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Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

Convoy


Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) who, in pursuance of a feud with Sheriff Lyle (Ernest Borgnine), unites scores of his fellow truck-drivers via Citizens Band radio into a gigantic mile-long convoy which, powered by pent-up frustrations and resentments as much as by diesel fuel, rolls irresistibly along the Arizona highways toward the freedom of the Mexican border. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

Despite being well-received and popular when released, Convoy is probably the least essential film in Sam Peckinpah’s oeuvre. I hesitate to call it his ‘worst’ film, because its positive and negative qualities lie outside the scope of what makes a ‘good’ Sam Peckinpah film. The qualification seems moot. At any rate, the harrowing story behind the making of Convoy is more interesting in regards to the director’s work than the final product. The short version is that Peckinpah was in dire straits as the ‘70s drew to a close. He hadn’t had anything resembling a hit since The Getaway in 1972 and, when Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) was ravaged by critics and audiences, he grudgingly retreated to ‘for hire’ gigs, including a spy thriller, Killer Elite (1975), and a war film, Cross of Iron (1975). He was also falling deeper into depression, paranoia, alcoholism, and drug addiction, and was considered unbankable and even uninsurable by most major studios.

Meanwhile, dopey road comedies and trucker thrillers, like Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Don Hulette’s Breaker! Breaker! (also 1977), were suddenly en vogue. A desperate Peckinpah was brought onto a cash-in project called Convoy, based on C. W. McCall’s country-pop smash hit song. There’s almost no way to parallel this in modern terms. First, you’d have to have a contemporary counterpart to Peckinpah, which really doesn’t exist. Then you’d need that counterpart to make a trendy genre film that was totally out of character. But the trend would need to be incredibly short-lived, so superhero movies and found-footage horror wouldn’t apply. On top of that, the contemporary counterpart would need to be a despot drug addict and the plot would have to be based on a novelty song. If Lars Von Trier had directed a Bring it On cash-in, like Stick It (Jessica Bendinger’s misfit gymnast movie, 2006), that was partially inspired by Reel 2 Real’s ‘I Like to Move It,’ you’d have something similar to the surreal existence of Convoy.

Not surprisingly, Convoy was a disaster. Peckinpah (and the cast that had joined the picture specifically to work with him) didn’t like B. W. L. Norton’s script and struggled to find conceptual relevance. The director went to war with producer Robert M. Sherman and continued to fall apart physically and mentally. Logistics were impossible, stunts almost turned deadly, and everyone wanted to quit, but the financing was already in place, so production continued, sometimes without Peckinpah on set. The final film was edited without the director’s input and is a cobbled mess with no thematic center that just barely rises above the basement-level expectations of the trucker subgenre. The plot is a bore, the pacing is sluggish, and the pro-union/anti-authoritative message is fumbled in the dumb comedy and broad characterizations. The only saving grace is Peckinpah’s eye for camera placement and editing action, though even his patented slow-motion seems awkward and out of place.

Convoy has seen other Blu-ray releases in other regions, but this is its US HD debut. This 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is acceptable, verging on very good, and probably matches any other disc that used MGM/UA’s original HD scan. The good news is that the image is tight, the patterns are clean, the edges are sharp, and the colours are natural and punchy. Black levels are rich without pooling or crushing (outside of some of the darkest interiors) and contrast levels appear accurate. On the other hand, some images show signs of substantial DNR tinkering. These have been shorn of natural grain and are left with smudgy shapes (especially in the backgrounds), as well as some notable edge haloes. The scenes that have been left grainy are pretty heavy with the stuff, especially the wide-angle images of the open road. Print damage is minor, following a few chunky bits during the opening credits.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack also meets expectations. It’s a bit surprising that the producers didn’t want a stereo mix for the original release, given the budget, scope of action, and pop music-heavy soundtrack, but the single track treatment doesn’t flatten all the truck engines, gun shots, explosions, or music. It’s not the deepest set mix, of course, but the structure is clear and there are very few distorted elements. Dialogue is clean and relatively consistent (there are a couple of muffled bits). Chip Davis’ twangy country score and the additional songs (including the title track) could’ve made use of the stereo spread, I suppose, but it all has surprising bass support.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and Nick Redman – This chatty group commentary covers the tumultuous production and takes a very honest approach to criticizing the film’s many, many faults. Fans of the film might find the analysis unnecessarily harsh (all three commentators take an exclusively negative slant), but the discussion is rarely insulting.
  • Passion & Poetry: Sam's Trucker Movie (73:00, SD) – This behind-the-scenes documentary, directed by Mike Siegel (as part of a longer documentary on the director’s career), isn’t the best of its kind, but admirably covers the fascinating subject matter, complete with interviews with all the key players. It is, ultimately, a better movie than Convoy and I almost recommend that new viewers watch it first to fully understand how such a great filmmaker could make such a milquetoast product.
  • Trailer, TV spots, radio spots, and production stills
  • Promoting Convoy Featurette (5:40, SD) – Poster campaign comparisons
  • Three ‘lost’ scenes (5:50, HD) – Text descriptions and stills
  • In-jokes, Friends & Cameos (6:00, SD)
  • Trucker Notes from Norway (3:10, SD) – An interview with a Norweigen super-fan


