Swimmer, The (US - BD)
Gabe swims his way home with Burt Lancaster in this cult favourite...
Now that they’ve arrived back on the scene, Grindhouse Releasing is reinstating their status as one of the leading distributors of cult movies on home video. But what’s really interesting about their Blu-ray output thus far is that, despite having access to a number of popular genre titles (Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox, and Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces, in particular), they’re living up to their pedigree by releasing truly obscure titles that carry no guarantee of sales numbers. In fact, I find myself embarrassed by my utter lack of knowledge concerning three of the last four films they’ve released on the format – Amos Sefer’s An American Hippie in Israel, Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption, and now Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (their The Big Gundown collection is the one I was ready for and my favourite Blu-ray release of 2013).
The Swimmer is a special case, even within Grindhouse’s eclectic collection. It began its life under studio influence and was not an independent or foreign market production. It was made under the supervision of a successful producer, Sam Spiegel ( Lawrence of Arabia), who, following a number of post-production kafuffles, eventually took his name off the project. It was directed by an up-and-coming filmmaker, Frank Perry (who, as it turns out, is related to pop star Katy Perry), fresh off the critical success of Ladybug Ladybug. Most importantly, it featured an all-star cast headed by none other than Burt Lancaster as Ned Merrill, a middle-aged executive of some type (I don’t think his job is ever implicitly stated) that is suffering a surprisingly cheery psychotic break. The story, written by Eleanor Perry and based on John Cheever’s short, follows Ned as he endeavors to ‘swim home’ by crossing a consecutive series of pools that cross the county. Ned enters the fray like Rip Van Winkle. Nobody has seen him in a ‘long time’ and is all smiles as they react to an unspoken event that he appears to have forgotten.
On its surface, The Swimmer is a slightly skewed exploration of very typical late ‘60s characters, the type you’d see on Mad Men, but beneath its off-key interactions is an arthouse study in grief and economic class. As Ned’s obsessive, manic behavior carries him from pool to pool, his neighbors become less inviting, more self-obsessed, and more concerned with the technical details of their consumer goods. His trip turns nightmarish, especially when he is forced to swim a lap in a public pool through a sea of middle-class families. Here, he is directly confronted by blue-collar types that spell out his mysterious failure. The revelation (which isn’t quite as apocalyptic as I was hoping for) breaks him out of his fugue state and brings the film to an appropriately bleak end. Perry’s direction begins deceptively simple – some scenes were directed by Sydney Pollack without credit – but he builds a subtly eerie tone via an extremely subjective handheld style that practically chases Lancaster into the story. He blends this almost Neo-realist approach with abrupt cuts and surrealistic interludes – soft focus, racked focus, super slow-motion, lap dissolves, et cetera. It can be maddening, compounded by Pollock’s re-shoots (which reportedly included the horse running scene and a pivotal, dialogue-heavy scene with a re-cast Janice Rule), but never feels slapdash or meaningless.
True to form, Grindhouse has taken care with this release. This new restoration was scanned in 4K – a treatment Fox didn’t even see fit to give The Great Escape – and is presented here in better-than-brand-new, 1080p, 1.85:1 HD video. Details are complex and sharp enough to create a dizzying depth in the widest of the wide-angle images. Close-up textures are incredibly life like without any over-sharpening effects. Grain levels are relatively consistent with only a few sequences standing out as particularly noisy (some of the blown-out highlights have dancing white flecks and a few of the darker shots feature brief bouts with dark-ish sheets of grain). Specs claim that The Swimmer was a Technicolor release, though I don’t know if it was shot using that magical three-strip process. The colours do appear quite rich and have the slightly artificial, yellowish quality that many three-strip films have, but was made at a time when the bulky cameras were falling out of fashion, so I suspect it was a single-strip 35mm production. Regardless, this disc’s colour quality is eclectic and vivid, including lush greens, truly blue skies and pools, as well as vibrant red highlights for texture (usually flowers and articles of clothing). I haven’t seen Sony’s single-layer, anamorphic DVD release, but can’t imagine it compares to what Grindhouse has done here.
The Swimmer is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono sound. The mix is low-key, as one would expect from any dialogue-heavy studio feature from the era (shooting on location makes for some ADR issues, too). The dialogue itself is relatively consistent, though it has the same oddly flat analogue tape sound inherent in older material like this. There is very little natural ambience (a couple of chirping birds and a shade of crowd noise during a party scene) and the on-screen, incidental noises are pretty quiet. The track springs to life most aggressively wherever Marvin Hamlisch’s super-dramatic score is concerned. The music has quite a bit of depth for a single-channel track, including tightly separated instrumental elements and plenty of bombastic moments. There isn’t any notable distortion or buzz during these particularly noisy bits.
The extras include:
- The Story of The Swimmer (2:28:50, HD) – A five-part, interview-based retrospective documentary that covers the entire production from the point-of-view of various cast and crew members, including first AD Michael Hertzberg, second AD Ted Zachary, Lancaster’s daughter Joanna Lancaster, his swim coach Bob Horn, editor Sidney Katz, composer Marvin Hamlisch, and actors Janet Landgard, Marge Champion, and Joan Rivers. This is an occasionally sluggish and scatter-shot documentary (I’m not really sure why it was broken into five parts, each with their own credits), but it is loving produced and it covers a whole lot of ground (the post-production issues and reshoots are particularly dramatic). I can only hope that Grindhouse includes something this exhaustive with their upcoming releases.
- Allison Anders Interviews Marge Champion (18:00, HD) – A introduction by the filmmaker and interview with the actress following a TCM festival screening of the film.
- Author John Cheever Reads The Swimmer (25:40, audio only)
- Seven image galleries (production stills, Janet Landgard stills, deleted Barbara Loden scene, U.S. promotional materials, international promotional materials, and a PDF of the script)
- U.S. theatrical trailer and five TV spots
- Title sequence outtakes (4:00, HD)
- Cast & crew filmographies
- Trailers for other Grindhouse releases
- DVD/Blu-ray credits
- Easter Eggs (which I was unable to add to the system's Easter egg list at this time)
I’m not quite sure what to make of The Swimmer, besides noting that it is a beautifully-made oddity. I suppose I’ll have to mull it over a bit longer to form a more solidified opinion. More importantly, Grindhouse Releasing has done another incredible job, including a beautiful new HD transfer that rivals most major studio offerings and an exhaustive collection of supplements, headed by a two and a half hour long documentary on the painful production process. The film’s cult fans should definitely add this stellar Blu-ray set to their collections.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray 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.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Extras: The Story of The Swimmer Documentary, Allison Anders Interviews Marge Champion, Author John Cheever Reads The Swimmer, Image Galleries, Trailer, TV Spots, Cast and Crew Filmography, Trailers for Other Grindhouse Releases, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Frank Perry
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Joan Rivers
Length: 95 minutes
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