excrement Schickel unwisely ascribed it; nor has time since managed to impugn its finely crafted tragi-romantic elements. It remains judiciously scripted and splendidly photographed; a feast for the heart and mind, out of step – perhaps – with reigning tastes then, though hard-pressed to be considered a ‘lesser’ in the canon of Lean’s other masterworks. Following Ryan’s Daughter’s failure at the box office, for all intent and purposes, Lean retired from making movies, though not from planning even more ambitious projects that, for the most part – and regrettably so – would never materialize.
There is little to deny Lean was wounded by the negative response to Ryan’s Daughter. His formidable expenditures of time, craftsmanship and money completely overlooked; the hatchets out and ready to chip away at a reputation that, until Ryan’s Daughter, had remained impregnably Teflon-coated. Afterward, Lean went into a mild depression and self-imposed exile. The world of cinema continued to evolve (or devolve, as the case may be) into smaller entertainments for which there appeared to be no place for Lean’s particular brand of stylish originality.  Small wonder it took Lean over a decade to return to the big screen; again, with an impressive cinematic translation; this time of E.M Forster’s beloved novel, A Passage To India (1984). Holding true to Forster’s critique of Imperial British dominance, the screenplay by Lean concerns itself with a journey made to the Far East in 1928 by Adela Quested (Judy Davis), a young Englishwoman, whose sojourn to the fictional hamlet of Chandrapore takes an unexpected detour when she finds herself haunted by an, as yet, untapped erotic lust for a young Indian man while exploring the Marabar Caves. Charging her harmless and congenial guide, Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) with rape, Adela's accusation becomes a cause célèbre, threatening to rupture the already pensive civility between these colonizing forces and the native inhabitants.
Naturally, Adela’s fiancé, magistrate, Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers) is all set to prosecute Aziz to the fullest extent of the law. But Miss Quested’s traveling companion – and never to be mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) – remains unconvinced of Aziz's complicity. She has seen firsthand what colonization has done to the supposedly ‘modern’ India; its mistreatment of the populace under a yoke of graceless, smug superiority; the pall and sting utterly repugnant to her more refined sensibilities, Mrs. Moore remains the singular voice of reason throughout Aziz’s ordeal, and even before it. Mrs. Moore is equally outspoken in condemning her son for having assimilated into this ethnocentric counterculture of mean-spirited racism. After Adela’s ‘rape’, Ronny encourages his mother to depart India before Aziz’s trial can get underway, thereby making her unavailable as a witness for his defense.  Aziz’s one sincere friend amongst the colony is Prof. Richard Fielding (James Fox); an academic who recognizes, but does not appreciate the hypocrisies of his fellow countrymen. Regrettably, he is powerless to stall the unnatural course of action leading to a trial that may very well find Aziz guilty – merely on the grounds of his Indian heritage. After much consternation, Mrs. Moore is coaxed aboard a steamer bound for England. Unaccustomed to the heat, and, believing she has somehow contributed to a great injustice, she unexpectedly dies of a heart attack and is buried at sea.
Aziz is acquitted of his crime, but only after Adela publicly confesses under the duress of cross-examination she felt compelled to accuse Aziz of rape to save her own face - suppressing her libidinous desires to make love to him inside the Marabar Caves. Exonerated, though understandably grown bitter by the experience, Aziz admonishes Fielding in his desire to smooth things over. Fielding resigns from the university and the British Club.  But Aziz’s scorn for all British society endures this rupture in their friendship. Years pass and Aziz becomes a doctor in a small town far removed from all the unpleasantness of the past. On a return trip to India, Fielding seeks Aziz out, correcting a misconception he has bitterly harbored since the trial. Although Fielding was last seen escorting Adela from the courthouse, he has not married her in the interim as Aziz believes, but rather, has become the devoted husband to Mrs. Moore's own daughter. The two men come to an understanding, and Aziz allows himself the power of forgiveness.
Fourteen years after the debacle on Ryan’s Daughter, A Passage to India revealed Lean had lost none of his vim, vigor or virtuosity for bringing stories deeply rooted in humanity at its best and its worst to the big screen. The movie greatly benefits from its unorthodox central casting. A Passage to India has virtually ‘no stars’ to recommend it – at least, none that would have meant anything to North American audiences in 1984. Judy Davis, in particular, gives us an introspective Adela Quested; intelligent, yet too high borne to be considered a rebel, while not above chafing at the keen arrogance that surrounds and increasingly comes to suffocate her. Even more unexpected is the near noxious undercurrent of sexual frustration Davis is able to convey with barely a flick of an eyebrow; wounded rage, misdirected at Aziz despite his irreproachable kindness.
Victor Banerjee’s Dr. Aziz is a formidable undertaking; Banerjee possessing and unleashing an unanticipated wellspring of racial prejudice – arguably, well deserved – against the British during the last act of our story; somewhat abated by Fielding’s return and the revelation he has not married the woman whom Aziz rightly or wrongly still regards as his nemesis. Art Malik as Ali, the attorney who defends Aziz, and, Saeed Jaffrey as their good friend, Hamidullah, lend an air of authenticity to this independently funded production, produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwyn. Debatably, the singular casting misfire is Alec Guinness as the Indian mystic, Godbole. For some years, and despite their frequently clashes in artistic temperaments, Lean regarded Guinness as his ‘good luck charm’. To some extent, Lean would always believe at least part of Ryan’s Daughter’s failure was due to Guinness having turned down the part of Father Collins, eventually played by Trevor Howard. Against the advice of Richard Goodwyn, Lean cast Guinness in A Passage to India as the beautifully imperceptive, Godbole, who understands far more and better than he is given credit.
Critics then, and ever since have been disdainful of both Lean and Guinness’ chutzpah to invest in what is essentially a contemporized ‘blackface’ routine, chiefly played as sobering comic relief. Personally, having loved and esteemed Guinness as far better than a chameleon, I continue to revere his Godbole; hardly the weak link in A Passage to India. Fair enough, he is not of East Indian extraction. But isn’t that what ‘character’ acting is all about; a terrific mimicry giving rise and credence to our suspension in disbelief? And those highly critical of his performance, were forgiving of his Arab Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962); another inspired bit of casting for which Guinness ought to have been Oscar-nominated. Godbole is not an Oscar-worthy turn, alas; and yet, Guinness is perversely charming in the part; prone to whimsical bouts of silence and wide-eyed accusatory stares from behind his large round spectacles. There is an inner ‘actor’s’ intuition at play and a spark of brilliance that goes well beyond the grotesque whitewash of a caricature. Guinness’s Godbole gives us the art of acting as well as its soul.
Last, but certainly not least, we remember the late, great, Dame Peggy Ashcroft as the angelic and forgiving, Mrs. Moore. In her prime, Ashcroft had been an irrefutable beauty of the English theater; an actress whose arresting range in performance on stage was never entirely tested, much less equaled in the picture-making business and who, even while toiling on a project of as distinguished a pedigree as A Passage to India, harbored a inimitable and withstanding disparagement for movies in general, considered only as the ‘inferior art’. In years yet to follow, it was not uncommon for visitors to Ashcroft’s home to discover her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, won for A Passage to India, casually being used as a doorstop to her closet.  Only in hindsight, does one occasionally catch a fleeting glimpse of this irksomeness in Ashcroft’s performance as Mrs. Moore; the way she perhaps appears to be suffering from the heat or casting the occasional stern glance at Antonia Pemberton’s Mrs. Turton.
To a great extent, A Passage to India succeeds in its devastating conveyance of E.M. Forster’s finely edged sensibilities as pure paradox. Dame Ashcroft is the film’s foundation, full of graceful sovereignty. Early in the film, Mrs. Moore dares to embark on what she later informs Adela has been her ‘small adventure’, encountering Dr. Aziz for the first time inside the remnants of a mosque overlooking the moonlit Ganges River. The scene is a combination of matte process, studio-bound sets and stock location photography seamlessly married in the editing room; the luminosity in their brief ‘cute meet’ illustrating a mutual respect, not only afforded one another, but also Lean and the production. Aziz, believing no English lady would remember to remove her shoes and shroud her head before entering, at first admonishes Mrs. Moore, ordering her from the sacred temple.  Momentarily frightened by his outburst, she admits to having left her shoes outside, before stepping from the shadows to reveal her head too is covered by a gauzy shawl. Aziz humbled, makes his apologies, adding most English ladies would not have bothered when ‘no one is here’, to which Mrs. Moore replies, “…but God is here.” If A Passage to India has a soul, it is most clearly unveiled in this gentle moment between Mrs. Moore and Dr. Aziz; Lean, later endeavoring to recreate its ethereal elements for the moment when Mrs. Moore, aboard the steamer bound for England, suddenly casts her head toward the starry night, remembering the recent past before succumbing to her fatal heart attack.  
A Passage to India also affords Lean the luxury to indulge his artistic sentiments for travelogue-styled scenery, demonstrating (as though any demonstration were required) his ability to communicate the intimacies of this microcosmic tale, centered on redemptive friendships, yet set against the vastness of India itself. As with all Lean epics, this one is particularly well-heeled, attesting to a level of quality and scope rarely witnessed in movies from the 1980s. Forster’s novel was undeniably one of the literary milestones of the 20th century; a reason why it probably never made the leap from page to screen until Lean’s adaptation. Because great novels rarely translate undiluted into cinema art; the arc in their thought-provoking proses defiantly ambiguous and not meant to be remade via concretely manifested visualizations. The real challenge for Lean – one he magnificently rises to meet and spectacularly assails with confidence – is how to express a moment that, at least in the novel, happens – or doesn’t – offstage. Adela’s rape, if it has, in fact, occurred, is never taken to task or explained away in Forster’s novel. And thus, Lean remains equally as dubious about what is the truth – or at least, Adela’s perceptions of it. 
After the main titles, set to Maurice Jarre’s bombastic underscore, we are given a preamble to the adventure about to unfold; Adela Quested preparing passages for herself and Mrs. Moore to India. Arriving amidst all the pomp and circumstance of the British Viceroy and his wife’s return aboard their luxury steamer, Adela and Mrs. Moore are quickly introduced to the ‘real’ India; a steamy, sweaty and penetratingly pungent conclave of thronging masses. Adela has come to India to marry Mrs. Moore’s son, Ronny – the priggish local magistrate. Embarking for Union Station to catch their train to Chandrapore, Mrs. Moore and Adela are assailed by the rather boorish and gossipy, Mrs. Turton, who invites them to dine.  In short order, Lean crosscuts these moments of British provinciality with a glimpse into the ‘other’ India; impoverished, yet colorful. Dr. Aziz and his friend, Ali are nearly rundown in the streets by the Turton’s chauffeur-driven automobile; Lean’s early establishment of the European disregard for both local culture and its peoples.
