Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blu-ray Review: THE SWIMMER (1968)


2-Disc Blu-ray+DVD Combo

Label: Grindhouse Releasing

Region Code: Region FREE
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Rating: PG
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Burt Lancaster, Joan Rivers 
Director: Frank Perry
Some films just take you by surprise - they come out of the celluloid ether and intoxicate you from scene one and for me The Swimmer (1968) is one of those rare experiences. If it weren't for this screener landing in my lap I may never have found it on my own. Burt Lancaster is an actor that for whatever the reason I have never sought-out having watched only two of his previous films: the terror classic Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) and while I enjoyed both apparently Lancaster didn't leave an impression on the younger me. He was old school Hollywood actor and I honestly just never made it a point to get familiar with his work. 

In The Swimmer Lancaster as a down-on-his-luck ad exec named Ned Merrill who while visiting his upper-crust Connecticut neighbors decides he will swim home by hopping from pool by pool through his neighbors back yards until he reaches his home just over the hill. It's a strange and wonderful idea, as he begins his journey you can see his well liked by his neighbors who all converse with him pleasantly enough, but with each successive encounter you pick-up on the way the friends receive what he is saying, as if there was something not-quite-right with his perception and certainly we discover as the pool hopping continues that Merrill is swimming against the tides of reality leading to a gut-punch finale.

The Swimmer is a gorgeous film shot by cinematographer David L. Quaid (Exorcist II: The Heretic) with wonderful inventive movement and weird angles that perfectly capture the upper-crust pools and beauty of the natural scenery - the entire film has a slightly hallucinatory atmosphere about it. 

The characters Merrill encounters on his whimsical journey are great, an array of East Coast upper crust snobs who obsess over their pools and dinner parties but fail to appreciate the scenic beauty all around them. I was reminded a bit of the characters seen in the films of Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) by way of Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale).

Lancaster was 52 at the time of filming and his physique is impressive decked out in only a skimpy pair of swim-shorts. On the Blu-ray extras one of the crew mention that the entire crew would suck in their tummies when in the presence of the trim star - even the director went on a crash-diet apparently. Lancaster has charm and charisma to spare, his performance really does convey the crumbling sanity of the character but he's so likable. He conveys so much with wistful glances and very little dialogue, a lot of it has to do with his piercing blue eyes. His encounters with a bitter former lover and babysitter who once had a crush on him are a few of my favorite scenes, these are the scenes when his reality start to unravel.  This is a fantastic watch and by the bitter end the once seemingly odd tag line really does seem quite appropriate, "When you talk about "The Swimmer" will you talk about yourself?"

Blu-ray: God bless Grindhouse Releasing and the good work they do for obscure cult cinema. They give The Swimmer (1968) a stellar 1080p presentation framed in it;s original widescreen aspect ratio with a pleasing layer of film grain. It's a gorgeous image with a generous amount of fine detail - those close-up looks great - and the amount of depth and clarity is a plus. This is a gorgeous film and the crystal blue waters and lush wooded areas are very pleasing to the eye - visually this transfer from Grindhouse is a home run.

Audio chores are handled by an English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono track that support the film just fine, it's well-balanced and clean with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. Fans of the Marvin Hamlisch (The Spy Who Loved Me Score) will be pleased by the inclusion of an isolated music score score (Dolby Digital Mono). 

Grindhouse have stacked this disc with extras beginning with an exhaustive 2.5 hour documentary by Chris Innis featuring in-depth interviews with stars Janet Landgard, Joan Rivers and Marge Champion, composer Marvin Hamlisch, film editor Sidney Katz, assistant directors Michael Hertzberg and Ted Zachary, UCLA Olympic swim coach Bob Horn, and Joanna Lancaster - it leaves no stone unturned and presents an unvarnished look back at the production with the cast and crews experiences on set with Burt Lancaster on a somewhat troubled production. A few of the storytellers stray a bit but from the film but I love hearing the old Hollywood stories!

Director Allison Anders (Four Rooms) interviews Marge Champion after talking about first-catching the film on a late night broadcast on TMC recorded sometime in 2013. The author of the short-story which the film is based on John Cheever reads the original short story which is a treat. plus we get a 12-page color booklet with still, posters and behind-the-scenes shots and writing on the film from director Stuart Gordon (From Beyond) and Chis Innis who produced the doc on the disc and is the editor of the Hurt Locker. On top of that there are extensive still galleries, the original theatrical trailer and TV spots for the film. An accompanying DVD features the film and mirrors the extras from the Blu-ray in standard-def.

Special Features:
- Spectacular new digital restoration created from 4K scans for optimal picture quality
- "The Story of THE SWIMMER" - brand new, five-part, 2-1/2 hour documentary by Oscar-winner Chris Innis featuring in-depth interviews with stars Janet Landgard, Joan Rivers and Marge Champion, composer Marvin Hamlisch, film editor Sidney Katz, assistant directors Michael Hertzberg and Ted Zachary, UCLA Olympic swim coach Bob Horn, and Joanna Lancaster

- Allison Anders interviews Marge Champion (17:55)
- The original NEW YORKER short story read by author John Cheever (25:42)
- 12 page booklet with liner notes by legendary director Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR)
- Rare production stills from the lost alternate scenes
- Extensive Still Galleries,
- Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots (2:43)

- Isolated Stereo Music Track (Dolby Digital) 
- Filmographies

Verdict: The Swimmer (1968) is a weird and wonderful mid-life crisis film unlike anything I've seen before and I give this a huge recommend. It's been a great year for Grindhouse with a spate of disparate cult-classic titles, at this point I am down for wherever they wanna take me. We're in good hands, so just enjoy the ride and the superior audio-visual presentations with loads of awesome extras - Grindhouse never disappoint. 4 Outta 5 

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