Monday, May 21, 2018

Graduation


GRADUATION (Mungiu, 2016)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date May 22, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

At first, I was tempted to describe writer/director Cristian Mungiu's “Graduation” (2016) as a naturalistic film that unfolds at a leisurely pace while observing the details of the everyday life in modern Romania. Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), the film's protagonist, wants to make sure his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) doesn't lose her upcoming scholarship to Cambridge, which he views as a crucial chance for her to escape Romania for a land of better opportunities. Via numerous long takes, he spends a lot of time driving around, speaking to various bureaucrats, and running chores.

It's so realistic it's practically a documentary... except for the fact that the melodramatic complications pile up as rapidly as in a soap opera. First, Eliza is sexually assaulted on her way to school just before taking her final exams, prompting the good doctor to call in some favors on his daughter's behalf. But that's just the start of it. In an approximately fifteen minute sequence in the middle of the film (spoiler alert, if you're the sort that cares), Eliza discovers (or reveals that she already knows about) Romeo's affair with a patient, Romeo's ailing mother has a grave medical scare, his wife kicks him out of their home, and law enforcement shows up out of he blue to investigate some of Romeo's previously mentioned dealings to help Eliza. And then things start getting really complicated, but still with plenty of long takes.

“Graduation” is structured around other contrasts as well. Romeo views himself as a morally righteous old-schooler nobly willing to sacrifice his virtue to navigate a corrupt bureaucracy and win his daughter a better future. Yet, one of the first things we learn about Romeo is that he's having an affair which also may or may not explain the fact that this ostensibly quiet film begins with the sound of shattered glass when a rock is hurled through the Aldea family's apartment window. A friend of Romeo's also reminds him of the time a man helped get them out of military service when they were teenagers, and how said man could really use a new liver right now and maybe the doctor could look into helping with that.

Mungiu doesn't overtly inject any sense of moral judgment on the proceedings, preferring simply to observe his characters and their circumstances closely, seemingly with a mixture of amusement and bemusement at the convoluted social structures these strange human creatures have built for themselves. The film never collapses into despair, however, no matter how much the noose tightens around Romeo's neck. This is due in large part to the fact that Romeo balances hard-learned cynicism with the still smoldering ashes of the optimism that led him to come back to Romania many years before. He bemoans the inability of his generation to make any real changes, but retains faith that his daughter's might still be able to pull off the job. He even defends the nosy investigators who try to bully him: “They're young. Maybe they'll make things better.” Romeo doesn't sound too convinced, but maybe surely beats a definite no. 


Video:
The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Nothing much to say here. “Graduation” is a recent film shot digitally and immaculately preserved in this 1080p transfer from Criterion. Looks great, as you'd expect.

Audio:
The film is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround audio mix. The lossless sound is flawless and helps convey the sense of space in many of the film's frequently visited locations. Mungiu rarely uses non-diegetic music in his films, but Romeo listens to classical music in the car, and that is treated well in this surround mix. Optional English subtitles support the Romanian audio.

Extras:
Criterion hasn't packed this Blu-ray release with extras, but they've offered a few interesting features.

An interview with the director (2018, 29 min.) is recorded specifically for Criterion. Mungiu speaks in general about what motivated him to make the film, but doesn't delve too deeply into detail. It's great to hear from Mungiu, but there's not much revealing information here.

The disc also includes the Cannes Film Festival press Conference (2016, 42 min.) in which director and cast field questions about the film that netter Mungiu a Palme d'or for Best Director (shared with Olivier Assayas). These press conferences are seldom riveting enough to watch in their entirety, but, hey, you can watch it in pieces at your leisure.

We also get Deleted Scenes (7 scenes, 8 min. total) and a Trailer (2 min.)

The slim insert booklet features an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri.

Final Thoughts:
“Graduation” is only Mungiu's second solo feature film since his breakout hit “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” ten years ago. I don't think it matches the high standard set by that film, but it's a potent reminder that Romania continues to produce some of the best films of the 21st century.