Adela and Mrs. Moore are met in Chandrapore by Ronny, who hastens them through the crowded market square and city streets by horse-drawn hack to the isolationist neighborhood of neatly rowed houses where the colonialists have established themselves as masters of all they survey.  Inquiring to know something of the real India, Mrs. Moore and Adela are instead shown around the cultured gardens of the British Club where, as Rudyard Kipling might have put it ‘east is east’ and western influencers are perfectly satisfied to keep themselves separated from the locals; a situation Mrs. Moore finds ‘unnatural and appalling’.  That evening, Mrs. Moore wanders away from the club to pursue her own modest adventure inside a moonlit mosque. There, she meets Dr. Aziz for the first time, and after some initial awkwardness, the two come to regard one another in warm friendship. Escorting Mrs. Moore back to the club, she offers to invite him in; Aziz, sheepishly pointing out, no Indians are allowed inside.
A short time later, the women are introduced to Prof. Fielding whose passion for India has caused him to cultivate a few native Indian friendships in spite of his position, including Dr. Aziz and the mystic, Godbole. The depth of Fielding’s mutual affinity for Aziz is illustrated in a poignant scene in which Aziz allows Fielding to look upon a concealed portrait of his deceased wife – a very great honor indeed. Inviting Adela, Mrs. Moore, Aziz and Godbole to his home for afternoon luncheon, the conversation turns awkward when Aziz offers to procure an expedition for the ladies to the Marabar Caves; a sequestered series of man-made caverns that have long-since acquired, as Godbole puts it, ‘a reputation’. Unaware of this, Aziz begs Ali and their good friend, Hamidullah to help plan the journey by train, to which Fielding equally agrees to act as a traveling companion, nee chaperone for the ladies, together with Godbole’s assist. Alas, Godbole oversleeps on the day of the expedition. He and Fielding miss the train, forcing Aziz to carry on with the formidable entourage he has assembled to see to Mrs. Moore and Adela’s luxury and comforts.
Traveling, first by elevated train, then elephant, and finally on foot, the group arrive at the Marabar Caves. These produce an ominous echo from the least little bit of sound made inside them. Mrs. Moore suffers a panic attack inside one of the caves and seeks solace in the shade of a nearby tree. But she encourages Adela to go on with Aziz and explore the higher plateau with more hidden inlets. This, alas, is where things become interesting – or rather – curiously unclear and yet terrifying. Adela wanders off and finds herself quite alone inside one of the echo chambers; observing as Aziz approaches the opening to call out her name. The echo this produces is enough to stir and rattle Adela’s nerves. When next we see her, she is racing down a perilously steep incline, her dress and skin torn by the thorny vegetation; rescued at the base of the mountain by the Turton’s and taken immediately to hospital. There, Adela confesses – or does she? – to being raped by Aziz. And thus, begins the nightmarish ordeal. Aziz is put on trial with the very real likelihood he will be found guilty. Whether or not he has actually committed any crime is open for debate. But Aziz tearfully, and convincingly, pleads his innocence to Fielding, who believes him.
Trusting Mrs. Moore would be able to shed light on what transpired at the Marabar Caves, Ali subpoenas her as his star defense witness. Determined to avert the strain of having his mother testify against his fiancé, but perhaps even more committed to finding Aziz guilty, thus preserving his own integrity as the magistrate, Ronny quietly ushers Mrs. Moore onto a steamer bound for home, thereby making her unavailable for cross-examination. Outraged, Ali calls for an acquittal. Aboard the steamer, Mrs. Moore suffers a heart attack and dies, her body later committed to the sea. Back in Chandrapore, Ali puts Adela on the stand. The strain proving too great, she confesses under oath to having lied about the rape – but with no explanation for her deception forthcoming. Nevertheless, as no crime has been committed, Aziz is free to go. He is carried out of court on the shoulders of his supporters in the middle of a monsoon rain; the crowds waiting outside becoming uncontrollably ecstatic. Looking back in disbelief, Aziz witnesses Fielding rush to Adela’s side, hastily ushering her to safety. For Aziz, who once believed Fielding as his one true friend from the British colony, choosing Adela over him now appears as an absolute betrayal of their fragile trust.
Fielding later begs Aziz’s indulgences to explain his motives. But Aziz has turned against his old friend and refuses to listen. Fielding resigns from the club and the university and goes back home to England. Many years pass. Godbole visits Aziz in his new practice and is as cryptic as ever. But Aziz has since forsaken the ways of the British, even down to the clothing he wears. Fielding returns to India, determined he should make one last effort to make a mends with Aziz. Having learned from Godbole that Fielding has since married, Aziz naturally assumes his bride is Adela Quested. However, when Fielding at last reunites with Aziz, who is at first bitter and unwelcoming, he informs his old friend he has married Mrs. Moore’s daughter, Stella (Sandra Hotz).  Recalling Mrs. Moore as the gentlest English woman he has ever known, Aziz finds it in his heart to forgive Fielding. The two share a few memorable hours together and Fielding and Stella depart for home; leaving Aziz to hypothesize, as he observes their car leaving a tiny trail of dust along the open road, “I do not think I shall ever see my friend again.”
In part, due to David Lean’s masterful acuities about India, effectively vacated of the overvisited aspects and derived from a more intimate affinity for its land and peoples; also, because of his unique abilities as a richly varied storyteller, A Passage to India gradually builds as an adventure of passionate extremes. Only Alec Guinness’ Godbole escapes its’ excruciating vibrancy with complete equability; imbued by a philosophy that life will essentially take care of itself as it should, and, in its own good time. Lean’s India is hardly a travelogue, although he does give the audience the prerequisite ‘master shots’ for which all of Lean’s epics are justly famous; some gorgeous matte process work depicting Adela and Miss Quested’s train passing through vast sundrenched and moonlit landscapes. But it is the intangibleness of India, perceived from an outsider’s perspective, but with an incapacity to ever fully comprehend India on its own terms, only in part because of its vastness and extraordinarily diverse culture, that Lean nails bang on from the outset; the smallness – nee, intimacy – of his story emphasized by the monumental scope achieved in his visuals. Detailed that he is, Lean has invigorated his actors to give unblemished, precise and unpretentious performances, each religiously adhering to his screenplay, infused with archetypal simplicity. In doing so, Lean gets to the essence of Forster’s novel; the author’s love of India as well as his generalized disdain for its colonizing influences.
At the time of its release, Lean was marginally criticized for not going ‘all the way’ in Forster’s condemnation of England’s smug superiority.  Lean was also roasted for casting Alec Guinness as Godbole. Despite these criticisms, A Passage to India is superb in every last detail. Lean and his production designer, John Box have given us a sumptuous overview of post-Imperial India, building a full scale marketplace and town center onto the back of an existing Maharaja’s palace – mostly for the purposes of crowd control, and populating their makeshift backdrop with indigenous peoples. Like Lean's most fondly remembered masterworks (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai) location is itself a star in A Passage to India. Ernest Day's lush and lovely cinematography captures the sumptuousness, the allure and the steamy mystery of this brightly colored culture clash. Judy Moorcroft's costumes and Hugh Scaife's set decoration add memorable touches to these visually dense backdrops.
Although nominated for Best Picture, like Ryan’s Daughter before it, A Passage to India was hardly a blockbuster. Its mediocre box office clearly reflected the rift between old and new Hollywood was, if anything, widening; the film's 'old time' lavishness arguably at odds with the more slapdash way of telling stories on celluloid, circa the 1980s. Reflecting on A Passage to India today, one clearly sees its virtues more than its vices. Although David Lean had hoped to direct a movie about Nostradamus, A Passage to India would prove his swan song, and a fitting one at that. For Lean, who died in 1991, A Passage to India marks his film-maker’s legacy as a secretively sensitive and passionate visual artist, imbued with the rarest of immeasurable wits, intuitiveness and superior stealth behind the camera. Regardless of what one thinks about Lean as an ‘old-fashioned’ picture maker, A Passage to India remains a glorious epitaph of immense splendor and transcendent intelligence.
Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-Ray easily bests its old DVD transfer. The 1080p image is reference quality and the benefactor of a formidable hi-def restoration; a habit with Grover Crisp and his experts and a very good one to emulate.  Framed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, A Passage to India exhibits bold, rich and vibrant colors; superbly rendered contrast levels and a ravishingly detailed image that will surely not disappoint; void of any untoward digital manipulations. Prepare to be dazzled, because few Blu-rays look as good as this. The 5.1 audio, alas, is something of a different story. A Passage to India was one of Sony’s very first hi-def restorations. And while it is obvious great pains and care have gone into virtually every aspect of this clean-up, I have never been able to properly decode Sony’s audio mastering efforts to provide anything less than a low frequency garble of the first few scenes; beginning with Adela’s arranging her and Mrs. Moore’s passage, to their arrival via boat in India, and, right up until their awkward train dining experience with the Turtons.
