Looking For Looking For Mr. Goodbar

This is probably the most surprising "M.I.A." post I'll ever write on this blog. It's crazy that this was never, ever released on DVD, yet alone blu. Like, I'd be delighted to see one of my favorite cult labels procure the rights for a restored, special edition of Spirits of Jupiter. But I also realize that probably puts me on a very short list of cinephiles.  But Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a major studio, Academy Award-nominated film by a huge director, based on a bestselling novel, that made the career of two big Hollywood actors, and stars a couple more. And I can keep going.  It was highly critically regarded, a box office success and controversial for its time, but not so controversial that the studios would have any reason to worry about releasing it today. And it has its roots in a famous true crime story that still draws attention to this day. How is it possible there was never even a generic, full frame, MOD disc released ever, in any country?
Diane Keaton gives really one of her strongest performances as a young, New York City school teacher who rebels against the very conservative, restrictive life built for her by her family and career. She steps into the liberated night life only to stumble across the darker side that naturally develops in a repressed society. She finds herself caught up living the double life many young women were faced with during the sexual revolution of the 1970s; and as I already mentioned this is based on a famous true crime, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by simply saying it ends in violence.
Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof) focuses on creating almost morbidly sincere performances in bringing Judith Rossner's study of a character whose soul is slowly dying. You can feel that it's based on truth even if you didn't know it was based on an actual case, although admittedly, her relationship with her parents does feel like its taken from "Dover's Big Book of Overly Familiar Cliches." If you've seen Carrie's mom or The Great Santini, you know what you're in for. But fortunately she gets out of the house quickly enough and surrounds herself with more relatable, nuanced characters.

And did I say this film launched careers? Yeah, Richard Gere and Tom Berenger both launched out of this film, and neither have yet managed to make very many films to rival this one. And the cast doesn't stop there, with more additional strong turns by Tuesday Weld (who netted one of this film's Academy Award nominations), Brian Dennehy, a very dramatic William Atherton (Ghostbusters' Walter Peck), and keep your eyes open for a young Levar Burton.
And yet this has never been released on DVD. What we're looking at here is my copy of Paramount's 1983 laserdisc release. Not '93, '83. Most people weren't even aware laserdiscs existed back then. It's so old, it doesn't even have chapters, let alone special features. But it's still the best release there is. Legitimate release, that is. There's a sea of bootlegs out there, partially due to the film being such a desired title, and then helped considerably in recent years by the appearance of a widescreen television broadcast leaked online, allowing us to see the film in its original aspect ratio since it first played theatrically in 1977. Let's compare the framing:
1983 laserdisc on top; widescreen television rip below.
Now, there's no reason to delve deep into this comparison, since I'm just comparing the laserdisc to a downloaded rip - presumably from Italian television, since it has Italian audio as its primary track - not a secondary purchase option (although if you spring for one of those bootleg DV-Rs, it's almost definitely going to be a burn of this). It's soft and murky, hardly an impressive HD transfer. An official blu-ray, should it ever happen, would surely look even better. But it tells us everything about the framing. Vertically, the 1.77:1 rip is a perfect match to the 1.33:1 transfer we've all lived with for decades, so we don't have an open matte transfer here. All the fullscreen version did is the very old school move of chopping off the sides. It just makes you pine that much more for how great an official Paramount release would be. Because what we've got is such a low contrast, washed out mess. Even the laserdisc cover is soft and blurry!
Oh, and just as an aside, there was a made-for-TV sequel in 1983 called Trackdown: Finding the Goodbar Killer. Of course, without Diane Keaton's character, who was entirely what the original film was about, there's not a lot to return to.So instead, this is largely a police procedural, with George Segal as a detective going through a divorce as he investigates the murder from the first film, cross cut with Tom Berenger's character, now played by Shannon Presby, going on the lam. Shelley Hack plays one of Keaton's fellow school teachers who Segal takes to nightclubs to help spot the killer. And Joe Spinell has a feature role as Keaton's former doorman, who's questioned by the cops and pressured into picking somebody out of a line-up.

It's pretty boring. Segal's sappy drama with his wife and daughter, who's leaving for college, almost winds up getting more focus than the case of the Goodbar killer. I think the idea is that Segal's worried his daughter is on the verge of entering the same kind of scary, feminist life Keaton led; but the film never manages to quite get there. There's just lots of pedantic dialogue scenes that tend not to connect with each other. Segal has scenes with his wife, trying to hold his marriage together, and we never find out if he does or not. He keeps going back to Hack, who was never needed to catch the killer. And there's a bunch of other cops pursuing other suspects, who aren't even red herrings because we know who did it from the very start. Ultimately, it's really just flat, Segal's lead holds absolutely zero of the fascination Keaton's did, and it's far less surprising that this flick never made it to DVD.
Now, the reason I've always heard, and which I believe, for there never having been a Looking for Mr. Goodbar DVD isn't lack of studio interest, but the cost of licensing the music. This film is full of songs by Donna Summer, Diana Ross, The Commodores, etc. That didn't stop them from releasing the film on laser and multiple times on VHS, but as physical media's started to wane, I guess they waited too long for the costs not to be overwhelming. But if this were Saturday Night Fever or Grease, I'm sure the full soundtrack would be paid for and this would be out with multiple Target and Best Buy exclusive collectors editions, so it still comes down to lack of studio confidence. And that's a shame, because even a quick poke around the internet shows there's a ton of interest in this title. So I don't hold out a lot of hope anymore, but I'll still bang the drum for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, just in case.

2 comments:

  1. The folks at Paramount Home Video just lack vision... the same has been happening for a really long time with their "The Keep", which could be an even more interesting Collector's Edition since there is an Extended Director's Cut to be found online and on bootleg media. Again, the problem here seems to be Tangerine Dream's musical score, for which Paramount -once again- seems reluctant to pay for. Sad... but very in-synch with this studio that couldn't even give us a decent, correct ratio, fully unrated, maybe even collector's edition of "Sliver" with the original movie cut (which is about 60% different from what we've seen) thrown in... They simply have no interest in giving us movie buffs what we would gladly fork out good green bucks for.

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  2. Politics may also be involved, mainly involving feminist and gay advocacy concerns. Keaton's comments concerning the film tend to be non-committal, Gere did not want any clips from the film included in a career retrospective, and Atherton has recently criticized the film's view of the "single's scene." None of the major players want to "own it," and I think Paramount is bending under those pressures.

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