Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fat City (1972): Vintage DVD Review

Movie rating: 7/10
DVD rating: 8/10
Release Date: December 10, 2002
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Rating: PG
Distributor: Columbia Tristar
List Price: $19.95
Disc Details
Special Features:
Widescreen anamorphic and full frame formats
Chapter selection
Video Format:
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Full Frame (1.33:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles: English, French.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case


The early 1970s were a time of a renaissance in American filmmaking. New up-and-coming directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsesee were taking advantage of new moral freedoms to create some of the most profound and powerful films ever produced. It wasn't just the young Turks who created an artistic stir during this time. Many veterans of the Golden Years of Hollywood were still expressing themselves. John Huston's 1972 film "Fat City" is one of the best examples of a lion in winter showing his claws. The gritty character study was honored with a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Susan Tyrrell.

"Fat City" is a grim character study of three people on the outs with life. Bill Tully (Stacy Keach) is a drunken, has-been boxer. Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges) is an 18 year-old kid with potential to be a great boxer. Oma (Susan Tyrrell) is a lonely aging alcoholic. Huston weaves a tale of hopes and dreams around these three hanger ons of society. Leonard Gardner adapted his own autobiographical novel set in the seedy side of Stockton California.

Tully's wife left him and he crawled inside a bottle. After a year of drinking, Tully crawls out. He is determined to get back in shape and fight again. Tully meets Ernie working out on the punching bag at the YMCA. He sends Ernie to she his old manager. The manager sees potential in Ernie also. Ernie is aimless. He has just knocked up Faye (Candy Clark), his virginal girlfriend. Ernie decides to take a shot at boxing. Tully has a tougher road to hoe. He has to kick the booze, and exorcise the demons of his past. When Tully meets Oma in a bar, he has another obstacle in his way. Things with Oma are great when Tully drinks, but not when he tries to sober up. Huston's subjects are people you walk past every day without giving a second thought to other than maybe to feel superior to. "Fat City" is a portrait of hopes among the hopeless. The film's deliberate pace may be offsetting to a generation hopped up on cinematic adrenaline like "XXX." For those not suffering from ADD, "Fat City" is a very worthwhile experience. I spent 25 years working in bars and restaurants all over this country. I have seen these characters in the flesh. The scene in which Stacy Keach and Susan Tyrrell hook up is both hilarious and sad. Watch this movie before you get drunk in public again.

Susan Tyrrell's performance is the best of her career. I have always thought Ms. Tyrrell to be a strange bird. She strikes me as a female version of Crispen Glover. She sure can act, but I really wonder if she is just playing herself. I don't know. Her mannerisms and speech on screen are like no one else. Her Oma is a totally eccentric old drunk. It is a great performance.

Though "Fat City" is set in the world of amateur boxing, don't expect to see "Raging Bull" caliber fight scenes. Keach and Bridges portray low rent fighters. The fights are staged as such.

The Disc

Great, but low key film. Good picture and sound. No extras. Vanilla DVD price.

Picture Quality: 8/10

While I didn't notice any artifacts, the picture is soft around the edges during the brighter scenes. Part of this is due to the source material. I remember seeing "Fat City" in the theater when it first came out. Diffused lighting is used to show how bright the sun would look to someone who is drunk or hung over. The blacks are good, and there is good definition in the shadows.

Sound Quality: 7/10

The 2.0 stereo has been cleaned up. There is not much going on at the low end. At times the higher ranges sound a bit flat and tinny. No loss of dialogue. Kris Kristofferson's title song "Help Me Make It Through the Night" sounds just fine.

Menu: 7/10

Simple design. Easy to navigate. No Easter Eggs.

Extra Features: 2/10

There are trailers for "The Greatest," "XXX" and "On the Waterfront." I wish they had at least found the trailer for this movie.

The Final Word:

Fans of the 1970s will love this. Anyone interested in great performances should also enjoy "Fat City." Just remember that "Fat City" is not the feel-good hit of the holiday season.

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