The audio here favors background effects that overpower the dialogue, making it sound washed out and, on occasion, inaudible. As example, when Mrs. Moore tips the driver of her hired hack and calls to him, the words “Victoria Station” are barely heard amidst a convolution of indigenous sounds, steam and boat whistles and a sea of humanity cluttering the tarmac. The old DVD soundtrack, while hardly perfect, nevertheless allowed us to hear these words more clearly. But this Blu-ray remastering somehow makes all voices in the first fifteen minutes or so of this presentation seem thin and very weak indeed. Things definitely improve thereafter, but it’s still a disappointing flaw on what is otherwise a reference quality disc. The Blu-Ray is chocked full of extra features, including a fascinating picture-in-picture commentary and another isolated audio commentary by Richard Goodwyn. We get expertly produced featurettes on Forster and the making of the film, with vintage interviews featuring cast and crew and Lean discussing the joys of picture-making. There’s also a brief retrospective of Lean’s career and a theatrical trailer to enjoy. Bottom line: well worth the price of admission and recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)


GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN - LORD OF THE APES: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1984) Warner Archive

For better or worse, the legacy of Edgar Rice Burrough’s vine-swinging lord of the jungle, Tarzan, has forever been colored by MGM’s glossy 1932 reincarnation, starring rugged Olympic swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller. If anything, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) set a different standard for Burrough’s lost man-child, perpetually sheathed in a loin cloth,  a yelping yodel to beast and foe alike, with perfectly quaffed hair and a smooth, taut body of rippling muscles; the rough-hewn half-man/half-animal survivor of a harrowing expedition into the deepest, darkest recesses of Equatorial Africa in 1885, now rechristened as the roguishly handsome ‘white skinned’ Neanderthal with broken English in need of a good sexual taming by the willing, Jane Porter (Maureen O’Sullivan). MGM’s movie may not have been what Burrough’s had in mind when he first published his novel in 1912, but there is little to doubt its influence since; renewing interest in the author’s creation and stimulating Burrough’s to continue the literary legacy of Tarzan until 1947. Arguably, the filmic Tarzan has had a much more lasting, varied and, regrettably maligned inheritance; repeatedly miscast as tawny muscle men of more brawn than brain or even marginal acting ability, the perpetual reboot merely contented to keep this wilderness throwback a brawny beefcake, happily stunted in his social evolution (the movie Tarzan never goes much beyond the oft misquoted “me Tarzan, you Jane” mastery of the English language, much less maturing in his social graces, making him a real dim bulb, indeed); his one friend, Cheetah the chimp, and occasionally Jane, who swoops in and out of the series as a love interest to compensate the lush tropical settings.
As a child of the 1970’s, I grew up with this revision of Burrough’s strapping missing link, chronically anesthetizing my expectations for anything better, while ironically providing something of a fairytale template for what it meant to be a ‘real man’ – to live and die by one’s wits, rescuing perennially distressed and lily-white colonialist hunters from their own explorative idiocy into the Dark Continent. It was, therefore, something of a culture shock to step into the theater in 1984 and be treated to director, Hugh Hudson’s superior retelling: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. For here, at last, was Tarzan as Burrough’s had ostensibly envisioned him back in 1912; the babe suckled and raised to adulthood by apes after the natural death of his birth mother and murder of his father by wild animals. Employing a formidable roster of British talents who, again, as a twelve year old back then, I knew virtually nothing of and could not care less about, I was nevertheless awestruck by the potently subdued tragic elements gingerly massaged into P.H. Vazak and Michael Austin’s screenplay, without any perceivably transparent modicum of sentimentalized pathos.
*A word about Vazak, actually a pseudonym for screenwriter, Robert Towne, who was also slated to direct Greystoke until the implosion of his directorial debut, Personal Best (1982) caused the studio to remove him from the project altogether. Infuriated, Towne, no slouch in the industry, retaliated by demanding the name of his dog, P.H. Vazak be given his screenwriter’s credit in his stead; a decision reluctantly adhered to by the studio, and one that must have tickled Towne’s fancy immensely when Greystoke received an Oscar-nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
In Christopher Lambert’s wiry and expressively wide-eyed hero, Tarzan emerged, not as a literary myth, movie-land fantasy or even as perhaps Edgar Rice Burrough’s had concocted him via his own adventurist spirit for colonial exploration; but as a man torn asunder from the natural order of things and denied his noble birth right; thrust into the most perilous survival situations and thriving in outwardly inhospitable conditions; alas, proving no match for the refinements and depravities of the human world. And it remained to Hugh Hudson’s credit that despite the passage of time and the jadedness of my own preconceptions about the character, gleaned from a steady diet of the wrong kind of Tarzan movies for nearly a decade, that Greystoke nevertheless managed to rewrite and eclipse much of the misfires that had occurred inside an impressionable young boy’s mind until then. Upon exiting the theater that evening, it was virtually impossible to go back to watching those Saturday afternoon TV matinees starring Weissmuller. It all but ruined my limited appreciation for the likes of Gordon Scott, Denny Miller, Miles O’Keefe and the like. No, Greystoke was a return to Burrough’s jungle man; the film, mirroring the events as written so closely in the first half of the picture that, upon reading the first novel in Burrough’s franchise, it became clearer still – even to a child – that director, Hugh Hudson had done his homework.
In later years, I would come to appreciate Greystoke for its multifaceted skillfulness behind the scenes; Albert Whitlock’s stunning array of matte paintings, along with the Elstree Studio-bound jungle vegetation sets, faultlessly married to some extensive location work in Cameroon; Rick Baker’s mind-bogglingly natural creature makeups and prosthetics, transforming a series of diminutive, acrobatic dancers into convincing replicas of vine-swinging simians; John Alcott’s gorgeously lit, mist-laden cinematography; and finally, and without question, the spectacular cast assembled to sell this artifice as heart-wrenching fiction. Greystoke is not an adventure film, per say, although it sports elements from this genre. But at its core, it remains a very humanist tale about an almost too good to hope for bond of reunion between an aging aristocrat, the sixth Earl of Greystoke (an affecting performance by Ralph Richardson, in the last movie before his death) grown fragile and reclusive after the disappearance of his beloved son in Africa; his will to live resuscitated by a gracious twist of fate, returning his adult grandson, John Clayton (a.k.a. Tarzan, expressively realized by Christopher Lambert) to his rightful place as the heir apparent to a Scottish fortune.
While the first hour of Greystoke plays almost as a silent movie – virtually void of dialogue – the latter half is a superb articulation of one old man’s daydream resurrected in the flesh; the mind-numbing realization all has not been lost so many years before, played with exquisitely raw, yet restrained emotions. Of superior caliber was Ian Holm’s incarnation of Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot, the grateful recipient of Tarzan’s salvation during a particularly lethal Pygmy attack; Ian Charleson, Paul Brooke and David Suchet’s amoral dredges of society, Jeffson Brown, Rev. Stimson, and, the gambler, Buller respectively; Nigel Davenport, as the blood-thirsty big game hunter, Maj. Jack Downing; James Fox as priggish, Lord Charles Esker; and finally, in her movie debut, supermodel, Andie McDowell as Miss Jane Porter – a minor revelation, considering her dialogue was dubbed in post-production by Glenn Close to cancel out McDowell’s southern drawl, deemed unbecoming for the character. 
Yet, even the cameos in Greystoke are populated by some of Britain’s finest actors: Paul Geoffrey and Cheryl Campell, particularly effective as the ill-fated Lord John and Lady Alice Clayton. And then, of course, there are the ‘Tarzans’ to consider: the evolution of the ape man, from newborn to adult, captivatingly realized with an uninterrupted continuity in deportment and mannerisms by child actors, Peter Kyriakou, Danny Potts, Eric Langlois and finally, Christopher Lambert. The success of the movie squarely rests upon Hugh Hudson’s ability to convince us in just a few key scenes that this babe, lost to civilization and barely out of his crib, has miraculously morphed into the lanky lord of the jungle before our very eyes.   
After the overwhelming critical and box office success of 1981’s Chariots of Fire, Hugh Hudson was determined to mark his territory with another surefire transatlantic hit. That Greystoke proved something of a spotty hit and a miss with critics and audiences alike and on both sides of the pond was therefore something of a minor disappointment. Despite being nominated for 3 Academy Awards (and winning none), Greystoke illustrated a fundamental truth about the long-term longevity of cinema Tarzans. Yet, in hindsight, Greystoke is memorable, and, arguably, for so much more than simply its departure from the ensconced movie-land lore, Weissmuller’s king of the swing and all those who dared follow in his bare footsteps. Director, Hudson is to be commended for adhering to Burroughs’ original novel - partly. In the book, Burroughs asserts the apes rearing Tarzan possess a rudimentary vocabulary. Hudson also applied ‘corrective ideas’ first put forth by science fiction author, Philip José Farmer meant to explain how a speech-deprived human might acquire language skills – as a natural mimic.  In any case, Hudson wisely chose to reject the common tradition of the ‘simpleton Tarzan’, instead, at every opportunity, allowing Christopher Lambert to portray an intuitive intelligence, uncannily realized via penetrating stares and occasional light gestures in the eyebrows and lips.
It’s still a fairytale - perhaps, only now imbued with darker, uglier and more dissatisfying sides of reality creeping in from the peripheries of the screen. For here is a man unable to find self-worth amongst his own kind; a specimen clearly drawn to his counterparts in the human world in which he ought to belong, and yet, driven away by their oddities and cruelties; the fracture between man and beast made irrevocably complete after John discovers his adoptive ‘ape father’, Kerchak in captivity and, in attempting to restore him to freedom, inadvertently brings about his untimely death. Interestingly, John Clayton is never referenced in the movie as ‘Tarzan’; apparently, director, Hudson’s further endeavor to distance his movie from preconceived notions stemming from the Tarzan movie-land lore, while not above using Burrough’s moniker for its marketing cache on the poster art to promote the film. But it must be stated that the latter half of his movie, in which John is restored to his grandfather in Scotland, has nothing to do with either the cinema legacy of Tarzan or Burrough’s original story.
In the novel, Jane Porter discovers Tarzan in the wilds after her search party, also consisting of John’s cousin, William Cecil Clayton, and French Naval Officer Paul D'Arnot is marooned off the Ivory Coast. As in the movie, D'Arnot is the first to recognize John’s potential, educating him in the ways of behaving amongst civilized men. But at journey’s end, John makes his pilgrimage to Baltimore, Maryland in search of Jane, discovering she is to marry his cousin. Never regarded as more than a physiological fascination by Jane, the plot nevertheless thickens as D’Arnot begins to piece together the origins of John’s true identity and birthright as the Earl of Greystoke. Alas, in the end, John magnanimously refuses this inheritance, choosing to conceal his identity for the sake of Jane’s happiness. In the movie, this penultimate sacrifice is subverted; made not by John, but Jane who, having educated this primal-motivated man, returns him to his ‘place of origin’ now – recognizing the jungle as the only place where he can thrive.