Moonrise


MOONRISE (Borzage, 1948)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date May 8, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

Depending on your social (media) circle, Frank Borzage is either an all-but-forgotten figure from Hollywood's distant past, or a name that scrolls by on your Twitter feed every few hours accompanied by hagiographic hosannas. Borzage began his Hollywood career, first as an actor then as a director, during the heyday of the silent one- and two-reelers, and flawlessly navigated both the transition to feature filmmaking and then to sound cinema. Both a critical favorite and a commercial powerhouse, Borzage netted the first-ever Best Director Oscar for “7th Heaven” (1927 – he won for drama and Lewis Milestone won for comedy), and reeled in a second win just a few year later for “Bad Girl” (1931).

Borzage became widely admired for his earnest melodramas, but his romantic vision largely fell out of favor during the WW2 years, though his anti-Nazi film “The Mortal Storm” (1940) made a significant impact at a time (before Pearl Harbor) when Hollywood studios generally shied away from criticizing Hitler and all of that “European business.” By the end of the war, Borzage was slumming it at Republic Pictures, a Poverty Row outfit often celebrated today by cinephiles, but hardly viewed as a plum assignment by the former major-studio star.

While dutifully fulfilling the end of his contract, Borzage more or less stumbled into “Moonrise” (1948), a project abandoned by United Artists. Adapted from a novel by Theodore Strauss (who, gasp, doesn't even have his own Wikipedia entry), “Moonrise” tells the story of hard-luck Danny Hawkins, a small-town Virginian marked almost from birth for the sins of his father who was hanged for murder.

Borzage, working from a script credited to Charles Haas, makes the notion of “marking” quite literal in the film's moody, unnerving opening sequence. The camera focuses on several sets of feet trudging through puddle-drenched mud at night as the condemned man is marched to the gallows. The film then cuts from a silhouette of the prisoner being being dropped from the scaffold to a startling image of another shadowy body (a doll, it turns out) dangling over a crib, prompting the baby inside to wail.

Nobody shows up to comfort the crying toddler, nor will they for years, as Danny is taunted both in school (“Danny Hawkins' dad was hanged!”) and as an adult for his supposed “bad blood.” This alleged bad blood boils over when Danny gets involved in a fight (with a young Lloyd Bridges) that turns lethal, and he spends the bulk of the film trying to stay ahead of the law in his tiny Southern town.

The adult Danny is portrayed by Dane Clark, better known as a supporting actor and this role didn't vault him to leading man stardom. Clark plays sullen and withdrawn just fine, but generates little in the way of charisma, which makes the budding romance with school teacher Gilly (Gail Russell, shortly before alcoholism ruined her career) seem so forced it's almost tempting to view the whole relationship as a figment of Danny's desperate imagination.

The script vacillated in its argument both for and against the notion of “bad blood.” Danny may have been defending himself in his first fight, but he struggles constantly with impulse control, snapping at Gilly for no reason, and violently threatening the town's innocent mute (played by Harry Morgan!) Likewise, a late visit to his grandmother (Ethel Barrymore) suggests bad blood might run deep in this family's veins, when she argues that Danny's father may well have done the right thing by murdering a doctor who, y'know, just didn't give good advice. Then again, it might not be exclusively a family issue. Danny's friend and mentor Mose (Rex Ingram) comforts him with the story of a basically decent man who was sent to jail for fifteen years just “for bein' lonseome”, by which he means raping a woman. Ingram is great, as always, but yeesh.

Though the film's opening is by far its strongest part, Borzage also generates considerable tension in a nifty Ferris wheel sequence, and the whole movie looks great, suffering neither from its modest budget nor from being shot entirely on cheap studio sets. I'm not convinced that “Moonrise” is the late-career masterpiece Borzage boosters make it out to be, but with a strong supporting cast and rich black-and-white photography that evokes a distinct sense of time and place, plus an ending that probably doesn't go where you expect it to, the film certainly deserves to be (re)discovered seventy years after its initial and unsuccessful theatrical run.


Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. “Moonrise” is a public domain film and I'm sure it's had its share of spotty no-frills releases. Obviously, that's not the case with this Criterion release. This “new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution” and showcases rich black-and-white contrast throughout. Much of the film is shot at night (or made to look so) which perhaps makes it a bit difficult to assess how much fine detail the 1080p transfer shows off, but this is a typically strong Criterion release.

Audio:
The linear PCM mono track is crisp and free of noticeable distortion. The mix doesn't have to do much more than present the dialogue clearly, and it does the job just fine. Optional SDH English subtitles support the English audio.

Extras:
This is a relatively bare-bones release from Criterion.

