Monte Hellmanís The Shooting makes its Blu-ray debut through Criterion, presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc (it shares this disc with Hellmanís Ride in the Whirlwind) with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
Of the two films found on this disc The Shooting is probably the weaker of them, but it may just have to do with general look and film elements rather than the transfer itself, though it still has its own faults. Compression may be a slight issue as there are moments where noise is fairly apparent in the skyline and empty landscapes when rendering the filmís grain structure, which has been left intact; it just doesnít always look natural and can be a bit blocky. Colours are also a bit muted but I believe this is just the filmís look, whose primary colour is brown, and nothing to do with the transfer or even the elements (on the commentary Hellman says that the way it is presented here is how he wanted it to look but lacked the resourcesóhe describes it as ďblack and whiteĒ in colour). But detail is extraordinary, especially in the long shots of the rocky landscape. Motion is smooth, and textures and depth are still delivered extraordinarily well.
What surprised me most, though, was just the condition of the print. For some reason I expected the elements to be rough but theyíve either been well take care of or someone did a hell of a restoration because the filmís in great condition. There are a few scratches and marks, pulsating and fluctuations, plus some noticeable debris on the sides of the frames, but thatís about it.
Despite some minor issues in the transfer this was a pleasant surprise and a great way to open this release. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Both The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind are presented on the same dual-layer Blu-ray (I suspect the DVD edition will feature each film on their own disc) and share the same supplements, though each does get their own audio commentary. The tracks feature Hellman along with film historians Bill Krohn (from the L.A. division of Cahiers du cinema) and Blake Lucas. This track has the three talk a lot about how both The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind started development and the many influences Hellman had in the making (Antonioni comes up a lot during the track, specifically Líavventura and its lack of a resolution). Hellman talks a little about the script (which actually gave more back story to the events) and its eventual release (or lack thereof). Where the track is great, though, is when Lucas and Krohn talk to each other about the otherís writing on the subject and their theories, as well as when they talk to Hellman about their theories to the film only to have Hellman shoot them down here and there. What proves most interesting, though, is when Hellman talks about the advantages of the digital age, as he is now just finally able to get the colours the way he wants in this film thanks to computers, and he wishes they had the technology back in the day. He also loves Blu-ray as it exposes details he hadnít seen in years. Good track overall.
The remaining supplements are shared between the two films, and are mostly made up of interviews put together by Hellman.
House of Corman is a quick 6-minute interview between Hellman and Roger Corman. Throughout both commentaries Hellman mentions how much Corman hated the scripts and at one point even threatened to fire Hellman because he was printing too many dailies (budgets were limited so Corman preferred his filmmakers to only print what they would actually use). Corman denies this to an extent. He claims he never threatened to remove Hellman, but admits that the scripts, as he read them, needed more action (some of his suggestions for Ride in the Whirlwind did make it). The two also talk a bit about the general atmosphere working under Corman and Hellman also covers the various things he learned. Surprisingly short in length (though not the shortest interview here) but a great addition for sure.
The Diary of Millie Perkins features a nice 16-minute interview between Hellman and Millie Perkins. The two reminisce on making the two films, recalling some frustrations (Hellman didnít want her to wear makeup but she always snuck some on), her reading of the characters and the little things she threw in. They also talk a little bit about Warren Oates, horse riding, and the overall experience, which she was grateful for.
Whips and Jingles is a discussion between actor Will Hutchins and film programmer Jake Perlin about Hutchinsí work on The Shooting. Despite the lack of Hellman this one actually proves to reveal a bit more, especially behind-the-scenes. Hutchins recalls some of the conflicts that occurred on set, primarily because of the budget. Jack Nicholson was acting as producer and would confront Hellman on a few occasions over concerns (as we find out through other features the films, which had a combined budget of around $150,000, came in under that). He also shares how some scenes came about, including that great one where he runs across screen with the flour blowing everywhere, and talks about his co-stars, including how Oates was apparently a great charades player. He also compares that independent environment to the studio environment and then recalls how he first saw the The Shooting theatrically in France (his girlfriend at the time commented on how great Jack was). Though I get the feeling Hutchins wasnít as close as everyone else that is interviewed here it proves to be the more amusing of the interviews.
Blind Harry may be the more disappointing feature on here just because of who itís with and how short it is: it features the always great Harry Dean Stanton but only runs just shy of 3-minutes. Stanton simply talks about how he came to be cast on Ride in the Whirlwind and the trick to playing an ďauthority figure.Ē He also talks about how he possibly spent time in jail during the shoot but isnít entirely sure. Itís a funny interview but shockingly short.
The True Death of Leland Drum features Hellman talking with actors B.J. Merholz and John Hackett, who had roles in either film. Like just about everyone else they talk about riding horses and the trouble they had with that, and share other stories from the set. Merholz, though, who had possiblt the shortest part in The Shooting, ended up becoming a page of sorts, and was the one who would deliver messages to and from Corman: Merholz is the one who tells Hellman that he was at risk of being fired because of all of the dailies he was printing, and also tells him about Cormanís general displeasure with the films.
On a more technical level is the 19-minute Heart of Lightness, a discussion between Hellman and assistant cameraman/assistant director Gary Kurtz. Kurtz was brought on by Corman (he had worked on a number of other features for him) and the two talk about the difficulties of the shoot, the equipment used, and how certain shots were achieved. We also learn their packaged lunches werenít very good. They also talk a bit about Corman, his obvious concerns over budget, and how he decided to continue with a film or not. There are a few more anecdotes from the set but this one stands out more for the mere fact we get more details about the technical difficulties in making the two films.
Also great is an interview with horse wrangler Calvin Johnson, found under The Last Cowboy. There are plenty of anecdotes about Johnson throughout the features and itís nice to finally meet the man. He talks about his contributions working with the certain actors, particularly Perkins, while also talking about the landscapes that were chosen to shoot against. Mixed in with this is footage of Hellman revisiting some of the locations and some wonderful footage of the different colours found across the rather vast landscape. Another fascinating inclusion, with Johnson a great subject.
The only thing close to a scholarly supplement, other than some of the comments by the two critics in the commentary, is An American Original, a video essay by critic Kim Morgan, who goes over Warren Oatesí career and his appeal, particularly to the likes of Hellman and Peckinpah. The 14-minute feature is a wonderful tribute of sorts, looking at his wide range of work, from his westerns to his work as GTO in Two-Lane Blacktop to appearing opposite Bill Murray in Stripes. Though mostly comprised of photos from his films I was surprised to see some great looking high-def footage from Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (making me regret not upgrading my DVD to the now out-of-print Twilight Time Blu-ray) but disappointed to see some not so great footage from Cockfighter, which looked like upscaled standard-definition footage (so maybe itís not coming as soon as we would hope?)
The release then closes with a nice scholarly essay on the two films by Michael Atkinson.
Though the commentaries somewhat fill the void, as does Atkinsonís essay, the lack of scholarly material is disappointing, as is the lack of Nicholson, who played a huge part in getting these two films made (I assume he was unavailable as he is usually pretty good at participating in special features, even when heís not directly involved with a film, like his participation in the features for Líavventura). Still the material is great and all of it is worth the time of going through. 8/10