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Blu-Ray Review: Arrow Video’s Black Rainbow (Collector’s Edition)

Black Rainbow

Mike Hodges’s late 80s Gothic Noir starring Jason Robards, Rosana Arquette, and Tom Hulce is a gem ripe for rediscovery.  Arrow Video has filled the Blu-Ray with extras and a beautiful transfer.  

The Film 

Black Rainbow is the type of film ahead of its time even if it was release today.  Undefinable, engrossing and magnetic. Hodges’ dark film packs a huge punch.

Martha and Walter Travis (Rosanna Arquette and Jason Robards respectively) are a traveling father-daughter psychic act.  What at first appears to be a con in the long line of Revival house conmen slowly is revealed not to be that.  Martha truly something more than a con artist draws the attention of a skeptical journalist (Tom Hulce) and a corporation’s hitman/fixer.  As one wants to exploit the other want to kill.  Will anyone be able to help Martha whose powers appear to be growing and has been targeted by the hitman.

The film works in large part to the trio of actors cast.  Tom Hulce is a screen actor who has always been shortchanged, with the exception of Amadeus. Here he is a perfect fit for the angling journalist who’s wanting to debunk Martha and Walter as the conmen they are. 

Jason Robards was an actor that felt like he got better and better with age.  Here the legendary stage actor who worked with the likes of O’Neil, Simon, Miller (when they were actually writing) devours the role of Walter Travis.  A drunk on the edge of destruction, just capable enough to continue his abuse and manipulation of his daughter.  Robards goes big but never arched keeping within the confines of who this conman would be.  Scenes between him and Arquette are masterful as the two face off against one another in an almost biblical-like tragedy. 

Rosanna Arquette is flat out amazing as the troubled medium Martha.  Arquette’s performance is one of the best of her career as the daughter that has been exploited and abused by her father.  Martha is never a victim though, it feels like it at points, part of the ingenious way the actor plays her is of a woman who slowly begins to take control of a situation that she’s never felt she’s had control over.  The moment when Arquette’s Martha finds out the dark secrets her father has been keeping is the best work the actor has ever done.    

The film’s melding of genres and themes feel a part of a whole of Hodges’ unique career as a filmmaker.  Much like Howard Hawks before him, Hodges never met a genre or genres or subgenres that did not agree with him.  Black Rainbow finds the director playing with social commentary, gothic horror, family melodrama, gospel revivals, journalism, corporate greed, and much more.  One would think all of this in a single film is too much.  Not in the least.  Hodges is able to make every piece work as a whole creating a heady brew. 

The Transfer

The brand-new restoration from the original negative approved by writer-director Mike Hodges is nothing short of astounding.  Again, Arrow Video manages to give a little-seen film a transfer that makes it look better than it probably did upon release.  The film image is perfectly balanced and razor-sharp without losing a healthy sheen of grain.  The Blu-Ray like many of Arrow Video’s discs looks like a recently struck 35mm archival print.  

The Extras 

They include the following: 

  • New audio commentary by film historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
  • Archival audio commentary by Mike Hodges
  • Message in a Bottle: ‘Making of’ documentary
  • Archival interviews with Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Rosanna Arquette
  • Archival featurettes ‘8 Minutes’; ‘Disasters’; ‘Seeing the Future’; ‘Behind the Rainbow’ 
  • Trailer

The newly recorded audio commentary by historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan.  The critics waste no time with their lively discussion of the film.  Giving us the historical background as to why the film has not been widely seen outside the UK, it’s southern gothic tradition, Hodges’s filmography, Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, and just about everything you’d want to know about the film and its release.  Ellinger and Deighan’s commentary has little to no overlap with Hodges’ commentary. 

The archival audio commentary by Mike Hodges is an utter delight.  The relaxed and charming Hodges discusses just about everything about the making and crafting of this film.  The writer/director doesn’t mind laughing at his work or taking the piss as they say about lines of dialog.  Hodges’ conversation always is fascinating, intelligent, and engaging and never succumbs to the dreaded “describing what’s on-screen” that many directors do.  If you’re a fan of the film, definitely listen to this commentary track.  Note: Hodges’ track was recorded years prior, I mention this because his comments about America have come true. 

Message in a Bottle is a 19-minute archival making-of.  Using a combination of on-set b-roll footage, clips, behind-the-scenes photos, and current (at the time) interviews by Mike Hodges and John Quested creates a solid featurette that doesn’t suffer much information overlap with Hodges’ commentary.

Archival interviews 

Jason Robards (2:23) is an EPK style interview that really only has about 30-seconds of on-set interview by the actor intercut with clips from the film.

Rosanna Arquette (2:17) is an EPK style interview that really only has about a minute of press day interview by the actor intercut with clips from the film.

Tom Hulce (2:22) is an EPK style interview that really only has about a 45-seconds of on-set interview by the actor intercut with clips from the film.

Archival featurettes 

8 Minutes (8:22) is an EPK Featurette that was created at the time of its initial release.  Edited together from behind-scenes footage and interviews with Hodges, Arquette, Robards, and Quested.  This featurette focuses on the making-of as a whole.  

Disasters (2:12) is an EPK Featurette that was created at the time of its initial release.  Edited together from behind-scenes footage and interviews with Hodges, Arquette, Robards, and Quested.  This featurette focuses on the specific disaster (it’s a spoiler if discussed) that occurs and Hodges discusses the origins of the title.

Seeing the Future (2:19) is an EPK Featurette that was created at the time of its initial release.  Edited together from behind-scenes footage and interviews by with Hodges, Arquette, Robards, and Quested.  This featurette focuses on the world of psychics and mediums. 

Behind the Rainbow (20:32) is an EPK Featurette that was created at the time of its initial release.  Edited together from behind-scenes footage and interviews with Hodges, Arquette, Robards, and Quested.  The last and best of the archival featurettes with what appears to be all of the interviews and some great onset footage.  Though some will find the 80’s era super serious narration funny, if one can get past that, you’ll find some really great footage from an era that we rarely get b-roll footage from.  Huge bonus points as they show Robards, Arquette, and Hulce’s onset working on the film. 

Rounding out the special features is the theatrical trailer (1:41) which appears to have been restored by Arrow Video.  

The Final Thought 

Black Rainbow is an undiscovered gem that’s worthy of rediscovery.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!

Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray of Black Rainbow is out now

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