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Return to Table of Contents June 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Star Trek
CAS Part 1
Previs
ASC Close-Up
DVD Playback
The 400 Blows
Nickelodeon/Last Pic
The Wackness
Nickelodeon/The Last Picture Show (1971/1976)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital Mono
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $24.96




When producer Roger Corman gave Peter Bogdanovich his big break writing and directing Targets in 1968, the producer recommended a young cinematographer from Hungary who had been honing his craft on exploitation movies under the pseudonym “Leslie Kovacks.” Bogdanovich immediately hit it off with the cameraman, who, in turn, was so pleased with Targets he chose to use his real name on the picture for the first time in his career. Laszlo Kovacs went on to become a major cinematographer of the American New Wave and an ASC member, and he returned five more times to work with Bogdanovich on a series of films as diverse as they are accomplished. Their partnership yielded three modern classics (What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon and Mask); two ambitious, vastly underrated experiments (At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon) and one of the most sophisticated thrillers to come out of Corman’s school of low-budget filmmaking (Targets).
     
One of Bogdanovich and Kovacs’ most audacious collaborations is Nickelodeon (1976), a movie drawn from Bogdanovich’s friendships with Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh and other directors of the silent era. Bogdanovich interviewed these men at length for various books and articles, and decided their fascinating reminiscences would be great material for a film. Starting with a love triangle about two men in love with the same woman as its narrative spine, Nickelodeon collects seemingly every story about the silent era that Bogdanovich ever heard in an affectionate, inspiring love letter to the birth of cinema.  The film is not only about silent-film pioneers, but it is also a tribute to their techniques; throughout the movie, Bogdanovich relies on gesture, composition and editing to convey meaning. Although the dialogue is often fast and witty, recalling movies of a slightly later era, Nickelodeon’s most powerful moments are visual ones: a hot-air balloon soaring out of control, a silent-film crew toiling away late at night on a glowing outdoor stage and a look shared between a man and a woman who love each other but know the love cannot last.
    
This new DVD of Nickelodeon contains two versions of the film, the original color theatrical release and a restored black-and-white director’s cut. Bogdanovich and Kovacs always intended to shoot the film in black-and-white, but executives at Columbia balked; nevertheless, Kovacs lit the film as though it were a black-and-white movie in the hope that it would one day be printed that way. His and Bogdanovich’s intentions have finally been fulfilled on this DVD, which makes Nickelodeon seem like a totally different (and far superior) movie. Thanks to Kovacs’ attention to separation and detail, Nickelodeon is vibrant and textured — not a film with the color drained out of it; instead, a shimmering masterpiece of black-and-white cinematography on a par with Paper Moon. The DVD transfer impeccably restores Kovacs’ rich tonal range and subtle use of the grey scale, and the equally pristine digital soundtrack faithfully reproduces the film’s intricate monaural sound design.         
    
No director has done more with the DVD commentary than Bogdanovich, who has recorded exemplary tracks for nearly all of his films. Eschewing the remembrances and pointless anecdotes that plague so many audio commentaries, he packs his commentaries with insights into the filmmaking craft and candid assessments of his films’ strengths and weaknesses. Nickelodeon is a worthy addition to the canon of essential Bogdanovich audio narrations. The director comments extensively on his visual choices and gives a thorough account of the movie’s production history.    
    
Nickelodeon is packaged with a new special edition of one of Bogdanovich’s most famous films, The Last Picture Show. This tale of lonely people trying to connect in a decaying rural town has lost none of its visual or emotional power in the decades since its theatrical release. Photographed by the veteran Robert Surtees, ASC, in stark but beautiful black-and-white, The Last Picture Show is a remarkable blend of classical Hollywood style (incorporating Bogdanovich’s penchant for long takes and invisible editing) and 1970s moral ambiguity and frankness. It represents a bridge between two great traditions of American filmmaking, neither of which was to last much longer.

This new transfer of The Last Picture Show is the best to date, perfectly capturing the sharp clarity of Surtees’ deep-focus images and the contrast and grain of the movie’s release prints. The version on the DVD is Bogdanovich’s slightly extended (at 126 minutes) director’s cut, which he first assembled for a Criterion Laserdisc release in the 1990s. As in the case of Nickelodeon, the longer version of the film is the superior one.  The disc features a new commentary track by Bogdanovich that is typically enlightening and entertaining, and a new 12-minute interview about the film and its place in his career.  Two supplements from earlier DVD releases are included as well: a six-minute theatrical re-release featurette and an excellent hour-long documentary by Laurent Bouzereau that includes interviews with Bogdanovich and many of his actors.
 

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