Greystoke opens with some atmospheric Albert Whitlock travelling mattes of Equatorial Africa, circa 1885; real landscapes married to moody backdrops and an erupting volcano that has absolutely nothing to do with our story. During a torrential downpour, a battle between primates, Silverbeard, an elder in the ape clan (Elliott W. Cane) and new mother, Kala (Ailsa Berk) causes the latter to lose and drop her newborn from a considerable height. The baby strikes its head on a rock and dies. Kala will spend many days grieving this loss, coddling the corpse of her dead baby in her arms. We switch to Lord John Clayton (Paul Geoffrey), the heir to The 6th Earl of Greystoke (Ralph Richardson), and his wife, Alice (Cheryl Campbell) about to set sail from Edinburgh, Scotland on an expedition into the Dark Continent. The ship is lost at sea, with only the young marrieds and its’ captain (Richard Griffiths) having survived; the latter, suffering a complete nervous breakdown. Interestingly, in long shot we catch a glimpse of the damaged vessel (another Whitlock miniature matte) bobbing helplessly like a cork in the water. Exactly how everyone and everything else has happened to wash up as debris on the mainland when the ship still appears, if damaged (presumably from a storm at sea) then no less seaworthy, as it is clearly afloat, remains an oddity never entirely explained away. Instead, John and Alice make their home from these surviving remnants up in a tree (shades of the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse immediately coming to mind).
Regrettably, tragedy strikes. Alice, stricken with malaria after the birth of John Jr. suddenly dies and John Sr. is beaten to death by Silverbeard before he can recover his pistol to defend his infant son. The child is taken from its crib by Kala, who abandons her own dead baby to rear John as her own. Invested with the security of the tribe, the boy grows up naked, wild, and free, although constantly threatened by Silverbeard who, at one point, beats John nearly to death. These early sequences are imbued with a spark of brilliance for establishing the communal nature of the ape colony. At age five, young John narrowly escapes an attack by a black panther. His best friend in the tribe is not nearly as lucky. At age twelve, John stumbles upon the origins of his birth – the treehouse – where he discovers a wooden block with engravings of a human child and a chimpanzee.  He also finds the remnants of a mirror and, for the first time, recognizes himself in it as unlike the other apes in his ‘family’. Sometime later, he will also unearth John Sr.’s hunting knife and, through trial and error, learn how to use it in self-defense.
Years pass. John, now in his early twenties, has attained the rank of a valued and dominant male in the ape colony. Regrettably, he loses his ‘mother’ (Kala) to a Pygmy hunting party, carrying her wounded and dying body into a clearing before murdering one of the Pygmies, who has come to finish the job. Sometime later, Capt. Philippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) leads a band of British adventurers, including the ruthless, Major Jack Downing (Nigel Davenport) and Sir Hugh Belcher (Nicholas Farrell) along the river’s edge on an expedition for pelts. D’Arnot is appalled by Downing’s psychotic approach to the slaughter of innocent animals. Pygmies attack the party, instantly killing Downing and Belcher. Wounded but alive, D’Arnot manages to hide inside a tree stump, rescued and carried to safety by John who feed him live maggots and regurgitates water into his mouth to keep him alive. In exploring the treehouse, D’Arnot discovers John’s true identity and desperately works to convince him they must both return to Scotland. John is reluctant. Nevertheless, he and D’Arnot make their way to a remote British outpost on the edge of the civilized world. Inside a leaky makeshift clubhouse, the pair encounters the nefarious Jeffson Brown, Rev. Stimson, and, Buller. D’Arnot teaches John about fire by lighting a match, an introduction to prove fortuitous later when Brown, Stimson and Buller, hinted at harboring homosexual tendencies, wrestle D’Arnot against a table. They are about to flog him when John leaps from the balcony into their midst and dashes a kerosene lamp against the fragile wood paneling. The flames ignite and engulf the clubhouse like a tinderbox; D’Arnot and John making their escape in the dead of night.
The movie expedites the rest of D’Arnot and John’s journey home; director, Hudson cutting to the reunion at Greystoke Manor (actually, Floors Castle), a sprawling country estate in the lowlands of Scotland. The 6th Earl of Greystoke sets about introducing John to polite society and his ward, Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell). Although never clearly determined, it is suggested the Earl is suffering from the early stages of dementia; infrequently lapsing in his memory, referring to John as his son – rather than his grandson. For a time, John’s assimilation back into the world of humans progresses. Jane takes to teaching him French and English, also dance lessons. In the meantime, Lord Charles Esker (James Fox), a rather stuffy suitor, proposes marriage to Jane. She rejects his offer outright, explaining she does not love him, nor has she ever harbored deeper affections. In secret, Jane and John become lovers, leading to a Christmas party where their engagement is announced. Alas, the Earl is stricken by a delusional remembrance from childhood – riding down the grand, but extremely steep, staircase on a silver tray. In attempting to relive this moment now, he inadvertently sails into the banister and breaks his neck, dying in John’s arms.
John is now the 7th Earl of Greystoke. Regrettably, he is plagued by an inconsolable grief and frequently exhibits violent outbursts not even Jane can quell. John and Jane are invited to inaugurate a new exhibit at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London. However, in exploring the private rooms behind the exhibit, John discovers Kerchak – his ape father –cruelly confined to a very small cage. Freeing Kerchak from these restraints, John attempts to aid in his escape. The inhabitants are stunned and flee in terror, causing museum officials and the police to be called out. Shots are fired as Kerchak climbs higher and higher up a tree in Woodland Park. The ape plummets to his death and John defies the crowd by shouting “He was my father!”  That night John, again inconsolable, races his carriage and horses around the estate, wailing into the night, “Father!”  Unable to reach him, Jane realizes what she must do. Together with D’Arnot, she and John make a pilgrimage back to Africa. John strips down to his loin cloth and returns to the ape colony as Jane and D’Arnot look on. Their dream of a life together at an end, D’Arnot nevertheless remains optimistic. Perhaps, one day, they may all be reunited again – at least, in friendship.
In retrospect, it is easy to see why Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was not an overwhelming critical or financial success. Not only does it not prefigure the return of the cinema’s incarnation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic vine-swinger, but it remains throughout, although particularly in its denouement, a genuine downer; utterly riveting in its narrative yarn perhaps, energizing and full of unexpected lyrical visualizations throughout – yes – and yet, just a little too somber, moody and weird to be fully admired for its exceptionally fine craftsmanship. Director, Hugh Hudson’s gift to the movie manifests as an almost primitive ability to unearth wellsprings and undercurrents of enflamed human desire and correlate them to the animal world. But the movie occasionally veers into a sort of ‘elephant man’ styled grand guignol; albeit, infused with atypical astuteness and sincere entertainment value.  
Because Hudson has so clearly chosen to avoid virtually every identifiable cliché ensconced in the movie-land Tarzan milieu, Greystoke is not in competition with any of its predecessors…and that is part of its problem. Arguably, the audience is anticipating another Dark Continent B-grade roller coaster adventure story, complete with leering chimpanzees, lost tribes and ancient cities, fog-laden elephant graveyards and a curse set upon our unsuspecting troop of explorers. Our hero is neither referred to as ‘Tarzan’ nor does he let out with that iconic yodel Weissmuller made an indelible part of the folklore. As such, Greystoke neither lives up – nor down (depending upon one’s point of view) to our prospects. Despite this, the very best that can be said of Greystoke is, at just a little over two hours, it never drags or wears out its welcome.
Add to this, the stately approach Hudson has taken with his visually resplendent ambiance of 1885’s social mores and mannerisms, counterbalanced and slightly offset by the astonishingly earthy sense of realism achieved in Rick Baker’s makeup appliances, and, the shockingly cruel and brutal murders/deaths that occur throughout the movie, from Sir John and Lady Alice, to Kala and finally the 6th Earl, and, Greystoke takes on a very morose and disquieting patina of too much truth, none too subtly on display. The first third of the picture is imbued with some of its most noteworthy and authentic human/animal interactions ever conceived for the screen – partly shot on location and partly, and even more convincingly reconceived on a soundstage under controlled lighting conditions; no small feat, considering humans in ape costumes are situated only a few feet from real apes, leopards, pythons, flamingos and black panthers. Greystoke’s saving grace, that is to say, the thing to keep all its impending doom and ill-fated destiny at bay, or perhaps, merely from engulfing and sinking the enterprise altogether, is its cast. Ralph Richardson’s Earl, a completely fabricated character not in any of Edgar Rice Burrough’s nearly two dozen Tarzan novels, is nevertheless, an integral piece to this puzzle of what makes Greystoke click. Even if Richardson had not died a scant three months after finishing the picture, his performance herein would sincerely rank as one of his most genuinely poignant and affecting. And Christopher Lambert, movie-land’s new arrival then, matches Richardson’s portrayal, if not in sustained intensity, then certainly in its moody magnificence; deliciously brooding as both the barely sheathed and conquering ape man and uncomfortable aristocrat, more nakedly vulnerable because he is being forced to dress up for the occasion.
Long announced for the Warner Archive, Greystoke was twice delayed in its hi-def debut, the studio wisely investing more time and money into their remastering efforts. John Alcott’s cinematography, with uncredited additional work by David Watkin, uses a higher than normal exposure rate to get light to penetrate the dense jungle foliage. The effect is uncannily naturalistic and superbly reproduced on this Blu-ray.  The film elements used herein are nearly pristine and have been carefully color-corrected. Fine detail is extraordinary and contrast is exquisite, with deep blacks that never crush. There is a natural and mostly inconspicuous grain pattern on display, ever so slightly magnified during matte process shots. We can also thank Warner Home Video for no untoward DNR, artificial sharpening or other digital anomalies applied to this transfer. Greystoke was never intended to look razor-sharp and/or smooth. The image represented herein returns the movie to its rough-hewn and almost documentarian quality, Alcott’s low lit artistry, either recreated by filtering rays of natural sunlight, using artificial UV lamps in the studio, or extolling the exquisiteness of flickering light and shadow from a myriad of candles, has been lovingly reproduced herein.  
