Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and UNDER FIRE on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Twilight Time - BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and UNDER FIRE on Blu-ray

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965; Otto Preminger)
BUNNY LAKE is an example of one of those "is it real or a dream?" movies. Early on in the commentary accompanying this disc, screenwriter Lem Dobbs mentions Kafka and Orson Welles' film THE TRIAL as points of comparison and that's an apt way to go. Though BUNNY LAKE's narrative is much more grounded in reality, it is still nonetheless disorienting in parts. What Otto Preminger has created here (in what I consider to be one of his best films) is a haunting mystery fable of sorts. We are introduced to two characters (played by Keir Dullea and Carol Lynley) and it is not immediately clear what their relationship is. What is clear is that Lynley's character discovers that her daughter Bunny has disappeared from her school. Through a variety of circumstance, we start to question if Bunny really exists or not. This premise was recycled later in FLIGHT PLAN with Jodie Foster in 2005. It's a great dramatic premise, so it's easy to see why. As a parent myself, it's hard to shake the feeling that there's the ever so slightest chance that my little girl could be snapped up and whisked off if I take my eyes off of her for more than a minute. That thought alone is so relentlessly panic-inducing that it aligns nicely with movie storytelling as its something many parents can relate to. How horrible would it be to lose your child and to have no idea where they are? That is pure terror incarnate. So with BUNNY LAKE, we have that anxiety combined with a slow burn mystery that begins to evolve when an older police Inspector (Laurence Olivier) gets involved and begins his investigation. I don't want to talk much further about the plot as it's a movie that I went into fairly cold my first time and I recommend that any new seekers do the same. There are a few other notable things about this film I'd like to mention though. First, it has a disturbingly creep title sequence by the great Saul Bass which features a silhouetted hand ripping strips of what appears to be child's construction paper off of parts of the screen to reveal each group of credits. As is the case with most Saul Bass title sequences, this one is quite inspired. Secondly, BUNNY LAKE features the popular 60s band The Zombies in a silly but enjoyable spotlight role (they are playing on TV in a bar at one point). Now many folks may be familiar with their hit song "Time of the Season" (as I was), but when I heard them play "Just Out of Reach" in the movie, it grabbed me in a big way. I sought out more of their music and they've since become one of my favorite groups ever. The connection I made to The Zombies because of this movie in combination with it being a fun psychological mystery makes it a personal favorite. This disc looks great (transfer-wise) and was one of my most anticipated Blu-rays of 2014. 

Special Features:
-This disc features an outstanding commentary with Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. I'm already a huge fan of Kirgo and Redman's dynamic and when you throw Dobbs into that mix, it's an absolutely perfect fit. Dobbs is an interesting combination of devoted cinephile and academic-sounding in his contribution to this great track. There are many wonderful stylistic  and thematic observations by all involved as well as lots of cinematically historical asides. It's like sitting in on a singularly focused dinner conversation all about Otto Preminger and BUNNY LAKE. It's a conversation you'd love to participate in. I think that is what makes these Twilight Time commentaries so neat. They are at once personal, intimate, relaxed, intelligent and entertaining. I enjoyed this one a lot. A perfect addition. 

Bonus: An interview with Otto Preminger circa 1973 on a program called DAY AT NIGHT:

UNDER FIRE (1983; Roger Spottiswoode)
"I don't take sides, I take pictures."
When I worked at my old video store in L.A. I was of course a little starstruck when some directors would come in. Quentin Tarantino was one that blew my mind a little, but I was aware he'd been a customer long before I ever actually saw him in the store. We kept records of each customers' purchases and as stalker-y as it might sound, I had to see what kind of stuff he'd bought in the last. There's was a ton of stuff listed and a few of the titles totally made sense as I'd seen him talk about them in print years earlier . Then there were the offbeat gems I never would have expected. UNDER FIRE was one of them. Maybe he bought it on a whim, but regardless his purchase was the impetus for me checking the movie out. Not that I wouldn't nevessarily have gotten around to it someday - the cast is quite outstanding. You'd have me at Nick Nolte and Gene Hackmsn alone but when you add in Joanna Cassidy, Ed Harris and Richard Masur and I am 100% sold. The film mightn't be any good, but I'd give it a look anyway. Thankfully UNDER FIRE is good actually. Quite good. The script was notably co-written by the oft more sports oriented Ron Shelton and I must admit that it impressed me. And Nick Nolte almost always impresses me. He's one if those actors that really carries with him the impression of a life lived. Like a real-deal kind of life, full of adventurous choices and probably many mistakes. I don't feel like there are too many actors like him anymore. Maybe folks who live lives like he does don't go into acting as much as they used to (and I couldn't blame them). Regardless, he has character in spades and he foists it upon any movie that will have him one gravelly-voiced line at a time. Nolte is a true torch-carrier for the Robert Mitchum persona and he ocassionally reminds of the man himself. In UNDER FIRE, there are many moments where Nolte is smoking a cigarette and I couldn't help but think of OUT OF THE PAST.

Moreso than a lot of war films I've seen, UNDER FIRE really seems to give a solid approximation of what it might be like to be in the midst of a real military (and guerrilla) conflict. The movie's main characters (especially Nolte's) have a crazy habit of putting themselves "in the sh*t" so to speak and the feeling of chaos that comes with those situations. It's that chaos that feels like a real war to me. 

Special Features:
Twilight Time hits it out of the park again on this one and I'm afraid the disc might be overlooked on the average "best discs of 2014" list (I also feel like less folks are reading those lists nowadays). So they've included not one, but two commentary tracks on this release and that's pretty great. 
-the first commentary track is with director Roger Spottiswoode, assistant editor Paul Seydor, photo-journalist Matthew Naythons and Nick Redman. This is a terrific track. A fascinating discussion of the process behind the making of the film and events that inspired elements of the story. Having director Spottiswoode involved only makes it better.
-the second track features music mixer-producer Bruce Botnick, music editor Kenny Hall, film historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. This commentary is primarily focused on Jerry Goldsmith, his score for this film and his creative process in general. Cool track for Goldsmith fans.

-also "Joanna Cassidy Remembers UNDER FIRE" which is a short 3-minute retrospective interview with the actress.
-an isolated track for Jerry Goldsmith's score is another added supplement.

This is a really solid release from Twilight Time and an underrated film worth discovering. This disc goes very well with TT's Blu-ray of SALVADOR from earlier this year. Watch them both together.

Both BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and UNDER FIRE can be found for sale at Screen Archives:

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