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Songwriter - Retro VHS Style
Directed by Alan Rudolph in 1984 and based on a script by Bud Shrake, Songwriter tells the story of, well, a songwriter named Doc Jenkins (Willie Nelson). When the deal he's made with prolific publisher Rodeo Rocky (Richard Sarafian) turns out to be a whole lot less rosy than he was expecting it to be, Doc decides to scrap it all and go out on his own. Bound and determined to make it to the same mogul status that Rocky has, he starts his own company called, maybe a little predictably, Lone Star Music.
Doc's got a bit of a secret weapon in his arsenal in the form of Gilda (Lesley Ann Warren), an undiscovered gem of a singer with a whole lot of potential. He comes up with a scheme to use her name on his songs and to setup his old pal Blackie Buck (Kris Kristofferson) as the ‘official' president of the company. Soon enough, Gilda strikes a chord with the listening pubic and before you know it, she's the hottest thing in country music. She and Blackie start playing, and packing, bigger venues more frequently and it's clear that Doc's feelings about her talents were spot on. There is, however, the unsettled matter of his dealings with Rocky, who isn't going to take any of this lying down…
"Willie and Kris? You better duck!"
Songwriter is similar to a lot of other underdog stories, the difference here being the setting. Still, it's an entertaining picture that makes very good use of its cast. Richard Sarafian turns out to be a nice choice to play the villain in the story. He has the right look for the part and delivers a fine performance here. We know he's sleazy but that doesn't make him any less entertaining in the role. Lesley Ann Warren is completely charming in her part, we like her from the start and her performance is such that we have no trouble understanding that Doc would see that certain something in her, that star power that you need to make it in the business.
That said, this is mainly Nelson and Kristofferson's show. The two Highwaymen are pretty solid here. At this point in life, Kristofferson had been acting for almost twenty-years, having appeared in a few of Sam Peckinpah's films and in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born (for which he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor). He was a proven talent. Nelson, on the other hand, didn't have as much experience in front of the camera. While he was hardly a newbie, having appeared in 19080's Honeysuckle Rose and Barbarosa (where he starred opposite Gary Busey), he wasn't as established as his co-lead. With all of that said, the two men do great work here. They have a very natural chemistry together on screen that goes a long way towards making the movie as entertaining as it is. The script may not reinvent the wheel but when you've got the amount of charisma and screen presence that these two bring to the picture, it almost doesn't matter. They are, in a word, likeable.
Rudolph's direction is solid. He directed a similar vehicle for Meatloaf in 1980 entitled Roadie that also deals with an underdog in the music business, albeit from a different perspective, and he'd directed Kristofferson a few years prior in 1985's Trouble In Mind. He does fine work here, and, not surprisingly, the soundtrack is great.
Songwriter arrives on a 25GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The opening credits looks a bit rough, the grain is really thick and there's some print damage visible, but once you get past that things clean up pretty nicely. If it's clear that this hasn't been given a full remaster, we do wind up with pretty solid detail and texture throughout and some pretty good depth as well. Minor print damage can be spotted throughout and grain does tend to fluctuate a bit here and there but this is a satisfyingly filmic presentation devoid of noise reduction or edge enhancement problems and free of noticeable compression issues. Colors are reproduced nicely, skin tones look good and black levels are fine.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 track sounds good if not amazing. Music, which obviously plays a really big part in the film, sounds pretty solid and dialogue stays clear. Things are spread out nicely and everything is clean and well-balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. No subtitles or alternate language options are provided.
There are no extra features on the disc at all, just some menus. It is worth pointing out the neat retro VHS style packaging though, which is a nice touch.
Fans of Kristofferson and/or Nelson will no doubt be drawn to Songwriter simply because they play the leads but even if you're not a fan of their music, you've got to appreciate the quality of their respective performances here. The movie is interesting, well-written and nicely directed but it's the natural charisma and screen presence that the two men bring to the film that really makes it work. Mill Creek's Blu-ray is imperfect but solid overall, devoid of any extras but priced nicely and packaged well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.