The only extra on the disc is a 17-minute interview with film historian Peter Cowie and critic Herve Dumont, author of “Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic.” They provide historical background about Borzage's career and the production and reception of “Moonrise.” Fairly standard stuff, but useful since Borzage is probably unknown even to many Criterion fans.

The fold-out insert booklet features an essay by critic Philip Kemp.

Final Thoughts:
Though “Moonrise” is championed today by many fans and critics as one of Borzage's best, it was a commercial flop that did nothing to revive his career prospects. He wouldn't make another film for ten more years, and never recaptured his glory years, passing away in 1962 at age 68. Criterion hasn't included many extras, but has provided an excellent transfer of the film.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dead Man


DEAD MAN (Jarmusch, 1995)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date Apr 24, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

I first watched “Dead Man” (1995), Jim Jarmusch's idiosyncratic take on the Western, in a tiny theater at the end of an alley next to my graduate film school. The second time I watched it was... the very next day, and the third time the day after that. Back then, paying for three movie tickets in three days meant eating ramen noodles for the next two weeks, but I had a good excuse. I had fallen in love.

After watching the film again on this new Criterion Blu-ray release, I've now seen it more than thirty times, and the blush of first love has deepened into the pleasure of a committed, long-term relationship. I have thought often about why the film continues to occupy my thoughts on a regular basis more than twenty years later. For your sake, dear reader, I will limit myself to just three reasons why I love “Dead Man” beyond all reason, and why I believe it is one of the best films ever made.

REASON ONE: Nobody

Super-short superficial plot synopsis: “Dead Man” relates the story of an unlikely friendship between two genuine outsiders, Bill Blake (Johnny Depp), a hapless accountant from Cleveland , and Nobody (Gary Farmer), a Native American loner exiled from his own people. Blake hops a train West for a job, quickly gets shot, and Nobody helps to treat his wounds, then to guide him through the Western landscape (circa 1870s) to his mysterious final destination. They shoot a bunch of people along the way.

Depp, fresh off “Benny& Joon” and “Ed Wood,” was not yet a superstar but was riding a rocket to Hollywood's upper echelon. He's marvelous as a clueless Easterner desperately out of his element, but Gary Farmer absolutely steals the show. I used to describe Nobody as my favorite supporting character in all of cinema, but I realize now that's misleading: he's the real protagonist.

Jarmusch risks depicting Nobody as a “magical Indian,” whose primary function is to help the white man learn an important lesson. But Nobody is such a rich character with a vibrant inner life that he frequently shares. He is a man of letters, who spends his time “wander(ing) the earth” engaged in deep philosophical contemplation. Contrast this with the limp figure of Blake, defined largely by his paralyzing passivity and his garish checkered suit. Nobody has plans and ideas, while Blake doesn't have a clue.

This explains why one of Jarmusch's most audacious gambits works so brilliantly. When Nobody asks “What name were you given at birth, stupid white man?”, said stupid white man replies, “Blake. William Blake.” This sends Nobody into a frenzy as he assumes he is in the presence of the literal reincarnation of his literary idol, the British poet of the same name.

It's an absurd assumption that could leave viewers skeptical of Nobody's sanity, but consider the fact that Nobody simply wants it to be true. Depp's Blake is a blank slate upon which Nobody chooses to write his own story. Though he ostensibly serves as Blake's guide through the wilderness, he's actually realizing his own fantasy. That fantasy involves not only hanging out with William Blake (and frequently reciting Blake's poetry), but molding him into something new, the person Nobody wants him to be, a killer of “stupid fucking white men.” Near the end of the film, Nobody beams as he brags of his accomplishment in song, “William Blake is a legend now. He's a good friend of mine!”

Farmer's performance is thoroughly endearings as he gradually reveals Nobody's plans with quiet confidence, and occasionally stopping to bask in the glow of his friendship with the new, improved William Blake he's created. Farmer is an impressive physical presence as well, and has the kind of magnetic face directors can only dream of, a special effect in its own right. I've loved him in every film I've seen him in, but never more than as the unforgettable Nobody who also, by the way, has just about the greatest origin story in the history of cinema.

