The Cotton Club [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (8th October 2018).
The Film

"The Cotton Club" (1984)

Harlem, New York, 1928 - crime boss Dutch Schultz (played by James Remar) is almost killed in a hit job, but only to saved by Dixie Dwyer (played by Richard Gere), a young coronet player looking for a shot at the big time in music. Schultz offers Dixie some work for his gang, and that also gets his brother Vincent (played by Nicolas Cage) a job with the notorious mobster. But things start getting complicated when Dixie's love/hate relationship with Dutch's mistress Vera (played by Diane Lane becomes much more...

Meanwhile tapdancing brothers Dalbert "Sandman" Williams and Clay Williams (played by real-life brothers Gregory Hines and Maurice Hines respectively) are looking to have a shot at performing at The Cotton Club - the hottest exclusive jazz club in Harlem. An establishment where the rich, the famous, and the gangsters mingle, it's whites only for the patrons, while black entertainers get to show their musical talents on stage. Sandman falls head over heels with Cotton Club dancer Lila Rose (played by Lonette McKee) which gets him into a few troublesome situations at the club, but also additional problems happen when he starts getting solo gigs, causing a rift within his own family...

From 1923 to 1940, The Cotton Club was one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, where some of the greatest names in jazz and dance performed in their careers. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and countless others performed in their early careers. It took quite some time for a film production to be made about the club, both in terms of a long time since the closure of the place and for the lengthy production of the 1984 film "The Cotton Club" itself.

Film producer Robert Evans was looking to a film a story taking place at the Cotton Club, inspired by James Haskins' picture book of the same name. Writer Mario Puzo was hired to write a script in 1983 but due to creative differences he was replaced by William Kennedy. Francis Ford Coppola was also brought on board to retool the ideas, and eventually a multitude of scripts were churned out, none of which fully satisfied Evans. Even with the writing process taking up a lot of time, effort, and money, the production was heading nowhere due to disputes, but funding was still being raised with pre-sales to various investors. Evans was initially interested in directing the film himself, but as he was known as a producer and not a film director, it was eventually chosen for Coppola to take the directing chair to additionally raise money and awareness, as well as for the Coppola to repay his debt still owed for the self produced fox office bomb "One from the Heart" from 1982. Coppola's 1983 films "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish" kept his name afloat in the critical circles, but that did not always mean financial success, and considering the loss of more than $25 million for "One from the Heart", he needed the job.

With Coppola in charge, he was able to round an incredible cast together, with many that he had worked with in the past. Laurence Fishburne from "Apocalypse Now", Nicolas Cage from "Rumble Fish", Diane Lane from "Rumble Fish" and "The Outsiders", and "Tom Waits" from "One from the Heart". In addition, Richard Gere, James Remar, Gregory Hines, Maurice Hines, Lonette McKee, Fred Gwynne, and Bob Hoskins were given starring roles. Gere was given the lead role where he could also show his musician skills playing the cornet, and was even credited so in the film. But even with a large cast and a fully transformed 1920s and 1930s period set film meaning costumes, cars, and everything in the environment had to be fully dressed, the only thing the film was missing was a fully finished script. With the two parallel stories happening - the "white" story of Dixie and Vera's relationship through the years and the "black" story of Sandman and Lila Rosa, the unfortunate position is the balance of the two stories. The "white" story gets more screentime and more depth with the characters. The "black" story suffers from less screentime being closer to a side story rather than part of the main. In addition, there is very little in terms of the stories intersecting and intertwining, with almost inconsequential happenings to each other's storylines. The gangland murders in the "white" story does not much affect the "black" storyline, and the family relations and its ups and downs from the "black" story has basically no effect to the "white" storyline. Overall the separation of the two storylines might mimic the racial segregation of the period, but it is not a satisfying outcome for cinematic narrative. It is said by Coppola that there were notes from investors and distributors that unbalanced the storylines. They wanted more "white" scenes with gang violence, and less "black" scenes with singing and dancing for easier sales for the film, especially overseas. Racially biased of course, but the decision overall hurts the narrative balance.

Where the film shines brightest is in the direction. The cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt gives life to the amazing set decorations and costumes of the period piece. The set of the recreated Cotton Club looks absolutely grand with the beautiful lighting and furnishings. The streets look and feel like a colorful version of a Warner Gangster film of the 1930s. The music composed by John Barry is fitting with the time period and the re-recorded classic jazz pieces of the period play especially great. Like Martin Scorsese' 1977 film "New York, New York" the marriage of musical performances of the period with modern cinema comes to full force in "The Cotton Club". It looks and feels absolutely breathtaking, bringing viewers back to a bygone era and bygone place. Interestingly, Laurence Fisburne's character of Bumpy was based on Bumpy Johnson who he would later play in the 1997 film "Hoodlum" which also had some scenes at The Cotton Club. Also Bob Hoskins' character of Owney Madden, who was the owner of the Cotton Club, would later star in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in 1988, in which he would also play a hard biting character and has a scene where he visits the Ink and Paint Club, which was heavily inspired by the Cotton Club.

