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Billy Crystal 700 Sundays

HBO // Unrated // October 21, 2014
List Price: $19.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted October 18, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

While performing 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal's autobiographical one-man show about growing up in Long Beach, Crystal is so vibrant, heartfelt, and delightfully descriptive that it's not hard for our imagination to leave the physical confines of the stage and find ourselves smack dab in the middle of an eccentric yet caring and loving Jewish family's day-to-day lives in 1950s New York.

Even though Crystal lays out an intimately personal story during his play, 700 Sundays was a Broadway smash years before HBO decided to film one of the performances and turn it into a special. It doesn't get stuck in the selfish subjectivity of many autobiographical one-man shows, where the audience is eventually forced to ask whether the minutia of a performer's life is worthy of any type of mainstream entertainment or artistic support.

Crystal finds a way to focus on the universal aspects of growing up, the awes, loves, frustrations, and heartaches of early life that everyone on earth can relate to, while holding onto a distinctly personal touch that makes the story his own. It's like listening to a lifelong friend, who happens to be an amazing storyteller, regaling you sans filter with stories from his life, some hilarious, some tragic, all honest, during a night drinking on your front porch, a night you don't want to end any time soon.

The title refers to the amount of Sundays Crystal and his father got to spend together from his birth up until his father's untimely death when Billy was only fifteen. Even though the times he spent with his father is the focus of this 134-minute behemoth of a play that shockingly doesn't wear out its welcome for even a second, Crystal also delves deep into the many odd characters in his family that he knew while growing up. The most amusing of them all is an uncle who talks like a muppet and tells inappropriately filthy jokes to five-year-olds.

The first act of the two-act play represents the more comedic half of the show, as Crystal talks about how proud he was of his father and how he looked up to him as the man who taught him the love of his lifetime favorite music, Dixieland jazz. His father was the owner of one of the most renowned jazz record stores in New York, one that frequented many jazz legends, including Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday. If you grew up hanging out with the likes of Armstrong and Holliday, I'd categorize that childhood in between the "Not so bad" and " Freaking awesome" files.

During the second act, Crystal beautifully taps into the grief and sorrow anyone who lost a close family member felt, as he openly describes how lost and hurt he was after his father died. It would be hard for anyone who lost a parent at a young age, myself included, not to see a part of themselves and perhaps shed a couple of tears during this section. His description of a heavy invisible boulder he had to carry with him everywhere until his grieving process subsided is perhaps the most tender visualization of such a personal pain I've ever heard.

Far from a simple one-man show that only contains an empty stage and a microphone, 700 Sundays is a surprisingly visually complex play. Crystal performs in front of a backdrop that's supposed to resemble his childhood home. During the show, he projects slides and even 8mm home films from his childhood onto the windows of backdrop.

He frequently plays the music of his youth and uses exaggerated sound effects in order to accentuate some of his favorite memories while growing up. One of the most welcome breaks during the show occur when strobe lights allows Crystal to recreate an 8mm silent film of his uncle brazenly cursing out the whole family during a barbecue.

The DVD:

Video:

This HBO special was directed by Des McAnuff, who might be best known as the director of the failed Rocky & Bullwinkle movie. He captures the many visual shifts that occur during the play perfectly in order to showcase as much of a faithful representation of the play as possible. Even the harshest lighting that appears during the play looks sharp and beautifully defined in standard definition. All in all, this is a near-perfect DVD transfer, without any noticeable blemishes.

Audio:

Since sound plays an important part in the play, the 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation has a bit more presence and depth compared to a run-of-the-mill HBO comedy special where the performer gets the center channel and the surround channels are reserved for the audience reactions and applause. The single surround track that's offered on this DVD envelops the audience via a clean and sophisticated mix that will make them feel like they're in the audience.

Extras:

Unfortunately, not a single extra is present on the disc.

Final Thoughts:

Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays is a heartfelt and joyful experience that, despite the many uses of expletives and less-than-friendly hand gestures, would be a great time for the entire family.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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