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'A Streetcar Named Desire' DVD Review ***** 071605
(1951
)

The Work = *****
"Steeeeelllllllllaaaaaaahhhhh!" Ok, so I knew that line and I knew a couple others from the film and I knew a scene or two but that was about all I knew of 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew of the film's notoriety, had seen a few clips and I new a little about the director of the film Elia Kazan. I knew Brando of course, but other than a few still shots from this film, I really only associated him with the 'Godfather', 'Apocalypse Now' or his later, more rotund state.

What I got was an excellent film that has held up remarkably well. 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a steamy drama that looks at abuse and madness through the eyes of two sisters, Stella and Blanch. Stella arrives on the titled streetcar to live with her sister and her sister’s destructive husband Stanley. A conflict quickly grows between Stanley and Blanch and it leads towards an increasingly dark confrontation.

I suppose this movie had the tag of being a so called chick flick and I dunno', I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a Hugh Grant movie with more drama or something. What I got was a moving and dark film that has one of the most memorable performances in cinematic history. Brando as Stanley Kuwalsky is a force to be seen. Young, handsome and powerful the man gives a performance that would help change the shape of cinema.

Everyone in the film is good and would probably stand out stronger in any other film but here Brando looms so large that he overshadows everyone else. What is interesting is I don't think he had the most screen time. (I would be interested to see a study on exactly how often he is on screen.) He certainly doesn't seem like the main character.

The narrative follows the sisters, especially Blanch, who it appears is hiding her past. It is interesting that I knew the line: "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers" but did not know its context. When I saw it in the film it gave me chills. I would say that exemplifies my experience with this film. Parts of it have become such icons of pop culture history that I knew of them but had no understanding of their context.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. Kazan, I would say, is a director like John Houston, who is one of the greats of American cinema but is not mentioned nearly enough. His film, 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (he directed the play of the same name with Brando and many of the other cast members prior to doing the film,) is one of the greats of cinema.

Like more recent directors Julie Taymor and Sam Mendez, Kazan worked in the theater, directing plays and working with actors. I suspect that his background in the theater gave him time to hone his skills with writing and with the actors. When he took the jump to film he pulled on his experience and made a film that in some ways is very much a play (similar to Mendez's 'American Beauty' and even more so to Taymore's 'Titus') but still manages to be cinematic at the same time.

A word on Kazan. He was one of our more talented filmmakers and a true legend. He also named names during Mcarthy's communist witch hunt that caused many in Hollywood to be black listed. That doesn't sound so frightening in and of itself but when you think about what a lot of innocent people lost, the picture becomes more clear. Blacklisted filmmakers often very literally found doors shut in their faces, their once friends and employers now so afraid of even being seen with them that in some cases they would run or hide to avoid being seen with them.

One filmmaker, who had communist ideals and liked aspects of what communism had to offer was Jules Dassin. Dassin loved his country but found during the communist hunt he was suddenly branded as if he had the plague. He had to flee his own country and would never return except when invited for functions. I mention Dassin because he is also one of our talented directors and the actions by those like Kazan forever changed his life.

When Dassin left he would go on to make one of the best crime dramas ever, 'Rififi'. If you check out the Criterion DVD of 'Rififi' you can see Dassin interviewed and he talks a little about his experience. I believe that Kazan acted out of fear and probably after he was threatened with being blacklisted or jailed. This would not be so inexcusable to me had he ever apologized but to the best of my knowledge, Kazan never did.

Now certainly there are those that don't think Kazan's actions were that bad or that he did anything wrong at all, which is fine. For me though, he is a flawed individual who made a terrible choice and never apologized for it. I mentioned that he is overlooked sometimes when talking about great directors and wonder if his actions have something to do with it.

When he was awarded the life time Oscar many in attendance did not stand or clap. I can understand that, they were giving the award to the man, not too his films. His films are his legacy, not his personal actions. While it is important to remember what he did on a personal level, it is also important to remember what he did in cinema.

Going into 'A Streetcar Named Desire' I was pretty ignorant. I knew the film’s reputation and some of the pop culture detail surrounding it but not much else. How I went as long as I did without seeing this film is a mystery. It may have been a blessing in disguise though because this is a truly adult film and had I been too you I probably would not have appreciated every thing it has to offer.

DVD = ***

The Look
This DVD says was cropped from it's original theatrical ratio. It is presented it in the "academy ratio" of 1.33:1. I am not sure how much it was cropped. It may be only a slight alteration. I believe it was shot in 1.37:1 but I may be wrong about that. In any case not much is missing but I would still like to see it presented correctly. For what it is worth 1.33:1 may be the intended ratio. (*Updated on 012507, see bottom of the page.)

The Sound
The film is presented in mono. The soundtrack for the most part was clear and came through good. There were however some minor pops. Also, a few of the sounds came through weak but that may have been the intent or a symptom of the effects style of the time.

The Bonus
Some text screens on the making of the film and cast and crew bio as well as Warner catalogue recommendations are it. Oh, actually, I forgot the best features of all: chapter stops and menus screens!!!! Oooooooo! Menu screens! Ok, so now that Warner has got their butt in gear with the impressive boxed sets and two disc special editions of classic films they need to get cracking with this film! Come on Warner, release a two disc special edition pronto!!! NOW! NOW! NOW! How about a documentary on the making of the film and another on Brando? Come on WB! (**Updated on 012507, see bottom of the page.)

All Together = *****
A great film, an ok DVD but still a definite must see!!! I was very impressed with 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. It has held up better than most films its age. I hope it comes back into circulation as a must see. I have to admit that it was never all that high a priority for me to see and it may have been because it is often overshadowed by Brando's impressive performance. His performance makes the film but it is not the only merit of it. The rest of the cast is great and so is the direction. Whatever you may think of Kazan’s personal actions, this film deserves to be seen regardless I highly recommend this film. Go now! Go! Go! See this movie!

*012507 This is in the correct aspect ratio, I was on crack.

**012507 WB did of course release a special edition which is worth checking out!

-Nate

'A Street Named Desire' Links:

IMDB

'Rififi' at IMDB

'American Beauty' at IMDB

'Titus' at IMDB

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.