Greystoke 70mm limited engagement sported a 6-track stereo soundtrack; its wider theatrical release, dumbed down on 35mm with mere Dolby Surround. This new DTS 5.1 Blu-ray mix appears to have been derived from the 6-track elements, illustrated by some very subtly nuanced SFX and John Scott’s underscore soaring to new heights with a surprisingly wide dynamic range. Warner has ported over Hugh Hudson’s audio commentary from their old DVD. It’s informative, though meandering in spots. Nevertheless, definitely worth a listen. Bottom line: highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP: Blu-ray (Pan Arts 1982) Warner Archive Collection

In Shakespeare’s time, John Irving's fourth novel, The World According to Garp (an existentialist tragicomedy that became a publishing phenomenon in in 1978) would have been quaintly referenced as that proverbial ‘tale told by an idiot’ – albeit, an extremely articulate and intellectually perplexed and probing one – though no less ‘full of sound and fury…signifying nothing.’ Even the mostly respectful book reviews of the year felt the need to take sides in the arguments as presented by Irving with terrific irony. Was the novel and the character, T. S. Garp (brilliantly conceived for the movie by Robin Williams in his film debut) pro- or anti-feminist; for or against modern marriage? The genius in Irving’s textually dense ramblings, devoted to this somewhat emasculated fop, chronically overshadowed by the women (and one surrogate transgender gal) in his life; the spawn of a demented Margaret Sanger-esque nurse’s biologically, proto-feministic and highly unorthodox need to procure a child without actually tolerating a husband; queerly never offered us an opinion – merely a series of vignettes travelling through various time periods, from which the reader might glean a variety of perspectives.
The whimsy in Irving’s apparently ‘straight-forward’ style to concocting his alternative reality gave it its’ impetus as a bizarre reflection on then contemporary society; the Ellen James Society being the most perversely acknowledged as a counterpoint to 70’s radical feminism. Here is a cult of pseudo-militants, incapable of relating to the world, or perhaps even each other through the gift of articulate speech; chained to a cause after having their tongues surgically removed in a thoroughly misguided show of support for a young rape victim – Ellen James – whose own tongue was removed via her male attacker to keep her silent. Using this intolerably violent act as their crutch, the ‘society’ – arguably, comprised of a bunch of man-hating lesbians – perverts one woman’s grief into a national campaign in order to eradicate masculinity from the earth – or rather, keep it at bay and away from their cloistered gathering.  
As a reflection of modern American life back then (and its continuing spiral into anarchic oblivion since), The World According to Garp remains prophetically disturbing and desolate; the implosion of middle-class morality, and, escalation of random acts of violence, foreshadowing our present epoch with eerie and exacting precision, right down to John Lithgow’s Roberta Muldoon; a transgender former sports celebrity (Caitlyn Jenner, anyone?).  As with all great works of literature, Garp’s purpose – perhaps, somewhat unclear to the rest of us not possessing the author’s far-reaching vision of a future – was generally misconstrued as densely packed intellectual ‘clutter’. Nevertheless, it places the reader in the driver’s seat to formulate opinions about truth and virtue while searching with Garp for a place of solace within this dystopian nightmare. There is little to deny Jenny Fields (realized with nonsensical empathy by Glenn Close) her crippling influence on the natural development of her son’s emotional psyche; a woman so enamored with marching to the beat of a different drum that she sets about to reshape the external influences of life itself, and Garp’s in particular, to assert them as fundamental truths about life and men in general.
Jenny’s grotesque canonization as a leading figure in the 70’s feminist movement is disquieting.  For here is a woman who, by her own rather unapologetic admission first, to her parents (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in the film) – then later, Garp, and finally, anyone else who will listen or read her ‘tell all’ novel – has cruelly denied her child a father (even a father-figure, although Roberta does marginally serve as this bridge, straddling the two sexes); having taken advantage of an unconscious and brain-damaged technical sergeant while working as a nurse in the military hospital, simply to harvest his sperm for her own selfish needs. The baby grows up to be T.S. Garp; ill-equipped and even less likely to investigate the basic mechanics of what it means to be a man. According the novel and the movie – ambitiously directed by George Roy Hill – puberty is a curse, as is all male sexual desire. One cannot escape the natural evolution of the former or stave off the frustrated urges of the latter. Without a real man to point out the fundamental truth – that all human beings are dictated by their passions – cerebral and physical – young Garp’s (James McCall) sex education is extremely limited to Jenny’s ideas of ‘dirty male lust’ and reoccurring prepubescent experimentations with the town’s trollop, Cushie (Jillian Ross as a child/Jenny Wright as an adult). A reprieve of sorts arrives during Garp’s college years; a chance meeting and instant infatuation with fellow student, Helen Holm (Mary Beth Hurt).
Garp wants Helen in the sort of cheaply erotic way Jenny finds disgusting and yet simultaneously fascinating. Helen, however, is not interested in jocks, something Garp has since become, thanks in part to his joining the wrestling team against Jenny’s wishes. She would have preferred him to take up basketball.  Locker room shenanigans aside, Garp finds the company of men – or rather, boys of his years – stimulating. Despite being attracted to Helen, Garp also continues to see Cushie on the side; Cushie’s introverted sister, Pooh (Brenda Currin) exposing Garp and Cushie’s love-making on the grassy knoll to Helen, who thereafter avoids Garp like the plague. In the meantime, Garp has been working very hard to impress Helen as the writer she pledges to marry upon graduation. After their breakup, Garp decides to go to New York and become a real writer to spite her. Unwilling, as yet, to loosen the maternal yoke, Jenny quits her job as school nurse and moves in with Garp.
During their initial arrival to the Big Apple, Jenny becomes aware of Garp’s casual glances directed at a prostitute (Swoozie Kurtz). Partly meant to embarrass Garp, but also to learn more about his concept of desire – presumably, for which she has no stomach or extracurricular experience, Jenny is gripped to unearth this hooker’s particular back story regarding the world’s oldest profession. Mother and son befriend the reluctant prostitute. Jenny buys her a cup of coffee and then pays for Garp’s ‘first time’ with a professional. Later, Jenny will offer the hooker a safe haven at her family’s seaside retreat – converted into a sort of misfit’s oasis and respite for the socially stunted. But for now, as Jenny has momentarily retired from nursing, she takes up Garp’s passion to write; penning the bizarre memoir – Sexual Suspect. Inadvertently, it becomes a controversial best seller, embraced by the feminist movement.
Jenny’s overnight celebrity is an anathema to Garp’s carefully crafted proses; his first novella – richly supported by publisher, John Wolfe (Peter Michael Goetz) though receiving little exposure or praise beyond the literati. Garp returns to Helen and proposes marriage. She accepts, recognizing his talents as a brilliant writer. Nevertheless, the rest of the world knows Garp only from his mother’s novel as the ‘bastard son of Jenny Fields’. Garp’s marriage to Helen is hardly without its hiccups. After giving birth to two sons, Duncan (Nathan Babcock) and Walt (Ian McGregor), Helen – now a college professor at Reardon Academy – takes up with one of her graduate students, Michael Milton (Mark Soper). In the meantime, Jenny has established a sort of feminist refuge on the sprawling New England compound once owned by her parents, bequeathed to her after her father’s death. Garp meets ‘Roberta Muldoon’ – a transgender and devout convert of Jenny’s methodologies. Roberta is empathetic to Garp’s inability to accept his mother’s constant and controversial meddling in all their lives. Their unlikely friendship will ultimately ease Garp through some very tough times ahead.
Having discovered Helen’s ongoing infidelities with Michael, Garp confronts her over the telephone, flying into a rage. He takes Duncan and Walt out for dinner and then a movie to clear his head. But his anger incrementally festers as the night wears on. Earlier, Garp has illustrated his passion to fly by turning off the engine of his Packard on the decline leading to their house, allowing gravity to send the car coasting to an abrupt stop in the family’s driveway.  Now, under the cover of night, as rain begins to fall, Duncan and Walt implore him to repeat this trick. Alas, they are unaware Michael has parked his car in the driveway, having coaxed Helen into performing fellatio on him in the front seat. In the resultant smash up, Walt is killed and Duncan loses an eye. Later, we learn Helen also bit off Michael’s penis in the accident, breaking her jaw; Garp cracking his neck and jaw, having his mouth wired shut for a time. The family retires to Jenny’s familial home to convalesce. But Garp’s ire remains unabated. Unable to speak, he nevertheless makes his disgust for Helen known to all, causing Jenny to take Helen’s side.  Roberta comforts Garp.
Sometime later, Helen and Garp are reconciled; their marital bond strengthened by their shared grief at having lost a son. They decided to have another child. Garp writes a politically loaded novel condemning the Ellen James Society. It incurs the organization’s wrath, but garners him sincere praise from the critics and an anonymous note of thanks, presumably written by the reclusive rape victim. Jenny, accompanied by Roberta, leaves for New York to support a woman candidate (Bette Henritze) running for governor. Regrettably, the outdoor venue is patronized by a sniper who performs a public execution as Jenny takes the stage. Garp’s grief turns to scorn when the Ellen Jamesians organize a public funeral for Jenny meant to exclude him from attending. Roberta helps Garp in a disguise as a woman in order to partake in the services. But his presence is exposed by Pooh who has since become a member of the cult.
Spirited away by Roberta down a back alley to avoid a scene, Garp comes face to face with the reclusive Ellen James who holds up a copy of his novel, mouthing the words ‘thank you’ for his honesty, before helping Garp escape the militants in hot pursuit by hurrying him into a waiting taxi. A short while later, we find Garp has given up writing, having come home to coach the college wrestling team. Regrettably, Pooh is also on campus. Masquerading as a nurse, she fires several gun shots into Garp. As Garp is air-lifted by medical helicopter, he quietly peers out the window at the landscape, turning to a tearful Helen and adding, “Look…I’m flying, Helen. I’m flying.” We cut away to the image of a happy baby, Garp, being tossed into the air; the infant joyously smiling now. Is this merely childhood memory unearthed by the adult Garp as he drifts in and out of consciousness, or a recap meant to mark his life at its end?  
As with most artists, The World According to Garp is a far more personal reflection of John Irving’s own heart; an intimate portrait grafted onto fictional counterparts, the veneer thin and stemming from Irving’s own obsession to draw a vicarious clarity out of being denied access to his own birth father. In reality, Irving’s mother never gave up information about his origins, just as Jenny baits Garp with a single ‘scripted’ story of his conception that leaves him feeling deflated, yet bursting inside with even more unanswerable questions. The novel’s view – that sex equates to death or, at the very least, is a harbinger to all sorts of dissatisfactory and emotional disfigurement, torturous and cruel – is carried over into the movie; ambitiously so, given the climate in American movies back in 1982; screenwriter, Steve Tesich choosing to explore some, if not all, of Irving’s ‘hang-ups’ via Garp’s repeatedly thwarted exploration of his own sexual feelings – rechristened as ‘lust’ by Jenny – without reprisals.  In the novel, Jenny takes the young Garp to Vienna as an escape from American provincialism. In Austria, she and Garp encounter the prostitute. For budgetary and logistic reasons, this intercontinental venue was changed to New York instead. In both cases, this chance encounter that ought to have expanded Garp’s understanding of sex and love, is instead usurped and mined by Jenny as a chapter for her memoir, ‘Sexual Suspect’.  
