Based on the James Joyce short story that concludes his collection The Dubliners, The Dead (1987) is one of Huston’s most exquisite works, a perfect cinematic short story attuned to the rituals and unspoken bumps in the relationships of family and friends gathering in early twentieth century Dublin to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It was also a family affair for Huston, who directed from a script by his son Tony (given sole screen credit despite contributions by John) and cast his accomplished daughter Anjelica (who he had just directed to an Oscar®-winning performance in Prizzi’s Honor, 1985) in the lead. Huston had lived in Ireland for twenty five years and, though he had since sold his estate and moved to Mexico, had retained his Irish citizenship. The film was his tribute to the country he adopted late in life and to the author whose work inspired him as a young man. “Joyce was and remains the most influential writer in my life,” he confessed in an interview during the making of the film.
Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann center the film as Gretta and Gabriel Conroy, a married couple whose cool relationship is unnoticed by the guests who arrive at the home of Gabriel’s spinster Aunts Julia and Kate (Helena Carroll and Cathleen Delany, veterans of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater) to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on a snowy January evening in 1904. The film opens as the family members arrive, ushered into the warmth of their home by the doting aunts, who take their position on the second story landing like family royalty but fuss over every guest like mother hens. The arrivals include cousin Freddy (Donal Donnelly), who arrives tipsy and proceeds to drink himself to a slurring effusiveness (much to the consternation of his aged mother), boisterous family friend Mr. Browne (Dan O’Herlihy), who drinks himself into a red-faced belligerence, and a celebrated singer, Bartell D’Arcy (real-life Irish tenor Frank Patterson, making his film debut).
Word of the The Dead fiasco has apparently reached Lionsgate HQ.
Lionsgate has just issued a recall of all copies of The Dead, the John Huston film that was released on DVD this week in an incomplete version. I’ve not been able to get any details beyond their hope to have replacement copies in the next couple of weeks.
More updates as I receive them.
(And no, I haven’t heard if they will replace that awful cover art with the beautiful poster art the original theatrical release .)
UPDATE: Here’s the press release from Lionsgate and instructions for consumers to get a replacement for their disc:
It has come to our attention that due to a technical malfunction, the initial DVD shipment of John Huston’s THE DEAD contained an incomplete version of the film. We deeply apologize to all our consumers for this unfortunate error and want to offer them an opportunity to replace their current copies with the complete version as soon as it is available to ship the week of November 23rd. We regret this inconvenience, as Lionsgate is committed to providing our consumers the highest quality home entertainment experience.
All consumers who purchased a copy and wish to receive the new complete version should do one of the following:
– EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org with their address and a scan/attachment of their receipt
– FAX (310) 222-5562 with their address and copy of their receipt
-MAIL their receipt along with a note including their address to: 20102 S Vermont Ave Torrance, CA 90502
Or please call (800) 650-7099 directly if you have any further questions.
The Dead (Lionsgate) – John Huston was not just one of the great American directors, he was the great translator of literary works from page to screen. He began his directorial career with The Maltese Falcon, not simply an iconic detective film and a defining film noir but an adaptation so precise that the previous screen versions have been long forgotten. It’s only fitting that he ended his career with an adaptation just as perfect, and insulting that after such a long wait for a DVD release, we get such a shoddy presentation. Based on a James Joyce short story featured in The Dubliners, The Dead (1987) is one of his most exquisite works, a perfect cinematic short story attuned to the rituals and touchy relationships of family and friends gathering in early twentieth century Dublin to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.
Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann center the film as a married couple whose cool relationship is unnoticed by the rest of the guests but becomes obvious to us as Huston deftly brings us into the gathering, like an unseen guest, to witness privileged moments of intimacy. There’s a melancholy undercurrent to this happy occasion, as disappointment and regret and wistful remembrances reverberate through the songs and recitations of the gathering, but Huston’s hushed appreciation of the gathering and tender affection for the characters is sublime. Huston’s direction is pure grace, creating a world of relationships and a history of family in the rhythms and glances and comments (guarded and unguarded) of the guests. Donal McCann is particularly good as a tippling cousin who is always in danger of embarrassing himself and Dan O’Herlihy is fine as a patriarch who becomes increasingly red-faced and slurred throughout the evening. The disc quality of this long-awaited DVD debut, however, is appalling. The 1:85 aspect ratio has been shaved to fit the 16×9 widescreen format and the mastering is weak, with unstable, noisy colors and hazy resolution, adequate for a bargain-priced film but not worthy of the beauty of John Huston’s swan song. There’s no supplements, which is fine, but the film itself is cut by ten minutes (thanks to Tom Becker at DVD Verdict for identifying the missing footage, an entire sequence at the beginning of the film), for which there is no excuse. It’s still a beautiful film, but it’s not the movie that Huston released in 1987.
11/5/09 Update: Lionsgate has issued a recall for the DVD. Details here.