SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Criterion Blu-ray Review)

SULLIVAN TRAVELS (written and directed by Preston Sturges) is the latest release from Criterion (#118). It was great to revisit this 1941 comedy/drama...maybe it's even one of the first American dramedies?

I haven't seen it since Criterion first released the film on DVD in 2001. I picked up the film to watch one of my screen crushes, Veronica Lake. It was not the screwball comedy that I was expecting.

I'd never seen anything like it before and wasn't sure how I felt about it. If anything I found SULLIVAN’s TRAVELS rather odd. Revisiting it 14 years later, the film is much more profound than I remembered.

THE FILM

Here's Criterion's official synopsis:

Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.

This is one smart script, full of witty, snappy dialogue. It's full of memorable moments. I really love a hilarious car chase scene where Sullivan tries to outrun a press entourage by taking a ride in a sports car.

Driven by a 13-yr old.

It's as silly as it sounds.

Another brilliant moment sees Sullivan taken in by a love-starved Good Samaritan. The scene would be deleted if the film were remade today because it's quite a detour from the main story. But it stands out in a good way.

On a technical note....it was intriguing to watch the way Sturges and his DP (John F. Seitz) deal with the fact that Veronica Lake was pregnant during the filming. They do some ingenious framing and blocking to avoid showing her baby bump.

Also, the decision to shoot much of the film on location vs. a sound stage really helps lend a whole sense of realism to the movie (good call gents!).

And be sure to look out for their 4-minute oner. It's a joy to watch, knowing the filmmakers did it on a bet (allegedly) as well as to make it harder for studios to make cuts to the film.

The tone of the film is a bit uneven and unexpected for a film from this era. I was taken aback, particularly by its darker second half which seems to come out of nowhere. Revisiting it now the first half of the film is actually a bit clunkier to me, particularly its slapstick gags. McCrea is no Cary Grant.

I think the sudden shift from the comedic to dramatic tone is now actually what I love most about SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. It's unpredictability in story and theme is a welcome surprise.

As I viewed it, I couldn't help but wonder how SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS would be updated for a modern audience. Not that I'd want to remake the film, but it's an interesting exercise to think about how the story would unfold with its lead characters in today's world.

Movies at that time couldn’t be overtly sexual. Watch Veronica Lake get around the censors by playing with her hairbrush during the swimming pool scene. Or is that just me?

Nowadays, would there be more sexual tension and gratification with their relationship treated out in the open? Would they actually kiss? And how brutal and authentic would the homeless sequences play out in the darker half of the movie?

The more I think about it, Sturges was a clever filmmaker to get away with what he does for 1941. Bravo Mr. Sturges. Bravo.

VIDEO/AUDIO

  • Black and White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

It looks and sounds beautiful on Blu-ray. Criterion always does it right.

BONUS FEATURES

  • Audio commentary from 2001 by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean - This was pretty insightful in how each person explores the themes of the film and anecdotes surround the production. It was also interesting to see how the film relates to them. Thankfully, no one spends much time simply narrating what's happening on screen.
  • Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990), a seventy-five-minute documentary made by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters series - A thoroughly and fascinating exploration about Sturges' rocky career. It sounded like a dream to me until I learned what ultimately happened to him.
  • New video essay by film critic David Cairns, featuring filmmaker Bill Forsyth - This one was fairly interesting. It used too many straight clips without any VO/narration over it so it felt like bit overlong.
  • Interview with Sandy Sturges, the director’s widow, from 2001 - A quick interview. Pretty candid. More sad than anything knowing she's passed away.
  • Interview with Sturges by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper from 1951 - a fun 4-minute interview (I believe in front of a live-audience). Sounds a bit staged, but cool to hear him talk.
  • Archival audio recordings of Sturges - Nothing earth shattering. Probably of interest to die-hard Sturges fans (which I'm not).
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans

 

BOTTOM LINE

A classic film that explores more serious subject matter than expected. Veronica Lake is lovely. The Criterion treatment helped educate me more about this production which I value.

Add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.







LOVELY Poster Art (Stuff We Never Ended Up Using)

Back in 2010, when deciding on how to market and get the appropriate tone for the surreal, dreamlike world of WHAT'S UP LOVELY, my talented brother (Mike King) and I were put to task on playing around with various images.

