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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blu-ray/DVD Review: Sophie’s Choice Collector’s Edition

There was a long time when Meryl Streep could basically do no wrong, when her name on the poster guaranteed a film was going to be worth seeing. Obviously, that was before the disaster called Mamma Mia! Anyway, one of her greatest films, Sophie’s Choice, is now being released in a Collector’s Edition.

Sophie’s Choice stars Meryl Streep as Sophie and Kevin Kline as Nathan, and is mostly seen from the point of view of Stingo, played by Peter MacNicol. All three leads deliver excellent performances. This was Kevin Kline’s first film, and he is absolutely fantastic (and often quite funny at the beginning). And Meryl is astounding, from beginning to end.

Stingo, a young writer, arrives in Brooklyn in 1947, and soon becomes close friends with the exciting and interesting couple that lives upstairs from him. At the beginning it is nearly idyllic, beautiful, sweet, but there is something lurking beneath that. And once we have come to love these characters, we get flashbacks, first of Sophie and Nathan’s meeting, and we learn more about them.

There is a powerful scene where Nathan, a Jew, asks Sophie how she managed to survive the Holocaust while so many others died. And eventually we see how Sophie survived the concentration camp. Those scenes are so intense, so emotional, so memorable. But truly, this entire film is brilliant.

Bonus Features

As probably most people have already seen this film several times (and perhaps already own the earlier DVD version), the question is about what bonus features are included in this new Collector’s Edition to make it worth purchasing. Well, there is a new roundtable discussion of the film, with panelists Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Rose Styron (wife of novelist William Styron), Hanna Pakula (wife of director Alan J. Pakula), and Donald Laventhall. It is moderated by Boaty Boatwright, and is approximately forty-six minutes. This is one of the most interesting panels I’ve seen on any DVD. Meryl Streep says she read the book in manuscript when she was a student at Yale. Donald talks about the actor who was originally to have the part of Sophie before Meryl came in. Kevin Kline tells some great anecdotes about getting cast in the film, and about the piano scene. Rose mentions that William did live in a pink boarding house, and there was a woman above him who was a Holocaust survivor. Most intriguing is talk of the directing style Alan used, rehearsing all morning, and not shooting until after lunch, the shots depending on what the actors did in rehearsals. It sounds like the best possible experience for an actor. Meryl talks a bit about the original five-hour cut of the film. I wish this DVD included some of that footage. This feature was filmed in a studio in Brooklyn.

The DVD also includes a really good commentary track by director Alan J. Pakula, with information on the casting, the lighting, and the importance of choosing a point of view. He says, “If you show everything in a film, you show nothing…What they see is defined by what they don’t see.” He speaks with intelligence and passion, and offers advice for filmmakers. “If you use close-ups all the time, it’s like exclamation points, they mean nothing when you use them.”

The theatrical trailer is also included.

Sophie’s Choice: Collector’s Edition is being released as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and is scheduled to come out April 29, 2014. 

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