Neurotic, self-obsessed Robert Cole (Albert Brooks) is a successful film editor who splits up with his on-off girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold), only to try and win her back when he finds he can’t live without her. Considered by many to be one of America’s greatest comic talents, and sought out by filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Judd Apatow, Steven Soderbergh and Nicolas Winding Refn, actor-writer-director Brooks created what is perhaps his most caustic and excruciatingly honest film in Modern Romance.
Powerhouse Film’s Indicator line presents the world premiere Blu-ray edition for Albert Brooks’ second feature, Modern Romance, delivering the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz encode. Though a UK release the disc is region free and should play without issue on North American players.
Unfortunately there are no notes indicating where the master used for this release has been sourced, the only note being an ominous “high-definition master” detail in the specifications. Based on a few other Indicator releases (like Wolf) I ended up assuming it would be a noticeably older master but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all and it looks recent, or if it is an older one it’s a damn good one, delivering a far cleaner and more film-like image than I was ever expecting. While film grain may not be as fine-tuned as it can here and there it is still rendered marvelously, keeping a clean, fairly natural look throughout the film’s running time, while details are rendered superbly. Some of those awful late-70’s/early-80’s clothing details have never looked more heinous than they do here, with patterns and threading coming through clearly. You can also just about make out every tight curl on Brooks’ head (and his shoulders). The clarity and level of detail was most definitely unexpected.
There are also no digital anomalies to speak of, no noise, no edge-enhancement. Nothing. And colours also come off looking fabulous (another surprise since I was ready for a more faded look), with some bright reds, oranges, and greens. Even that horrible brown jump suit comes out looking good. Black levels are strong, too, quite rich and inky, still allowing details come through clearly in darker scenes. Also most impressive: damage is just about non-existent thanks to what looks to have been an incredibly thorough clean-up job. I assume this was done on Indicator’s side since clips used in the supplemental material show more bits of dirt and debris than what is in the feature presentation.
In the end, whether it’s a new restoration or an older one it looks staggeringly good, offering a very notable improvement over Sony’s previous DVD.
Indicator provides a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack for the film. Free of any distracting noise or damage, the track is crisp and clean with an impressive amount of range and excellent fidelity. Voices sound clear and the music on the film’s soundtrack (primarily Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”) almost sounds newly recorded.
Indicator has managed to put together a couple of new features, starting with a feature-length audio commentary from critic and film historian Nick Pinkerton. Brooks and his films have a “love it or hate it” effect on audiences and Pinkerton addresses this in his track, even building up a defense against some of the more common criticisms lobbed against it. He also makes comparisons between Brooks’ neurotic characters and Woody Allen’s own neurotic characters, pointing out how Allen wants audiences to forgive whereas Brooks makes no such requests. In between all of this he also talks about Brooks’ humour, his script development and style of directing, and even talks about some of his other films, though limits this to Real Life and Lost in America. I like the film and Brooks’ humour so I admit I can’t attest to Pinkerton’s skills to making any converts with this track (though maybe he’s not even concerned about doing that) but I did enjoy the track and think it’s worth giving a go whether you like the film or not.
Movie Love with Eric Saarinen features the cinematographer talking about his work with Brooks, starting with director’s first film, Real Life, which matched his documentary sensibilities he had honed on previous films. He gets into Brooks’ working method, how he would develop scenes, the jokes, and how he would shoot them and edit them later (Saarinen mentions footage that was filmed but cut because, despite it being funny, Brooks felt it wouldn’t work during editing) and also talks about the man’s sense of humour. It’s good conversation, Saarinen ultimately explaining his role in translating Brooks’ sense of humour to screen. The interview runs just under 15-minutes.
The disc then closes with the film’s original trailer and then a small image gallery containing a handful of production photos and then poster art. Though the material on disc is at least very good you’re still not wrong to maybe feel a little bit let down on the low quantity. This is alleviated a bit by one of Indicator’s usually superb booklets. Inside there is an excellent essay on the film by Isabel Stevens, followed by another essay on Brooks and the inspirations behind the film, quoting him from many interviews (some of this is covered in the commentary track). But one of my favourite features here (and is pretty common in Indicator’s booklets) is the sampling of critical responses to the film, showing the love-it-or-hate-it attitude a lot take to this film and Brooks’ other films. This adds a nice bit of content to the release so if you’re thinking of picking up the film I would say it’s worth getting now just to make sure you get the booklet.
A really nice surprise in the end. It’s not loaded with features but I rather enjoyed both the commentary and interview (as well as the booklet), and was pretty thrilled with the presentation. Definitely worth picking up.