The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Review

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It's time to (re)discover this 70s classic

by Casimir Harlow Dec 14, 2013 at 10:17 PM

  • Movies review


    The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £19.99

    The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Review

    Robert Altman's cult classic 70s adaptation of arguably author Raymond Chandler's best novel, The Long Goodbye, is an underrated and oftentimes underappreciated work of art from the late, great auteur.

    He suffered heavy criticism for his updating of the classic Marlowe tale to a modern day setting, despite the fact that, in spite of the contemporary LA landscape, Altman's interpretation of the famous private detective - as played to perfection by the equally underappreciated Elliott Gould - was probably more faithful than anything even the great Humphrey Bogart brought to the table before, or that Robert Mitchum would bring in the years since.

    Unfortunately, mismarketing would damage its opening night credibility, with frustrated, confused audiences wondering what happened to the Bond-style thriller depicted in the original theatrical poster. Little did they know.
    With world renowned cinematography from legendary director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, a perpetually-moving style of filming which made you feel very much a part of the proceedings, a superb, blended diegetic and non-diegetic score which was entirely based on variations of John Williams's tremendous title track, powerful supporting contributions from the likes of heavyweight Sterling Hayden (playing an alchoholic, disillusioned and self-destructive writer who was a not-so-thinly-veiled autobiographical version of Chandler himself), and, of course, an inimitable central performance by Gould, who simply drove the whole piece with his mumbling, dishevelled, and simply unique take on Marlowe, this was a masterpiece simply waiting to be discovered.

    Thankfully the years since have been far kinder, with critics re-appraising the feature as the gem that it truly is.

    The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Picture Quality

    The Long Goodbye The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Picture Quality
    The Long Goodbye was shot in 35mm Panavision, an anamorphic widescreen system with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The HD master for The Long Goodbye was made available from MGM via Hollywood Classics. The film was transferred from the original 35mm Interpositive held by MGM. Colour grading was performed by Paul Schramm at Todd-AO Video in Hollywood, CA. Director of Photography Vilmos Zsigmond provided detailed colour notes so the master could better match the original intended look from 1973, resulting in an overall emphasis on muted, desaturated colours with very low contrast. This look, which is maintained on Arrow’s Blu-ray edition, is correct and true to the film’s original theatrical release. Yvonne Medrano managed the process for MGM Technical Services. Additional picture restoration was supervised by James White and completed at Deluxe Digital Cinema.

    The Long Goodbye was never going to look spectacular but, with a decent HD master and respectful treatment, it ends up looking the best it possibly could.

    If you’re familiar with the film’s production process, you’ll be aware of the fact that Zsigmond – a legend in the field – furthered his controversial ‘flashing’ technique when it came to this film, attempting to give the film a more true-to-life look, whilst solving some of the lighting issues that largely arose from Director Robert Altman’s desire to keep the camera perpetually moving at all times. As a result, The Long Goodbye was never going to look spectacular, but, if the HD master was produced respectfully enough, it might just look the best it possibly can look. And it does.

    This 1080p High Definition video presentation, in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is easily the best looking shape the movie has been in, in a long time – if ever. Detail is surprisingly good, with some scenes obviously buckling under the weight of pervasive lighting issues, and other zoom-ins looking marginally soft, but, overall, excellent clarity on both the close-ups and the longer vistas. There’s no sign of any edge enhancement whatsoever, nor any overt DNR – this is certainly not one of those titles that’s been scrubbed to hell, with noise then re-applied to give it a suitably authentic look; the layer of filmic grain is persistent and consistent, and looks perfect for this 70s piece. As for the colour scheme, you’ll likely find few films look quite like The Long Goodbye in terms of colour and contrast – Zsigmond’s technique of flashing the negative prior to development has an astounding effect that brings us precisely the pastel-dominated look that he was going for; a further nod towards the days-gone-by nature of the period-but-not-period piece. Black levels are surprisingly strong, actually, but again this appears to be because he knows just how far to push the development process in order to bring shadow detail to life, but also avoid any overt flaring. This video presentation may not quite be perfect, but it is certainly perfect for this movie, and furthermore a great demo title when it comes to 70s classics..

    The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Sound Quality

    The Long Goodbye The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Sound Quality
    The Long Goodbye comes presented with mono 1.0 uncompressed PCM audio, and has certainly never sounded this good. Playing it at reference level, every single one of the myriad permutations on John Williams’s classic title tune comes across superbly, never bordering on tinny, or suffering cut-outs or drop-offs at the extremes. There’s no distortion at all, and, throughout it all, Gould’s quintessential mumbling reigns supreme and, even in its quietest moments, comes through clearly and coherently.

    It may not stand up to modern-day blockbusters, but in terms of mono tracks, this is a demo example of just how good one can sound.

    Of course dynamics are limited and surround usage restricted, with a front-bolstered track that doesn’t attempt any fancy shenanigans like cars whizzing across your living room. But that’s just because it was a product of the era, just before the likes of Francis Ford Coppolla started to push the technology with surround use, and back when a mono track was pretty standard for this kind of smaller-budget production. As such, and as controversial as it may seem, I’m giving this a demo rating, because, of all the mono tracks I’ve ever come across, Arrow’s accompaniment for The Long Goodbye is amidst the very best.

