THE CURBSIDE CRITERION: THE PLAYER

(We here at Hammer to Nail are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week “The Curbside Criterion” continues where HtN staff can trot out thoughts on the finest films ever made. This week Brad Cook looks at the the goodies on Robert Altman’s essential The Player.)

Listening to director Robert Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin during the 1992 Cannes Film Festival press conference about The Player, it’s easy to think they could have been speaking during this year’s festival. They lament the state of movies then, with so much emphasis on noisy stories featuring stuff blowing up, and many of their quotes could be transferred to 2016 with minimal changes.

Of course, 1992 was right before people like Quentin Tarantino reignited independent cinema, and today we’re living in a world of increasingly fractured entertainment choices where bombastic franchises hold outsized sway over studios’ budget decisions, so Altman and Tolkin might have had different things to say if The Player had come out, say, a decade ago. (Yes, I enjoy the Marvel Comics movies, new Star Wars films, and other noisy stories, but I appreciate the indie efforts too.)

The 1992 Cannes press conference runs nearly an hour and is one of many bonus features found on Criterion’s new Blu-ray release of The Player. They’ve all been ported over from prior home video releases (I think the Cannes footage was, but I’m not sure), except a new 46-minute piece, Planned Improvisation, which features interviews with Tolkin, star Tim Robbins, production designer Stephen Altman, and associate producer David Levy. It’s a nice look back on the film.

Most of the rest of the extras were created in 1992 for Criterion’s original laserdisc release of the movie, and some were found on an earlier Bu-ray release by New Line, except (I think) Robert Altman’s Players, which documents the filming of the celebrity fundraising scene at the LA County Museum of Art in 1991. Since this is my first copy of The Player on home video, though, I’m not sure if this new edition contains everything from prior releases, so if you’re a completist, you might want to double-check your collection first.

Moving along, this edition includes a commentary recorded by Altman, Tolkin, and cinematographer Jean Lepine in 1992. Since the making of the movie was still fresh in their minds, it’s an enlightening glimpse into their creative processes. The famous opening shot is also included as a separate piece with two commentaries, one by Altman and one by Tolkin and Lepine.

You’ll also find five deleted scenes, along with some outtakes from the Lonely Room scene with Lily Tomlin and Scott Glenn. It’s easy to see why the footage was cut, but it’s still fun to watch. And if you’d like a guide to all the celebrities in the film, Map to the Stars has you covered: It allows you to move through the cameos image by image with your remote, with highlighting that helps you spot some of the people who aren’t that visible.

Finally, there’s an archival interview with Altman from 1992 (also recorded for that Criterion laserdisc release), TV spots, the U.S. and Japanese trailers, and a fold-out that includes an essay by film historian Sam Wasson.

The Player is a classic that I assume you’ve seen, so I didn’t feel the need to talk about the plot, but if you’ve never taken it in, this new Criterion release is a great excuse to do so. It’s easily one of the best Hollywood movies about Hollywood that’s ever been made.

– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)

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