That Guy Dick Miller - The DVD

That Guy Dick Miller is a documentary that campaigned on Kickstarter back in 2012. Self described as, "the first-ever, comprehensive look at the life and career of Hollywood's most famous character actor," it was one of the few genuinely compelling projects I've seen pop up and get fully funded on that site. And now it's finally arrived on DVD. Even if you didn't participate in the kickstarter, it's generally available through sites like Amazon and Diabolik; and as they say it's, "LOADED WITH BONUS FEATURES." Well, my copy just arrived the other day and I'm pretty excited, so let's see what we've got.

That Guy, obviously, is about one of the most - if not the most - beloved character actors in cinema, Dick Miller. He's been in everything from Little Shop of Horrors to Gremlins, but very rarely has he been the focus, tending to play very amusing minor parts rather than the leading roles. He worked so often, you learned to first recognize him, and eventually get really excited every time he'd appear in a film and knock his scene out of the park. You'd just see him hawking books in The Howling or mopping the floor in Chopping Mall and you'd know the whole film was about to rise in quality, if only for that brief moment.
And this film does a pretty great job in capturing and relishing that. We hear from a ton of Miller's past collaborators, including Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Sayles, Mary Woronov, Zach Galligan, Cory Feldman and plenty more. We also spend a good deal of time with Dick himself, in his home, meeting his wife, and hearing from his brothers. Now, if you're expecting something along the lines of Crumb, this isn't that. It's not a profoundly personal look at a man's life, it's a celebration of his work in film. We do get a little insight into his entertaining personality and home life (did you know he was an artist, too? we see some pretty impressive drawings he's done in this), but it's really about his film work. Before seeing this documentary about this film, I'd read several criticisms in this regard, but to me they're off-base. The film didn't try and fail to go there; it's just not that kind of movie. It's like complaining that Halloween isn't funny or Airplane isn't scary. You'd be right, but they're not supposed to be. You can't really blame a filmmaker for not making the film you'd rather see, if he succeeded in making the film he and others were interested in seeing. And this is a movie many of us are very happy to see.
Admittedly, though, you kind of have to already be a fan of Dick Miller to really appreciate this film. Just watching it cold with no idea who he is might seem like a moderately interesting but very meandering look at the life of a character actor, that doesn't go in deep enough to draw you in to him as a person. You really have to be interested in the interviews about all the wonderful parts he played and crazy productions he'd been on to get the full effect. Sure, the truly great documentaries will draw you in and fascinate audiences whether they cared about the subject beforehand or not.  You know, I don't think most fans of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control went into the theater out of their keen interests in topiary gardens and mole rats. This isn't that kind of film. But for people who already have their Dick Miller fanclub cards in their wallets, don't worry, this movie doesn't disappoint. It's made up of lots of great anecdotes, stories, behind-the-scenes footage, to the point where every moments a real treat. And if you're only familiar with parts of his career, i.e. certain periods, it may be eye-opening just how extensive it ran.
There's not much that needs to be said about the picture. Naturally, it's in 1.78, anamorphic to fill a widescreen TV, and it's a brand new film, so of course it looks great on its official release. I'm sure it could've looked a little spiffier in HD, and some blu-ray purists will be disappointed it's DVD-only even though it's available to stream or download in full 1080p. Just like episodes of Louie and other DVD-only releases, it's pretty lame that the collectible editions you buy at a premium are of lesser quality than the streaming stuff casual viewers are watching and forgetting. But just judging the DVD as a DVD, there's really nothing to complain about here. It's about as good as a release on this format can be. And it's even got two audio tracks (2.0 and 5.1 audio mixes) and optional subtitles, so it's been treated very well.
Admittedly, this shot probably looks nicer in HD.
And of course, if you only stream or download it, you don't get any of the extras. There's a bunch here, but most are pretty short, and range from 5-8 minutes. Those include outtakes, which are amusing and contain a couple of bits not in the movie. Robert Forster tells a great joke. There's an interview with Rick Baker, which is short enough you figure they could've squeezed it into the film; but it's good enough here. And there are two "home movies" shot by Miller's wife on the set of some of his old Corman pictures. They're shot without sound, so they're more than a little dry; but fans of Big Bad Mama should still appreciate the glimpses behind the camera of that film. There's also a collection of four trailers for some early Miller films, the theatrical trailer for this doc, and a photo gallery that had a little difficulty playing properly (the on-screen instructions said to hit the "next chapter" button to advance between photos, but it always skipped me to the end of the gallery).

The main extra, however, is almost an hour long. It's a series of interviews and audience Q&As held before screenings. The sound quality isn't always 100% (especially on the first one), but they've all been nicely edited to give us just the good bits. First Leonard Maltin interviews the director of this doc (Elijah Drenner, who previously made American Grindhouse), along with Dick Miller and his wife. And at first it seemed like that was going to be the whole thing, which would've been fine already, but then it cuts to a second little panel, with Dick Miller, Rick Baker and Ernest Dickerson (who directed Miller in Demon Knight), and finally a third with Dick and Roger Corman, who has a terrific recounting of filming The Terror with Dick, Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. And because they're edited, these segments don't get too repetitive or slow.
So a few advance reviews had me worried, but now that I've got it, I'm happy to be able to recommend this to any Miller fan. Both the film in general, and this DVD specifically. It's a good time.

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