Original Cast Album: “Company” CRITERION COLLECTION BLU RAY REVIEW

In 1970, Stephen Sondheim’s concept musical COMPANY, became the talk of the town. At the behest of the producers, a original cast recording was readied. To be honest this was and still is a time-honoured Broadway tradition. The event of being able to take home the renditions you adored from the stage and play them to the wee small hours, is thrilling indeed. So the renowned composer and his director Harold Prince were poised and ready. So were the show’s stars, and a large pit orchestra. All in a recording studio. Alongside them was filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker.

 

A famed documentarian, Pennebaker was more than a mere recorder. He distilled the art of music on screen. From Bob Dylan in DONT LOOK BACK, pop music in MONTEREY POP (which also has a release on Criterion) Rock with Alice Cooper and Bowie among many more. So he got the call and decided to explore the cast recordings of musical theatre. Now it is described as ‘What ensued was a marathon session in which, with the pressures of posterity and the coolly exacting Sondheim’s perfectionism hanging over them, all involved pushed themselves to the limit’. This is half truth and half magic. Sondheim’s realises his work with the same energy, magnetism and mania that it welds on stage. People are pushed and prodded. Some are caged and others freed. For instance the classic scene where theatre legend Elaine Stritch, record her iconic rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch.” She is pushed to the brink of her voice, emotions and very tendons. Pushed harder and harder, through multiple takes.

 The visual capturing of the event is reverting. It also underlines the barbarism of perfection. The utter single minded pursuit of its goal. Stritch fought anxiety and exhaustion to complete it. She suffered with alcoholism for most of her life, her face tells this story and many others. Another person here is George Coe, famous face and voice. Here he performs in one take, a clean, clear ring out. This is displayed with visceral immediacy. Coe is not a shrinking violet but he has weakness, fear and range in his face. This intimacy is intoxicating. Captured with grace and, as the old ident says, Directness (Yes I note this is not exactly ‘direct’ cinema even though it is very much that!

DISC

Criterions restorations offers up a close up, face to face view of the larger-than-life stars. Names that underpin our art world are exposed and humanised. The restoration, delays the transfer of this from simple past, to the immediate now. This is so important to a work like this. Tell it as it is now. Tell it as it is this moment. The 4K renews its life and that makes it so much more than a simple cast recording. We taste the intensity of performance. We smell the cigarette ash of genius. We understand all that goes into capturing the magic of live performance on the stage and as much off it also. This is a high point in the restoration goals. The lack of colour loss or bleaching is also admirable!

EXTRAS

The best three things here are obvious. Top of the tree is audio commentary by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Yes he speaks. He tells tales of his own obsessiveness. His own magic. His own artistry. New conversation among Sondheim, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and critic and television producer Frank Rich. This details more than just the film but deserves attention, if not only for the cut and thrust of the debate on the mechanics of sound.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by Chris Hegedus and Nate Pennebaker, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim
  • Audio commentary from 2001 featuring director D. A. Pennebaker, actor Elaine Stritch, and Broadway producer and director Harold Prince
  • New conversation among Sondheim, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and critic and television producer Frank Rich
  • New interview with Tunick on the art of orchestrating, conducted by author Ted Chapin
  • Never-before-heard audio excerpts from interviews with Stritch and Prince, conducted by D. A. Pennebaker and Hegedus in 2001
  • “Original Cast Album: ‘Co-Op,’” a 2019 episode of the TV series Documentary Now! that parodies the film
  • Reunion of the cast and crew of “Original Cast Album: ‘Co-Op’” recorded in 2020, featuring director Alexander Buono; writer-actor John Mulaney; actors Rénee Elise Goldsberry, Richard Kind, Alex Brightman, and Paula Pell; and composer Eli Bolin
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by author Mark Harris

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