|Randy Quaid, Jack Nicholson, Otis Young,|
The Last Detail
(click to enlarge)
The new Blu-ray Disc label kid on the block, Indicator is an outfit from the UK with backing from, among others Nick Wrigley who founded the prestigious Masters of Cinema back in the early days of the shiny silver disc, late 1990s. Their first tranche of releases includes ten or so titles previously released elsewhere (the US and France) in substantially upgraded new masters of previously reasonable editions, like Bunny Lake, Fat City, Body Double and others, most of them apparently licensed from Fox and Sony with a leaning towards 70s and 80s era American semi indie with studio distrib pictures from still highly regarded directors. They seem to have a mission, although I haven't read one as such, to promote the 70s Indie production era not only with some quite immaculate curatorial taste (Lumet, Huston, Anderson, Ashby, Preminger etc) but in terms of audiovisual quality the product is at the very top industry end of quality control. Each disc is a real class act down to the box, art and design work, menu and authoring and the mastering of already premium 2k and 4k masters is up there at the Criterion and Warner Archive level with marked improvements in quality to everything they've released.
Hal Ashby's wonderful The Last Detail (1973) from what appears to be a new master from Grover Crisp's team at Sony is no exception. I can barely remember my first impression of how MIchael Chapman's photography looked in 35mm but this rendition delivers the grain and the darker tones of natural light qualities with superb fidelity and detail. I don't think I've seen a better representation on BD or even UHD4k yet of natural film grain from such low light level and exposure, all of which almost gives the movie a quasi 16mm verité feel. Albeit with a superbly controlled mise en scène that plays and balances alternating close, two and three shots of the three leads with immaculate control. Ashby's mise en scène is entirely performance based, as are the meanings he derives from both text and beyond in the dialogue of Robert Towne's exquisite screenplay for this masterpiece.
On their first break at the start of the great road trip with their Navy prisoner played by Randy Quaid, Ashby gives chaperones Otis Young ("Mule"), and Jack NIcholson's "Badass" a chance to swing Nicholson's instantly recognizable OCD schtick into a minor angst moment at a diner about Quaid's cheeseburger needing to be sent back to melt the cheese. In wide shot. Ashby ends the throwaway little sequence with a riff of contented silence, in which the three ooze shared happiness at the satisfaction of a fine burger and milkshake just as they wanted it. Thus it is with Ashby, maybe the greatest post hippy era director IMO, albeit a king among titans like Penn, Altman and very few others.
Ashby's seven features from The Landlord in 1970 to Being There in 1979 constitute one of the most consistently fine bodies of personal expression in post war American cinema. He shares with artists no less than Renoir, McCarey and Ozu an irresistible tendency towards sweetness and affection for his characters, even when at their most disturbed or vulnerable, and his movies always heave with the urge to happiness after so much regret and melancholy, which they very often achieve, bringing us with them. The sweetness is so central to his sensibility he encourages as deadpan an actor as NIcholson when he's reacting to Quaid, who is a virgin staring at a photograph of actual fucking in a porn mag, to respond with the potentially barnstorming line, "There are more things in this world than you will ever know", with a kind of expressively restrained, awesome nobility, and respect for Quaid's virginal character that one might never have expected from either Nicholson or Badass.
I can't recommend the release enough, and anyone who loves Ashby, even if less than I, has every reason to keep all of these seven great films in their collections to revisit as often as they please. As a heads up Criterion is releasing next week Being There from a new 4K supervised by DP Caleb Deschanel. Another chance to re-evaluate for me at least, and perhaps for others as well.