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Default Fast Company




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: August 4, 2004

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 4/27/2004
MSRP: $19.95 (Standard) | $29.99 (Limited)
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



In a career checkered with films about psychoplasmic mutation, venereal parasites, telepathic explosion and rabid diseases, a film about car racing would seem to be the last project David Cronenberg would undertake. Nonetheless, in between Rabid and The Brood, the Canadian horror legend directed automobile opus, Fast Company. Made during the golden tax shelter years of Canadian cinema, the film was financed as a mere tax write-off for rich doctors and dentists. As was the case with many tax shelter films, distribution was not of importance to financers looking for a quick tax break, and Fast Company fell through the cracks with hardly any theatrical distribution. It's life on video was even more obscure, but Blue Underground has made a phoenix of this forgotten Cronenberg picture, as well as two of his earliest short films, Stereo and Crimes of the Future. Buckle up, because going through this release will be a long ride.

The Story

inline Image Fast Company begins with a montage of panoramic shots of the breathtaking Canadian Rocky Mountains, which quickly contrast the confining interior of the racecar. Covered in protective gear and saddled into the driver's seat, the expanse of the environment is limited to a prison of locomotive technology. Forced to rely entirely on the safety and accuracy of the tools on the dashboard, the driver very much becomes an amalgam of flesh and machine. Such is the life of the racecar driver, and Lonnie 'Lucky Man' Johnson (William Smith) is the best in the business. Johnson is a skilled veteran with a reckless personality, forced by corporate advertisers to be more a spokesman rather than a sportsman. Phil Anderson (John Saxon) is his manager and Johnson's connection to his Fast-Co sponsorship label. Together the two have succeeded in making Johnson a household name, but trouble is on the horizon.

inline Image Fast-Co teammate, Billy 'The Kid' Brocker (Nicholas Campbell) is young and full of ambition, poised to dethrone Johnson as the label's big star. The tension between young and old is brought out between the two as both hunger for success. Also adding to the tension is the rival team, The Blacksmiths, lead by founder Gary Black (Cedric Smith). Sick of always being number two, Black also waits for his shot at the top. Disillusioned with all the business and corrupt politics involved in the sport, Johnson contemplates the retired life with a past beau, Sammy (Claudia Jennings).

inline Image Retirement becomes more of an immediate reality when Johnson punches out Anderson, leaving him and Billy the Kid without a company. With Lonnie and Billy out, Fast-Co brings Gary Black in, infuriating the two heroes. In a bout between the free spirit and big business, Lonnie Johnson is determined to take down his former sponsor in one last triumphant run.

inline Image Fast Company is an affectionate, if standard, tribute to the western tradition of car racing, and the people who compose the sub-culture. In his commentary on this disc, Cronenberg is upfront in saying that this is a B-movie through and through, citing his intent to merely reproduce the conventions of western films past. It's an accurate statement, since the genre clichés are all there: the strong and silent protagonist in white, the dirty rivals in black, the ambitious wildcard kid and the women who try to tame the reckless male machismo. Cronenberg even named one of the characters "Billy the Kid" to allude to western tradition, although it seems more derivative of Easy Rider, given that Peter Fonda's character is also a driving enthusiast draped in the red, white and blue named "Billy the Kid". The plot is just as derivative, but it is the little Cronenbergian touches that elevate the film slightly above mediocrity.

inline Image Many would dismiss the film as the black sheep in Cronenberg's canon, but it isn't without some of his signature preoccupations. Cronenberg explores the relationship between car and driver, man and machine, and how the two are very much intertwined. Strapped within its confines, man is a slave to the buttons and gauges within the machine, and Cronenberg emphasizes this overwhelming dependence on technology with a number of inserts. The car is a collage of contraptions, and by emphasizing each part in close-up, Cronenberg demonstrates the intricacy of technology. Rather than showing the beauty of cars zipping across the strip, Cronenberg stages many of his shots in the interior of the vehicle to stress how confining and constricting it can be. There is even a shot within that masks out the landscape with an optical overlay of a timer to demonstrate how dependent man has become on the printouts of technology. The man is forced to be one with the car, and this kind of fusion is one that Cronenberg would develop in later works.