Interesting – and gutsy – of Irving to cast the fictional Jenny Fields as the empathetic organizer of the Ellen Jamesians – a self-mutilating cult of voiceless women, protesting the rape of a young woman – when, by her own admission, Jenny has raped a comatose and dying technical sergeant merely to conceive Garp. Ultimately, Tesich’s reconstitution of Garp’s marriage to Helen distills what, in the novel, had been multiple affairs with many singles and other married couples, into two separate indiscretions; Garp’s seduction of Duncan and Walt’s teenage babysitter (Sabrina Lee Moore) and Helen’s affair with her graduate student, Michael. This makes the couple’s later reconciliation more palpable and convincing; the audience able to excuse a ‘single’ indiscretion on both sides, recognized by both offending parties as an obvious lapse in judgment, though just as unlikely to embrace any married couple whose morality and attitudes toward marriage are laissez faire to non-existent. The inextricable link between sex and death, even murder, is less darkly drawn in the film than in the novel; the one exception being Walt dying from injuries sustained in the car wreck that causes Michael to lose his manhood between Helen’s clenched teeth after she agrees to fellatio as a parting gesture in their affair. The movie retains John Irving’s wickedness for combining a macabre sense of the perverse and silly, but even further lightens this mood by tipping the scales toward a sort of merciless sardonicism.
It helps that the novel and the movie are set in the afterglow of the fabulous forties; a decade then, as yet, untapped in the movies for its sexual explicitness. There is a great tendency among the young to look upon previous generations, particularly those in the early half of the 20th century, as harbingers of a sort of sexless glamor; women of virtue married to men of valor, everyone doing their part to remain congenially ‘above it all’ where love, lust and sex is concerned. To a large extent, this common view by the novice has been nurtured via the entertainments then in vogue; songs professing unrequited kisses left on a pillow and movies in which a brief interlude of mostly chaste clenches leads to a swift walk down the isle in a flourish of strewn rose petals and groundswell of underscore to punctuate the proverbial ‘…and they all lived happily ever after’ – sleeping in separate beds, preferably, in separate bedrooms, with one foot firmly planted on the floor. But by 1982, the American movies’ fairytale about life as a couple had fallen on crasser times; the graphic nature of sex exorcised in countless ‘love scenes’ that had very little to do with satisfying our cerebral vestiges for a ‘good time’.  
The world, at least, according to Garp, is misshapen, imperfect, dissatisfying and frequently harmful. Here is a man unable to find even the remotest satisfaction in most any relationship he chooses to cultivate; though chiefly, with the women in his life. Ironic, given his aversion to homosexuality in general, Garp’s most cherished and enduring friendship is with the transsexual, Roberta – likely derived from his remembrances of her when she was still a robust footballer, playing professionally for his favorite team. There are shades of the buddy/buddy picture at play in the scenes where Garp and Roberta narrowly escape a psychotic truck driver (Matthew Cowles), whom Garp threatens with a crowbar after he is caught recklessly speeding through their residential neighborhood.  And later, Roberta and Garp are seen sharing a game of touch football, engaging Walt and Duncan in an afternoon’s make-believe of war and conquest, with Roberta as their damsel in distress. And it is Roberta to whom Garp turns in hours of genuine need; a sincere comfort after Jenny’s assassination and Garp and Helen’s recovery from their near-fatal car wreck. 
As a novel, The World According to Garp remains densely packed with scenarios that frequently border on grand guignol; sexual encounters that end badly or scenarios where women struggle to discover themselves from under the postmodern feminist fallout, instead frequently find themselves the victims of an insidiously monolithic patriarchy that even embraces political assassination to remain in control. Deconstructing the novel’s stories within stories takes the reader into a complex netherworld of stumbling social situations and intricately woven character studies, frequently bleak and often quite horrifying. In the book, the fatalistic nature of its protagonist is exhaustive and exhausting. The movie is salvaged from becoming a real downer by screenwriter, Steve Tesich’s refusal to go all the way down this rabbit hole; also, by Robin Williams’ miraculously restrained performance, void of his usual need to take over virtually every scene in which he appears. Instead, we are given a kinder, gentler Garp – still cynical, world-weary and occasionally imbued with Irving’s sense of animosity toward feminists in particular and women in general. But on the whole, Williams’ Garp is a probing, nurturing and soul-searching drifter through life. He discovers his path through the wilderness of angst, self-pity and regrets; albeit, too late to truly appreciate all the meandering misfires as part of the learning curve in the journey gone before it. The intractable nature of Irving’s prose is not so much reinterpreted by Tesich, but played verbatim like a moving tableau of the text, with minor artistic license taken along the way.
The movie, however, lives entirely within its moments, eschewing Irving’s overriding arc of sublime nihilism. As a movie, The World According to Garp is director George Roy Hill’s counterculture folklore to Hollywood’s nationalized whitewash in candy-flossed entertainments. In increments, it’s grim, sour, and excoriating showbiz. But oh, what a show; the bits of business appropriately disturbing to their core; odd people do unsettling things to each other in the spirit of professing to be just normal Average Joes. Overlapping the ostensibly indivisible chasms of politicking and madness, the twain frequently runs a parallel course, unexpectedly meeting right down the middle with nerve-jangling results. As such, The World According to Garp is often wintry and abrasive in its storytelling, yet always with something relevant to say about the modern implosion of suburban life. 
The Warner Archive Blu-ray has been remastered in 2k from a newly created interpositive. The results are impressive but slightly imperfect. Miroslav Ondrícek’s understated cinematography looks gorgeous for the most part, although there are still a few obvious hints of age-related damage scattered throughout this transfer; a speckle here, a fleeting scratch there. The subdued color palette, particularly during outdoor scenes, has been very accurately reproduced. Scenes shot indoors under natural lighting conditions tend to adopt a slightly thicker patina of grain (as they should) but with flesh tones ever so slightly leaning toward an unnatural orange.  Overall, the image is finely detailed and generally film-like, untouched by unpleasant digital manipulations. But it doesn’t really impress. Okay, The World According to Garp is not a movie meant to overwhelm. It’s an earthy, alive and gritty main stream product that plays more like experimental art house. The visuals on this Blu-ray support this assessment. Let’s leave it at that. The original mono audio is presented in 2.0 DTS and is surprisingly robust with good solid clarity.  WAC's Blu-ray is a first-rate presentation of this tenaciously idiosyncratic story. For those willing to invest in the tale being told, there are formidable riches to be mined and treasured forever. Recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


Friday, August 28, 2015

FATAL ATTRACTION: Blu-ray (Paramount 1987) Paramount Home Video

The movie that made every married man even contemplating an extramarital affair cringe, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987) subverts the male fantasy of taking a mistress to bed without reprisals. Instead we get every man's worst nightmare – discovering the gal on the side is both insane and pregnant with his child. In retrospect, Fatal Attraction is a far more insidious thriller than critics of its day gave it credit. Indeed, the premise, that a happily married man could stray even from the perfect wife and mother, simply to satisfy an itch while she is away feathering his nest, and then, be forced to face the consequences of his betrayal with a near death experience, served to ignite a powder keg of feminist debate in 1987.  Militants picketed the movie wherever it played, charging Lyne and screenwriter James Dearden had made a public attack on the decade’s power broker female executive. Why, they inquired, did a highly successful career for women, equate to one becoming a raving psychotic, driven by her hormones?   Fair enough, the film’s Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), a seemingly normal and enterprising go-getter, working as legal counsel for a publishing firm, slips in her lust for attorney at law, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) into a raving and obsessed gargoyle; stalking him, taking his daughter hostage, murdering the family pet and causing Dan’s wife, Beth (Ann Archer) to suffer injuries in a horrific car wreck. But did either Lynne or Dearden consider Alex Forrest a representative of the ‘working woman’?  
In retrospect, it is a thoughtless argument, and one basically asking the wrong question - 'what more could Mrs. Gallagher have done to keep her man?' - when the onus ought to have zeroed in on critiquing just what in the hell was wrong with her man; a guy who could so easily and callously shrug off his marital commitments, simply because she was out of town for the weekend. Ultimately, Lyne and Dearden made no judgment calls or, in fact, gave us any explanations to suffice and quell all the inhuman noise and controversy surrounding the picture. Such is life; rarely, what we would hope it to be or as neatly defined and bookended with reasons, and quite often sneaking up from behind to assault our senses and good name when we least expect it. On the flipside, the emotional castration Dan suffers at Alex’s hand seemed to satisfy at least some, a sort of all-encompassing divine retribution for every husband’s philandering ways. Yet, the punishment inflicted upon Dan by his jilted lover turned enemy spills over to terrorize his wife, Beth (Anne Archer) and their young daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen); the impact of his actions possessing far-reaching ramifications that almost tear apart a family, or at least cause them to reassess their loyalties to one another.
Fatal Attraction is unquestionably a harrowing thriller; yielding to that moment when intense passion crosses the line into a dangerous downward spiral of psychotic obsession. In today’s cynical climate, Lyne’s movie perhaps appears marginally tamer than it did in 1987; its melodramatic arc and somewhat clichéd ‘villainess’ ending, bordering on pure camp. There is no denying screenwriter Dearden paints these characters in very broad brushstrokes: Dan, our wayward cock of the walk, with an egotistical sense of manly attractiveness being brought into question by his own looming mid-life crisis. Beth is his doe-eyed, faithful-as-a-bird-dog Suzie Cream Cheese, desiring to drag her man back to the affluent suburbs. She cannot fathom her man’s wandering eye has already led them all into a den of iniquity soon to rupture with all the violent underpinnings of the San Andreas fault. And Alex is remarkably transparent as the bunny-boiling, 'I am a bad woman, hear me roar' being thrust upon this clan. What salvages the writing are the performances by Michael Douglas, Ann Archer and particularly Glenn Close; the latter giving a brilliant interpretation of the lost - though hardly soulless – creature, who refuses to be dumped like garbage once the man has had his fun.
