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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Backtrack (KL Studio Classics) 


Backtrack stars Jodie Foster as an artist with a case of Stockholm Syndrome for a hitman (star and director Dennis Hopper) in this gangster dark comedy.  New to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber with both the theatrical and director’s cut

The Film 

Dennis Hopper’s Backtrack is not as bad as the theatrical cut will have to think.  In its director’s cut form, it’s a dark comedy about the art world as much as it’s a gangster film as much as it’s a Stockholm Syndrome “romance”.  

In a series of perfectly timed issues, visual artist Anne Benton (Jodie Foster) sees the murder of a Witness against the Mob.  Anne goes on the run after the Cops are all but useless asking to uproot her life for Witness Protection.  The Don Lino Avoca (Vincent Price) hires Milo (Hopper) to track down the now-in-hiding Anne.  Eventually, Milo catches up with Anne and what happens next is as weird as any “lovers on the run” story we’ve seen.  

The film is filled with a who’s who of great actors from the aforementioned Foster, Price, and Hopper, but also includes Joe Pesci, Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, Tony Sirico, Fred Ward, Charlie Sheen, Catherine Keener, Bob Dylan, Toni Basil amongst others.  This would indicate a film that was far better – in the script stages – than the film was in its theatrical version called Catch Fire.  Backtrack is much better than the abbreviated Catch Fire. The film is far more logical and mediative than the wallop of a mess that’s Catch Fire.

That is not to say Backtrack is perfect, far from it.  It’s strange and abnormal in the way that Hopper’s films late in his career – hell, even in the prime of his career – were.  There’s a sense of loneliness that isn’t present in the theatrical version.  That both Anne and Milo feel.  Even before everything gets very genre-y the film shows them as solitary soles looking for something.  It’s that loneliness that draws these two souls together.  This is where Backtrack will either fail or succeed with an audience.  

The relationship that’s built around Foster and Hopper’s characters has a strange parallel to Taxi Driver as its two deeply broken souls connecting.  It’s the connection with violence, sexual dynamics, and roles of dominance that many will have trouble with here.  Even Anne screams at Milo calling him a “rapist” at one point.  To which he rebuffs but … he is and Hopper the director allows that to be said and the reaction to go.  It’s a dark blip of a moment in a film that continues on with its sort of Bad Lands journey for these two people in a deeply co-dependent relationship that borders on Stockholm Syndrome (that wasn’t just a cheeky byline by this writer).  Though even in its director’s cut form there is a lot that you have to read between the lines that aren’t fully said.  Not in the oblique way that many films from the 70s are but in the way that the film has edited those moments away.  

By its end and its interesting action-filled ending, we’ve spent enough time with Anne and Milo to understand they’ve sealed their relationship – even if you may disagree with it.  Bonded together their plan and the explosive finale is sure to upset some, confound others, and delight a few.  Backtrack in its final moments as the credit rolls is almost superficial in its happy ending artifice as to say; it’s cinema baby just go with it!!! 

The Transfer

The transfer of both the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut is beautifully brought to Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber.  The image is healthy, and sharp, and gives a look of a freshly struck 35mm print.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Includes the 116-Minute Director’s Cut and the 100-Minute Theatrical Cut
  • Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox and Actress/Screenwriter Tod Davies
  • Theatrical Trailer

The all-new Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox and Actress/Screenwriter Tod Davies opens by discussing how both were involved with the writing of this project that started as a “romantic comedy” about a woman who falls in love with her rapist.  Some of the other details include how Dennis Hopper got Cox involved along with Davies on the project; the close relationship between Hopper and Cox; Davies critique of the script and the concept; the timeframe they had to rewrite the film; Hopper’s insistence to include references to the art world – including a larger discussion of his obsession with art during this era and beyond; the different soundtracks in the theatrical and director’s cut; how they were on the set for most of the production; the various houses that Hopper used in the film – that were actually his properties, including one of the houses being designed by Frank Gehry; Seymour Cassel being cast and then Neil Young who took the role in the film and was cut; how was working with Dennis Hopper; a discussion about Vincent Price and Boris Karloff and their love of the New Hollywood directors and actors of the 70s; a great tidbit about the possibility of casting Dennis Hopper in Repo Man – which leads a larger discussion about how Cox and Hopper became friends; an overall discussion of the various now famous actors that populate the film – and discussion about how Hopper got them in the film; some great Hopper anecdotes – there quite a few; and much more.  Cox and Davies give a great conversational track about the production and some truly ’80s-style anecdotes.   

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Backtrack (2:04); Catchfire (0:55); The Usual Suspects (2:28); Twilight (2:27); The Underneath (2:07); Narrow Margin (2:01); The Silence of the Lambs (1:52); The Hot Spot (1:49) 

The Final Thought 

Backtrack is not for everyone.  Those that tune into its vibe will find another film to obsess over.  

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of Backtrack is out now

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