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David Cronenberg is even more of an enigma than he’s given credit for. For years he’s mixed the concepts and practices of balls out B-horror, heavy intellectualism, art film sensibilities, and unapologetic, disturbing romanticism, and despite my best efforts I cannot rightfully compare him to any other major director (save the ones that are ripping him off). His most successful contemporaries (George Romero, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, etc.) share a similar career trajectory, and are often more intellectually capable than credited, but Cronenberg is the only member of the North American Uncompromising ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Alliance (NAUSEHA for short) that found post-‘90s success, and successfully managed to work outside of genre pictures.

Fast Company is a seldom seen sidestep in the director’s career. It was his third feature length release, right after his career defining two step of Shivers and Rabid, and directly before his first breakthrough feature The Brood. This trajectory is almost shared by Dario Argento, who made a seldom seen comedy called The Five Days of Milan between Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Deep Red, and George Romero, who made There’s Always Vanilla between Night of the Living Dead and Season of the Witch. Like The Five Days of Milan and There’s Always Vanilla (not to mention other out of genre offerings like Craven’s Music of the Heart), Fast Company is plenty well made, but only really interesting as a career oddity, not as a stand alone film.

The film has a lot in common with another out of style George Romero picture called Knight Riders. Both films are about fringe culture icons dealing with selling out. Both films are also pretty dull, but for ultimately different reasons, even if a lack of originality is a factor for both. Romero’s film wins points for acting and scope, but it’s needlessly long, whereas Cronenberg keeps things moving at the very least. Cronenberg’s actors are definitely weak, which has been an issue throughout his career ( Scanners comes to mind). John Saxon manages to bring some fun, and Nicholas Campbell displays hints of his future successes, but lead William Smith (who was known for playing evil heavies throughout his career) is more of a sad mix of Bo Duke and Mickey Rourke, minus the charm of either. Besides being directed by Cronenberg the film is also noteworthy for being Playboy playmate Claudia Jennings final film before her untimely death, but frankly she’s given nothing interesting to do with her role.

Fast Company drags, and basically had no plot (and what little plot it does have is so tied up in tired tropes few fans will care), but it is well shot, especially the racing scenes, which manage some raw originality in some instances. It might be interesting to see what post Eastern Promises Cronenberg could do with a budget and a few fast cars. If this early flick is any indication I think the guy might have it in him. And I suppose fans of the maestro’s more viscerally violent and sexual work won’t be completely disappointed, there is one scene where motor oil is poured over a woman’s nude breasts towards the middle of the film. Keep your eyes peeled.

Video


Despite its ‘lost’ status, and its modest roots, Fast Company may be Blue Underground’s Blu-ray crown jewel, at least so far as video quality is concerned. Stendhal Syndrome and Final Countdown looked great, but Fast Company verges on flawless. It’s not an entirely consistent transfer, but the shortcomings seem to be specifically symptoms of the source material. Some scenes are a little overly grainy, and a few shots falter in detail, but these appear to be limitations of the lighting, or minor focus issues. If the 480i extras are any indication (which I suppose they might not be) this transfer is a large improvement over the DVD release. The colours are very vibrant, especially for a drive-in quickie. Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin’s primary colour choices bounce off the screen without bleeding, blocking, and save a few night scenes, without any noticeable noise. Details are slightly limited by the filmmaker’s lower contrast choices, but are still quite realistically rendered, and again, very impressive considering the film’s modest roots.

Audio


So far Blue Underground’s been on the video ball more or less 100% for these Blu-ray releases, but their audio performance has been a little hit and miss. Like those previous releases Fast Company features a DTS-HD 7.1 track, a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, and a Dolby Digital Surround EX track, and like those previously releases every one of these tracks sounds roughly the same. If there was one lesson I wish Blue Underground would take away from Criterion it would be the inclusion of the original audio tracks (stereo, surround, or mono). Anyway, this particular disc is a solid one. There’s no ghosting from the center channel into the stereo channels, the added surround effects are natural (usually incidental noise or echo effects), and the overall sound is pretty consistent. The majority of the track is centered, and save a few slightly quieted moments the dialogue is pretty clear. The bass channel gets an even work out thanks to revving funny cars and a relatively poppy rock score. The track’s most impressive moments relate to the direction movement of the racing cars.

Extras


The extras, all of which have been ported over from the original DVD release, begin with David Cronenberg’s solo commentary track. Cronenberg’s a bit off his game, but I can’t imagine him having much more to say about the project. The director comes out of the gate hard, talking breathlessly about his role with the script, what made the project interesting to him (he likes cars, he likes the Western standoff aspects), and divulging varied stories about the behind the scenes project. He runs out of steam early though, and the latter half of the track is largely quiet.

‘Inside the Character Actor’s Studio’ (11:00, SD) is a brief interview with stars John Saxon and William Smith, who wax on about their careers, their love of cars, and working on Fast Company. It’s nice to hear two such iconic guys talking about their craft, and why it’s just as important and nuanced as the work of more famous ‘dramatic’ actors.  The interview is intercut with scenes from the film and stills from each actor’s most celebrated work. ‘Shooting Cronenberg’ (13:30, SD), a conversation with cinematographer Mark Irwin follows. Irwin talks about his relationship with the director throughout the years in a most efficient and entertaining fashion.

The most valuable extras are two of Cronenberg’s early short films – Crimes of the Future and Stereo. The disc is titled Fast Company, but Cronenberg fans know the real title is something more along the lines of ‘Cronenberg’s Lost Features’. None of the films on the disc, Fast Company included, are great, but there’s a sum to the equation that’s much greater than the parts. Stereo is brutally uneventful, but is a clear forerunner to the director’s most beloved work, specifically Scanners. The short, which runs a mind-breaking 63 minutes, is basically made up of artfully shot, but mostly narrative free images set to scientific mumbo-jumbo audio, which describes a process of surgically induced ESP (there is no other audio). It’s sort of a scientific study equivalent to a mockumentary. Crimes of the Future, which also runs 63 minutes, is quite similar, shot on the same locations (in colour this time, and with some non-narration sound), and features many of the same concepts and actors. This one is more of a direct forerunner to Cronenberg’s body horror films, though really only in concept.

Overall


Fast Company is really only going to be worth it to David Cronenberg’s biggest and most loyal fans. It’s simply not a very interesting or entertaining slice of Americana (or I suppose in this case Canadiana). Perhaps drag racing fanatics will find something of value I missed. The disc looks and sounds utterly fantastic, likely as fantastic as possible given the source material, and the extras include two of the director’s earliest short films Stereo and Crimes of the Future.


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