Release Date: June 19, 2007.
Collection Rating: /
The audience has seen Al Pacino in many roles spanning his long career from well known classics like The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon to more modern hits like Scent of a Woman, Heat, and The Devil’s Advocate. But fewer of us have seen Pacino in his theatrical ensemble, showing his love for live theatre and translating it to film. It’s been over a year-long wait for this collection and the Al Pacino: An Actor’s Vision release has proven to be a must-have for those who want to view this Academy Award-winning actor more intimately.
This collection features the two rarely seen films Chinese Coffee and The Local Stigmatic, as well as the acclaimed documentary film Looking For Richard (previously available on DVD). When viewing these films along with the accompanying prologue and epilogue, for the first time I clearly made a connection with Pacino as a stage performer, an actor, and as an artist who loves his work – not just a well regarded film star. Viewing these films and features helped me gain a higher respect for his work and for him as an actor. I was mesmerised watching him and listening to his words in the Actor’s Studio and I suspect many of you will be too.
Chinese Coffee is an Off-Broadway production about a struggling author who challenges a friendship with poverty, jealousy, past loves, and rejection. Harry (Pacino) requests feedback from Jake (Jerry Orbach) on a manuscript for his new book. While Jake outright denies he’s read the manuscript, Harry soon learns he is lying because he feels the written work is a betrayal of their friendship. When Jake admits the truth, Harry must question everything he stands for.
Pacino plays the bitterly obsessed Englishman, Graham, in The Local Stigmatic. He has an obsession with Greyhound racing and distaste for celebrity. He likes to cause trouble in the neighbourhood by following strangers – he plays games with their heads. He has a close relationship with his roommate Ray (Paul Guilfoyle) who sometimes follows along with the game. The pair of them meet a famous actor in a bar and while they follow him home, Graham tests Ray’s friendship upon the suggestion they beat the man. Filmed in 1990 with an attempt to make it as much like a play as possible (less film-like), this is a wildly strange film that Pacino has only allowed select audiences to see since he donated it to the Museum of Modern Art. Now for the first time ever it is available to the public.
Looking for Richard is Pacino’s directorial debut. Released on DVD in 1997, this highly acclaimed documentary shows the behind the scenes events during the theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s joined by an all-star cast including Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Wynona Ryder, and Aidan Quinn.
The box set includes four DVDs each in a keepcase. The fourth disc is a bonus hour-long titled Babbleonia, and is discussion with Pacino in the Actor’s Studio.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4/5
Most of this film is shot inside of Jake’s apartment at 2am. The image is appropriately lit to display this late-night conversation. Details are good as is colour balance. Aside from the darkest areas of the picture looking a tad murky, this is a good presentation. Edge enhancement or compression artefacts are not a problem on this 1.85:1 image.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
This Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack is acceptable. It’s a film driven entirely by dialogue. Pacino’s voice sounds with the usual raspy tonal quality. Orbach’s voice on the other hand isn’t as clear; there are moments that are fine but too frequently distortion can be heard in his words making it very distracting. The music is delivered well and is effective during those brief moments. As you can guess, surround usage is limited – but why even need it?
THE LOCAL STIGMATIC
VIDEO QUALITY: 2/5
This film is very gritty looking because of the film grain running rampant, especially in the bright white skies. Other film artefacts are low in occurrence. The look is desaturated and is reminiscent of older British films seen on the television – it’s possible this was the artistic decision. Image contrast is not that great though; outdoor scenes are cloudy-dim, interiors have similar lighting, and in the bar close to the final act of the film the image is dark and wanting in shadow detail. Colour saturation doesn’t look that great either in this dim lighting giving the picture a bit of a pasty look. Despite the source material, this transfer to DVD is perfectly fine as it is absent of any other unwanted artefacts. Given the nature and purpose of this film, I don’t feel that these criticisms should be taken negatively. The aspect ratio is just under 1.85:1.
AUDIO QUALITY: 2/5
It’s no surprise this is another film that relies almost entirely on dialogue, although neither Pacino’s nor Guilfoyle’s words sound good at all. Both speak with heavy east-end English accents but the audio is extremely sibilant accentuating all “ssss” and “sshhh” sounds to the highest point possible. At reference level it’s distracting and uncomfortable to listen to. The audio is also fairly thin as evident with the rather bright sounding opening scene when the Greyhounds are released on the track. Encoded in 5.1, it’s a 5.0 presentation because no LFE was detected. The James Horner music can include some powerful bass and presence from the center channel alone. If you have your center speaker set to large, be sure that it can handle deep bass at high levels. There are only a few instances when the music actually makes it to the remaining four channels. To put more bluntly, this is dominantly mono audio soundtrack.
LOOKING FOR RICHARD
VIDEO QUALITY: 2.5/5
This 1.85:1 image has variable image quality and wasn’t intended to look like a polished film. The excessive film grain gives the feature a little bit of an artistic feel, something that was shot for the moment and it appears as such given the variable lighting and loose camerawork. Colours are muted, image contrast and resolution is ok. I doubt this is a new transfer, but I’d highly doubt much more resolution would be squeezed out for the DVD format.
AUDIO QUALITY: 2/5
Like the other films, the 5.1 audio is mostly mono except for a few sound effects and music. Dialogue can be raspy since the microphones used to capture the recording seem to be of various quality.
TACTILE FUN!! ZERO /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: OFF
Very little LFE – why even bother with these films!!??
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5
The supplements on these DVDs are fantastic starting with the fourth “bonus” DVD Babbleonia. Pacino takes the host though the Actor’s Studio in New York where they finally find themselves on the stage and continue most of the discussion. Pacino provides wonderful insight to the art of theatrical performances and the careers of actors who begin there on the stage. He speaks of the history of the building as well as historical performers who have acted on the stage.
This sort of dialogue is continued in the prologue and epilogues found on each DVD, as well as in the audio commentaries on each film. I can tell Pacino is proud to have participated as much as he did in this box set. This should set an example for other actors in the future.
The trailer for Looking For Richard is found on all three discs.
IN THE END...
This collection is recommended for Pacino fans and for those who’d like to see a bit more theatre in their films. The average viewer may find these works a bit beyond the norm, but I see them as works of art.
July 08, 2007.
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