The Great King Cohen on Blu-ray

King Cohen, the recent documentary about the life and works of the great Larry Cohen spent the good part of last year generating a lot of buzz in the horror film community.  But disappointingly little of that coverage seems to highlight the fact that it hasn't just been bouncing around festivals and then become available on streaming; it's on blu-ray.  More than that, it's a pretty sweet special edition that adds a lot of value; but you barely hear about that.  Maybe that's because it's the first blu-ray release of an indie label that up 'till now has only released soundtrack albums on CD and vinyl, it didn't ping on anyone's radars?  After all, to be fair, I'd never heard of La-La Land Entertainment before either, and consequently, this isn't available through a lot of the traditional avenues.  Amazon has a listing for it, but they don't stock it, and they confusingly refer to it as a soundtrack on DVD with a release date of October 4, 2019.  Somebody should pre-order that just as a science experiment to see what happens.  But no, I'm happy to report that there really is a pretty must-have blu-ray release.
The big concern I had going into King Cohen is that, as a pretty entrenched fan of "triple threat" producer/ writer/ director Cohen is that having most of the special edition releases of all his films, that this would be pretty redundant.  Larry's a fantastic raconteur, and even when his films don't have many other features, they tend to have commentaries or lengthy on-camera interviews with him telling all the film's wild guerilla origins and battles with the studios.  Sometimes even those DVD interviews would overlap a lot of the same anecdotes.  And surely a stand-alone documentary would have to explain a lot of the basics of what he does and what makes him interesting to the uninitiated.  So would this just be a boring retread of everything we've heard before?  Is King Cohen merely a bemusing Cohen 101 for newcomers, with little to offer the informed?
Happily, the answer is a big no.  Even as the very basics are established, it's mostly new, since few special editions start from a place of where the filmmaker was born and his other showbiz jobs before he started making movies.  And the man behind this doc, writer/ director Steve Mitchell, seems to be one of us enough to know what will actually constitute news to fans.  We get a lot of great stuff about his earlier TV days, which you rarely hear about.  Hearing the scuttle about some of his less recognized films, like The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover and Wicked Stepmother, goes a nice way towards making up for them not having quality, special editions of their own.  And even when a few key stories are so important they simply must be repeated here, the additional voices he employs to tell them add a very fresh spin.  For example, Scream Factory's It's Alive boxed set pretty thoroughly covers Larry's relationship with Bernard Herrmann, but hearing it from Martin Scorsese's perspective is additionally enlightening.
Not to mention, it's just impressive they got Martin Scorsese to sit down and dig in with them in the first place.  In fact, the roster they've assembled for this documentary is very impressive: from critics and ex-wives to fellow filmmakers like Joe Dante and John Landis, stars like Eric Roberts and Yaphet Kotto and of course the essential Cohen staples like Michael Moriarity and James Dixon.  I mean, if those two weren't in this, I would've kicked a garbage can over!  So many players were bought in, they almost wind up getting short shrift - they managed to bring in Eric Bogosian, and then only feature a couple of sentences from him, because the King Cohen train has too much ground left to traverse to slow down.  Of course, Cohen himself sits in front of the camera for a series of carefully re-edited interviews, and then you've got Fred Williamson boldly contradicting every story he tells.  It's all super satisfying, with the sole exception of JJ Abrams, who's obviously one of the most famous parties involved and who gets top billing on the cover and poster, but only contributes a brief introduction.  You keep waiting for him to come back and say something about anything, but he never does.
Besides that though, the only criticism I have - if you can even call it a criticism - is that there's so much to Larry's career left to tell.  So many films go completely unmentioned, like Uncle Sam, Invasion of Privacy, Full Moon High, Messages Deleted, etc. that you wish this could be one of those ultra-comprehensive, multi-hour documentaries like Never Sleep Again, that just goes on until it covers everything, regardless of length.  Here, I still had questions.  But if the worst I can say about a movie is that it left me wanting more, I don't think the filmmakers should feel too crushed.
2018 US La-La Land Entertainment blu-ray.
And it looks great on blu.  It's a very high quality, HD production, not to be confused with some of those fan-made docs you see pop up on EBay as BDRs or anything.  This is an official pressed, all-region dual-layer disc  The film is presented in 1.78:1 in consistently strong HD, with the natural exception of some vintage footage, which is reliant on its source.  You can tell immediately which film clips come from nice, 4k restorations and which had to be ripped from cheaper DVR releases.  The main documentary footage itself seems to have been shot digitally, so there's no real concerns of accurate scanning or capturing film grain.  It looks like a proper DCP presented plopped straight on the disc, with no interlacing or other issues in the new or film clip footage.  The audio's a crisp DTS-HD track and they've created optional English subtitles.  Many of Larry's major studio films have yet to be presented so well.
And then we've still got the extras to explore!  The bulk of it can be broken down into two main, roughly 45 minute chunks.  One is additional interview footage of Larry, where he tells a bajillion more showbiz anecdotes (again, only a few of which you'll recognize from other discs), and the second is from all the other actors and collaborators.  So yes, here we get a bit more from Eric Bogosian, along with the rest of the gang.

I wouldn't go quite so far to say, as with His Name Was Jason or Popatopolis, where if you haven't seen the extras then you haven't really seen the film.  But this definitely comes close to You're So Cool, Brewster or Crystal Lake Memories, where they're a big deal and seeing the film + extras is a decidedly fuller, more rewarding experience than just having watched the movie.  I mean, it's no small thing that the combined running of the special features is roughly the same as the film, effectively doubling the length of the feature.  And they don't cheat like The Death of Superman Lives by repeating the same film clips over and over in order to misleadingly advertise the number of hours of bonus footage.  Every minute is a worthwhile minute.
Then there's also a series of festival introductions Larry filmed to play before this doc when he couldn't attend in person, a brief look at some of the famous monsters Larry still has living with him in his home, and the trailer.  And, no doubt part of why Amazon listed this as a soundtrack on their page, is because it also comes with a bonus soundtrack CD of the documentary music by Joe Kraemer.  Now, this is a limited edition release (although it's a healthy 5000 copies, so don't panic), and each copy also comes with a personalized inner cover, signed by Mitchell, Kraemer and Cohen himself.  And it also ships with a regular cover, if for some reason you object to the signatures.  Personally, I reversed the unsigned version and slipped it underneath the signed one, so it works as interior art.  😎   Oh, and there's an insert with the CD's tracklisting in there, too.  So, as you've no doubt gathered, I recommend this release pretty highly... even if you already watched the movie streaming last year.

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