It is all quite good up to the end; Lyne falling back on the traditional ‘hell hath no fury showdown’ to wrap up the story. The ending to Fatal Attraction was, in fact, forced upon Lyne by the studio after he had already conceived a much more diabolical last act finale - Alex taking a butcher knife to her own throat, the same utensil Dan had handled in an earlier scene; thus, his fingerprints left to be discovered by police, who thereafter assume the 'obvious' - that he has murdered his lover to shut her up: the ultimate betrayal come home to roost and inflict one final devastation on the Gallagher family. Reconsidering Lyne’s finale, one is rather immediately struck by the fact it too doesn’t quite work. Alex, strong-willed, her mental acuity even further askew by hormonal imbalances brought on by her pregnancy, taking her own life and that of her unborn child. Only a few scenes before, she had sent Dan an audio recording, vowing to make him pay for their mistake for the rest of his life. Hell hath no fury…remember; and yet, Alex’s suicide get Dan off the hook in the long run; the police sure to discover, via Beth’s alibi, that Dan was nowhere near Alex’s apartment when the throat-slashing began; the fingerprints easily explained away, since Beth already knows about her husband’s affair, and Dan, now free of both Alex and the bastard child he never wanted in the first place.
For its day, Fatal Attraction trod some particularly tawdry ground in an unexpectedly cheap and tawdry way. The film was ground-breaking in its representation of marital infidelity. Dan’s wife, as example, is not presented to us as the cause of his marital angst. In fact, she is sweetly innocent and utterly charming; better still, a most forgiving and patient spouse. Even more curious, given his ultimate betrayal, Dan thinks so too. And the impetus for the affair is not some growing infatuation between colleagues at work, but carnal-based, sweat-soaked passion, invested on a spur of the moment; a consensual whim, made by two apparently reasonably-minded, well-rounded and consenting adults – both intelligent and old enough to know better. Again, the onus of responsibility here is on Dan – the guy with everything to lose after spending himself on a male ego-driven dare one rainy afternoon. Instead, the focus gradually shifts from Dan to Alex – manipulative, unstable and finally – just plain vanilla nuts. It is to Glenn Close’s credit, she never allows her character to slip completely down this rabbit hole into blow-job/knife-wielding lunacy without alluding to something far more sinister and demonic behind the eye. Clearly, Alex is troubled. But she is also enterprising, her revenge conceived with a systematic determination to inflict maximum anxiety on her casual lover; baiting him with visits to his apartment on the ruse she is house-hunting, introducing herself to Beth, and later, befriending Ellen as a pseudo-maternal influence.   
Adrian Lyne’s approach to this straightforward material is fairly sophisticated; his subtle introduction of Beth and Dan, seen in their idyllic – if slightly cramped – New York apartment, preparing to attend a work-related book-signing with their best friends, Jimmy (Stuart Pankin) and Hildy (Ellen Foley); the perfect segue to Dan’s first casual introduction to Alex. The contrast between these two couples cannot be overstated; Beth’s fragile elegance pitted against Hildy’s more gregarious repartee; Dan’s self-professed peacock, seemingly the straight man to Pankin’s bulbous sidekick.  When first set up, Beth and Dan are clearly the power-brokering pair, exploiting Hildy and Jimmy as their appendages; figures of fun for amusing nights on the town. Lyne gives us glimmers of the unanticipated volatility to follow; Jimmy hitting on Alex at a business mixer, only to be shot down by her murderous stare. This look of absolute glacial hatred melts when Dan attempts a subtler approach to their ‘cute meet’; alas, soon to turn out neither ‘cute’ nor casual. Here, Lyne provides insight into each’s motivations and foreshadows the future crossed paths that will lead a devoted husband and father astray. The genius remains in the casting of Glenn Close; not only for the obvious reason – that she is a superior actress, but equally, because in terms of physical appeal alone, she pales to Anne Archer’s gazelle-like beauty.
Lyne breaks us of the Hollywoodized misconception that a man’s straying is purely motivated on ‘trading up’ his female companion, solely based on her looks. Archer is not only clearly the forerunner, but the winner. Alas, she is also ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ – Lyne exploiting the conventions of these signifiers to suggest Dan could never indulge in the sort of tasteless sexual escapades with a woman he so obviously respects – at least, enough to have put a ring on her finger. That was then. And yet, happier times have persisted – the bloom of love not yet having worn thin when Dan meets Alex. The betrayal is thus all the more unnatural and shocking, because it is not prompted or preceded by anything Beth Gallagher does; her biggest ‘transgression’ – kicking Dan out of their marital bed for one night after he returns from taking the dog for a walk to discover their daughter, Ellen has crawled into bed and fallen asleep next to his wife. And there are no stressors at work either; none that would suggest or support Dan’s need to blow off a little extramarital steam while Beth is away in Connecticut, house-hunting. In fact, Dan is about to be made partner at his law firm.
Casting Michael Douglas as the pivotal maypole around which both women do their dance is inspiring. Beth’s martyrdom is pitted against Alex’s aggressive passion. Both bring about a deeper suffrage. But it is a stretch to suggest Alex seduces Dan. Rather, he willingly allows his virtue to slip, presumably, only for one ‘harmless’ weekend tryst.  Dan gets more than he bargains for as Alex inveigles him in an increasingly well-plotted, if maniacal and harrowing, game of blackmail; the insidious stealth with which she suddenly infects and affects all that is good and decent in all their lives, creeping with all the voracity of an untamed kudzu to entangle this ‘perfect marriage’. But Douglas makes his portrait of this straying ‘family man’ not merely palpable, also queerly sympathetic. In the first act, we cannot help but find Dan Gallagher a reprehensible cad; Douglas conveying an assured bravado and selfishness that naïvely believes he can have both a dutiful wife and a mistress at his beckoned call. However, it is in the middle act where Douglas illustrates a superior interpretation of the oft witnessed ‘cheating spouse’; avoiding not only the more transparent clichés, but even the subtler ones. Douglas gradually peels back the façade of Dan’s male ego to reveal a rather boyish anxiety; being found out escalating into abject fear and then, even more uncharacteristically, stripped down to an honest and empathizing remorse-filled regret for his actions.
Lyne’s last act finale, foisted upon him by the studio, remains something of a minor betrayal to each character’s driving principles - especially Beth’s. She is, after all, the grotesquely injured party in this equation, having endured, not only the indignation in discovering her perfect partner has gone astray; also, survived the emotional roller coaster of Ellen’s faux kidnapping, a near fatal car accident, and, in the finale, almost being murdered at knifepoint by Alex in an upstairs bathroom. Yet, it is Beth who gets Dan off the hook for his extramarital affair by shooting his psychotic lover dead. Sweet revenge or self-defense? We are never entirely certain; the calculating look on Beth’s face as she rescues her husband from being Ginsued by his illicit paramour, registering subliminal satisfaction at being the one to ‘put down’ this rabid hellcat. Lyne’s finale completely eschews the fact Alex is pregnant with Dan’s baby at the time of her murder. Audiences in 1987 did not seem to mind this. But feminists decried Beth’s actions as an assault on the proverbial sisterhood, particularly as it is in defense of the male responsible for both hers and Alex’s emotional misery.
Only in retrospect does Dan’s wounded chivalry, flying up the stairs at the first sound of Beth’s frantic screams, and, expending his rage to disarm Alex of her butcher knife by forcing her head beneath the steaming bath waters, seem, not only less chivalrous, but even more enterprisingly desperate; a means to silence Alex once and for all, thereby –literally – washing away his carnal sins. And, of course, Alex herself is compromised; having begun the story as an intelligent, sane, even playful and forgiving lover, she gradually unravels into the cinema’s tradition of the ‘bad woman’ – very bad, indeed – killing Ellen’s beloved pet rabbit and allowing its boiled remains to be discovered by Beth in a stock pot on the stove; pouring acid on Dan’s BMW, mailing threatening audio tapes to his place of business, and finally turning up uninvited at his apartment, and later, the Gallagher’s newly purchased country home to exact her penultimate revenge.
It is unclear what Alex’s motivations are in the finale as it exists in the film today. Clearly, her plan is to kill Beth. But could she genuinely expect Beth’s murder to liberate Dan into rekindling their affair? While the argument can be made Alex is quite obviously not playing with a full deck; her scenarios are nevertheless flawed and ill-plotted. At least, Lyne’s original ending, Alex committing suicide with the malignant intent to frame Dan for her ‘murder’, is in keeping with the character’s vengeful ambitions to never let him go. Even in death, she would have destroyed his chances for a happy home. As this never occurs in the final cut, we are left with a somewhat unsatisfactory denouement; the family Gallagher, disjointed, shell-shocked and unlikely ever to return to its original state of unity.    
Fatal Attraction opens with the Gallaghers at home; Dan, listening to a deposition in his underwear on the couch as his young daughter, Ellen quietly watches television at his side. Beth has already begun to put on her face for a publishing gala they are expected to attend later in the evening. After leaving Ellen with a babysitter (Jane Krakowski), the couple is joined by good friends, Jimmy and Hildy. Jimmy is feeling his oats, drawn to Alex Forrest who is poised in a slinky gown at the bar. But Jimmy’s harmless flirtation is met with a daggered glare; our first ‘fleeting’ glimpse of the Medusa lurking just beneath. After Jimmy bows out, Dan casually engages Alex in conversation. She is more receptive to him, but still thinks him a ‘naughty boy’ for flirting, particularly as Beth is in another part of the room. The next day, Dan bids Beth and Ellen goodbye as they drive off to spend a weekend at her parents’ Joan (Meg Mundy) and Howard Rogerson (Tom Brennan) in Connecticut. Arriving at the publishers a short while later, to negotiate a contract with a female author whose scandalous exposé about a real affair she had with a senator is threatening a lawsuit, Dan is amused when the client’s legal counsel is none other than Alex.