inline Image In Videodrome the protagonist begins to incorporate the technologies in which he is engulfed by forming a VCR-like slit in his stomach. Crash also details the connection of man with technology, using the car as a form of sensual gratification. Fast Company would be the first of his films to outline Cronenberg's fixation on technological amalgamation. No scene in the film is more distinctly Cronenbergian than the scene with Billy the Kid and two hitchhiker groupies he picks up. Reinforcing the man-as-machine metaphor, Billy pours motor oil on one of his naked lovers, telling her to use it to take care of her "engine". It is a far less grave fusion of flesh and technology than in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch or The Fly, but in its sheer audacity remains the best moment in the film.

inline Image Experimentation, the prime cause of chaos in Cronenberg's two previous pictures, Shivers and Rabid, is also the cause for destruction in Fast Company. When Johnson tries out a new fuel mixture, his car explodes into flame, which is the catalyst to the remaining problems that plague the "Lucky Man" throughout the rest of the film. Like the surgeon in Rabid or the psychiatrist in The Brood, Johnson shares a dangerous obsession with experimenting with revolutionary techniques over the standard. So while the film may be lighter in tone than the rest of his works, Fast Company nevertheless addresses some of Cronenberg's principal concerns, namely man/machine fusion and experimental disaster.

Just because the film fits within the themes of his body of work does not necessarily make it a great picture. The film is far less daring than the rest of his oeuvre, and aside from the oil bath scene, remains pleasantly standard. Good cinematography by early-Cronenberg stalwart, Mark Irwin, and solid performances by a solid B-movie cast, namely Smith, Saxon, Jennings and the beautiful Judy Foster, help elevate the film slightly above its rudimentary plotting. Ultimately though, the film is content with being little more than a standard sports drama. The film is about as slight as its cars are fast, and for many that is just fine. It remains, however, one of Cronenberg's lesser forays behind the movie wheel.

Image Quality

inline Image Blue Underground presents the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is up to their usual high standard. There is a tad bit more grain prevalent here than most other Underground releases, although this is due in part because Cronenberg combined his 35mm A-roll footage with some 16mm B-roll, which is where most of the grain surfaces. Also evident more than usual for the Blue are plenty of surface nicks and scratches, which pop up on the transfer throughout. Given the obscurity of the film, such flaws are understandable, since the uncut print was no doubt tough to track down. Other than that though, the transfer is solid, featuring beautiful, vivid colors. All the greens on the trees in the Rocky Mountain shots look rich and lifelike, and the red, white and blues of the Fast-Co colors jump off the screen. Flesh tones look just as accurate. Shot almost entirely in the day, Fast Company retains a clarity that most of his early horror films are without because of their dark locals. Not a perfect transfer, but probably the best Fast Company has ever looked.

Sound

There is no doubt that the soundtracks on this DVD are leaps and bounds better than those featured on the original mono mix. In addition to the mono mix, Blue Underground has also included a 6.1 DTS ES track, 5.1 Dolby Digital EX, and a 2.0 Dolby Surround track. All sound exquisite, with the DTS track sounding the best. The original sound effects design had forceful use of car engines and screeching tires, and the 6.1 track makes for an even more engulfing experience. Driving sound effects always translate well to directional sound movement, and throughout the film the rears get a workout with cars whizzing to and fro. There is a surprising amount of bass during the racing scenes, as each rev of the engine rattles through the speakers. Even Fred Mollin's (Friday the 13th, Part VIII) hokey music comes through pristine. If ever there was a film to benefit from a surround remix, Fast Company is it, and audio-wise is one of the Blue's best mixes.

Supplemental Material

Available in either single or double disc sets, the Fast Company release is full of great supplemental features. The major extra of the first disc is an audio commentary with Cronenberg, and it is for the most part engaging. He speaks fondly of his love for racing, and explains how the film represents a major part of his artistic interest. He talks plenty about the production, and is very articulate and well spoken. When Cronenberg is actually talking it is a good listen, but unfortunately there are a bit too many quiet spells throughout the commentary. Had those gaps been filled in with more anecdotes on the production the track would have been much better.


inline Image inline Image



Next up on disc one are a pair of featurettes. Both running just shy of 15-minutes a piece, they offer some honest and entertaining recollections on Cronenberg by some of Fast Company's principal participants. The first featurette, "Inside the Character Actor's Studio", includes William Smith and John Saxon, who share stories on their career, Cronenberg, Fast Company, and their own interests in automobiles. William Smith wins the Al Pacino award for most raspy lung deterioration. The next piece is "Shooting Cronenberg", in which cinematographer Mark Irwin details his experience on Fast Company, how he came to know Cronenberg, and quick little tidbits on all the Cronenberg films in which he was involved (from Fast Company to The Fly). The funniest moment is his recollection of Oliver Reed's drunken behavior on The Brood, and how the kids playing the broodlings were so afraid of him that they had to be thrown on him unwillingly by eager parents.

