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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Vanishing Point: BluRay

Charlotte Rampling has second billing on the ‘U.K. version’ of Vanishing Point, which runs 106 minutes (although her name does not appear on the end credit scroll). Without her, the American theatrical release runs 98 minutes. Both versions were included on the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD, and are now featured on the much improved Blu-ray release. Rampling appears right before the end of the film, as an enigmatic nighttime hitchhiker that Barry Newman’s character smokes weed with, and then makes love to. When he awakens in the morning, she has disappeared, and then he goes off to his final showdown against the bulldozers. You can see why the sequence was lifted, to sustain the 1971 film’s sense of constant movement and action, but the segment is entirely in keeping the film’s mystical undercurrent, and it gives the entire feature a stronger sense of resolution and mythos. Please do not misunderstand. The film’s symbolic and quasi-supernatural elements are totally silly, but so are the realistic sequences-the story, after all, is about the police chasing the hero in his 1970 white Dodge Challenger for two days across the Nevada desert-and the movie is more valid as an argument against mythology-that modern warfare, modern corruption, modern communications and modern information dissemination have destroyed the ability to create any reflective mythology that is not satire-than it is to be celebrated for a few esoteric sleights of hand. But mostly, fans just want to bask in Newman’s super-cool attitude, the supremacy of his vehicle over all opponents, and the lovely constant buzz of the highway whipping by.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The picture transfer on the DVD and the BD are essentially the same, although the enhanced solidity of the BD’s image is better able to deal with the somewhat grainy Seventies film stock. On both, fleshtones are fresh and hues are bright, but where the DVD has difficulty handling subtle shifts in shadows or even, at times, objects moving quickly across the screen, the BD is flawless. Fox souped up the sound on the DVD to create a stereo surround track that adds a basic dimensionality to the music and some minor directional effects to the car noises. On the BD, however, the remastered audio is presented in full DTS sound, with a more developed bass, more distinctive separations in the front and the back, and richer, more detailed tones over all. Because it was applied after the fact, the mix is not as consistent as it would have been if it had been devised during the movie’s production, but there are too many engaging moments for it to feel out of place.

The DVD presents the American version on one side of the platter and the U.K. version on the other. The American version has alternate French and Spanish tracks in mono and two TV commercials, and both come with optional English and Spanish subtitles and a trailer. Both versions carry the same commentary track, from director Richard C. Sarafian (his comments over the Rampling sequence are just dropped from the American version). It is a nice talk, ranging from production details and his relationships with the cast and the crew, to the film’s narrative and production history, its financial history, its meanings, the story alternatives (he initially wanted to end the film in San Francisco, with the chase going ‘up’ hills, rather than down) and its status as a cult favorite. He shares a great story about coming across a beautifully restored white Challenger one day long after the film was released, and meeting the owner, who proceeds to get a traffic ticket for peeling out after the encounter. He also points out that the movie possibly influenced Steven Spielberg in making Duel, but he doesn’t really take it far enough, since the film’s imprint can be seen on (obviously) Sugarland Express, the brief time Spielberg spent on White Lightening, and the iconic teaser posters for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The BD provides French and Spanish tracks for the U.K. version, with subtitles for the added scenes, but the American version has a trivia subtitle track, which focuses mostly on irrelevant late Sixties pop culture, and a kind of cute optional ‘dashboard’ that is superimposed upon the image and identifies how fast the car is driving, what its RPM is, how far it has gone, and so on, with other options identifying the musical score (on the radio) and a pull down map that shows the route from Denver through Utah, Nevada and California. Both versions retain the commentary. Along with the trailer and TV commercials, however, there are some terrific new featurettes, including a wonderful 18-minute retrospective documentary that has interviews with everyone from Newman to the woman whose youth has been eternally preserved as the ‘naked girl on the motorcycle.’ There is a decent 10-minute piece on the Challenger itself, and a nice 31-minute segment on the artists contributing to the musical score, including Kim Carnes. A trivia quiz is also included.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon