Review Date: February 20, 2004
Released by: Synapse
Release date: 4/15/2003
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
The 1970's witnessed the fallout of the idealism that had defined the 1960's. As the 60's became the 70's, with Vietnam, Watergate and the disbanding of the Beatles, the world seemed to take on a completely different world view. What once was good was now bad, as a harsh reality began to sunk in. Jeff Lieberman's Blue Sunshine
uses drugs as a metaphor for the very concept of lost idealism. Made in 1976, it looks at one of the biggest explosions of the 60's and how its long term effects may be worse than expected. Long a sought after cult film, Blue Sunshine
has been given the limited edition DVD treatment by Synapse. Is this film a trip or just a nasty 70's flashback?
The film begins with a shot of the moon. Blue, bald and pale, the moon foreshadows the devastating effects that are to happen to all of the characters that are intercut with the moon title sequence. The first harm comes in a scene where Frannie Scott (Richard Crystal, brother to Billy) does a song and dance performance in front of friends at a party. The performance goes terribly wrong when Frannie's hair suddenly falls from his scalp, which sends him into a mad frenzy, where he ends up throwing three women into an open fire. Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) tracks Frannie down, only to get shot and find him dead in the process. Jerry goes to his old college buddy, Dr. David Bloom (Robert Walden), for some medical and psychological assistance.
Jerry soon discovers that Frannie's bald-headed outburst was not an isolated incident, and that there are many others acting in a similar manner. Upon doing some detective work, he finds a unique photograph with the title "Blue Sunshine" engraved below it. This revelation serves as the catalyst to Jerry's investigation of Edward Flemming (Mark Godard) and his entire political campaign.
After much trauma and danger, Jerry finally places the pieces together to discover that "Blue Sunshine" was a drug manufactured and distributed by some college buddies back in the 60's. The drug is doing more than giving people flashbacks however, as it makes them crazy exactly 10 years after its ingestion. Who took blue sunshine back in college, and will Jerry be able to stop them all? Or is Jerry himself a victim waiting for his harsh reality?
is a unique and provocative horror film, full of style and eccentricity. Director Jeff Lieberman gives the film an ominous quality, with elongated tracking and zooming shots, simple but disturbing piano overtures, and bursts of disarray. Lieberman cites Brian De Palma as one of his favorite directors, and his influence is stamped all over the film, from the Hitchcock-inspired elevator sequence, and the elaborate camera work throughout. The film has an airy and dream-like quality not much different than De Palma's Carrie
. But like what De Palma did with Hitchcock's work, Lieberman is able to break apart from his influences and create an original work all his own.
The film is sheathed with clever commentary on various movements, from the freedom of drug use in the 60's to the disco that would follow in the 70's. The fact that all those who took the blue sunshine drug in the 60's are affected in the 70's gives the film a cynical quality, saying that people will pay for all the mindless fun that was had in the 60's. The idealism of the 60's seemed "hip" and right at the time, but with hindsight it seems totally naïve, and the drug allegory comments on how the actions of the past seem much worse when considered in the present
It should also be mentioned that all those affected by the drugs were in positions of power. One is a babysitter looking over her children, another a police officer, and yet another, more importantly is a politician. This is representative of independent 70's filmmaking, where those in power are looked at with scrutiny and distrust. In fact, the film in many ways echoes Taxi Driver
which was released the same year, in its presentation of a political campaign and the perceived corruption that follows. Typically downbeat, the film gives the indication that no matter what one does to stop it, corruption will always exist to those with control.
deals with some relevant social issues, and often presents them in a very intriguing and experimental manner. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a long and meandering second act, where not much happens. Lieberman spends too much time fleshing out the detective work that all suspense is removed until a frightening conclusion ensues. Another problem lies in the detective work itself, as the viewer is asked to connect dots that should not be connected. For instance, why are we supposed to believe that Jerry would make such a big deal of the "Blue Sunshine" photo when there were several like it on the wall. Given the way he can make sense out of titles of artwork, perhaps Jerry should have become an art historian instead.
Complaints aside however, this is still a fascinating 70's work, with a very unique feel and concept. There is some frightening imagery here, from a bald women lunging towards helpless children with a knife, to a calypso breakdown of a different sort in the disco hall. The film ends in cliché, but any other ending would have sold the material short. Director Jeff Lieberman, who has helmed other cult films like Squirm
and Just Before Dawn
, is an overlooked talent of the late-70's/early-80's horror boom. As well as his other films, Blue Sunshine
is definitely a film worthy of reappraisal.
The original negative for Blue Sunshine
has unfortunately been destroyed, but Synapse took the time to restore the best possible print in existence, and the result is still unfortunately underwhelming. There are moments, mostly in the day, when this 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks rather sharp, but for the most part the transfer is high on grain and riddled with blemishes. There are bouts of flickering in the background that can also be quite distracting. Included on this disc is a restoration feature that shows the improvement in picture that the process has done for Blue Sunshine
, but it still looks far from great. The fault should not be levied on Synapse however, as this is a case, much like with Blue Underground for Shock Waves
, where what they have had to work with was far from serviceable. By comparison, this DVD looks much better than the previous VHS incarnations this film has had. Overall a strong effort by Synapse, if still a bit underwhelming.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround remix (the original mono track is also included) is a much better accomplishment, as it gives the film a much more engulfing sound stage. Charles Gross's very effective soundtrack sounds sharp and is dispersed effectively throughout the speakers. There were not many noticeable directional effects, but the entire track sounds very clean, with only minimal effects of background noise. Given that a separate CD of the soundtrack has also been released, it is no surprise that the music sounds very sharp. Fans will not be disappointed with this remix.
Synapse has prepared a fair bit of supplements for this release, continuing their trend of presenting both obscure but historically important material that gives the film a strong context of the time in which it was made. The first big supplement is "The Ringer", a short film that Lieberman was commissioned to do as an anti-drug school picture. It runs just over 20 minutes, and can be heard with or without commentary by Lieberman. It looks pretty bad and dated, but is interesting to watch, considering there are many elements from it that show up again in Sunshine
, like the drug dealing and negative characterizations of the powerful. For a movie sanctioned to run in schools, this is pretty unsettling and definitely does the job right of portraying drug-taking in a negative light.
Lieberman offers plenty of interesting tidbits on his commentary for "The Ringer", just as he does on the audio commentary for the film itself, but he comes across as arrogant. He may be a fascinating filmmaker, but he certainly presents himself as somewhat of an asshole throughout the supplemental materials. That does not mean he nothing interesting to say however, as both his commentaries are interesting and provide plenty of information about the films themselves. The moderator of both commentaries is like a living manifestation of the Internet Movie Database, linking everyone and everything to a previous film. Lieberman, despite his arrogance, is actually very self-deprecating, constantly pointing out wrong choices he made while making Blue Sunshine
No two commentaries are enough to capture the entire essence of Jeff Lieberman, so a separate documentary, "Lieberman on Lieberman", is also included. The doc runs 30 minutes, and offers some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes by the Sunshine
director. One lengthy one (with a "message!" nonetheless) involves talking about how he had the idea for Star Wars
at the same time George Lucas did, but Lucas was quicker to get his developed. The moral of it all is that an idea is only a small part of filmmaking, and that the execution is what really matters. Another moral might be to never trust a filmmaker with a big ego, but despite the hot air he gives himself, Lieberman is great to listen to.
Rounding off this release is a creepy theatrical trailer, a still gallery, the aforementioned restoration comparison and a separate soundtrack CD. This is an excellent special edition that goes over and above what most discs accomplish. Synapse has prepared a great package here, perhaps their best yet.
is a creative, ambitious and stylish film that looks with scrutiny at drug users and the powerful. It is a compelling, although flawed, work of cynical 70's independent horror. The image quality looks much better than it has on home video, but still far from perfect however. The new audio remix hits all the marks, and the included supplements have been handled and chosen with care, making for an overall excellent release. Fans of 70's horror should snort this one up, and the experimental will also find much to enjoy with this solid release.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour, 29 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English mono
- Commentary with director Jeff Leiberman
- "The Ringer" short film
- Commentary on "The Ringer" with Jeff Lieberman
- "Lieberman on Lieberman" documentary
- Still gallery
- Talent bios
- Theatrical Trailer
- Restoration comparison
- Separate CD soundtrack