REASON TWO: Robby Freaking Muller

Though it limited his potential funding, Jarmusch insisted on shooting “Dead Man” in black-and-white and he wisely secured the services of cinematographer Robby Muller for the job. Jarmusch had already worked with Muller on the gorgeous black-and-white “Down By Law” (1986), but somehow Muller found a way to top himself with “Dead Man.”

The film's imagery ranges from the abjectly grotesque to the sublimely beautiful. When Blake trudges through the industrial town of Machine to report for a job he has already lost, he sees a horse pissing in the mud-soaked street, a prostitute giving an alley blowjob to a grimy gunman, and bleached animal bones providing the town's only apparent decoration. Later in the film, a thick boot will stomp on a dead marshal's skull, sending viscous black blood spurting from every orifice. “Dead Man” portrays an American West and a Native American people all but destroyed by the technology and violence of European invaders, and Muller captures the historical horror with grim efficiency.

And yet, as Nobody and Blake wend their way steadily to the Northwest, staying just ahead of the gunmen hired to pursue them, viewers are treated to breathtaking shots of forests of thin white birch trees and magnificent redwoods stretching high out of sight. In one of the film's most memorable shots, a panorama of ocean waves seems to cover all of existence, further enhancing the growing feeling of awe inspired by Muller's lush black-and-white nature photography. The film's characters may not survive this Western charnel house, but the natural world will endure and ultimately thrive no matter how many stupid fucking white men try to destroy it.


REASON THREE: Greatest. Soundtrack. Ever.

The great Roger Ebert, may he rest in power, described Neil Young's original score for “Dead Man” as the sound “of a man repeatedly dropping his guitar.” Mr. Ebert, I revere you, sir, but you went and lost your damn mind when you wrote that.

Young recorded the soundtrack while watching an early cut of the film (see Extras below), prowling around his recording studio, reaching for various instruments for different scenes, though none featured as prominently as his relentlessly rumbling electric guitar. I don't know exactly to what degree Young improvised to the footage, but the result is nothing short of monumental.

Young's repetitive electric guitar, often heavy on reverb, punctuates many of the open spaces in the film, sometimes filling in a single breath, sometimes underscoring the image – when we see train wheels churning in close-up, Young's guitar mimics the circular motion. Other times, a wall of sound builds to all but consume the otherwise placid image, a transcendent effect for those who dig it, no doubt an irritation to those who just hear a man dropping his guitar.

I am not a music critic and don't know the language necessary to describe Young's work accurately, so I'll settle for an anecdote. I bought the CD of this soundtrack as soon as it was available (more ramen noodle nights for me) and it's been a defining aesthetic element of my life ever since. I keenly remember listening to the untitled 14-minute guitar track on the disc while watching the sun set behind the hills at Badlands National Park. I timed it so the final chord faded out just as the last ray of sunlight was extinguished by the banded rock face. A part of me never quite left that moment. I can't listen to the soundtrack while driving, though, because I become completely lost in its tide.

I feel bad that I haven't even mentioned the greatness of Michael Wincott's hyperactive performance as a chatterbox assassin-for-hire or Lance Henriksen as a cannibal with a toothache, or the glorious cameo by Robert Mitchum as a corrupt titan of industry, or that infinitely sad and beautiful tableau with the baby deer, or that shot of the horse on the shore which I only just realized reminds me of a similar moment in “Aguirre” or...

If I let myself go on about all the reasons I love “Dead Man” (oh, man, Crispin Glover too) without reserve, I'll never stop. And that would be a disservice to you. Instead I think I'll just go watch “Dead Man” again. I hope you'll be inspired to watch it, either again or for the first time, as well. 



Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This new 4K restoration supervised and approved by Jim Jarmusch improves greatly on the mediocre home-theater releases previously available. The black-and-white contrast is sharp and bold throughout and the image showcases a fine grain structure. Image detail is particularly noticeable in closeups on faces, but also in the ways the individual trees really stand out sharply. Overall, this 1080p transfer is a very strong one, as we would expect from Criterion.

Audio:
The film is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround track. The lossless audio is most important for presenting the greatest soundtrack ever in an appropriate fashion, but this is the first time I've listened to the film at home and been able to pick out some of the conversation snippets that are intended to just be barely heard at a distance.

Also, one of the distinctive features of “Dead Man” is that Nobody and other characters speak multiple Native American languages, including Blackfoot, Cree, and many others, none of which are provided with subtitles. This was intentional on Jarmusch's part, a nod of respect to Native American viewers, and Criterion has wisely not provided subtitles here, except to indicate specifically which language is being spoken.

English subtitles are provided to support the English dialogue.

Extras:
The films is accompanied by a selected-scene commentary track by production designer Bob Ziembicki and sound mixer Drew Kunin. The commentary doesn't cover every scene, but they do offer analysis or anecdotes for most of the film, and it's a welcome change to get the perspective of crew members on a commentary track instead of directors and actors.

Jarmusch continues his practice from previous Criterion releases of conducting an audio-only Q&A session in which he answers questions submitted by fans. This was recorded in November 2017 and runs about 48 minutes and presents Jarmusch with the opportunity to go off on tangents or just to speak about some of his favorite artists or hobbies.

We also get a new interview (27 min.) with actor Gary Farmer who shares his reminiscences about working on the film, and argues persuasively that Nobody should have met with a different fate than he does in the film. This is the rare actor interview I wanted to run much longer.

In “Reading Blake” (7 min. total) three of the supporting actors in the film read snippets of William Blake's poetry. I mean no disrespect to Mili Avital and Alfred Molina, who both do a great job, but you're going to leave this feature with Iggy Pop reading William Blake as your new fetish.

Criterion includes 15 minutes of Deleted Scenes, the same reel of deleted scenes from the old Miramax DVD. I have always found these quite revealing, and I particularly wish one extended death scene had been included in the final cut.

The gem of the collection is 25 minutes of footage shot by Jim Jarmusch of Neil Young performing the film's soundtrack. With scenes playing on monitors on stage, Young goes from acoustic guitar to organ to electric guitar, bobbing in place as he fully immerses himself in the moment. I find this footage every bit as riveting as seeing Miles Davis perform the legendary score for “Elevator to the Gallows” and it's a privilege to be a witness to this kind of creative effort. We also get a Music Video for the film with Young's music playing over edited scenes from the film (3 min.) - this was also included on the old Miramax DVD. While playing this video, you can also switch to an audio track of Johnny Depp reading William Blake, the same passage as is included on one track of the soundtrack CD.

The collection wraps up with a Trailer (2 min.) and a photo gallery of about 50 stills, many of which show color images from the set, a real treat for fans.

The slim insert booklet includes an essay by film critic Amy Taubin and an essay about the Neil Young soundtrack by music journalist Ben Ratliff.

Final Thoughts:
I have nothing left to say. Actually, I have everything left to say, but I'll leave it for another time. “Dead Man” is a masterpiece. This Criterion Blu-ray release is the finest presentation of the movie yet available.

Friday, March 23, 2018

King of Jazz


KING OF JAZZ (Anderson, 1930)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date Mar 27, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

The jokes in “King of Jazz” (1930) aren't particularly funny and not every song swings, but this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink musical revue has one thing going for it: it never lets up, not for a second, not for a single beat.

Actually, it's got at least one other thing going for it in bandleader Paul Whiteman, the titular monarch whose reign over the American musical scene began in the 1920s and extended through much of the Depression era. A megastar in his day, Whiteman was known as much for his hefty Oliver Hardy-like physique (which he gleefully poked fun at) as his ornate symphonic arrangements, and this Universal project, produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., was built entirely around his famous persona.

Eschewing any semblance of narrative, “King of Jazz” is structured as Whiteman's scrap book, sometimes literally as the pages of a giant book are turned on stage to introduce the next number. The film rockets through dozens of varied routines ranging from quick comedy bits (most of which were ancient in their day) to vocal trios like The Rhythm Boys (featuring a young crooner named Bing Crosby) to elaborate song-and-dance routines featuring dozens of performers. The most ambitiously and audaciously choreographed sequences helped to establish Hollywood musical standards later expanded on by Busby Berkeley and others. 


Inevitably, the bits vary wildly in quality, but both the hits and the duds celebrate the power of sheer chutzpah, and showcase a kaleidoscopic array of special effects. Whiteman's orchestra appears in miniature on a table top at one point, then crammed inside a giant piano. Double-exposed images are super-imposed over the numbers at times, and one singer's face is quadrupled in a proto-psychedelic shot. The greatest effect of all may be the early two-strip Technicolor, restored for this edition in all its gaudy glory.

No, check that. The greatest effects are still the performers themselves, especially a few of the more supernaturally flexible dancers. In “Ragamuffin Romeo,” dancer Marion Stadler is flung and spun into a series of seemingly impossible contortions, while in “Happy Feet” Al Norman shows everybody exactly how he earned the nickname “Rubber Legs.” A rousing rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” (which Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to compose for him in 1924) blows off the roof too. I'll admit that the film's over-over-the-top grand finale, a “Melting Pot” routine that consumes the final fifteen minutes or so, leaves me cold, but it sure as heck isn't for lack of trying.

The glaring problem with the film is that nary a black musician appears in this alleged kingdom of jazz, prompting the question “King, eh? Very nice. And how'd you get that?” A few of the experts who speak in the extras on this disc note this troubling element, and also point out that Whiteman wante to integrate his band and did employ African-American composers backstage. That doesn't change the fact that the film presents us with the absurd prospect of a supposedly comprehensive jazz revue that doesn't acknowledge the bulk of jazz history or its most prominent performers and pioneers.

“King of Jazz” followed on the heels of several uninspired Hollywood music revues and flopped at the box office, but it has since become a favorite of early music buffs and was added to the National Film Registry's archive in 2013. Since then, it has received an extensive restoration that led ultimately to this expansive Criterion Blu-ray release. Viewers might not be convinced that Paul Whiteman merited the title “King of Jazz,” but there's little doubt that he (and director/Broadway producer John Murray Anderson among many others) knew how to put on one heck of a show. 


Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This 4K restoration was undertaken by Universal Pictures and based on the film's initial 1930 release. Surely much of the labor involved restoring the two-strip Technicolor to its original state which is something to behold – the colors don't look naturalistic and sometimes bleed out into the frame, and it's all quite beautiful. Image quality varies a bit throughout and there are a few missing frames here and there (the film is presented “in the most complete form possible”), but the final high-resolution product has a luminous quality that should satisfy everyone.

Audio:
The film is presented with a linear PCM mono audio mix. I swear I thought I was listening to surround sound at times. This music might sound a bit tinny at times, but the mix has a full, vibrant quality to it that more than does justice to the eclectic musical selections. Optional English subtitles support the English audio.

Extras:
Criterion has absolutely stacked this Blu-ray disc with an array of features sure to please music aficionados.

The film is accompanied by a commentary track by jazz/film critic Gary Giddins, music and cultural critic Gene Seymour, and musician and bandleader Vince Giordano.

Criterion has also included two new interviews. In the first, Gary Giddins (17 min.) discusses Whiteman's influence on jazz, and also the film's reception. Musician and pianist Michael Feinstein (19 min.) talks about his love for Whiteman's work and provides more information about the other musicians in the film.

Authors/archivists James Layton and David Pierce recently published a book about “King of Jazz” covering its production through its recent restoration. In four separate short video essays (42 min. total) they touch on different issues surrounding the film. We also get an extra short gallery of images of composer James Dietrich's notations on the musical score.

Four Deleted Scenes have been included – these were restored for the film's 1933 theatrical re-release but aren't part of the original 1930 film and thus not included in the feature here.

“All Americans” is a 1929 short film (19 min.) presenting an earlier version of the “Melting Pot” routine that ends the feature, also directed by John Murray Anderson.

“I Know Everybody and Everybody's Racket” (1933, 21 min.) is an oddball short from Universal starring... Walter Winchell? The Broadway gossip columnist is presented hard at “work” trying to pick up juicy new tidbits at the Biltmore Nightclub in New York, where the Paul Whiteman orchestra happens to be playing. Bizarrely, Winchell is portrayed as something pretty close to a collaborator with mobsters and seems to have no problem with it. This short is surprisingly entertaining.

An early sequence in “King of Jazz” features a cartoon showing how Whiteman became “King of Jazz” (its point and relevance escapes me, however). Criterion has decided to include two Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons as final supplements, one of which co-stars an animated Paul Whiteman, and the other includes animation from the film. They run 13 min. total.

The insert booklet features an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.

Final Thoughts:
“King of Jazz” was a flop when it was released in 1930, but it has survived as a fan favorite more than eighty years later. This Criterion Blu-ray presents the film with a restored print showing off the glorious Technicolor and a vast array of extras more comprehensive than any of the film's fans could possibly have expected.