Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - BACK ROADS and WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN...On Blu-ray ""

Monday, June 20, 2016

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - BACK ROADS and WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN...On Blu-ray

BACK ROADS (1981; Martin Ritt)
Way back when I first moved to Los Angeles, I used to occupy myself with scoping out all the local video shops and second hand stores that sold VHS tapes. There were so many that I'd never checked out before and they were loaded with cheap tapes (keep in mind this was circa 1999 or so and I DVD was still a relatively new thing). Often times I'd find myself looking through movies and I'd come across something that looked interesting but that I had never seen before. I was not in the habit of gambling on unknown flicks at the time (money was a little tight), but I came across a copy of BACK ROADS and had to pick it up. I mean, the pedigree seemed intriguing. It was a road comedy with Sally Field, a shaggy grifter Tommy Lee Jones and it was directed by Martin Ritt - that was good enough to sell me at the time. So I proceeded to buy the VHS tape and promptly file it away with my collection and NEVER watch it. Stupid I know, but I've been known to exhibit this kind of behavior from time to time. So some sixteen years later, Kino puts this baby out on Blu-ray and I remember that tape that I never watched and I feel the need to rectify the situation. I'm glad I did. I'm also glad I waited as this is a widescreen movie (2.35 to 1 Panavision) shot by John A. Alonzo (CHINATOWN) and it would have looked like pan and scan garbage on VHS. It's not a bad little flick though I must say. Jones and Field are enjoyable antagonistic and affectionate with each other and there are some familiar faces that pop up along the way in their journey to Californina. What for M. Emmett Walsh as the manager of a boxing gym where Jones used to work out (his former prize fighter profession is briefly hinted at). David Keith shows up as a sailor that gives them a lift for a while. Oh, did I mention that Sally Field is a hooker? Yeah that's how she and Jones first get acquainted. Anyway, I dig a movie like this where it's light and breezy and the character actors add some flavor to the soup. For instance, I love a movie where suddenly Dan Shor shows up (also a sailor) and he's got some gents in tow that I recognize. Is that the dude that stole Pee-Wee's bike in BIG ADVENTURE? Hey, that's one of the main fellas from THE WANDERERS right there. And holy smokes - that's Barf from MIDNIGHT MADNESS as a boxer! This is the kind of stuff I get off on and this movie has lots of it. The plot is far from revelatory, but it's a journey worth taking and Martin Ritt brings some nice stylish flourishes to the proceedings. Oh AND it has music by Henry Mancini! 

This TV Trailer for the film makes it look a bit wackier than it is, which i find mildly amusing:
BACK ROADS can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

Of all the films that Dustin made in the 1970s, this is one of his most oft forgotten. Even from the opening title sequence - which features Hoffman floating through the air after seemingly having jumped off a tall building - it's clear that this will be something unconventional. Within ten minutes, the narrative begins to reveal itself as fractured and experimental. Now sometimes I'm just not in the mood for this kind of thing and part of that has to do with this kind of thing often being a movie that is experimental just to be experimental. And then there's a movie like this which has that same kind of narrative function to go along with its stylistic choices. In this case, it all plays into the idea that our main character is in the midst of some kind of nervous breakdown and he is not seeing reality much anymore, but is rather wandering in and out of waking nightmares and hallucinations. At the first point when another character in the movie breaks into song, it is at once momentarily humorous abs then absolutely terrifying. The song that is used is so energetic and enjoyable that it flies in the face of our main character's panic as he is realizing that what he's seeing is not really happening there in front of him. It's a great moment and one that I had to acknowledge as being effectively done. 
In this film, Dustin Hoffman plays Georgie Soloway - a wunderkind songwriter at the apex of his game. He should be happy right? Wrong. He has heard that somebody by the name of Harry Kellerman has been calling up all the women that he talks to and badmouthing him. He also is a writer of love songs who is incapable of love. That would seem to be his midlife crisis conflict and it has seemingly made him come unstuck from reality. It is a bit like a more nightmarish version of ANNIE HALL. There is this element of absurdist comedy to everything that makes it feel even darker and more real in terms of what insanity must truly be like. The whole thing is a huge showcase for Hoffman though. His director, Ulu Grosbard, would work with him again in 1978 and another powerful performance in one of my all-time favorite  films - STRAIGHT TIME. That too is a tour de force from Hoffman (and maybe my favorite of his films) and HARRY KELLERMAN is a similar scenario, but more introspective. As a film it is perhaps more existential and exploratory. Some might say pretentiously indulgent, but I don't see it that way. Few films exam a character in crisis quite this way. Worth seeking out for a look. Plus - Barbara Harris (who I adore) is pretty glorious in this movie. Also worth noting is that the film features songs by the great Shel Silverstein.
HARRY KELLERMAN can be purchased on Blu-ray here:

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