At negotiations’ end, Dan and Alex agree to share a taxi because it is pouring rain. Instead, they wind up at a nearby bistro where each reveals bits from their past; Alex, inquiring about Dan’s wife and child. When Dan suggests his marriage is ‘good’, Alex comes back with “If it’s so good what are you doing here with me?” Ironically, her directness does not set off any red flags for Dan. He has already decided he won’t be going back to an empty apartment tonight. And so, Fatal Attraction begins to slip into the mire of a heated weekend sex-capade; complete with elevator blow-jobs and some fairly hardcore acrobatics in the bedroom and kitchen. Afterward, Alex takes Dan dancing to her favorite Latin-American club. As Alex lives in a walk up near the meat packers’ district, no one pays attention to their comings and goings at all hours. The next afternoon, Alex coaxes Dan to play hooky from his work-related responsibilities; the two engaging in a spirited game of touch football in Central Park. When Dan fakes a heart attack, he causes Alex to momentarily become panicked. Revealing his sick little prank, she admonishes him with a fake story of her own, about her father dying right before her eyes when she was barely five years old. As Dan suddenly feels guilty about his stupid prank, Alex bursts into laughter, revealing to him her father is not dead but living in Arizona. Like most things Dan comes to know about Alex, this too will later be proven as a lie.
But for now, the two share more intimate stories about their youth; more spaghetti and sex and opera music (Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, to be exact – a prophetic choice, given Lyne’s original ending). But by now, it’s Sunday. Beth will be coming home soon. Dan’s attempt to disentangle himself from their weekend tryst leads to a disastrous moment;  first, of violent refusal, as Alex claws at the buttons on his shirt, tearing apart the fabric in a rage; then, in her plunge into suicide, slicing open her wrists and smearing Dan’s face in the blood from her open wounds. He manages to bind her cuts and put her to bed before slinking home like a penitent drunkard. When Beth arrives, Dan feigns a boring weekend at home. She tells him about her restful weekend – of Ellen’s desire to have a pet rabbit and of the beautiful cottage, not far from her parents; possibly, the ideal place for them to have a real ‘fresh start’ at last. Dan resists at first.  But then Alex begins to stalk him at home; mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night, ending in hang-ups when Beth answers, or thinly veiled threats made when Dan picks up the receiver. To put an end to the harassment, Dan agrees to meet Alex publicly in the subway, whereupon she confides she is carrying his child. Dan offers to pay for an abortion. But Alex insists she will carry the child to term.
Under duress, Dan agrees to buy Beth her dream cottage in Connecticut. While Dan, Beth, Jimmy and Hildy celebrate, Alex is seen, huddled on the floor of her apartment, turning the light in her bedroom on and off as she weeps real tears listening to Madam Butterfly.  More confrontations ensue. Dan attempts to stand his ground with Alex, when, in reality he knows he doesn’t have the proverbial ‘leg’ to stand on – except, perhaps, the one that got him into trouble in the first place. “You're so sad. You know that, Alex? Lonely and very sad,” he tells her. “Don't you ever pity me, you smug bastard,” she threatens. “I'll pity you because you're sick,” he challenges, to which she astutely summarizes “Why? Because I won't allow you treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?” A short while later, Dan and Beth move into their new home.  Alex is anything but out of the picture. In fact, she deliberately douses Dan’s Beamer in battery acid; then, tails him as he rents a car to drive himself home. Observing the ‘happy family’ through the window, Alex becomes disturbed and throws up in the bushes.
The next afternoon, the family returns home to a gruesome discovery. As Ellen and Dan race to the backyard to play with Ellen’s pet rabbit, Beth enters the house; discovering her stock pot boiling on the gas stove. Knowing she has not left anything cooking on the stove, Beth approaches the pot with trepidation, discovering the rabbit’s mutilated remains cooking inside. After putting a distraught Ellen to bed, Beth suggests Dan telephone the police. Instead, he confesses the truth to her; of his affair with Alex, the possibility she is carrying his love child and the likelihood she is responsible for the bunny boiler. Beth is outraged, ordering Dan from the house. He moves out. But Alex is not about to leave the family alone. Alex befriends Ellen; picking her up from school and taking her to a nearby amusement park where they ride the roller coaster. When Beth arrives at the school she is informed by Ellen’s teachers, the child is gone. Believing the worst, Beth drives like a maniac through the streets, frantically looking for her daughter, eventually causing a terrible car wreck that puts her in the hospital. Meanwhile, Alex has dropped Ellen off at home unharmed.
When Dan learns of the accident he storms Alex’s apartment, perhaps intent on murdering her. The two struggle in the various rooms, Dan wrestling a carving knife loose from Alex’s grip. She seems erotically pleased to have surrendered the knife to him; again, director, Adrian Lyne’s original scenario (to have Alex slit her own throat, but with a knife covered in Dan’s fingerprints) would have borne out this plot twist. Instead, Dan returns to Beth and begs her forgiveness. She recognizes his remorse as genuine and allows him to move back into the family home. But on her first night’s return to take a soothing bath, Alex breaks into the house and confronts Beth at knife point in the upstairs bathroom. Dan is none the wiser for this intrusion until Beth screams for help. He charges up the stairs, bursts into the room and attacks Alex. She violently slices the air in retaliation, the blade superficially wounding Dan in the chest. As he forces her head below the surface of the bathtub water, Alex fakes drowning. Dan loosens his grip and reclines on the edge of the tub, presuming the ordeal is over. However, Alex has one last trick up her sleeve. She leaps from the bath, knife in hand and ready to stab Dan in the back, only to be fatally shot by Beth with the gun the family bought for self-defense earlier.  As police swarms the house in an aftermath of sirens and questioning, the camera casually pans to a silver-framed photograph in the foyer; the Gallaghers, smiling blissfully.
In retrospect, Fatal Attraction is a watershed in American cinema; Adrian Lyne’s direction and the performances of these three principles in the ill-fated lover’s triangle, managed to generate holocausts and hell fires as no other intimate drama/sex thriller ever had before it. Viewed today, a lot of the precepts and pacing in Fatal Attraction has become diluted and formulaic from our seeing too many like-minded adulterous melodramas, leaving contemporary audiences to wonder what all the fuss was about with Lyne’s movie. It is important to recall virtually none of these machinations were ‘old hat’ when Fatal Attraction debuted. And today, the movie still holds a hallowed place as shocking, yet tasteful cinema.  Despite the feminist backlash the picture endured, Fatal Attraction was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic; Lyne resisting immediate offers to do ‘another Fatal Attraction’ – although, subsequent movie projects like Indecent Proposal (1993) and his lackluster remake of Lolita (1997) would prove variations on a theme. In 2002, Lyne relented to visiting the same well twice, and almost verbatim, with Unfaithful; the roles reversed. This time, it was Diane Lane’s bored housewife who took a penniless artist and bookseller to bed, leaving her husband apoplectic and eventually turned secret killer of her lover. But by then, the salacious machinations on display had been distilled to one-dimensional and mechanical intrigues. Yet these, quite simply, failed to excite.
Arguably, Fatal Attraction could have been better had Paramount not balked at Lyne’s more understated conclusion, forcing him to cobble together the ‘evil villainess’ scenario as it plays today. This ending is undeniably heart-pounding. But it is also structurally flawed. For example; how is it that no one in this small community of country houses sees Alex approaching the property or entering the house? Dan sets the alarm while Beth retires upstairs to take her bath. How long has Alex been in the house and, more importantly, given her murderous impulsiveness, what is she waiting for? Furthermore, once Beth and Alex begin to struggle for the knife in the upstairs bathroom – with Beth, at first, shrieking several times for help – why does no one, including Ellen (who is sleeping only a few feet away) immediately rush to her aid? Lyne uses the shrill piercing sound of a whistling kettle to presumably ‘drown out’ Beth’s screams. But we are not talking about an expansive estate with many rooms; rather a cozy cottage-styled home with few nooks and crannies in which to hide. One gets the sense from earlier scenes played out inside the home that even the slightest creaking of the stairs would alert everyone to an intruder. Yet, on this night, ‘a kettle’ stifles cries for help and voices shouting in an upstairs bath. Finally, although it is Dan who attempts to drown Alex in their bathtub, it is actually Beth who murders Alex with a fatal gunshot, leaving Dan – more or less – the emasculated victim of this penultimate assault.
None of these glaring oversights mattered to audiences in 1987. When Fatal Attraction hit theaters it became an instant sensation, either intentionally or unintentionally setting off that powder keg for outraged feminists, who denounced it as masochistic tripe. Curiously, this only made the public want to see it more. It has become something of a sport with movie-goers ever since to defy negative publicity and indulge an even more disturbing fascination; to see a ‘good picture’ that is supposed to be bad. In retrospect, Fatal Attraction is an artful entertainment, Adrian Lyne plucking at the chords of the audience’s curiosity, contempt and fear to tell a simple story about the darkest inhibitions to which man and woman can succumb without much effort or resolution. Howard Atherton’s cinematography and Maurice Jarre’s understated score conspire to bolster this understated critique of self-destructive nature, unable to leave well enough alone and driven by the most primal urges, despite centuries of striving for a more cultured set of moral principles by which to live. There have been other erotic thrillers before and since Fatal Attraction, arguably, none so skillfully ricocheting between moments of fitful passion and unadulterated obsession. This is what makes Fatal Attraction much more an artistic masterpiece than a commercial colossus; although, in the summer of ’87 it proved to be both.  
Paramount’s Blu-Ray rectifies many sins committed on previous DVD incarnations of Fatal Attraction. For some reason, previous regimes at the studio never bothered to revisit original camera negatives, but used imperfect print masters to slap their movies to disc format. The result: an image ultimately lacking in fine detail, with some slight variances in color density and balancing and, at least three generations removed from fine grain sources, sporting a barrage of age-related artifacts. But now we get the Blu-ray: a true 1080p transfer from original elements and virtually free of debris and damage. You’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with this disc. The Blu-Ray sports refined and very vibrant colors, true to life and the period in which the movie was photographed. Shadow and contrast have been beautifully rendered for a very sharp – though not artificially enhanced – smooth transfer. Indigenous grain has been well-preserved. Here is an early contribution by Paramount to do right by its own catalog in the years before it suddenly decided to sell-off ‘grazing rights’ to its back catalog to Warner Home Video. Since that time, we have seen very few quality transfers coming down the pipeline. The DTS stereo audio will impress. Extras include featurettes previously a part of Paramount’s Special Collector’s Edition DVD; most presented in HD herein, including the original trailer. Bottom line: highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)