Moscow on the Hudson
Vladimir, a musician with the Moscow circus, defects to the US and must navigate a new life in New York. An early dramatic role for star Robin Williams, the actor undertook a crash course in Russian and learned to play the saxophone in order to play the part.
Indicator presents Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. Encoded at 1080p/24hz, the master comes from a 4K restoration performed by Sony.
Things start out a little rough during the opening credits, and I initially thought that maybe there had been a mistake and an older master was being used, but things clear up after that and the image looks significantly better, though still has its fair share of off moments. Much of the film looks very sharp and clean, very film-like, with a nice texture to the image. The film is grainy but mostly managed well, keeping a natural look at its best. The film’s colour scheme isn’t very dynamic, the film having a dirtier look, but there are pops of red, orange, pink, and more (mostly in Bloomingdales or club sequences), but despite the lack of a lot of bright colours the browns still appear to be saturated well.
Where things look a bit off here and there are during the film’s darker sequences. Low-lit sequences can have a murkier look, and black levels can maybe be a bit too deep, killing some of the shadow detail, and this gets bad for night sequences, which are very dark. I also found grain to look a bit off during these scenes, a bit chunky and rough. I’m not sure it this has anything to with the restoration/encode or if it’s possibly related to the source and the notes don’t indicate what elements were scanned for the restoration. While most of the film looks like it could be sourced from a negative, the off moments sort of suggest a later generation source. But again, I don’t know for sure.
The image has been cleaned up, though, and the image is just about flawless in this department, with no damage or source issues worth noting. In the end I still think it looks quite good, and it’s a significant improvement over Sony’s almost 20-year-old DVD.
(As a note, I actually wasn’t aware Twilight Time had released the film themselves, meaning I have of course not seen that edition.)
Indicator includes two audio tracks: a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo track, and a remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation. I only listened to the 5.1 surround presentation. It’s not an overly dynamic film, most of the audio focused to the fronts, dialogue primarily to the center with some spread to the other speakers when needed. There’s some noticeable panning and direction at times and these moments sound natural and clean. Some city effects are mixed nicely, and the film’s music also spreads out. It’s not a showy track, but for the film and its subject matter it’s mixed well and sounds very clean.
Indicator throws on a few supplements, starting with director Paul Mazursky’s 2001 audio commentary recorded for the original DVD. While Mazursky can maybe be a little too self-congratulatory at times (at the very least he’s self-aware and it’s in good humour) he delivers a very engaging and honest track, recalling just about every detail of the production. The most interesting aspect is how he was influenced, with the idea all starting after he had taken on a student (who had come from Russia) to work on the crew for Tempest, and the stories he told Mazursky got his mind working. Mazursky was even able to travel to Moscow to make sure what he was told (and things he had already written in his script) were true, and he has some stories about being spied on by the KGB and such. He also talks about casting (interestingly Dustin Hoffman was first approached) and has some great stories to share about his cast. He also talks about some of the themes in the film, the difficulties that immigrants can face when coming to the country, and the bittersweet aspects that come with it: while Williams’ character is certainly freer than he was in Russia, there are still economic factors he wouldn’t have had to worry about. This leads Mazursky to talk about certain political and economic concerns from 2001 (where he points out how real estate prices were already getting to be out of reach). He tries to tone the politics down, though (even asking himself whether he should even get into that on a commentary), but it comes up every once in a while, like when he talks about actor Maria Conchita Alonso, leading to him explaining how he is pro-Castro whereas Alonso, having left Cuba, wasn’t. At times he can get stuck on where he filmed something, leading him to trail off, but overall it’s a very informative and entertaining track. I quite enjoyed it.
Following this, Indicator also includes a 93-minute audio recording from an interview Mazursky did with The Guardian, with Derek Malcolm hosting, and its presented as an alternate audio track over the film. Robin Williams pops up about halfway through, but only to talk about how Mazursky directs actors (though he can’t help himself at times and does have to throw in a crack here and there). When talking about the film Mazursky does talk about some of the same material mentioned in the track, with a few other new stories thrown in, but the interview is more about his career overall and he talks about a number of films he was somehow involved in, which even includes his own part in Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (amusingly he says he thinks Kubrick isn’t a big fan of the film). At a point the audience asks questions and Mazursky answers them as well as he can, though the audio quality is a bit rough (Indicator includes an introduction note to point this out) and they can be hard to hear. Occasionally they’ll be repeated but I did miss some things. At one point, Mazursky gets into a heated discussion with an audience member, who I think was saying he didn’t feel Mazursky showed the “real America” or “real Americans” (or something) and Mazursky ends up going off, saying what the person is suggesting is absurd, considering the diversity of the country. He also talks about the possible controversies that could come with portraying a Russian in a positive light (considering then-President Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric). Again, some parts are hard to hear (and some audible laughs to some garbled voices suggests I was occasionally missing a good joke here and there) but it’s a good conversation and look at Mazursky’s filmography. After the audio ends the film’s audio picks up and the film continues from there.
The disc then closes with a small image gallery featuring some production photos, lobby cards, posters and even an ad for its release on VHS and CED (for those that remember that format). There is then a couple of theatrical trailers, one that appears to be from VHS, the other for theaters. And as usual Indicator includes a booklet, this one running about 36-pages. There’s a nice, short essay on the film by Monica Castillo, which is then followed by a reprint of the production notes written up at the time of the film’s release. I rather enjoyed reading through Mazursky’s notes on his visit to Moscow (with some additional notes provided by Indicator), excerpted from his book Show Me the Magic. As usual, though, one of the more interesting aspects of the release are some excerpts from reviews of the time, including a middling one by Nick Roddick (who sounds to have found it a bit too sentimental), a not-so-good one from Vincent Canby (felt it was an idea in search of an actual movie), and then the closing of Roger Ebert’s all-out praise for the film. A real solid addition itself.
In the end it’s not jam-packed, made up of pre-existing material (no new interviews or anything of that sort), but the material is all good and worth working through.
Despite maybe some minor hang-ups I had with the presentation I still think it looks quite good, and they’ve throw on some great supplementary material.