Alice's Restaurant (1969)

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Released 14-Sep-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1969
Running Time 106:14 (Case: 111)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:25) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Arthur Penn
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Arlo Guthrie
Patricia Quinn
James Broderick
Pete Seeger
Lee Hays
Michael McClanathan
Geoff Outlaw
Tina Chen
Kathleen Dabney
William Obanhein
Seth Allen
Monroe Arnold
Joseph Boley
Case ?
RPI $9.95 Music Arlo Guthrie
Garry Sherman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Smoking Yes, not much of it tobacco
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This film is based on an 18-minute song by Arlo Guthrie which tells the story of how he was exempted from military service due to a conviction for littering. Whether the story is really true or not is unclear. Guthrie claims it is, but some who have looked into the case suggest that he was not rejected for the military. In any case the movie is an extended version of the song, which deals not only with the story contained in it but also other events in Guthrie's life, circa 1967.

    Guthrie is a folk singer who winds up in the town of Stockbridge Massachusetts where his friends Alice and Ray (Pat Quinn and James Broderick) have bought an old church and opened a restaurant in town. There isn't really much of a plot. Alice and Ray are both part of the counter-culture but there are obvious strains in their marriage. Guthrie's friend Shelly is a drug addict. Guthrie forms a relationship with a woman of Asian descent (Tina Chen). Vietnam looms ominously in the background. Meanwhile, Guthrie's celebrated father Woody lies dying from Huntington's Chorea in a hospital bed .

    Arthur Penn's film is relatively forgotten compared to the ones he made before and after, being Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man. I suspect that this is due to the dated subject matter and not because the film is of lesser quality. While it seems to be merely a collection of vignettes, there is an underlying mood of both hope and despair that runs through it. The optimism and brightness with which the movie begins ends in a gloomy winter setting. Penn emphasises this through the use of short takes and plenty of cuts in the first half of the film, which gives way to longer takes and a more conventional narrative style in the second half. Despite the seeming aimlessness of the story, the movie is never slow or boring.

    Penn also, laudably, does not labour the points which the film makes. With Venable Herndon he has written a script that takes pot-shots at the establishment and the counter-culture but also allows the viewer to make up their own mind about the issues raised. Mind you, in 1969 a lot of the minds which saw this film would have been zonked out of their skulls on some substance or other. Perhaps that accounts for the much greater success of Easy Rider in the same year. In any case this is a fine film.

    Some of the actual participants play themselves, such as the local policeman and the blind judge. While the late songwriter and labour activist Woody Guthrie is played by an actor (Guthrie died two years earlier), Pete Seeger makes an appearance as himself, playing a couple of songs at Guthrie's bedside. The real Alice and Ray also have cameos.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    While this is a watchable transfer, there are numerous problems. For the most part the transfer is bright. This helps with some bright colours in the early stages of the film. Flesh tones are quite well rendered. Unfortunately shadow detail is below par. The transfer is not especially detailed, but it is sharp enough for undistracted viewing.

    There are quite a few artefacts on display. There is a lot of grain in some scenes, and there is some low level noise present. There is a slight smearing of detail in movement. More annoying though are the film artefacts. There are regular small flecks which can be accepted without too much bother. But there also appears to be some moisture damage. Particularly noticeable in indoor and darker scenes, there is a continuous flickering of areas of the image, similar to what can be seen on much older nitrate films that are in the early stages of decomposition.

    Optional English subtitles are provided which contain hard-of-hearing information and which also include song lyrics. The subtitles are useful because some dialogue is muffled or hard to hear.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer break not very disruptive at 57:25.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    Most of the dialogue is clear, though some words and phrases had me switching the subtitles on for illumination. This is not the fault of the transfer. If you have seen Bonnie and Clyde you will know that Penn was a proponent of a wide dynamic range in a soundtrack, with the gunshots at a much higher level than in earlier such movies. Here the quietness of much of the audio is shattered by the occasional loud noise, for example when the action moves to a motorcycle race.

    The soundtrack is, despite some distortion in the form of sibilance and a digital edge to voices caused by compression, very good with sufficient dynamic range to do the original justice. Music comes across clearly and there is often a surprising amount of bass.

    The score comprises music by Arlo Guthrie, including the original song on which it was based ("Alice's Restaurant Massacre"), as well as other material. As mentioned Pete Seeger contributes two songs. Sensitive viewers should be warned of the flagrant use of a kazoo.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (3:40)

    The sole extra is an original trailer which basically covers the entire story in three and a half minutes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 appears to be the same as the UK Region 2.

    The choice between this release and the US Region 1 is not straightforward. The latter is not 16x9 enhanced but includes an audio commentary with Guthrie himself, as well as a trailer. If you don't want the commentary then the Region 4 is the better option for the widescreen enhancement. Pity that we get, like, bummed out on the commentary, man.

Summary

    A film very much of its era, this is still entertaining 37 years later and is well worth seeing.

    The video quality is average.

    The audio quality is good.

    The sole extra is a trailer, which doesn't seem good enough.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, March 27, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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