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Blu-ray Review A Few Words About A few words about…™ Mommie Dearest – in Blu-ray (1 Viewer)

Robert Harris

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Say what you will about Paramount's "Presents" series, it's certainly eclectic.

For Frank Perry's 1981 bio-pic of Joan Crawford, with Faye Dunaway in the lead, it may be the most interesting bit of kitsch to arrive this year.

I've never found it to be a good film, and it still isn't, but the new Blu-ray has created a beautifully crafted digital version for those who can't get enough of it.

For those keeping track, it's spine Number 17. A great name for a Hitchcock film.


Image – 5

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Recommended (for kitsch factor)

RAH
 

Thomas T

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It's a lousy film for sure but it contains a genuinely great if controversial performance by Faye Dunaway. It ties with Jessica Lange in Frances as the best performance by an actress in a bad movie.
 

lark144

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Considering all of great film in the Paramount library their current picks for their premier series is (for me) very odd. How are these choices mage? A mystery.
I imagine the choices are made in the same manner as for the Warner Archive. Whatever is restored and ready to go, goes. They're choosing high profile Paramount films with a large fan base. I also find some choices head scratchers, but I'm assuming their marketing people have the numbers and know what's going to sell.

As far as "Mommie Dearest" is concerned, it has a really huge fan base. Considering it's a perfect disc, I'd really be surprised if it doesn't sell well. Hell, I might even buy it. It's not very good, but considering the subject matter, that makes it even better. The fact it's shot in such an under the radar, paltry, perfunctory, anti-climatic style increases its camp value. I think that may even have been done on purpose, to enhance Fate Dunaway's performance. She is always beautifully lit and impeccably coiffed, though everything around her is sorely lacking, which in a way, perfectly expresses the theme of the film. So maybe it's not that bad after all. Maybe it's elegantly and subversively post-modern, and we just didn't know it. What I do remember, though, in spite of its badness, it's almost impossible to stop watching it.
 

titch

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I imagine the choices are made in the same manner as for the Warner Archive. Whatever is restored and ready to go, goes. They're choosing high profile Paramount films with a large fan base. I also find some choices head scratchers, but I'm assuming their marketing people have the numbers and know what's going to sell.

As far as "Mommie Dearest" is concerned, it has a really huge fan base. Considering it's a perfect disc, I'd really be surprised if it doesn't sell well. Hell, I might even buy it. It's not very good, but considering the subject matter, that makes it even better. The fact it's shot in such an under the radar, paltry, perfunctory, anti-climatic style increases its camp value. I think that may even have been done on purpose, to enhance Fate Dunaway's performance. She is always beautifully lit and impeccably coiffed, though everything around her is sorely lacking, which in a way, perfectly expresses the theme of the film. So maybe it's not that bad after all. Maybe it's elegantly and subversively post-modern, and we just didn't know it. What I do remember, though, in spite of its badness, it's almost impossible to stop watching it.
The excellent John Waters commentary goes a long way to explaining why this cult film has a huge fan base. It's been a long time since I listened to a commentary through an entire film. Waters does not think that the film is a "so bad it's good film", such as Showgirls. He says that it does have it's campy moments, but there are only two or three really over-the-top scenes and line readings by Faye Dunaway. He otherwise points out all the film's strengths as a slice of entertainment - it is actually a rather well made studio production. And I agree with him: after you've seen Mommie Dearest, you want to immediately see one of Joan Crawford's films, such as Mildred Pierce. It is amazing how Faye Dunaway managed to completely inhabit the person and look of Joan Crawford - at least the one that was seen publicly.
 

midvalleyguy

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The excellent John Waters commentary goes a long way to explaining why this cult film has a huge fan base.
I wish I could somehow hear that commentary without having to buy another copy :). My DVD (Region 4 Pal 2011) is really bare bones - no commentary at all. But it has at least 5.1 surround and "restored mono":wacko:.
 