The first disc is rounded off with a cheap little trailer, a poster and still gallery, and a very informative Claudia Jennings biography.

inline Image As good as the supplements are on the single disc release, the true gold for Cronenberg fans is in the limited edition. On the second disc are restored copies of Cronenberg's two early shorts, Stereo and Crimes of the Future. Stereo takes place at a parapsychological research center, where eight patients undergo a surgery that heightens their telepathic powers and accelerates their sex drive. Shot entirely in black and white, and presented almost entirely in narration, it is a stark and eerie document of the perils of experimentation. The film is rather pretentious, with all its idiosyncratic scientific jargon and avant garde ambitions, and is more of interest to those seeking to understand Cronenberg's later films. The telepathic abilities and methods (right down to drilling a hole in the forehead) would later make their way into Scanners, while the heightened sexual impulses of the patients is echoed in both Shivers and Rabid.

inline Image Crimes of the Future, which Cronenberg made two years later in '69, is very similar in presentation. Although this time in color, it too is told through stark narration. The story again takes place in an institutional setting, where this time the patients are victims of Rouge's disease. Rouge's Malady is a disease brought out by cosmetics, and has affected millions of people, most of which are women. A five-year old girl is kidnapped within the institution, and Adrian Tripod contemplates whether or not to impregnate her. These are the crimes of the future. Although much more meandering than even Stereo, Crimes shows off a more polished technique, as Cronenberg utilizes some very effective experimental sound effects to punctuate the on-screen malady. The final scene with the girl is the best moment of both films, as the main character senses with regret the loss of innocence and understanding.

inline Image Both films are fairly inaccessible and are much longer and unpolished than one would expect. Still however, they remain fascinating glimpses into the mind of David Cronenberg before he was guided by the conventions of genre. Blue Underground has done a commendable job restoring both films to nice anamorphic widescreen. Both have minimal print damage, and because they were both shot in 35mm (a rarity for such independent productions) the grain is not overly obtrusive. Being able to view an acclaimed director's early work is always interesting, and given that Cult Epics released The Driller Killer with many of Abel Ferrara's shorts only a few weeks apart from this DVD, hopefully this is a DVD trend that will continue.

Rounding off the bonus disc is a poster and still gallery for Cronenberg's two shorts, as well as another comprehensive biography. Considering what a throw-away supplement bios used to be, it is refreshing to again see Blue Underground put forth the effort they have been doing in constructing informative and accessible biographies.

Final Thoughts

Fast Company is a routine racing drama, peppered with early Cronenberg themes, appealing photography and a solid B-movie cast. The audio and visual presentations are excellent, with the 6.1 DTS track standing out as one of Blue Underground's best. The supplemental features are no slouch either. The two short films included on the 2-disc set are well worth tracking down, but even the single disc set offers a good commentary and a couple of entertaining featurettes. The two disc is recommended for Cronenberg fans only, while cult and exploitation fans will no doubt be satisfied with the single disc release. Get in your car and drive to your nearest DVD retailer to pickup this B-movie crowd pleaser...just don't drive too fast.

Rating

Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A
Supplements - A

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc (Standard) | 2 Discs (Limited)
  • Chapter Stops
  • English DTS ES 6.1
  • English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
  • English Dolby Surround 2.0
  • English Mono
Supplements
Disc One (Standard):
  • Commentary with director David Cronenberg
  • "Inside the character actor's studio" featurette
  • "Shooting Cronenberg" featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Poster and still gallery
  • Claudia Jennings bio
Disc Two (Limited):
  • The early films of David Cronenberg (Stereo & Crimes of the Future)
  • Poster and still gallery
  • David Cronenberg bio

 

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