Stone: Special Edition (US - DVD)
Gabe takes a ride with some bikers, until they notice him and beat him up...
After a series of assassinations rocks Sydney Australia’s Grave Diggers biker gang, undercover cop Stone joins the group looking for answers. The Grave Diggers don’t particularly like Stone, but learn to trust him, and eventually learn the reason for their targeted status.
The downfall of studios like Substance and Discotek, the changes in structure at Anchor Bay, and the availability of most of the big titles all seems to point towards the impending death of cult DVD studios. But the continued success of Blue Underground and Synapse, and the strength relative up and comers like Severin, Dark Sky and Code Red hopefully point to the opposite assumption. It’s true that most the big cult horror titles are already available on disc, with beautifully revamped A/V and cool extras, but this can be good news. Instead of yearning for an uncut, anamorphic release of Argento’s Phenomena, cult fanatics can move their focus to discovering new movies, movies like Sandy Harbutt’s kick-ass biker classic— Stone.
Judging the four titles I was sent last month by Severin studios by their covers, Stone was the least interesting, and was pushed to the back of my review list. Devil Hunter and Bloody Moon were two Video Nasty entries I’d hadn’t yet seen, and In the Folds of the Flesh was a notorious rarity, but I’d never heard word one about Stone, and thanks to a lot of biker movie road rash I was hesitant to even bother with the disc. I was very wrong. Stone isn’t going to make any all time best lists, and most mainstream critics will likely dismiss the film as a plot thin exercise in basic exploitation, but I see a stylized undercover story with enough grit and gloom to stand up to accepted ‘classics’ like Infernal Affairs.
They don’t make films like this anymore, and even when they did make them, they didn’t make them very well. Stone is light on plot, but the plot isn’t the point, and had it been any heavier it may’ve stilted the film’ most successful elements. The film is more of a docu-drama than a story driven piece, giving a genuine glimpse into the world of 1970s biker gangs without a lot of obvious filmmaker intervention.
Harbutt co-wrote, produced, and directed the film, and stars as the head of the fictional biker gang. For a relative unknown this particular Renaissance man Harbutt delivers on all levels. As an actor he’s almost frighteningly realistic, as a writer he’s intelligently minimalist without sacrificing audience participation, and as a director he crafts some indelible images with an itty bitty budget, and gets solid performances out of a bunch of hoodlums. Harbutt’s use of camera and sound effects are indubitably dated, but serve as a good example of bygone styles, rather than a joke at their expense. A lack of grace also works in the rough and tumble film’s favour, though the tightness of the editing when it really counts is definitely remarkable (often films of this type fail because they don’t know when to cut). The film suffers a bit when dealing with a lot of dialogue, but the director has enough tricks up his sleeve to make even the dullest discussion audibly and visually fascinating. In the end Stone would be a great nomination for first year film school viewing, as it is a perfect example of filmmaking by heart with a minimal budget.
Stone comes looking pretty much as expected for a rare cult film out of 1974, but fans should take notice. This marks the only anamorphic widescreen availability of the film, which Severin has framed at the seemingly correct ratio of 1.85:1. The print exhibits plenty of damage, including scratches, flecks of dirt, tracking lines, and a whole lot of grain, but the images are clear and distinct. Colours are bold, if not a bit noisy, and blacks are clean and deep. A large majority of the film has been shot using a softer focus, and a higher diffusion, so details aren’t particularly pin-pointed, but I can’t say anything especially important has been obscured. Severin hasn’t bothered with trying to sharpen the print too much, which is mostly a good thing, as the film can maintain its intended look, and DVD viewers don’t have to have their eyes burned out with over-modulation or edge enhancement.
Stone sets itself apart from the cult-biker masses with its more than capable sound mix, which though singularly channelled, is quite dynamic. The credit sequence is filled with the wonderful sounds of a starting a motorcycle, divided by sections of complete silence, then later expressed through more abstract means, like a plucked wire that slowly morphs into a running engine. There’s a definite art behind this early sound design, and the art is more or less carried over throughout the rest of the film, which doesn’t feature a whole lot of on-set sound, save some of the dialogue pieces. Billy Green’s score, which is credited as Rock and Roll, not ‘music’ or ‘score’, is a surprising mix of traditional period rock, aggressive electronic and vocal experimentation, and old fashion stings. The two channel mono mix is a little rough in patches, and the heavy bass of music and roaring engines sometimes overwhelms the track, but the small details aren’t lost, and the dialogue is clear (or as clear as it can be for non-Aussies).
This surprisingly potent two disc special edition starts with ‘ Stone Forever’, a sixty-minute-plus documentary about the film’s cult following, the behind the scene process, and 1998’s 25th Anniversary showing that brought out thirty thousand bikers to Sydney. The 25th Anniversary showing started as an attempted recreation of the film’s post-title funeral scene, where more than four hundred bikers were hired to ride. One biker died during the recreation. ‘ Stone Forever’ features a lot of footage from the original making-of featurette that also adorns the disc, and a lot of footage from the film, but also features a lot of (at the time) new interview footage. Generally it acts as more of a look back on the film than a look at the anniversary, and is a better making-of doc than the period item, which is mostly an EPK for prospective release. The cast and crew interviews are relatively fascinating, and everyone’s good about putting the film in its proper context, which is important for people like me who know nothing about 1970s Australia.
The second disc of the set finishes off with the original ‘Making of Stone’, which runs a solid twenty-two minutes, and has its place in the collection despite the better doc that precedes it, a series of make-up tests, and a director’s slide show, hosted audibly by Harbutt. The first disc features only the original trailer.
I regret the tardiness of this review because apparently this release is pretty hard to find, and my recommendation will likely come too late. Stone is an effective mix of gritty action, retro style, and genuine art. I compare it favourably to other biker classics, even Easy Rider, which lacks the exploitation charms, and even pacing. The story is a little loose, but the performances are solid, and the cinematography and music are largely above average. Severin has done their best with likely less than stellar source material, and included some nice extras as well.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th October 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: 'Stone Forever', 'The Making of Stone', Make-Up Test, Director's Slide Show, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sandy Harbutt
Cast: Ken Shorter, Sandy Harbutt, Deryck Barnes, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Vincent Gil
Genre: Action, Crime, Documentary and Thriller
Length: 99 minutes
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