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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale
I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale
Oscilloscope Laboratories // Unrated // November 9, 2010
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Preston Jones | posted November 4, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie

As I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale opens, director Richard Shepard buttonholes New Yorkers with a photo from The Godfather. In it, John Cazale portrays Fredo, but Shepard can't find a soul who knows the actor's real name; to those he asks, Cazale is simply Fredo. It speaks volumes about the level of Cazale's craft, his dedication to disappearing completely inside the indelible characters he brought to life over the course of five films in the 1970s.

It's as remarkable as it is heartbreaking that Cazale, who died at the too-young age of 42 in 1978, made such an impact and had a hand in so many of the "Film School Generation"'s iconic works. Just listing them conjures visions of cinematic immortality: The Godfather; The Godfather Part II; The Conversation; Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. Cazale was integral to the success and enduring status of every one of those films, one of the many topics explored in Shepard's lean, yet informative, documentary. It made the film festival rounds and, as it was bankrolled by HBO, premiered on the pay-cable channel earlier this year.

As Shepard himself points out in his commentary track, relatively little was known about Cazale less than five years ago. It was, in part, to fill the void of information that Shepard set out to make a documentary about the man's brief life and his work, tracing his rise from humble roots to success as a Hollywood actor. Along the way, Shepard speaks with a number of heavy hitters: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep (speaking for the first time anywhere about her relationship with Cazale), Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet, Richard Dreyfuss, Sam Rockwell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi and many more sit for brand-new interviews detailing either their admiration for or experiences working with Cazale.

Much like recent, '70s cinema-centric documentaries like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls or Z Channel: A Magnificent Obssession, film geeks will want to watch this over and over -- and not just for the well-curated selection of film clips. In telling Cazale's story, Shepard manages to capture the flavor of that thrilling time in American filmmaking, where acting, writing and directing seemed to trump all else and the thrill of possibility pulsed beneath more films than not.

But in the end, the film's focus remains primarily on Cazale, where Shepard deftly sketches a loving portrait of a man consumed by his craft, whose vulnerability and skill elevated everyone around him. I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale is one of 2010's best films, in any genre, and a thrilling document of a man, a timeless actor and a period of Hollywood filmmaking that stands as one of the greatest in memory.

The DVD

The Video:

I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale arrives on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Despite the film's inclusion of vintage clips from Cazale's career (each in their original theatrical aspect ratio), the image is immaculate, with no discernible flaws. Colors are vivid and saturated; black levels are rich and inky. It's a beautiful visual representation.

The Audio:

The English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, despite I Knew It Was You's being a dialogue-heavy documentary, still has plenty of opportunities to flourish, thanks to the full-bodied, jazzy score (composed by Adam Gorgoni). Yet it never overwhelms the talking heads, all of whom are heard clearly and free from distortion or drop-out. As with the visuals, this is a note-perfect aural presentation. Optional English and French subtitles are also included.

The Extras:

Director Richard Shepard sits for a commentary track, in which he describes his connection to the actor and his work, as well as how he put together his documentary tribute to Cazale (including the challenges of wrangling all those A-list interviews). Extended, warts-and-all interviews with Al Pacino (19 minutes, 48 seconds; presented in anamorphic widescreen) and playwright Israel Horovitz (22 minutes, 28 seconds; presented in anamorphic widescreen) are included, as are two rare Cazale short films: 1962's The American Way, directed by Marvin Starkman (10 minutes, nine seconds; presented in fullscreen), and 1969's The Box, also directed by Starkman and photographed by Cazale (nine minutes, 47 seconds; presented in fullscreen). A brief essay by Entertainment Weekly's Mark Harris completes the package.

Final Thoughts:

As I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale opens, director Richard Shepard buttonholes New Yorkers with a photo from The Godfather. In it, John Cazale portrays Fredo, but Shepard can't find a soul who knows the actor's real name; to those he asks, Cazale is simply Fredo. It speaks volumes about the level of Cazale's craft, his dedication to disappearing completely inside the indelible characters he brought to life over the course of five films in the 1970s. Much like recent, '70s cinema-centric documentaries like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls or Z Channel: A Magnificent Obssession, film geeks will want to watch this over and over -- and not just for the well-curated selection of film clips. In telling Cazale's story, Shepard manages to capture the flavor of that thrilling time in American filmmaking, where acting, writing and directing seemed to trump all else and the thrill of possibility pulsed beneath more films than not. I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale is one of 2010's best films, in any genre, and a thrilling document of a man, a timeless actor and a period of Hollywood filmmaking that stands as one of the greatest in memory. Highly recommended.

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