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20th Century Fox presents
Julia (1977)

"Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens, it is possible in some pictures to see the original lines. A tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento, because the painter repented...changed his mind."
- Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: April 06, 2006

Stars: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave
Other Stars: Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Rosemary Murphy, Maximillian Schell, Meryl Streep
Director: Fred Zinnemann

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG for (brief scenes of violence, mild language)
Run Time: 01h:57m:17s
Release Date: February 07, 2006
UPC: 024543183204
Genre: drama


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

DVD Review

Who was Julia?

If you believe playwright Lillian Hellman, on whose memoir Fred Zinnemann's Oscar-winning drama is based, she was a childhood friend of Hellman's who eschewed her privileged upbringing to become a brazen anti-Nazi freedom-fighter in pre-World War II Austria. By forging passports and smuggling cash to fascist resisters, Julia helped hundreds of Jews and political dissidents emigrate to the West. An episode in Hellman's highly acclaimed book, Pentimento, profiles this courageous woman, and chronicles how Julia secretly tapped Hellman to undertake a dangerous mission in service to the cause.

Fascinating? Without a doubt. True? Well, maybe. Questioning the validity of memoirs is a common pastime today (sparked by the James Frey cause célèbre that recently played out on Oprah), but for years controversy has hounded and tainted Julia. Ironically, Hellman's first hit play, The Children's Hour, examines the power of a lie, and how a simple fib laced with a kernel of truth can forever alter, and even destroy, innocent lives. Though no one has been harmed by Julia's story (unless one considers a bruised ego an injury), it's now widely believed that in Pentimento, Hellman—of all people—told a whopper.

Oh, Julia existed all right, but probably not in the form Hellman would like us to believe. In real life, many claim, she was Dr. Muriel Gardiner, an esteemed psychoanalyst whose background, ideology, and exploits closely mirror Hellman's heroine (and are recounted in Gardiner's own autobiography, Code Name 'Mary': Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground). Hellman supposedly learned of Gardiner's tale through a mutual friend, "borrowed" and embellished it for Pentimento, and inserted herself as a character to add immediacy and impact. There's no evidence the two women ever met, let alone shared an intimate friendship. And the idea Hellman carried concealed cash into Nazi Germany? Hogwash, says the intelligentsia. Yet for years, Hellman ardently denied fabricating the mission, Julia, and their long personal history together.

Both Hellman and Gardiner are now dead, but the debate lives on, as does Julia, and its long-overdue DVD release will surely stoke the embers anew. Zinnemann's fine film, however, rises above the fray. Its 11 Oscar nominations and three wins notwithstanding, Julia remains a meticulously crafted, beautifully acted, suspenseful, and inspiring piece. When I first saw it as a 16-year-old during its original theatrical release, it made a deep impression on me, opening my eyes to the insidious seeds of Nazism, the passion and courage of those who fought it, and the powerful bond of friendship. In the intervening three decades, other films have addressed those topics more incisively, thus dulling Julia's impact, but Zinnemann's lush visuals and masterful storytelling keep it a compelling and affecting work.

As do the performances. Jane Fonda may have lost the Oscar to Annie Hall's Diane Keaton, but she etches her finest character portrait as the fiery yet insecure Hellman. With admirable restraint, Fonda captures the playwright's creative frustrations, intense attachment to Julia, and slow awakening to the devastating issues facing the world. Hellman's relationship with Julia dominates the film, but her stormy on-again-off-again romance with hard-drinking novelist Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn) equally resonates. In other roles, Maximilian Schell contributes an excellent cameo as the intermediary who sets up Hellman's mission, and Meryl Streep—in her film debut, and almost unrecognizable in a jet-black wig—makes a brief splash as one of Hellman's haughty society friends.

Julia, however, is the film's pivotal character. Though only sporadically seen (and often as a juvenile in flashback), she orchestrates the action and constantly occupies our thoughts. Today, Vanessa Redgrave is perhaps better remembered for her notorious Oscar acceptance speech (in which she famously referenced "Zionist hoodlums") than for the performance that won her the award, but hopefully this DVD will put the focus back on her subtle yet luminous work. I've said it before, but it bears repeating...Redgrave transmits more with a blank stare than most actresses do with an exhaustive monologue. Her minimalist acting reminds us of Hemingway's prose—terse yet poetic—and like Garbo, we endlessly search her beautiful, cryptic face for clues. She gives away so little, and at the same time so much, it's impossible not to be entranced by her.

And, as a result, by Julia...whoever she is.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Fox has taken special care with the Julia transfer, and the results, at times, are stunning. Though the initial scenes seem slightly fuzzy and flat, the bulk of the film enjoys fine clarity, contrast, and color saturation. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe gives the picture a rich period look, much like the studio movies of yore, and his shots of European cities, bucolic landscapes, and the stark Atlantic coast are often breathtakingly beautiful. Slocombe also knows how to shoot a close-up, and lends both Fonda and especially the luminous Redgrave a natural and glamorous glow. Although Julia is almost 30 years old, very few blemishes dot the print, making this '70s classic look very contemporary.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and mono tracks are offered, and provide clean, clear sound. Fonda and Redgrave possess lovely, distinctive speaking voices, and it's a treat to hear them converse, while the gravelly tones of Robards spike the audio with salty accents. Ambient effects are limited, but rushing streams and the clatter of railroad tracks nicely broaden the sound field, and no age-related defects intrude.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring 9 to 5, Shining Through, The Diary of Anne Frank, Smilla's Sense of Snow
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:38s

Extras Review: For a film that nabbed 11 Academy Award nominations, Julia deserves better than a skeletal DVD release. A retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Fonda, Redgrave, Schell, and Streep would have greatly enhanced the disc, but alas, Fox only offers up a hodgepodge of trailers.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Julia doesn't hold up quite as well as other films from the late 1970s, but it's still an artfully constructed, beautifully acted, and emotionally affecting piece. In his penultimate production, director Fred Zinnemann displays yet again his meticulous craftsmanship, while Jane Fonda contributes the performance of her career as playwright Lillian Hellman. Fox supplies solid transfers, but inexplicably snubs this multi-Oscar-winner in the extras department. Despite the oversight, the film's substantial merits still earn this disc an enthusiastic recommendation.

 


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