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Julia

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    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Julia



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: April 12, 2016
    Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
    Cast: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Maximillian Schell, Hal Holbrook, Rosemary Murphy, Meryl Streep, John Glover, Lisa Pelikan, Susan Jones
    Year: 1977
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) is a struggling playwright in a relationship with her mentor, novelist Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards). She remembers more idyllic times growing up with her best friend, Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), who was raised by her wealthy but domineering grandparents. Eventually, Julia went off to medical school before becoming ensconced in the anti-Nazi movement. When Lillian is invited to Russia to attend a writer's conference, she is contacted by a representative of Julia's, who wants her to take a route through Germany. Julia hopes that Lillian, a young Jewish woman, will smuggle money to the anti-Nazi movement. Despite the inherent danger, Lillian agrees and is guided into the heart of Nazi territory, where she rendezvous with Julia. Julia reveals that she has a daughter, and Lillian agrees to find the girl and to care for her, but things don't exactly go as planned.

    Julia is adapted from the chapter of the same name in Lillian Hellman's autobiographical (if apparently largely fictional) book Pentimento. In fact, in 1983 a wealthy American heiress named Muriel Gardiner stepped forward to claim that she was, in fact, the “Julia” of the book and film and that she had never met Hellman. Rather, the two had shared a lawyer, from whom Hellman had heard the story. Hellman denied the claims, which were made as part of the rebuttal to a lawsuit she had filed against Mary McCarthy, PBS, and Dick Cavett. The lawsuit was never resolved; Hellman died before it could be decided, and her executors dropped the case. But journalists were now involved, and thirty years later, the evidence overwhelmingly favors Gardiner.

    Among Hellman's detractors was Julia director Fred Zinnemann, who, after making the film, told an interviewer that Hellman was “an extremely talented, brilliant writer, but she was a phony character, I'm sorry to say. My relations with her were very guarded and ended in pure hatred.” One can only be thankful that this not-so-startling development (Hellman apparently had a way of making people hate her despite her talent) occurred after production on Julia had begun.

    Shot on location in England and France, Julia is a major work from a major director. Zinnemann had set several movie milestones in his career, including High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), Oklahoma! (1955), A Man for All Seasons (1966), and The Day of the Jackal (1973). Julia was not only his penultimate film but also his last great one. While the story may be bollocks, it's interesting nonetheless, and it features performances from two powerhouse actresses, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, as well as lesser but effective performances from Meryl Streep and Lisa Pelikan, both making their film debuts. Of course, several male performers give it their all as well, including Jason Robards (who, along with Redgrave, won an Oscar for the film), Hal Holbrook, and a very young John Glover.

    Performances aren't the only thing going for the film; Alvin Sargent's script is excellent and also won an Oscar (for Best Adapted Screenplay). In fact, the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, though it only won three. It's a tight little thriller by way of a melodrama with nary a dull moment, thanks to smart dialogue and classy direction.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time brings Julia to Blu-ray courtesy of an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a BD50 disc. (The film has a runtime of 118 minutes and benefits from the lack of compression provided by such a disc.) Some viewers may be inclined to believe that the transfer lacks clarity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Douglas Slocombe frequently utilizes a soft focus, which naturally dampens the amount of detail that can be teased from the image. When such photography is not being used (and often even when it is), there is a remarkable amount of fine detail on view, amplifying the period reproduction to great effect. That the film appears dark also has to do with Slocombe's photography and Zinnemann's direction. Zinnemann has opted for brown and earthy hues, as directors so often do, to replicate the period (apparently bright and vivid colors didn't exist in the 1930s and '40s). Black levels are well coordinated, however, so there's little crush despite the darkness. Neither the colors nor the soft-focus detract from the Blu-ray experience, and a fine level of grain ensures that the filmic experience is retained. The film is divided into 24 chapter breaks.

    Twilight Time has opted for an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that capably weaves dialogue, music, and sound effects into a pleasing whole. There are no issues to report; the sound is clear and distinct, the dialogue always understandable, and the score remarkable (it, too, was nominated for an Academy Award). Speaking of Georges Delerue's gorgeous score, TT has seen fit to it include it on a secondary track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. As for the dialogue, for those who are deaf or hearing impaired, English subtitles are included.

    An additional track, an audio commentary featuring lead actor Jane Fonda and film historian Nick Redman, is also included. It's a pleasant listen, with Redman content to sit back and guide Fonda with just the right questions. Though Fonda comes from an acting family with a long history and has had a lengthy career herself, it mostly stays on track, though they do occasionally touch on Fonda's other work. Fonda reveals that a lesbian subplot was cut (though a weirdly homophobic moment is retained). The cast and production crew are discussed, including some of their politics. To say that it's fascinating just might be an understatement.

    The only other extra is the film's original theatrical trailer and an 8-page booklet containing liner notes by TT's resident historian, Julie Kirgo. She begins her essay but delving into the historical realities (and unrealities) behind the film and the chapter from the memoir on which it's based. She then moves into a brief but welcome dissertation on the film itself. As usual with Kirgo's notes, it's well worth a read and is both entertaining and informative.

    Julia is a limited edition of 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    Despite its misleading claim to basis in fact (at least, one in Hellman's own past), Julia is an engaging film, one that benefits from a taut script, superior direction, and great performances from a host of actors. The transfer is also very good, as is the sound. There aren't many extras (a single theatrical trailer), but there is an audio commentary with Jane Fonda and hosted by Nick Redman that those interested in the film should definitely listen to.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s), is currently available, with Volume 1 (covering the silent era) due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



















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