 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up


Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

Barquero


A group of Mexican mercenaries, led by a brutal man named Remy (Warren Oates), head for the town of Lonely Dell in order to cross the Paria River. Leaving a trail of death and destruction along the way, they arrive there, not expecting any resistance from the town's citizens. After decimating the local town, the gang of bandits demand that bargeman Travis (Lee Van Cleef) transport the crooks and their booty across the river. But they get more than they bargained for when Travis turns the table on the vicious gang. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

By 1970, the Italian western movement, known abroad as ‘spaghetti westerns,’ had thoroughly caught on in North American. Their popularity, along with a revisionist’s spirit pulsing throughout ‘New Hollywood’ in the late ‘60s, helped prompt a brief resurgence of American-made westerns. The spaghetti subgenre endured, but did not last very long and many of its American counterparts have been forgotten, especially those not made by cultural touchstones, like Sam Peckinpah or Clint Eastwood. Gordon Douglas’ Barquero has the benchmarks of a post-spaghetti revisionist western, by including appearances from Lee Van Cleef, who had become a superstar in Italy, and long-time Peckinpah collaborator Warren Oates. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot for a post-modern western fan to sink his/her teeth into here; merely well-shot impressions of more impulsive and dynamic motion pictures. George Schenck and William Marks’ screenplay doesn’t really play with conventions as much as fill them out with the bleaker, bloodier tropes that Ralph Nelson, Don Siegel, and Michael Winner would develop in the wake of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. There are plenty quirky support characters and, even at his most sedate (thankfully, he breaks out more during the final act), Oates oozes sleazy charm, but there aren’t any stand-outs and Van Cleef spends too much of the movie off-screen.

Douglas was no spring chicken by the time he made Barquero and might have even been a filmmaker Leone looked up to as a ravenous western fan. After working in overlooked B-movies throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, Gordon made the killer ant classic, Them (1954), and, in the run-up to Barquero, he alternated between westerns, dramas, and Frank Sinatra movies. He also made the super-stylish spy comedy In Like Flint (1967). Barquero is too slick to evoke the more vital genre films of the era (it kind of looks like a ‘60s, live-action Disney production, despite the violence), but the opening shootout is definitely worth noting. Douglas cleverly frames much of the action around Oates as he is introduced as the main villain. There are plenty of cuts between locations during the fight, but, as the handheld camera follows Oates throughout the main set while peering out windows and marching through doors, it feels as thought it could’ve been achieved via a single extended take. If only more scenes were as inventively shot, it would be easier to overlook the slow-moving plot that doesn’t really go anywhere until the final 15 minutes.

Barquero was released on DVD in European countries, but never made a digital home video appearance in the United states. This 1.85:1, 1080p BD25 is the first and only HD version available. The image quality is hit-and-miss throughout. Most problems arise from the general age of the material, but the more bothersome issues pertain to definite digital fiddling. It is apparent in the minor-to-moderate DNR artefacts. Usually, these appear in the form of slightly flat textures, but there are also some waxy qualities to the sweaty faces. Daylight sequences are generally in better shape, while darker sequences tend to suffer from significant uptakes in grain. More troubling is the digital noise that smears over nighttime shots or similar scenes with prevalent black levels. This usually white CRT noise is pretty distracting. Colours are punchy, despite the soft backgrounds and purposefully muddy palette. The opening credits are supposed to look like they’re shot through a burlap mesh, but I don’t know if the blue blobs that appear during Oates’ red-baked flashback are supposed to be there.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack has similarly small issues. The key problem is that there’s a lot of silence in the mix and the sound-floor features an occasional low-end buzz that pokes its head out anytime people aren’t talking or shooting at each other. When there is production noise, it all sounds good – dialogue is clear, effects are balanced, and gunshots are loud. Dominic Frontiere’s soundtrack is sort of trapped between ‘40s/’50s Hollywood western standards and Ennio Morricone’s genre-bending work with Leone, but it’s still pretty interesting, especially the pieces involving Spanish percussion. The music sounds very nice on the track and features no notable high-end distortion effects.

