The King of Marvin Gardens
For his electrifying follow-up to the smash success Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson dug even deeper into the crushed dreams of wayward America. Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern play estranged siblings David and Jason, the former a depressive late-night-radio talk show host, the latter an extroverted con man; when Jason drags his younger brother to a dreary Atlantic City and into a real-estate scam, events spiral toward tragedy. The King of Marvin Gardens, also starring a brilliant Ellen Burstyn as Jason’s bitter aging beauty-queen squeeze, is one of the most devastating character studies of the seventies.
Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens makes its debut on Blu-ray in Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set, presented with a new 1080p/24hz transfer in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc.
The film has a very subdued look so it’s never allowed to truly pop off screen, but this transfer, done by Sony, renders the film about as perfectly as one could ask. Though muted, colours are perfectly saturated and look natural, and blacks are nice and inky. The image remains sharp with only a few minor soft spots, which I attribute to the source more than the actual transfer, and there are no bothersome artifacts that leaped out at me, with the film’s grain rendered beautifully, looking natural. There’s a few marks scattered about through the print but they’re not heavy and never truly call attention to themselves.
It’s not a pretty looking film by any means, and is certainly not meant to be, but the transfer stays true to the film and presents it as it should, delivering yet another film like transfer.
Like most of the PCM mono tracks found in the America Lost and Found box set, the one here presents easy to hear, clean sound with intelligible dialogue, but it’s a little flat and lifeless, with no real power. It is a quiet film, never calling attention to itself but the soundtrack on a technical level is quite tame.
Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set is basically a complete history lesson on BBS Productions and the supplements found on each disc in this set are primarily about the production company as a whole, though each disc still contains supplements that focus on their respective films.
The King of Marvin Gardens presents a modest collection of supplements that, while covering the film, seem to be really a showcase for Rafelson. First is a selected scene audio commentary by Bob Rafelson. For those unfamiliar with this type of commentary it’s simply a commentary that only plays over a short portion of the film or certain scenes of the film and not the entire feature. And instead of presenting the track over the entire film with plenty of dead space Criterion has edited the film down to 64-minutes with the commentary playing over it and title cards breaking up the track. I rather enjoyed it and am a little disappointed Rafelson doesn’t talk over the entire picture, but what we get here is quite good. He goes over the production and working with Nicholson and Dern, even mentioning how they got along with one another, points out influences, talks about the camera work and geographical set ups, and also points out things in scenes that I had missed before. He shares some great anecdotes, including one about Hunter S. Thompson at a screening of the film, and then another great one about Scatman Crothers while he was filming Kubrick’s The Shining with Nicholson. Sometimes it sounds like Rafelson is being cut off but I’m not completely sure why (or if that really is the case) but I did enjoy it.
We then get a couple of little featurettes that do repeat comments from the commentary a little, starting with Confessions of a Philosopher King, which is essentially a 10-minute interview with Rafelson on the film. He talks primarily about the opening story that Nicholson’s character tells and where it comes from, the climactic scene (not wanting to give anything away,) the positioning of the camera, and the family of actors that BBS had, with Ellen Burstyn showing up in the interview. Throughout the set, where he appears, Rafelson is easily the most engaging and straightforward speaker and here he’s no different.
The next featurette is from 2002 and features Rafelson, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, and actor Bruce Dern. Called Afterthoughts and running 11-minutes, it does repeat some information from the previous supplement, specifically the opening story and some comments on the camerawork, but it still has some different material (not counting similar comments in the commentary.) Kovacs of course principally talks about shooting the film, some of the tight sets he had to film on, lighting, and Rafelson’s complicated set ups in some exterior shots. Dern talks a little about preparing for the role, and there is some discussion about how he performed drunk on camera (which involved Rafelson recording Dern delivering lines completely drunk then having Dern go back and watch it, and yes, we get some of that footage.) It then concludes with a little bit on the Miss America scene. Not a real eye-opener, and there’s some receptiveness, but it’s decent look back.
The next supplement is a little odd, more because Rafelson is the only individual to get one like it, but it’s five pages of text notes about Bob Rafelson, covering his early career up to about 2002, even giving us a filmography. It’s a good read but I would have preferred it in the book, and can’t help but wonder why no other director or producer got something similar.
The disc then closes with a rather bland theatrical trailer for the film.
The box set overall offers some wonderful supplements, providing a comprehensive history of BBS Productions and the films they released (the set even coming with a 111-page booklet) and it may be one of Criterion’s more comprehensive collections. The King of Marvin Gardens’s supplements are light but interesting enough to go through.
America Lost and Found is one of the more fascinating box sets to come from anyone, offering a comprehensive look at one of the more important and interesting production companies to ever get into the business, making an impact that can still be felt today.
This is probably the most “middling” release in the set. It has a strong transfer but a light collection of supplements that are interesting enough but not truly enlightening.