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HTF Review: Border Radio



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#1 of 1 PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted January 06 2007 - 12:48 PM


Border Radio

Studio: The Criterion Collection # 362
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English DD 1.0
Subtitles: English
Time: 83 minutes
Disc Format: 1 DVD-9
Case Style: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: 1987
DVD Release Date: January 16, 2007


Three directors. $82,000 dollars. Several years in the making. No, I am not talking about the latest big studio/ Hollywood picture blow out. This is the ancestry that is Border Radio, a very small, indie picture that crept out in 1987 with little to no attention. Criterion has rescued the picture to try and give it some credibility and perspective almost twenty years later. The plot of the picture is pretty simple: the lead in a punk band, Jeff (Chris D.) and a couple of his friends steal some loot from one of their venues. The owners start chasing Jeff so he flees to Mexico leaving his woman, Luanna (Luanna Anders) to care for their daughter and wonder where Jeff went. She takes solace in Chris (Chris Shearer), a roadie in Jeff’s band, and Chris winds up going to Mexico to find Jeff. In the middle of the picture, the characters are interviewed documentary style which throws off the narrative. The end of the picture comes rather abruptly with huge jumps in time (maybe) and at least some form of resolution to the various stories.

If the above sounds rather disjointed and rambling, it’s meant to as this reflects what can happen when you take three directors (Allison Anders, Kurt Voss and Dean Lent) who have a very minimal story and throw some musicians in front of the camera to see what happens. The result comes off as amateurish and borderline indulgent, leaving me just a bit ticked that Criterion sought to spend this much time on such a movie. The picture features several underground musicians (Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters, John Doe of X, Dave Alvin of the Blasters and others) in roles that would have been better suited to true actors. While I enjoy seeing what film students can do on shoestring budgets, it doesn’t negate the fact you still need some meat to the story to keep the viewer interested.

Anders and her co-directors wanted to show a picture of the music scene in southern California in the post punk, pre-grunge era. I would have rather she made a straight documentary featuring the musicians from the picture and skip the narrative. Throughout the picture, a girl groupie is interviewed to provide some perspective on the music scene in the movie, and she sums it up best: “I suppose in another five to eight years there’ll be something new and it’ll have that same excitement. I hope I’m not too old by then.”


Video:
The picture is framed at 1.33:1 and it is an anamorphic transfer. Criterion is good enough to provide us with more information about the transfer itself, so I will pass this along: “Border Radio is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture has been slightly window-boxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors. On widescreen televisions, black bars will appear on the left and right of the image to maintain the proper screen format. Supervised by director of photography Dean Lent, with additional supervision from Kurt Voss, this new high-definition digital transfer, which was created on a Spirit Datacine from the 16mm duplicate negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.” Unfortunately, the picture still suffers from numerous instances of print damage and debris, sometimes for long stretches. There are black and white lines running down the length of the image during many scenes. The new transfer does not do much to enhance 16mm; it only shows how grainy the picture is. Blacks are suitably deep, but shadow detail gets lost in most of the darker scenes. Edge enhancement was noticeable. Since Criterion usually does a good job in rescuing older pictures, I would believe they did the best they could with the print they had.


Audio:
I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital 1.0 track engaged, which is the only option. Criterion tells us, “The soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack print, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.” The mono track provides good fidelity and a natural sound to the voices and musical soundtrack. I would have enjoyed hearing the music in stereo as we are presented with a very entertaining soundtrack thanks to the musicians involved in the picture. Bass is minimal out of the center channel, as would be expected.


Bonus Material: The extras are under the subtitle, “Highway 5 Revisited”.

Two audio commentaries: one with co-directors Anders and Voss, and one with actors Anders, Alvin, Chris D., Doe and Shearer: Anders and Voss talk about their influences and the production itself. They stay fairly active throughout the track. The cast spends more time on their musical background, and they cover a lot of the same stuff in the other commentary and docs. They are a fun group.

The Making of Border Radio: (15:10): In this 2002 doc, the three directors and the cast explain how they met and developed the concept and story. They also discuss how they got the movie made on a shoestring budget. This is a fair doc, but I’ve heard similar stories already out of Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez.

Deleted Scenes (23:30): Nine rough scenes that actually add to the movie! These scenes helped to round out the overall story and add some length to the picture.

Music video for the Flesh Eaters’ The Wedding Dice (4:43):

Echo Park: stills gallery featuring rare, behind the scenes photos: Lent shot these photos at Echo Park in L.A. about two years into the shoot. 44 shots in all.

Theatrical trailer and radio spot: The trailer reflects the disjointedness of the feature. The radio spot is a answering machine message from Chris to Jeff.

Bios of cast and crew.

Also included in the package is a booklet with an essay by journalist and critic Chris Morris.


Conclusions:
Criterion does an admirable job enhancing a moderate movie with a complete set of extras. The movie itself tries, but barely succeeds, to show us a post punk L.A. music scene through the eyes of those who lived it.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.





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