I found these as I was organizing some files and thought it'd be pretty fun to share versions that never saw the light of day.

Here are some versions that I designed.

 

Here's the teaser poster that we did prior to filming. A talented photographer friend Nicole Marie Polec went out with the lead actress Jenn Dees and me and shot around the Lower East Side. It's still one of my favorite posters for any of my films.

Here's the theatrical poster.


 

Influenced by a Quiet Master: (Bergman and Me)

I'm a huge Bergman fan. Growing up, I never knew who he was or saw any of his films. I think the only time in my childhood I heard the name "Ingmar Bergman" brought up was when Siskel and Ebert mentioned FANNY AND ALEXANDER being one of their favorite films of 1982.

As an adult, I've discovered some of his films have made a huge impact on me in terms of character (usually led by strong female protagonists), theme and gravitas, not to mention some very visually stunning work. In fact, CRIES AND WHISPERS might be one of the most terrifying films I've seen in the past 10 years.

Not that anyone would notice, but he has definitely influenced me in my filmmaking, especially for WHAT'S UP LOVELY and an upcoming film in the works.

Here's an amazing video essay showing the influence of PERSONA on a myriad of other filmmakers' works.


De Palma's Vision

It’s no secret I love De Palma. He's one of my favorite filmmakers and is such a genius with his visual style. I finally got to play with split diopter shots in my latest film UNNERVED,  which are mainly influenced by De Palma & other 70s films.

Here's an interview with him during his press junket for THE UNTOUCHABLES. He drops the fact that both Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were also in the running for the role of 'Elliot Ness', ultimately played by Kevin Costner.

Here's a shot by shot analysis of the famous train step sequence from THE UNTOUCHABLES.

Vashi Visuals (@vashikoo) explains the split diopter shot and shows us how they're used so effectively in BLOW OUT.

A great montage on how he loves to use the overhead shot.

 

 

 

My Favorites: SISTERS; BLOW OUT; DRESSED TO KILL; CARLITO'S WAY; THE UNTOUCHABLES; MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE

Guilty pleasures : BODY DOUBLE; SNAKE EYES; FEMME FATALE; SCARFACE

The best thing I love about his films is that they are spectacularly amazing -- or spectacularly awful. But he doesn't stop. Success or fail, he keeps going.

Rumblings from the Mancave: UNNERVED update

I love seeing this photo. Our UNNERVED editor Jamie Cobb has been working her ass off shaping this film to where it is now. To see her be able to sit back and take it all in makes me smile. She's doing some amazing things with this cut that I would've never done myself, which is a great thing. Certain scenes I shot have been cut in ways I didn't expect, and that's exciting. That's an editor. I wonder if she'll start letting me call her my Thelma.

One of the Greats: Miyazaki's 'The Castle of Cagliostro'

Hayao Miyazaki's 'The Castle of Cagliostro’ is one of my favorite films of all time.

This movie inspired me when I saw it as a young teen. Its imagination, whimsy, romance, humor and action set-pieces all seamlessly blend together to make it one of the most enjoyable stories I've ever experienced. So much so that it loosely inspired a script that I've been developing (and shelving) for many years.

Here's an uber fan's video essay analysis of the movie. I love his enthusiasm and love for this film. It's almost an hour long and may get too in depth for some...but it's pretty spot on in dissecting what's so brilliant in Miyazaki's storytelling techniques.

Here's one of my favorite posters in my collection.

Top Films of Everything I Saw in 2014


Better late than never. My list comprises of any film that I've seen for the first time in 2014.  I'm never able to catch all the awards contenders, so this list is more about the films that brought cinematic joy to me by inspiring and entertaining. 