    The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Extras

    The Long Goodbye The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Extras
    Arrow Films once again excels in the extras department, providing a wealth of excellent features – some new, some old, mostly interview-based but also including an isolated score – all extremely interesting and, often, frankly revealing.

    Rip Van Marlowe
    : an interview with director Robert Altman and star Elliot Gould

    Greg Carson’s documentary about The Long Goodbye was originally made in 2002 to accompany MGM’s DVD release and this 25-minute dual-interview takes us through the inception of the project, highlighting some interesting angles, the ideas and symbolism in the picture, and the end result. Arguably the best extra on the disc, particularly when it comes to the honesty from Gould and Altman, the former talking about the trouble he was in at the time with Hollywood, and Altman discussing his reservations about the project and insisting on keeping the final ending, as well as rather elusively noting that his film attempted to broach the ‘fourth dimension’.

    Giggle and Give In
    : Paul Joyce’s acclaimed documentary profile of Robert Altman, with contributions from Altman, Gould, Shelley Duvall, assistant director Alan Rudolph and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury

    Originally broadcast on 17 July 1996 in Channel Four’s Cinefile Series, Paul Joyce’s documentary portrait of Robert Altman spans his career from its earliest beginnings to Kansas City (1996). This near-hour long Documentary has a Biography Channel feel to it, but does offer some interesting insight into the director’s career, and is worth dipping into.

    Elliott Gould Discusses The Long Goodbye
    : the star discusses the film with crime novelist Michael Connolly

    This live Q & A with Connelly also lasts almost an hour, and does cover some of the same ground as the initial Gould/Altman interview above, but has a far wittier Gould engaging the audience throughout as he provides anecdote after anecdote into his recruitment for and involvement in the project.

    Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye
    : an interview with the legendary cinematographer

    This 14-minute interview focuses on the cinematography, with Zsigmond discussing his own filmography and his work with Altman; Altman’s vision, and how he brought it to life, with a constantly-moving camera and thus very adaptive lighting (that was difficult to attain), and the partnership they formed, with Altman reputedly a very unusually involved director when it came to the camerawork.

    David Thompson on Robert Altman
    : the editor of Altman on Altman and producer of the BBC’s Robert Altman in England talks about The Long Goodbye’s place in Altman’s filmography

    This 21-minute piece has Thompson look back at Altman’s work before breaking into Hollywood, cutting his teeth on years of TV material, before looking at The Long Goodbye, and what Altman brought to this initially period piece which was adapted for a contemporary age with Altman’s distinctive style. Possibly the second most interesting extra on the disc (beating Gould’s Q&A only because that covers some previously-discussed ground).

    Arrow Films once again excels in the extras department, providing a wealth of excellent features.

    Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler: the novelist’s biographer outlines his life and work and discusses Altman’s adaptation of The Long Goodbye

    Tom Williams is the author of A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler: A Life and this quarter-hour interview has Williams talking about Chandler’s history, how hard he found it to work, his problems with alcohol, and his eventual attempt to finally become a published author. Eventually he dips into The Long Goodbye, and looks at its place in his bibliography as his penultimate Marlowe outing, and arguably his greatest work, before discussing the film adaptation. Any fan of Chandler is going to revel in this piece and will only wish that it were longer.

    Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction
    : the crime writer and critic discusses the emergence of hard boiled detective characters from the pages of the pulp magazines from the 1920s through to the 1950s

    Another quarter-hour interview has the writer/critic/editor look at film noir, how it started in pulp magazines of the 1920s, and the hard-boiled detective characters within, before looking at Chandler and his contemporaries.

    Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack

    This gives you the option to watch the entire movie and lap up every moment of that tremendous score and all of the myriad permutations on John Williams’s title track.

    The disc itself is rounded off by an Original Theatrical Trailer and a series of Radio Spots.


    As you would only expect from Arrow, we get another deluxe little Booklet, this time featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens, an archive interview with screenwriter Leigh Brackett, a new interview with Alan Rudolph, and an American Cinematographer article discussing Zsigmond’s unique treatment of the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. It makes for great background reading into the film.

    In terms of the package, we also get the usual Reversible Sleeve, featuring the original poster and newly commissioned artwork (here, by Jay Shaw). Certainly anybody who knows the film will know why the newly commissioned artwork is far more appropriate.

    The Long Goodbye

    Is The Long Goodbye Blu-ray Worth Buying

    If you appreciate great movies, you'll appreciate The Long Goodbye. Far more than just another film noir, it defies the noir genre, defies its heritage, and yet - somehow - stays ultimately truer to the intentions of the original author, Raymond Chandler, than any other adaptations of his work. It's been misunderstood, underestimated, and underappreciated over the years but it's only grown in critical acclaim and cult following. Now's the time to re-open the case on this 70s masterpiece.

    Arrow Academy's stunning Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release is simply a blind buy purchase. You HAVE to have it. Compiling all the previous extras - together with some great new ones - it offers comprehensive supplements that are the icing on the cake beyond the outstanding authorised video presentation and audio track, both of which are amidst the best of their kind from this era. Fans should already have this on pre-order. Newcomers interested should not hesitate either.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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