Elvis Goes Straight, Part 1: Flaming Star (1960)

April 2, 2015 | By

As April 1st is over and done with, we begin a new month which for me, is certainly packed with intriguing challenges. I took a few days off to work on some C.V. upgrades and organize an editing schedule so I can finish a doc project that’s been in stasis for far too long.

April’s first posting was somewhat delayed due to an unwanted surprise on April Fool’s which wasn’t a practical joke, but will hopefully be resolved without issue. Let ‘s just say something that should’ve been a lucky find’s turned into a curse, and I’m hoping the key to its resolution lies in something simple instead of a drawn-out nightmare.


“I think I’m gettin’ tired of the ‘ol Colonel. I smell bullshit.’

So, posted is a review of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of Flaming Star (1960), the first of two efforts by Elvis Presley to move from musical-romance-dramas-comedies to straight drama. This one’s a western directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) of all people, and it’s certainly an unusual work in the filmographies of both artists.

TT’s disc also features one great commentary track with Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs, the latter a frequently screenwriter with Stephen Soderbergh (Kafka, The Limey, Haywire) who’s proven himself to be a refreshing, knowledgeable, and frank film historian.

While we’re on the topic of TT, Sean Provost recently posted a piece at the Movie Sleuth on the label’s increasing importance among indie labels handling the distribution of HD transfers licensed from studios, and augmented with additional extras, such as isolated scores. There’s also Keith Phipps’ recent piece “How to make the Blu-ray relevant again” for The Dissolve, which echoes some of the points I’ve brought up in prior blogs on why physical media isn’t dead and should’ve be treated as a dinosaur.

As Phipps itemizes in his lengthy but concise op-ed, the home video market can and will survive as long as there’s due attention paid to film connoisseurs who’re willing to pay top dollar for releases if the price point is justified by specialty content. It’s why collectors will snap up Twilight Time and Criterion discs, but why there’s a bit more fence-sitting on bare bones editions or partial special editions because the licensee chose to keep the coffers locked and not spend money on new special features content and create their own definitive special edition.

Nothing drives collectors crazier than over-priced movie-only editions, and missed opportunities. Nothing drives me crazier when I get better value in the British Region B release than the bare bones Region A edition that might look gorgeous, but isn’t worth $34.95.

Nothing drives me crazier – and apparently Phipps, too – than video covers sporting Big Actor Heads tinted and grained with several Photoshop plug-ins when there are great artists out there already designing custom limited posters that don’t rely on the noggins and visages of actors to sell a title. Worse are the cut & paste jobs in which faces are pasted and air-brushed into the sterile cadavers of posed bodies to make up action or comedy covers; you can blame interns for this dreck, but it’s really the companies who think paste jobs work better for the masses.

Left out of both aforementioned articles are the MOD titles which are often bare bones editions selling for more than $20 when you factor in shipping and exchange rates. The sleeve art ranges from acceptable to amateurish, and the price point is overblown. Most MODs lack special features, and the decision to restrict MOD titles for sale within the U.S. seems futile when importers, major online vendors, and third-party mail order vendors are already selling select titles from the various Fox, MGM, Universal, Sony, and Warner catalogues.

Trust me when I say customers, cineastes and average film fans, do a lot of price shopping before plopping down cash, and bare bones DVD and Blu-rays featuring catalogue titles could do so much better if the price point were dropped to less than $15. In Canada, that’s tougher because of the increasingly low dollar, but the question studios should ask is whether they can be content selling a few pricey MODs to those willing to cough up serious cash, or large amounts to frugal film fans. The huge sales from 2005 will never happen again – physical media is too niche, too specialty – but there are movie fans who want to own a movie 100%, and that seems to be where the indie labels are having great success.

The studios still win as licensors of the product and their gorgeous HD transfers, but for the titles they choose to handle themselves, lose the digibook / digital copy / toy figurine tiered release strategy and just release a good package. One title, one release, featuring the best value for one’s money. Netflix may offer convenience, but there’s always a movie or series someone would love to own outright – if it’s done right, and if the price is right.

100Rifles_FSMCD_sNow that it’s past midnight and were into April 2, it’s time to cleans the palette of April Fool’s unpleasant taste with something loud and boisterous. My choice is Jerry Goldsmith’s 100 Rifles (1969), my vote for his best western score, and most sophisticated, in terms of polyrhythms and oomphy bass. Being a Fox title, maybe the cinema gods will reward fans of this underrated music and filmic gem with a Twilight Time Blu-ray, featuring an isolated score and Redman and Dobbs offering other frank commentary track. Both Flaming Star and 100 Rifles were written by Clair Huffaker, and I’m willing to bet Dobbs is also a champion of Tom Gries, a damn fine director whose work deserves some showcasing.

Coming next: reviews of the brutal drama Bandit Queen (1985) from Twilight Time, and the recent BBC doc India’s Daughter (2014).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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