WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Billy Bob Thornton rose to fame in his impressive directorial debut Sling Blade (1996), but it was really George Hickenlooper's short film Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade (1993) that started it all. The inspiration for the eventual feature, this 25-minute one-reeler is a striking black-and-white study of a murderer on the eve of his release from a mental institution.
Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade follows the events that would ultimately constitute the prologue of Sling Blade. A young reporter (Molly Ringwald) arrives at the institution to interview Karl Childers (Thornton). She waits with her photographer while Karl listens to the misogynistic ramblings of an even more frightening character played by J.T Walsh. When the interview finally occurs, following a creepy setup, Childers tells his horrible story to the wide-eyed reporter, whom we gather will somehow never be the same.
The film has a nice bit of misdirection at its center: Until we're introduced to him, we believe Karl to be the awful character that Walsh portrays, rather than the silently rocking Thornton. When we realize Childers is the Thornton character, he is suddenly infused with dark mystery, thanks simply to the juxtaposition against the Walsh character. It's a nice bit of audience manipulation.
This is a strong film that stays with you. It's Billy Bob's show, and it's interesting to compare his performance here with his performance in Sling Blade. He's more subtle here, whereas in the feature, he seems to have more fully inhabited the character, displaying more tics and cranium swivels. I can't decide which performance I enjoy more, but they are definitely differing interpretations of the character. The black-and-white photography adds a nice documentary feel to the proceedings, as well as a noirish creepiness.
A final note about the packaging: It's somewhat misleading. The running time is listed as 78 minutes, when the actual running time of the film is 25 minutes. Clearly, the 78-minute running time includes all the extras, but many people might be confused and even disappointed by this mistake. Another misleading aspect of the packaging is that it lists a director's commentary, when you really get no such thing. Hickenlooper does narrate one of the featurettes, but it ain't no commentary.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Vanguard presents Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade in an adequate full-frame transfer of the film's original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Unfortunately, the black-and-white print is quite dirty, showing specks and spots all over the place. Detail is wanting, lost under a constant haze. I'm sure the source elements weren't terrific to work with.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's mono sound presentation is adequate, not offering much in the way of a dynamic aural experience, but dialog is faithfully rendered.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The disc offers some enticing extras, just in case you might feel a little cheated paying a premium price for a one-reeler.
First up is the 13-minute The Making Of Documentary featurette, which is a series of interviews with director Hickenlooper, Thornton, Walsh, and Ringwald, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. Thornton talks introspectively about the origin of the Karl character, admitting that Karl came from a place of low self-esteem, a dark period in his life. It's interesting to watch Billy Bob, pale and heavy, and consider the physical change that he's gone through since the making of this film and the feature.
Next is the 27-minute The Evolution of Sling Blade: a director's P.O.V. featurette, which on the menu is called simply Additional Behind The Scenes With Director's Commentary. Hickenlooper starts by describing his experience filming Hearts of Darkness, and this featurette includes a fair amount of clips from that film. The making of the director's feature Grey Knight is also covered, and long sequences from that film are also included. Discussion of Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade doesn't even start until about halfway through. One interesting revelation is that the short film was always intended as a springboard toward financing for an eventual feature film. Hickenlooper talks honestly about a strain in the relationship between him and Thornton, speaking at length about Thornton threatening and insulting Hickenlooper about an editing decision. I was surprised by the inclusion of this material. At the 20-minute mark, the featurette temporarily abandons Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade to show a 5-minute scene from Hickenlooper's film The Low Life, then returns to more bad-mouthing of Thornton. So now we know why Hickenlooper didn't direct the ultimate feature.
Finally, the disc offers trailers for all of Hickenlooper's films.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade is essential if you're a fan of Sling Blade, a fascinating companion piece as well as an effective little short film in its own right. Mm-hmmm.