Dogfight

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Synopsis

An ineffably bittersweet portrait of youth in the 1960s, Nancy Savoca’s funny, sensitive tale of love and war etches two vividly alive characters: aspiring San Francisco folk singer Rose (Lili Taylor) and hotheaded, Vietnam-bound marine Eddie (River Phoenix), who meet on the occasion of a cruelly misogynistic party where men compete to bring the most unattractive dates they can find. But what begins as a night to forget unexpectedly develops into something far more meaningful. Featuring music by folk legends Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger, Dogfight captures the miracle of human connection while gracefully subverting ideas surrounding machismo, patriotic duty, and the very meaning of America itself.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection presents Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K restoration scanned from the 35mm interpositive.

A handful of slight issues aside, Criterion’s Blu-ray delivers a wonderful presentation. Overall, it does a solid job of rendering grain and details, and the presentation has a decent film texture, thanks to it. Colors are also bright and vivid, with gorgeous reds and blues, while black levels are deep with a broad range in the shadows.

The restoration has also cleaned things up wonderfully, with no significant mark ever showing up. It falters a bit when it comes to rendering some of the neon lights that appear in the film, and things get a little noisy around the edges, but nothing too severe. Past that, there aren’t any significant concerns. It’s a sharp presentation.

Audio 8/10

The disc includes a DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround soundtrack. It’s a reasonably dynamic mix, especially regarding the film’s period music soundtrack, which makes its way to the surrounds. Dialogue sounds very sharp with superb fidelity, and there is no sign of any damage. It sounds great.

Extras 7/10

Criterion throws together a decent special edition, first porting over the audio commentary from Warner’s 2003 DVD release, featuring director Savoca and producer Richard Guay. It’s a production-focused track, recalling how the film came together and the experience of making it. I was surprised to learn that the film wasn’t something that Savoca initiated; instead, it was brought on as a hire, with the approval of star River Phoenix, who sounds to have had the final say on all aspects of production. Savoca was interested in the period aspect of the story, completely ignoring the Dogfight plot, though once she delved more into it, she realized she would have to rework the script. Her biggest issue was how shallow the character of Rose was, who was there to initiate change within the main character played by Phoenix, and once Lili Taylor came on board, the two worked together to flesh out the role more.

The two get into the period details, which included finding the appropriate locations (though taking place in San Francisco, they filmed a lot of it in Seattle), music, and costumes. Savoca went as far as to look up specific details and events about the night the film takes place, even looking through an old TV Guide to find what films were playing on television at that time, which is why I Confess was chosen as the film on a background television during one sequence. She also sings the praises of casting director Marion Dougherty (who I swear was the casting director for every Warner Bros. film during the '80s and ’90s) and the people she brought in, including Brendan Fraser in his first role (with Dougherty stating he was going to be a star one day).

It's an excellent director track, one of the better studio-recorded ones I can recall. The only negative against it is that Taylor couldn’t be involved. Thankfully, she appears for a brand new 32-minute discussion between her, Savoca, and filmmaker Mary Harron. Impressively, very little is repeated from the track, and the three manage to expand on many of its comments. For example, Savoca talks a bit more about the weaknesses in the script before she and Taylor talk more about how they collaborated around the character. Taylor also explains how she initially tried to make herself “ugly” only to get sick. They also talk more about how they shut down production to better develop one pivotal scene, where Phoenix’s character apologizes, which wasn’t going to work as it was written. Getting Taylor’s input here proves beneficial and makes the feature a superb addition all on its own. Still, the icing is learning about the wild set of coincidences around Taylor’s involvement with this film that led to her getting the lead role in Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, which I won’t spoil here.

Criterion also puts together a new 29-minute program about the film’s look and design entitled The Craft of “Dogfight,” which features remote interviews with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, production designer Lester W. Cohen, script supervisor Mary Cybulski, music supervisor Jeffrey Kimball, supervising sound editor Tim Squyres, and editor John Tintori.  This also expands on many of the technical aspects of the film, from location to using the appropriate music (which was going for more of a 50’s vibe despite most of the film taking place in the early 60’s). Photos and other forms of research are inserted throughout as well.

The disc then closes with the film’s trailer and an insert featuring an essay by Christina Newland, providing the only academic angle to the release. Despite the lack of anything else along those lines, Criterion’s thrown a good set of features that thoroughly explore the film’s production.

Closing

Criterion brings the film back to the forefront with great features and sharp new presentation.

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Directed by: Nancy Savoca
Year: 1991
Time: 93 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1216
Licensor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Release Date: April 30 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Audio commentary featuring Nancy Savoca and producer Richard Guay   New interview with Nancy Savoca and actor Lili Taylor conducted by filmmaker Mary Harron   New interviews with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, production designer Lester Cohen, script supervisor Mary Cybulski, music supervisor Jeff Kimball, supervising sound editor Tim Squyres, and editor John Tintori   Trailer   An essay by film critic Christina Newland