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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

The DVD Geek: The King’s Speech

Based upon a stageplay that serves as a showcase for some juicy acting, the 2010 Oscar-winner, The King’s Speech, released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, preserves the engaging byplay between Colin Firth, as a member of the British royal family impaired by stuttering, and Geoffrey Rush, as the therapist who oversees his adjustments to the condition.  The film also serves as a fine historical drama and, in essence, a prequel to The Queen (Helena Bonham Carter portrays the spirited character that Sylvia Syms embodied in the latter).  The script falls short in a couple of spots—the early part of the decision making process by Firth’s character is not as satisfying as it could have been—and whether out of royal discretion or an inability to break away entirely from the story’s stage beginnings, the director, Tom Hooper, does not always get as close to the characters as filmmaking could enable him to, but the material is so rich in drama and character interaction that such minor flaws are easily eclipsed by the joys of its discoveries and the excitements of its milestones. 

The picture on the feature is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  Near the beginning, there is a clever audio metaphor employed, as Firth’s character makes an embarrassingly halting speech over a cavernous public address system, and while it is perfectly effective on the DVD’s 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track, the moment is chillingly enhanced by the detail afforded through the DTS track on Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray.  While on the whole, the 119-minute film is not the sort one rushes to the Blu-ray shelves to obtain, particularly when the DVD is at a lower price point and the supplements are identical, the enhanced quality of the image and sound delivery creates some subtle improvements to the play of the film.  The crisper, sharper colors bring out the luxurious details of the production designs surrounding Firth’s character, but they also magnify the oddly uncomfortable tightness of the living quarters of Rush’s character, and his dungeon-like office.  The film’s one other daring audio mix is to overlay the dramatic climax—the movie’s title can refer to how Firth’s character talks in general, but also specifically to the radio broadcast he makes after Germany invades Poland, which serves as the film’s emotional conclusion—with Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.  In a purer world, Hooper’s choice (actually, it was editor Tariq Anwar’s idea) would be the subject of grand debates, since it is a rather absurd distraction and yet one that nevertheless underscores the hero’s struggle and triumph with an unbound emotional precision (with bonus points for using a German composer), and on the Blu-ray, jacked up as high as you dare, it becomes even more of a triumph.

There are optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The story is also the sort of material that can be greatly enhanced by a smart set of supplements, and Anchor Bay does not disappoint.  Along with a decent 24-minute promotional documentary and another 22 minutes of interviews with Hooper and some members of the cast (including Claire Bloom, who once met the character she is portraying), another informative 11-minute interview with the grandson of Rush’s character (who, in terms of production time, revealed at the very last moment to the movie’s creators that his grandfather had left  a diary, which subsequently informed numerous scenes), there is a 2-minute newsreel clip of the real George VI giving a speech at the end of WWII, and a complete audio-only presentation of the real 6-minute title speech (it is only because you’ve seen the movie that you realize his pauses are in very odd places).  Hooper also provides a commentary for the feature, going into more details about staging the film and about the history it is depicting.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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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