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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » September (Blu-ray)
September (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // PG // September 19, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at ]
Review by Justin Remer | posted October 10, 2017 | E-mail the Author
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

Woody Allen's filmmaking career is long enough at this point that viewers don't think of him simply as a comedian or a comedy writer*. Still, Allen's dramas -- the fully serious ones where he doesn't appear onscreen as a character -- are typically thought of as lesser-than. I suspect they are deemed second-tier because so much of them feels second-hand. Interiors and Another Woman are Allen's blatant Ingmar Bergman homages, Blue Jasmine is Tennessee Williams, and Match Point attempts Hitchcock -- or maybe Claude Chabrol. (If you need a litmus test for my taste, I enjoy Another Woman and Blue Jasmine, but I find the other two bloodless and boring.)

Like Cassandra's Dream (which I still haven't seen), Allen's 1987 drama September is one of the director's serious pictures which I have long avoided. It's hard to put a finger on exactly why. September didn't look bad, per se, but it didn't look particularly appetizing either. The poster image (reproduced as cover art for Twilight Time's new Blu-ray release) of Mia Farrow in stark profile, half over a black blackground and half over a white one, offers nothing about the movie, except maybe that it's another Bergman rip-off.

And sure, there's still a little Bergman DNA in September, and probably a little Anton Chekhov too. But the desire to spot Allen's influences fades moments after the film begins. September quickly reveals itself to be his most satisfying "straight" drama. Famously, Allen finished a version of the film which he didn't like, so he partially re-cast, re-wrote, and re-shot it all. Well, he seems to have gotten it right.

With the action confined to a few sets within a New England country house, Allen lets his simple story unfold in long wandering takes that approximate the "live" feeling of the theater. The film looks stagey, too, at first, but Allen manages to get out of the way of his actors and let their performances quickly come to the fore.

Farrow is Lane, a fragile creature recovering in this country house from a breakdown. During her time at the house, her neighbor, an older French teacher named Howard (Denholm Elliott), has fallen in love with her. Lane meanwhile has gradually fallen in love with the man renting her guest house, a struggling writer named Peter (Sam Waterston). Peter meanwhile has gradually fallen in love with Lane's best friend, Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), who is visiting the country house to get away from her husband. It sounds farcical, but Allen treats this misalignment of romantic affection as a small-scale tragedy. And the actors are good enough to make it feel like one.

Added to the mix is Lane's former celebrity sex symbol mother, Diane (Elaine Stritch), and her new scientist husband, Lloyd (Jack Warden). Diane no longer has her looks, but she continues to capture attention wherever she goes. She tries to convince Peter to ghost-write her life story, but Lane wants him to stay away. It's common knowledge that, as a girl, Lane shot her abusive stepfather, and she has seemingly never recovered from the incident.

As in most of Allen's dramas, the female characters are vastly more interesting than their male counterparts. Farrow wears Lane's emotional damage on her sleeve, but keeps her obvious anger neatly restrained -- until the story eventually calls for it to come out. Dianne Wiest is a wonder to behold as Stephanie, confidently flirting with Peter then quietly anguished when she ponders what her desire could do to her marriage or to her friendship with Lane. A few of the film's most striking images occur as the camera lingers on the back of Dianne Wiest's head as she ponders long and hard how to react to Peter's romantic advances. One of the film's other indelible shots consists of Elaine Stritch, looking at herself in the mirror, and talking about getting old. She comments, "You study your face in the mirror, and you notice something's missing. And then you realize it's your future." And we can see in Stritch's eyes the whole history of her character in that brief moment, and we see the ache she feels to retrieve that squandered promise of youth.

Whew. Good stuff.

I don't mean to put down the men in the cast with my earlier comment, but Allen's script is simply far less sympathetic to their characters' foibles. That said, Denholm Elliott delicately hits the right note of quiet, hangdog yearning so familiar to the unrequited would-be suitor, while Sam Waterston uses his innate air of respectable intelligence to make the revelation of his character's emotional immaturity a minor shock. Jack Warden is essentially Jack Warden again, but when being Jack Warden is your talent, why would you do anything else?

*Of course, there are plenty of people who only think of him now in terms of the awful and allegedly awful aspects of his personal life, but that is outside the scope of this review.

The Blu-ray
September is available in a limited edition of 3000 copies. The disc is packaged with a booklet including a liner note essay by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.

The Video:
Excellent. The AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is clean and sharp, with rich, autumnal colors and delicate contrast. Fine detail is well-reproduced and film grain is nicely resolved. Excellent shadow detail in most of the darker shots. Bit rate is variable, but there's no noticeable artifacting, and the rate maxes out in the mid-30s (MBps) during brighter scenes.

The Audio:
Also excellent. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is crisp but warm, much like the visuals. Not a lot of fancy sound design, but the dialogue mingles with various musical elements in smooth and satisfying ways. Subtle outdoor sounds during a night-time scene on the porch. The disc has one subtitle option: English SDH.

Special Features:

  • Music and effects track

  • Trailer - standard-def and cropped to TV size

Final Thoughts:
Praise for Woody Allen's straight dramas often feel like they require a caveat. "It's good for what it is, but..." However, Allen transcends his influences here, and produces a compelling drama that stands on its own. September renders intense human treachery on an intimate scale. It is a great movie. No asterisk. Highly Recommended.

Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, "Bop Shoo Bop," is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.

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