Production was an uphill battle and a costly one at that. The independent production was initially estimated to cost $25 million. But clashes on the set with Coppola and Evans, the unfinished script having being changed and updated throughout production including many improv sessions to flesh out the characters and scenes, and the lengthy production schedule raised the production costs to a staggering $58 million, causing some investors to try to sue the production as their investments were spiraling out of control and looking grim at grossing a profit. The film was not a financial success. Released in December 1984 in the United States, the film grossed a fairly respectable $25.9 million theatrically, but it was not even half what the production cost. Critically it was given mixed reactions, though it was nominated for a few awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Film Editing, two Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director, and the only win coming in for Best Costume Design at the BAFTA Awards. Diane Lane was also interestingly nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actress, for both her performances in "The Cotton Club" and "Streets of Fire". The two films were looking to be huge careers moves for the 19 year old actress, but as both flopped, she decided to take a break from acting for a few years.

Although the 129 minute theatrical film was considered Coppola's "director's cut" since he had final cut over the production, more than thirty years later Coppola discovered an extended work in progress version on a Betamax tape. The extended version had 25 minutes of additional scenes including much more musical moments and more family scenes. Coppola looked at getting a new restored director's recut using the long deleted footage to balance out the narratives and produce a new master, but American rightsholders MGM was not interested in financing a new restoration. Coppola looked to financing the restoration and recut himself. With the original negative of the deleted scenes seemingly lost, the existing workprint was the only way to restore the scenes. With extensive color correction and a new digital restoration, Coppola was able to add the 25 minutes of scenes into the theatrical version, but also removing 13 minutes of scenes from the theatrical version for pacing issues, leaving a newly recut 139 minute version. The sound was remixed for 5.1 from the original materials, and for portions missing audio or was too damaged, voices of some actors were rerecorded. As Gregory Hines died in 2003, his son Zach Hines was brought to dub parts of his father's voice. The new director's recut was first screened at the Telluride Film Festival in 2017, but as of this writing the new cut has not been made available outside the festival circuit, with no Blu-ray or DVD release.

"The Cotton Club" was issued on DVD in various countries, all sporting the basic widescreen transfer and a trailer. For Blu-ray, the film has been released in Italy, Japan, and Spain, with each having a stereo track and the trailer as an extra. The Spanish release also includes a stills gallery and the Japanese edition includes a booklet. The Umbrella Entertainment release from Australia is the latest Blu-ray edition, and like the others offers a stereo track and the trailer as an extra.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The film opens with the modern Studio Canal logo and MGM logo, the European and American licencors respectively. The high definition transfer is quite good with an overall dark hue. Colors of the costumes and the gorgeous club settings look wonderful, detail is great, and damage is almost nonexistent, while still leaving a healthy amount of film grain on the image. There are some scenes that seem overly grainy and darker, though it might be at fault to the elements rather than the transfer. Overall, the image quality is very pleasing.

This is the original 1984 theatrical cut, with a runtime of 129:06.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original theatrical release had a 6-track surround mix for 70mm presentations and a Dolby Stereo mix for 35mm presentations. This lossless 2.0 stereo track replicates the Dolby Stereo mix, and the mix is quite good. There is fine stereo separation for the many musical moments in the film while not overpowering the dialogue mix. As for the dialogue it is always clear and the mix is mostly centered, with no issues of errors such as pops or hiss. It is a nicely balanced track, but much more could have benefited with a full 5.1 audio track to replicate the 70mm theatrical track.

There are optional English HoH, German, Italian, Spanish subtitles for the main feature in a white font. The English track is not entirely accurate in captioning, buy shortening phrases, using different wording, or leaving out words entirely. It is very difficult to follow the film with these subtitles so it is recommended to have them on.

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (3:31)
The original theatrical trailer with many spoilerish materials is presented. A few specs and scratches are left in the image, though the colors look fairly good, almost on par with the film's transfer.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


As stated, this is the only extra on disc. The film's DVD releases were just as bare, and until the 2017 director's recut comes to disc, we probably won't see an extras filled disc, which undoubtedly the film should get sometime in the future.

Packaging

The cover art is reversible, with the opposite side having the same artwork minus the Australian ratings logo.
In addition, the artwork states region B, but the disc itself is region ALL.

Overall

"The Cotton Club" was larger than life with its grandness bringing the 1920s and 1930s Harlem to the screen, and while the visuals and music were enchanting, the meddled script did have its issues. While the 2017 director's recut is stated to fix some of the narrative issues, the theatrical cut as presented here on this Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray is still a fascinating piece. The Blu-ray gives a good presentation with video and audio, though sadly the only extra is a trailer.

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: D- Overall: C

 


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