#027

8 Mile
Universal DVD

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On the “making-of” featurette that comes with the film, Eminem and director Curtis Hanson insist that 8 Mile isn’t the Eminem story. I’d like to know just what a film about a white, working-class Detroit rapper who lives in a trailer park with his hopeless mother might actually be about.

This bit of dissembling aside, Hanson might have made the sort of slow-burn classic that endures for years, thanks mostly to its appeal to the simmering angst of a constantly renewed youth audience. Eminem might be playing himself - re-named Jimmy “B. Rabbit” Smith - but he does it well - better than was expected even from those of us who anticipated a movie the moment we saw the “My Name Is” video.

Hanson shoots the film in the usual palette of bruise-blues and fluorescent pallor that cues “urban gritty”, and lets the musical numbers - impromptu raps that flow out of Rabbit’s daily life - take over the film. While everybody is raving about Chicago’s revitalization of the musical genre, Hanson’s film might actually be a major but overlooked innovation.

The story itself - unhappy youth, demanding peer group, unfortunate girlfriend - reminded me of Franc Roddam’s 1979 film version of The Who’s Quadrophenia, a film that’s endured longer than its transitory pop culture moment; 8 Mile may do the same, long after Eminem is doing HBO miniseries and rap has mutated beyond recognition.

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The Killers
Criterion DVD

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Criterion’s two-disc set brings together two film versions of Ernest Hemingway’s pivotal short story about a pair of hired killers and a man who wants to die. It’s an essential package for anyone who wants to study how film noir mutated between its heyday in the 40s and the 60s, when it was supposed to have gone dormant.

Robert Siodmak’s 1946 version is textbook noir, and launched the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. This set demands that you compare the inky blacks and rich mood of Siodmak’s film with Don Siegel’s 1964 version, with John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson in the Lancaster and Gardner roles, Lee Marvin and Clu Galager as the killers, and Ronald Reagan as the heavy - his last acting role ever.

Siegel’s film looks like it was set in a series of cheap postcards, in a world where the sun is always directly overhead. It’s flatter and meaner, and according to Clu Galager’s reminiscence, included as a bonus, the set was rife with macho competition, emanating mostly from Marvin, who performed his powerful death scene while stinking drunk. Also included is a tutorial on the films by film scholar Stuart Kaminsky, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s rarely-seen 1956 student short film version of the story - a splendid and offbeat package.

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In A Lonely Place
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Humphrey Bogart’s screen persona always hinted at a reserve of violence - the grin on his face when he pounds Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon is proof enough. Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place pushed Bogart’s persona to the limit, forcing us to contemplate all that cynicism and suppressed rage without the romantic idealism that contained it in films like Casablanca and The Big Sleep.

Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a once-popular Hollywood screenwriter fingered for the murder of a hat-check girl. His only alibi is his beautiful neighbour, played by Gloria Grahame, who lies for him out of her own troubled attraction to Steele’s hair-trigger charisma, which cracks under the pressure of the murder investigation.

In another film, they might stand a chance, but Ray stacks the deck, painting a world as harsh and cynical as Bogart’s view of it, suffusing the whole thing with a tense, doomed atmosphere. Includes an appreciation of the film by director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, L.A. Confidential), whose love of this bleak, rarely-seen, and beautifully-restored gem is shared by fans such as myself.

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Das Boot: Superbit Edition
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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The Superbit edition of Wolfgang Petersen’s claustrophobic masterpiece is a no-frills package, with the three-and-a-half-hour plus film stretched over two discs. It might lack bonus features, but the rich quality of the digital transfer is a near-perfect way to experience the film’s textural symphony of sweat, grease, oil, smoke, and other pungent hints at the repugnant conditions of life aboard a German U-boat. Short of taking care to watch it in a boiler room, and only after refusing to bathe for a month, it’s the definitive way to experience the film.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.