Rupert Pupkin Speaks: The Criterion Collection - THE FISHER KING on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Criterion Collection - THE FISHER KING on Blu-ray

THE FISHER KING (1991; Terry Gilliam)
Terry Gilliam was one of the directors that I became a big fan of when I was getting seriously into movies in late high school and early college. He absolutely mesmerized me. His vision, style and flair for all things fantasy really appealed to me back then (as they still do now I suppose). He, along with guys like Kubrick and Scorsese were the ones who made me more aware of what a director did and how they could creatively put their stamp on a movie. It was along the lines of "Auteur Theory", which I would come to study in later college. I've since come to see that the idea that a director is the sole author of a film and the creative stamp comes predominantly from them is kind of a tough pill to swallow (filmmaking is so truly collaborative), but I still hold onto the tenets of the theory and certainly see the stylistic choices that some directors make that end up forging their movies look a certain way and feel unique from others. Gilliam was and is a guy that I idolize. When I saw BRAZIL for the first time it really had a profound effect on me. It was so not like anything I had seen at that time. It was so quirky and idiosyncratic but cohesive in this strange way. It definitely felt like something that had sprung from the mind of an insane man in a lot of ways. This was the good kind of insane though. The benevolent, smiling crazy guy in the corner that amuses you. It had some darkness to it though to and that gave it even more weight for me. It also seemed to be coming from a place of artistic appreciation and not just film appreciation that gave it some extra gloriousness. Gilliam is certainly a guy who is inspired by more than just other movies and I think that is part of what makes his films so interesting. That combined with his expansive and childlike (if a bit skewed) imagination make him this remarkable visionary. 
One thing that is interesting about THE FISHER KING is that it was something of a crossover movie for Gilliam in that I'm guessing it reached a broader audience than some of his previous films. Let's look at his big films leading up to THE FISHER KING'S release in 1991. Basically there was BRAZIL and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, both of which could be safely called "underseen" (and both lost money theatrically). TIME BANDITS had preceded BRAZIL and that movie did quite well financially so let's skip that for now. I don't know the specifics in terms of the studio issues that Gilliam had on BRAZIL (with Universal) and MUNCHAUSEN (with Sony), but it's fair to say that they didn't know how to market them at the very least. Gilliam's movies could be a tough sell I suppose if you are trying to reach throngs of moviegoers. Some folks just aren't into fantasy. I'm sure a lot of people would be thrown by scenes of Katherine Helmond getting her face stretched and seeing Robert De Niro as a rogue duct repairman. I mean, that kind of thing is right in my wheelhouse, but I guess I understand how Joe Moviegoer might not be as big a fan. That said, THE FISHER KING was minor success in that it combined both a real world story of redemption (a fallen shock jock radio DJ tries to make good) with wonderful flourishes of that patented Gilliam fantasy world stuff. The fact that it was grounded in this way helped a lot, but so did the fact that the movie starred Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Now I don't know about you, but Jeff Bridges is an all-time top five guy for me. He is just one of those actors that I adore and who I love to see continuing to make movies all the time. He's fantastic in THE FISHER KING and plays off of Robin Williams so well. And as for Williams, I do believe that THE FISHER KING might be my favorite film he ever did (and a role for which he was deservedly nominated for an Oscar). He, like Gilliam, was a guy whose humor and pathos was rooted in fantasy and absurdist notions and he was never more moving (for me) than he was in this film. He had this tendency to tip over into schmaltz in a lot of his movies and I always found that kind of off-putting. His earnestness could come off as too much in some cases, but in THE FISHER KING, I felt it worked perfectly. His character Perry is basically a certifiable nutcase (driven insane with some justification), but he serves as a perfect entry point into Gilliam's fantastic excursions. What ultimately makes me love THE FISHER KING as much as I do is the way that it marvelously melds the "real" world with the fantastic while still maintaining a modicum of melancholy. That's how the world kind of is in my mind. It is wonderful and weird and yet there is sadness all around us that is hard to ignore. It makes me want to take pleasures in the little moments of my everyday life and savor them. Certainly some credit is due writer Richard LaGravenese who I find to be one of the better writers of the 1990s for sure. He is responsible for such gems as THE REF, UNSTRUNG HEROES and LIVING OUT LOUD. It is certainly his approach to character that brings so much to THE FISHER KING. On a side note, I was reminded of his lovely writing abilities and character work in a recent viewing of his film BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, which I was unexpectedly very engaged by. Anyway, the LaGravenes/Gilliam combo is pretty unbeatable in my mind and I really wish they had made more films together. This movie much beloved by me and this Criterion Blu-ray is a must -own.

Special Features:
Being that is an upper-echelon favorite movie of mine, I was overjoyed to see the care that they took in putting this release together. First off, it has a new, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by Gilliam, which looks great.
-Secondly, Criterion has resurrected the excellent commentary track that Gilliam recorded for the laserdisc edition of the film released years and years ago. I am a huge fan of this track and I have kept my laserdisc and listened to it often since it came out on LD. As  I mentioned, I was into Gilliam and Scorsese big time in college and so when I got my hands on both the TAXI DRIVER and FISHER KING commentaries, I was just blown away. They are still a couple of my favorite commentaries ever. 
Other supplements include:
--New interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, screenwriter Richard La Gravenese, and actors Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, and Mercedes Ruehl.
--New interviews with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds on the creation of the film’s Red Knight.
--Interview from 2006 with actor Robin Williams.
--A New video essay featuring Bridges’s on-set photographs.
--Footage from 1991 of Bridges training as a radio personality with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater.
--Deleted scenes, with audio commentary by Gilliam
-- Footage of Costume tests.

Bonus:
Terry Gilliam on The South Bank Show, 1991:

Excerpt from The South Bank Show interview on "The Waltz Scene" in THE FISHER KING:

Movie Talk meets Terry Gilliam - THE FISHER KING:

Robin Williams accepts his Golden Globe for THE FISHER KING, 1992:

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