Reveling in '70s Nostalgia: New Blu-rays for Your Home Film Festival

Some '70s movies are more '70s than others.

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What it is. Mustached and freak-haired Elliott Gould teams with pre-Baretta Robert Blake in a police procedural about smart-aleck, rule-breaking, hot-dogging Los Angeles vice cops whose attempts to bring down a crime boss (Allen Garfield) are thwarted by a corrupt system. The gritty '70s cynicism leaves plenty of time for public shoot-outs and a climactic chase scored with Billy Goldenberg's cop-show funk. This Blu-ray remasters and expands on a previous on-demand DVD-R.

Where it's at. Peter Hyams states in his desultory commentary that all incidents in his writer-director debut "really happened" and are taken from interviews. His exciting visual style tracks ahead of his characters, even in chases through real locations, such as the big setpiece in an open-air market. There's also a brawl in a gay bar (with Antonio Fargas as a belligerent biter) that shows how such places were routinely rousted; Hyams says he cleared the script with a gay alliance who participated in the scene and later complained about it; guys kissing and dancing may have been shocking to 1974 audiences, but they're presented frankly and it literalizes the homo-erotic undercurrent of the cop buddies. There's also limited commentary from Gould.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson

What it is. "Sitting Bull says history is nothing but disrespect for the dead." In 1885, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is a tatty spectacle that exploits "history" as legend for his own glorious myth, and Bill's latest idea is to exhibit the famous Sioux chief. Robert Altman's trademark bustle among many characters, co-scripted with Alan Rudolph and "suggested" by Arthur Kopit's play Indians, finds room for Paul Newman, Geraldine Chaplin (as Annie Oakley), Burt Lancaster, Joel Grey, Harvey Keitel and Kevin McCarthy, with Pat McCormick and Shelley Duvall as President and Mrs. Cleveland.

Where it's at. Calling this one of Robert Altman's minor '70s efforts is only to say it's not a masterpiece, but this film about crass hucksters (extending to politics) lacks the spark that would lift its sour glimpse of "the show business". That said, scenes with small Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) and his huge interpreter (Will Sampson) have life and wit, underlining that they're show-stealers from the others' empty parades. Some shots have an out-of-focus smudge at the bottom center of the image or to the right--a flaw in the original photography? Unimportant extras are the trailer and a vintage promo film.


Welcome to L.A.

What it is. Several jaded, neurotic or whimsical characters criss-cross in the Los Angeles music world. Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Sissy Spacek, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, Viveca Lindfors, Lauren Hutton, Denver Pyle and singer-songwriter Richard Baskin are among those present. Chaplin's character is possibly the best conceived, especially when she speaks to the camera, while Spacek provides the sight of housecleaning topless while wearing slacks that match the wallpaper.

Where it's at. With its restless, insistent camera and musical interludes tying together many open-ended plotlines, Alan Rudolph's film has much in common with those of its producer, Robert Altman, while also claiming Rudolph's quirky territory of lost souls seeking love. This Blu-ray upgrades a previous on-demand DVD-R release.


Figures in a Landscape

What it is. A tough middle-aged lout (Robert Shaw, who scripted) and a young man (Malcolm McDowell, fresh from symbolizing rebellious youth in If but not yet icon-ified in A Clockwork Orange ) flee across rocky, hilly, rural terrain pursued by soldiers and a helicopter as they make for the mountain border. Their odyssey is brutal, violent and on the verge of surreal, with the quasi-enemies exposing their fears and flaws while working together against a large, godlike, faceless foe.

Where it's at. Joseph Losey caps his series of '60s enigmas with a straightforward action piece that never explains the set-up, which might involve ordinary criminals or military prisoners or even spies in what's evidently Franco's Spain (where it's filmed). Thus, the adventure is pared down to the elemental and existential: men in nature, men in war, men in uneasy alliance, like The Defiant Ones meets Waiting for Godot. Attentive to textures, the photography situates its men as specimens in space according to Losey's predilections, alternating the beautiful and indifferent with the majestic and menacing. The burning climax can't help reminding viewers of Vietnam imagery. Richard Rodney Bennet's music is modernist jangling dissonance, employed sparely but effectively.



What it is. When he died at age 31, silent film star Rudolph Valentino became the first 20th Century superstar to create an enduring sensation by dying at the height of his fame, leading to riots and suicides surrounding his funeral. This film uses that media circus for flashbacks of the actor's life from the memories of several women, played by Leslie Caron, Michelle Phillips, Carol Kane and Felicity Kendal. Rudolph Nureyev gives a committed and graceful performance as the central enigma. The result is a glittering collage in which overstatement masks the subtleties--not unlike its hero.

Where it's at. The typically off-kilter biopic from Ken Russell isn't one of his best or most extravagant of the decade, though it still parades eye-popping glamour, camp, and his sometimes aggressive and beloved tastelessness. Nureyev's impressive talent is obvious in the Sheik scene, for this is a film of equal opportunity nudity. In a well-researched and generous commentary, critic Tim Lucas gives a convincing plea for its overlooked status and compares the film with reality and other Russell titles. Extras include Valentino footage and remarks by Orson Welles.


The Complete Lady Snowblood

What it is. Based on a Japanese comic, Lady Snowblood and its sequel follow a cold, relentless, bruised beauty (Meiko Kaji), trained since childhood in the brutal arts of assassination, as she cuts a swath through the society that created her in early 20th Century Japan. Still jaw-dropping after 40 years and a clear influence on the many later rogue hitman and hitwoman films and TV shows.

Where it's at. Now this is how to make an eye-popping, ultra-violent, feminist-slanted, delirious widescreen revenge melodrama. It works as pulp, as pop art, and as electrifiying, resonant critique. This is one of the cornerstone inspirations for Kill Bill, and Quentin Tarantino would be the first to tell you there's nothing like going back to the classics. The only extras are interviews with the writers. It would be best if each film were on its own disc, but the 2K digital restorations still look great.

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