The only extra is a trailer.

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up


Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

The White Buffalo


They called him Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson), the prince of pistoleers, a frontier adventurer, and a killer of men -- now, in his last years, he is an old gunfighter, plagued by fears and driven by a need to make peace with himself. The White Buffalo is his constant nightmare; he must find the fabled beast and destroy it...before it destroys him. He was Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), the greatest of all Sioux chiefs. A warrior of dignity and pride – now, a father who searches for the legendary albino buffalo, so that the spirit of his dead child can go to heaven and he will stop at nothing to obtain the sacred white pelt. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo has the unfortunate reputation of being weird enough to be ostracized by general audiences, yet not weird enough to be fully embraced by cult audiences. Despite revising the mythologies of two of the West’s greatest historical personalities – Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse – its closest cousins are actually not the other post-spaghetti, postmodern westerns of the ‘70s, but the (accidentally?) surreal pseudo-blockbusters that Dino De Laurentiis’ was producing in the era. It’s no mistake that was released alongside Michael Anderson’s Orca in 1977. Both films were mystifyingly odd cash-ins on the success of Spielberg’s Jaws and featured giant mechanical monster effects, foggy photography, and bewilderingly bleak tones. What’s stranger is that they were both bubbling with ominous existential malaise and explored the themes of modern manhood between action scenes and shots of stiff, yet charming creature effects.

Before offering his workman-like talents to this outlandish dread-soaked movie, Thompson had made an international name for himself with movies, like the incredibly influential WWII ‘guys on a mission’ adventure, The Guns of Navarone (1961), the original Cape Fear (1962), and the best of the Planet of the Apes sequels, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). White Buffalo suffers from long boring streaks that stretch the reasonably short runtime into a minor eternity, but Thompson gets loads of mileage from the surrealistic, almost nightmarish tone and screenwriter Richard Sale’s (whose script is based on his own novel) constant stream of wise adages. Any scene including the rampaging bison is pretty hard to resist, too. Even the occasionally stiff performances – not an unexpected result from kings of understatement, Charles Bronson and Will Sampson – fits the singular mood. At the very least, it is an interesting companion piece to Arthur Penn’s vastly superior ‘alternate history’ epic, Little Big Man (1970), as well as Orca, which puts it in a very unusual category, indeed. This was Thompson’s second collaboration with Bronson, following St. Ives (1976), and the two of them worked together six more times, from 10 to Midnight (1983), to Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (Thompson’s final film, 1989).

White Buffalo was released on DVD in European territories and made the rounds on HD television, but hasn’t had a stateside home video release since VHS. This 1080p, 1.78:1 Blu-ray transfer more or less matches the 1080i version I saw on MGMHD, including half-decent details, soft dynamic range, and the bandy gradations. The problems are not all due to compression and iffy scanning processes – Thompson and cinematographer Paul Lohmann shot a lot of the movie through fog and smoke with soft focus and short lenses. Dark scenes are a bit muddy and snow-capped/foggy shots can be overrun with discolourated grit and noise. Grain levels are pretty natural otherwise. Details are soft but patterns are more complex than SD versions, but contrast levels are too harsh, leading to crushed blacks (which are still kind of gray) and overly thickened edges. The colour scheme is relatively bland by design (lost of browns) and looks consistent here.

The imdb.com specs claim that White Buffalo was mixed in mono, but a number of DVD releases claim to include a stereo track. The Russian release even has a 5.1 remix. MGM appears to have handed Kino a mono track for this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. The white buffalo’s rumbling hoof beats and the major damage he does to natural environments could’ve used more impactful bass to get the message across, but there’s little need for directional enhancement. Dialogue is clear, as are the rather minimalist sound effects (aside from very loud gunshots), but the real star is John Barry’s boisterous music, which gives the movie an epic fantasy/supernatural horror vibe (no James Bondisms here). The score could benefit from a stereo enhancement, especially the full-force orchestral stings, which come across a bit soft here.

The only extra is a trailer.

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

 Kino Lorber Studio Classics April Wrap-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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