10. No Way Out (1950) - dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz

 

9. It Felt Like Love (2013) - dir. Eliza Hittman

8.  Top Five (2014) - dir. Chris Rock

6. Night of the Hunter (1955) - dir. Charles Laughton

5. Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - dir. Doug Liman

4. Blue Ruin (2013) - dir. Jeremy Saulnier

3. Memories of Murder (2003) - dir. Joon-ho Bong

2. The Apartment (1960) - dir. Billy Wilder

1.  Under The Skin (2013) - dir. Jonathan Glazer


Everything I saw in 2014
1/1 - The Goodbye Girl  - rewatch
1/2 - Talk to Her - rewatch
1/3 - The Apartment
1/3 - Woman of the Year
1/6 - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
1/6 - Submarine
1/7 - The Host
1/7 - Man of Steel
1/7 - Seconds
1/8 - Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger
1/8 - I Saw The Devil
1/9 - Failan
1/11 - Prisoners
1/15 - The Last Stand
1/15 - 20 Feet From Stardom
1/15 - Devil's Pass
1/16 - Lovelace
1/17 - World War Z
1/18 - Thanks For Sharing
1/20 - Play It Again Sam
1/20 - Touchy Feely
1/21 - I'm So Excited
1/22 - Premium Rush
1/23 - Jobs
1/23 - Rewind This
1/27 - Monsters University
1/28 - You're Next
1/29 - Lonely Boy
1/30 - R.I.P.D.
1/30 - The American President - rewatch
2/1 - 52 Pick Up
2/3 - The Spectacular Now
2/4 - Cape Fear (2011) - rewatch
2/10 - True Detective, Girls (2 episodes)
2/11 - True Detective, Girls (2 episodes)
2/12 - True Detective, Girls (2 episodes
2/12 - The Presence
2/13 - True Detective, Girls (2 episodes)
2/14 - Down and Dangerous, Girls (2 episodes)
2/16 - True Detective, Girls (3 episodes)
2/16 - Somewhere Between
2/16  - Leap of Faith
2/16 - Popatopolis
2/17 - Girls (3 episodes)
2/18 - Seduced and Abandoned; Girls (3 episodes)
2/19 - Girls (4 episodes)
2/20 - Girls (4 episodes), Thief, The Apparition
2/23 - Girls
2/24 - No Way Out (1950), Breaking Bad (2 episodes)
2/25 - Free Samples, Breaking Bad (6 episodes)
2/26 - Orange Is The New Black (4 episodes), Smile
2/27 - Orange Is The New Black (2 episodes), Töte mich (Kill Me)
2/28 - Orange Is The New Black
3/1 - L'Avventura, Orange Is The New Black (2 episodes), American Gigalo
3/2 - Oscars
3/3 - Classic Alice
3/4 - Orange Is the New Black (4 episodes), The Hard Way (rewatch)
3/5 - True Detective
3/6 - Spring (work-in-progress), Protestors (short), True Detective, In A World, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
3/7 - Blindsided, Haunter, Klute, The French Connection, The Trouble With Harry, The Newsroom (3 episodes)
3/8 - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3/9 - Sweetwater, Girls, The Newsroom, Linsanity, True Detective
3/10 - Higher Ed (stage table read), The Newsroom (2 episodes)
3/11 - The Newsroom (2 episodes)
3/12 - Memoirs of Murder, The Newsroom (2 episodes), North By Northwest
3/13 - Chaser, The Newsroom (2 episodes), Frenzy
3/15 - The Man From Nowhere
3/16 - Spring (work-in-progress), The Newsroom
3/18 - Girls, The Newsroom
3/19 - Contracted, The Newsroom, The Best Man Holiday,
3/20 - Top of the Lake (2 episodes), Laura, Biography: Gene Tierney
3/22 - Don John
3/24 - Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show clips
3/25 - We Are What We Are, Shark Tank (2 episodes)
3/27 - GI Joe: Retaliation
3/30 - Mad Men (2 episodes), Liberal Arts
3/31 - Mad Men (5 episodes)
4/1 - Mad Men (3 episodes)
4/3 - Locke
4/4 - King of Herrings, Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery
4/5 - Missing Piece (short), This Is Normal (short), The Best Friend (short), The Architect (short), The Next Life (short), The Sidekick (short), 45 RPM, The Sacrament
4/6 - The House That Jack Built, Teddy Bears, Captain America