lark144

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The excellent John Waters commentary goes a long way to explaining why this cult film has a huge fan base. It's been a long time since I listened to a commentary through an entire film. Waters does not think that the film is a "so bad it's good film", such as Showgirls. He says that it does have it's campy moments, but there are only two or three really over-the-top scenes and line readings by Faye Dunaway. He otherwise points out all the film's strengths as a slice of entertainment - it is actually a rather well made studio production. And I agree with him: after you've seen Mommie Dearest, you want to immediately see one of Joan Crawford's films, such as Mildred Pierce. It is amazing how Faye Dunaway managed to completely inhabit the person and look of Joan Crawford - at least the one that was seen publicly.
Faye Dunaway is great in it, and does embody Joan, but the film doesn't. Visually and also in terms of pacing, it's flat and unimaginative, like a television movie, and that's a problem, because the film should be evoking images from "Mildred Pierce"; that high-key, glossy Hollywood look, instead of "Coffy" . When I first saw it I was shocked how poorly made it was for a Hollywood film. Terrible, shoddy lighting, shots drift in and out of focus, and the continuity is abysmal. It's as if no one cared. There is a great deal of concern in the performances, and also in the direction of the performances, especially in terms of expressing ideas in the script, but visually and technically, it's a mess. And motion pictures are a visual medium. The themes and ideas expressed in the acting and writing are realized through the images, especially the way it's lit and edited. But Frank Perry seemed to forget that when he was making the film. I also blame the cinematographer. The visual quality of Frank Perry's films rise and fall depending on the cinematographer. "Last Summer", for instance, looks amazing, but that was Gerald Hirschfeld. Paul Lohmann can be a fine DP, but he comes from biker-exploitation films and rock documentaries, and what was perfect for "Nashville" can be a real problem when you're supposed to be doing Joan Crawford and 1950's Hollywood. They should have hired Owen Roizman. I understand they were probably trying to save money, or they had a booking deadline, and Paul Lohmann is fast and does lots of set-ups, whereas Owen Roizman takes all day to light a single location. But that's the look the film desperately needed.
 
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MatthewA

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Network has always been one of my all-time favorite films, and it has never looked great in any format. Owen Roizman was its cinematographer.

Around 1968 or so, it became the in thing for American movies to start looking drab and desaturated. Mommie Dearest is typical of a lot of late 1970s/early 1980s movies in the sense that it looks like it's shot through heavy diffusion filters in both close-ups and wide shots, and the use of color is functional at best. That look somehow settled into the bland, generic look of so much modern Hollywood product in the years to come, with many of the techniques that gave us Glorious Technicolor, breathtaking CinemaScope, and the distinctive look of films noir seemingly lost to time, apathy, or their going to the grave with those who thought of them. The sound has always been sort of off-kilter as well. Maybe the reason people remember the histrionics is that the more subdued parts of the film have always been kind of difficult to hear.

The John Waters connection isn't totally arbitrary either: Paul Lohmann was also the cinematographer of a film Divine made without him, Lust in the Dust.
 

Malcolm R

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Around 1968 or so, it became the in thing for American movies to start looking drab and desaturated. Mommie Dearest is typical of a lot of late 1970s/early 1980s movies in the sense that it looks like it's shot through heavy diffusion filters in both close-ups and wide shots, and the use of color is functional at best.
That's why I find it so hard to warm to most films from that period. There aren't many films from the 70's on my list of favorites. They all look so dark and depressing.
 

titch

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That's why I find it so hard to warm to most films from that period. There aren't many films from the 70's on my list of favorites. They all look so dark and depressing.
Especially The Godfather. Imagine if Paramount could just blast it with HDR and make it really bright and sparkly :biggrin:
 

MatthewA

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For every Godfather there were three or four films that just plain cut corners on lighting and film stock because they were cheap. Kodak didn't help because they needed Martin Scorsese to do something about the fast fading of dye couplers in film negatives, not to mention Technicolor discontinuing dye-transfer printing.

It's hard to get mad at something like Pink Flamingos for not looking like it cost millions of dollars when it cost $12,000 in 1972 money, but a major studio film has no business looking like a poorly lit home movie. TV followed down that same rabbit hole, too.
 

Claude North

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The excellent John Waters commentary ...
I like that Waters makes connections between the events of the film and his own experiences growing up, and comments that much of what is depicted in the film rings true for him -- the emphasis on learning to swim and dive, Joan reminding Christina to sit up straight, etc. He looks beyond the film's camp reputation and, as a result, provides an insightful commentary track that is never dismissive or condescending.
 

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