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Warner Home Video presents
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

"Am I lucky, hm? I don't know. I'm an okay sort of person. How did I get such a smart-ass kid?"
- Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: September 24, 2004

Stars: Ellen Burstyn
Other Stars: Alfred Lutter, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Valerie Curlin, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Billy Green Bush, Lelia Goldoni, Murray Moston, Lane Bradbury, Vic Tayback
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: PG for (language, sexuality, scene of violence)
Run Time: 01h:51m:58s
Release Date: August 17, 2004
UPC: 085393995126
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B B

DVD Review

During the 1970s social change was all over the place. One of the more important of shifts during this period was the role of women in society. Feminism entered into the mainstream with a mixed reaction that strikes to the very core of America even to this day. Films like A Woman Under the Influence and Annie Hall both handle the subject in very different ways, as does Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The Martin Scorsese-directed picture, starring Ellen Burstyn in her Oscar-winning role, must be doing something right because it managed to offend and compliment feminist ideals upon its original release and is likely to continue doing so for a long time.

Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) had dreams of being a famous singer when she was a girl, but finds herself, as an adult, caught up in a depressing marriage to the neglectful, seemingly abusive Don (Billy Green Bush). The two have a son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), who is spoiled, hyper, and annoying. He plays his music so loudly that his father threatens an attack, while Alice plays the role of homemaker and tries to create the façade of a happy family. The opening scenes of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore are a striking mixture of comedy and drama, and Ellen Burstyn is impeccable here. During dinner, Alice makes an effort to have a nice chat with Don, but receives the cold shoulder. There's something in Burstyn's face during this scene that conveys all the pathos of the character, but also hints at Alice's strength that will drive the story.

One day when Alice is conveying her disgust with men to her friend Bea (Lelia Goldoni), she receives a phone call informing her that Don has been killed in a car accident. Alice must pay for his funeral, and is now left to support both herself and Tommy with next to no money. After deliberating, Alice decides that she will take Tommy out of New Mexico and the two of them will start life anew in Monterey, California, her hometown. At this point the film becomes a road movie, but not in the traditional sense of the genre. Instead of two wise-talking buddies, Robert Getchell's script gives us a mother-son relationship that at times is funny, sometimes sad, but always believable. Tommy spends most of his time in motel rooms as Alice hunts for a job as a singer in cheap lounges. The strength of the movie is that it doesn't present Alice as a super woman who can do anything and everything, but allows her to be human. Realistically, there is no way to defend leaving a 12-year-old child in a motel day after day, but then again, if Alice doesn't get a job how can she support her son? Life is full of these complexities and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore gives its audience a clear picture of them and never cheapens the situation by delivering an easy solution.

As Alice struggles to start her new life, she meets the sly Ben (Harvey Keitel) in Phoenix, Arizona. The two start a sexual relationship, but Alice later learns that he is married. When Ben's wife, Rita (Lane Bradbury), confronts Alice about it, Ben shows up and savagely beats his wife and threatens Alice. The scene is incredibly powerful, showing quite vividly the fear abused wives live in on a daily basis. After Ben leaves her motel room, Alice immediately packs her things and gets Tommy out of there. The two move on to Tucson, where Alice settles for a job as a waitress. She meets the skilled veteran, Flo (Diane Ladd), who starts out as an adversary but ultimately becomes a confidant. Simultaneously, Alice finds herself subject to the advances of the handsome David (Kris Kristofferson), who manages to win over Tommy and eventually gets Alice to give him a chance. Things appear to be going well, until David turns out not to be a perfect angel and Tommy becomes friends with a mischievous girl, Audrey (a very young Jodie Foster).

What is amazing about the film is that the actual events being depicted on screen aren't what stick with the audience, it's the emotion. Many of the scenes have been depicted, in one form or another, on numerous occasions, which means that it is entirely up the dialogue and actors to make this feel authentic and not like a re-hash of clichés. Thankfully both come through in spades. The script is a real treat, with complex characters that it respectfully portrays as authentic people. Even so, it is the acting that makes this film. Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd are so good that it is easy to understand why each of their characters got a spin-off TV show. The rest of the cast is also good, particularly Alfred Lutter as Tommy. It is rare to see a child give such an honest performance, which makes his work here a welcomed surprise. Apart from Lutter, Kristofferson is the only male to get a fully developed character on screen and he does well with his part, but is blown out of the water by Burstyn. Simply put, this is the best performance of Burstyn's career.

Where the film falls short, however, is in its storytelling. This is a woman's film—as evidence by the number of women who worked predominant positions on the production—but told by a man. Scorsese does a fantastic job bringing strong visuals, with smooth tracking shots that create an aesthetically pleasing environment, and gets fantastic work from his actors. What he does not accomplish, however, is bringing the energy to this work that he does with his other films. Part of this might be because it doesn't take place in his beloved New York City, but most likely it is because Scorsese is not a woman. Inevitably, he sees the material through the eyes of a man and cannot fully comprehend Alice's predicament. At no point in time does he cheapen her or take away her immense inner strength, but his handling of the material doesn't feel as easy or controlled as it normally does. Some of the editing of the driving scenes is abrupt, which is rare for Scorsese.

Yet despite these flaws, the film as a whole is a success. Scorsese brings a visual touch that aides the performances and brings the script to a cinematic level (it easily could have been written for the stage), but the true force behind the project is Burstyn. As a result of her performance, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a strong, pro-woman film that accurately portrays the life of a single mom. Like such a life, the film isn't perfect, but it definitely is admirable.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Warner has created a new transfer for this DVD and it looks extremely good. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer preserves the original aspect ratio. The opening scene, set on a farm in twilight, looks gorgeous with lush reds and oranges. Grain is a constant factor in this transfer as a result of the image, but it is never distracting. Colors and detail, particularly in the scenes of David's ranch, are strong and depth is maintained to create a film-like look. It doesn't look perfect, but it is the best the film has looked on home video (as evidenced by the clips in the included documentary).

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Like many of their catalog titles, Warner has elected to preserve the original mono sound mix here instead of forcing a Dolby Digital track to material that doesn't need it. The sound is crisp, with clear dialogue and a juiced up musical soundtrack. It isn't anything noteworthy, but it gets the job done. There also is a French mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Martin Scorsese
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:41s

Extras Review: The extras are not a major component to this release, but are a suitable collection of supplements. There is an audio commentary by Scorsese, Burstyn, Kristofferson, and Ladd of select scenes. The comments by Ladd are the only one's that seem to actually be a commentary on the scene being shown, while the rest of the comments are a collection of interview clips that at times relate to the image but more often do not. Scorsese and Burstyn spend a lot of time on how they became involved with the project and the ideas they wanted to convey. A few anecdotes about the making of the film are mentioned throughout, but not very often. Ladd is the highlight of this commentary, bringing the same amount of energy to this commentary that she did to her performance.

Second Chances...The Making of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (19m:51s) is made up of interviews with Kristofferson and Burstyn. Some of the comments are a repeat from the commentary, but it is mostly new information being intercut with clips from the movie and behind-the-scenes photographs. The final extra is the original trailer, presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby stereo surround sound. The features aren't very extensive, but are worth a watch.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is not the quintessential Scorsese picture, but it is a good film that offers terrific performances from Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd. This DVD has a nicely done new transfer, accompanied by the original mono sound. The extras are interesting, which makes this a worthwhile purchase.

 


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