4/8 - Shark Tank, Sweet Smell of Success, Ain't Them Bodies Saints,
4/9 - Hello Ladies (2 episodes), Bad Milo
4/10 - Riddick, Hello Ladies (5 episodes)
4/11 - Hello Ladies, Shark Tank
4/12 - Shark Tank, Confessions of a Super Hero
4/13 - Oculus, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
4/14 - My Cat From Hell
4/15 - Milius
4/16 - Beneath, Lola Versus, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
4/17 - Harper, Parts Unknown (2 episodes), Nurse
4/18 - Rio Bravo (rewatch), Frozen
4/21 - Mad Men (season 6), Evil Dead (2013)
4/22 - Mad Men, Prince of Darkness (filmmaker commentary)
4/23 - Afternoon Delight, Silicon Valley (2 episodes)
4/24 - The Lifeguard, Knights of Badassdom
4/25 - Black Rock, Lifeboat (rewatch)
4/26 - Shark Tank, Favor
4/27 -  Dallas Buyers Club, Silicon Valley,
4/28 - Mad Men, Parts Unknown
4/29 - Breaking the Waves, Mortified Nation, Ordinary People (rewatch)
5/1 - Parts Unknown
5/2 - Bates Motel (2 episodes)
5/3 - Shark Tank, Bates Motel
5/4 - Unhung Hero, Broadway Idiot, Grave Encounters 1, Grave Encounters 2, Tootsie Behind the scenes doc,
5/5 - Bates Motel (2 episodes), Mad Men
5/6 - Bates Motel (2 episodes)
5/7 - Une Liberation
5/8 - Chef
5/10 - Shark Tank, Bates Motel (2 episodes)
5/11 - The Devil Wears Prada (rewatch), Escape From Tomorrow, Beautiful Creatures, Bates Motel, Back in the Day
5/12 - Neighbors, Mad Men, Silicon Valley, Best Night Ever
5/14 - That Awkward Moment, Suits (season 3)
5/15 - Starting from Scratch, Suits (2 episodes)
5/16 - Brewster McCloud, Hard Times, Swingers (rewatch), Suits (2 episodes)
5/17 - Eyes Without A Face, Suits (2 episodes), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
5/19 - Silicon Valley, Mad Men
5/20 - Sneakers (rewatch), Suits (4 episodes)
5/21 - Suits
5/22 - The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Suits (3 episodes)
5/23 - Suits (2 episodes)
5/24 - Craigslist Joe, Blind Date (rewatch)
5/26 - Mad Men, Gremlins (rewatch), The Goonies (rewatch)
5/28 - Phenomena, Triangle (rewatch)
5/29 - Vampire Academy, House of Cards (2 episodes)
6/1 - Silicon Valley, House of Cards (2 episodes)
6/2 - House of Cards (4 episodes)
6/3 - House of Cards
6/5 - Castle (2 episodes)
6/6 - House of Cards (4 episodes)
6/7 - House of Cards (2 episodes), Odd Brodsky, Love in the Time of Monsters
6/8 - House of Cards (5 episodes)
6/9 - House of Cards (5 episodes)
6/10 - Liars Fires and Bears
6/12 - Orange is the New Black (2 episodes)
6/15 - Orange is the New Black (3 episodes)
6/16 - A Bittersweet Life, Erin Brockovich (rewatch), Orange is the New Black, Hannibal
6/17 - L.A. Confidential (rewatch), Orange is the New Black (2 episodes), Hannibal, Doctor Who
6/18 - Chinatown (rewatch)
6/19 - Orange is the New Black (4 episodes), Fargo (film, rewatch)
6/21 - Doctor Who (6 episodes), About Last Night (2014)
6/22 - Star Wars (kitbashed version), The Last American Virgin (rewatch)
6/23 - Aliens (rewatch)
6/24 - BTS Aliens
6/25 - BTS Aliens, BTS Alien 3
6/26 - American Virgins, Invasion for Flesh and Blood, Flesh Eaters from Outer Space
6/28 - Top Secret (rewatch), Scarlet Moon
6/29 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
6/30 - Doctor Who
7/7 - Detour
7/11 - Entourage (Season 1 - 6 episodes) - rewatch
7/13 - Entourage (5 episodes) - rewatch
7/14 - Entourage (4 episodes) - rewatch
7/15 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
7/16 - The Naked Prey
7/17 - Doctor Who, Frisky Business (2 episodes)
7/18 - Lucid, Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
7/19 - Better Off Dead (rewatch)
7/20 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
7/22 - The Writers Room (Breaking Bad)
7/25 - Normal Life; Under The Skin
7/26 - Magic in the Moonlight;
7/27 - The Wrong Man
7/28 - The Lego Movie
7/30 - Terms of Endearment (rewatch); It Felt Like Love
8/1 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
8/2 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/3 - Entourage (7 episodes) - rewatch
8/4 - Doctor Who (2 episodes)
8/5 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
8/6 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
8/7 - Entourage (6 episodes) - rewatch
8/8 - Entourage (2 episodes) rewatch
8/10 - Entourage (2 episodes) rewatch; Alien Abduction; Stage Fright
8/12 -Doctor Who (2 episodes)
8/13 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/14 - Ender’s Game
8/21 - Sahara Drifters; Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/23 - Black Water Vampire; Student Exchange (rewatch), Doctor Who (1 episode)
8/25 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/26 - Entourage (8 episodes) - rewatch
8/27 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/28 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch
8/30 - Entourage (2 episodes) - rewatch
8/31 - Entourage (8 episodes) - rewatch
9/1 - Entourage (3 episodes) - rewatch; Californication (6 episodes); House of Lies (1 episode)
9/5 - They Came Together;
9/6 - Californication (3 episodes)
9/7 - Californication (6 episodes)
9/8 - Californication (3 episodes)
9/9 - Californication (3 episodes)
9/15 - Californication (1 episode)
9/16 - Californication (3 episodes)
9/20 - Secret Lives of Dorks, Switched At Birth
9/21 - Switched At Birth (6 episodes)
9/22 - Switched At Birth (1 episode)
9/23 -  Switched At Birth (1 episode)
9/24 -  Switched At Birth (1 episode)
9/25 -   Switched At Birth (1 episode)
9/26 -  Switched At Birth (1 episode)
11/2 - Cuban Fury, Walking Dead
11/3 - Walking Dead
11/4 - The Glass House,
11/5 - The Fault In Our Stars, Begin Again, Walking Dead
11/6 - Stretch, Altman, The King of Comedy (rewatch), Far and Away (rewatch), Walking Dead
11/7 - Walking Dead
11/9 - Edge of Tomorrow, Winter’s Tale, Think Like A Man Too
11/10 - Switched at Birth
11/11 - Top Chef
11/12 - Walking Dead, Leave Her To Heaven, The Newsroom
11/13 - Might Aphrodite (rewatch); Vicky Cristina Barcelona (rewatch);Top Chef; The Walking Dead
11/15 - Three Amigos (rewatch); Young Guns
11/16 - Dreamscape (rewatch); Ping Pong Summer;
11/17 - 3 Days To Kill; Switched At Birth; Looker (rewatch); Time After Time (rewatch)
11/18 - National Treasure (rewatch); National Treasure 2 (rewatch); Switched At Birth; Blue Ruin; Hateship Loveship;
11/21 - 22 Jump Street; Snowpiercer
11/22 - Hunger Games: Mockingjay
11/23 - Top Chef;
11/24 - Hello Ladies; Unnerved (Cut 2)
11/25 - The Great Race (rewatch); Grand Prix; Wish You Were Here
11/26 - The Walking Dead; MacBeth
11/27 - The Walking Dead;
12/4 - The Walking Dead
12/5 - The Walking Dead
12/6 - The Walking Dead
12/7 - Pretty Maids All in a Row; Selfie; The Newsroom
12/8 - Sweet Hostage; Tron: Legacy
12/9 - Match Point (rewatch); Top Chef; The Walking Dead
12/10 - Inland Empire
12/11 - Night of the Hunter; Selfie, The Walking Dead
12/12 - Spirited Away (rewatch); Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind; The Walking Dead
12/13 - Castle in the Sky; The Walking Dead; Kiki’s Delivery Service (rewatch)
12/15 - Paprika
12/16  - The Swimmer (rewatch); Selfie; No Borders
12/20 - Birdman; Guardians of the Galaxy; Made in Paris
12/24 - Woman of the Year (rewatch); The Reluctant Debutante; Love Actually (rewatch)
12/26 - The Mating Game
12/27 - Black Mirror; Top Five;
12/28 - Sunday in New York; American Sniper
12/29 - Black Mirror
12/30 - Selfie; The One I Love, Black Mirror
12/31 - Sherlock; 100 Foot Journey