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Moment by Moment
When John Travolta got "hot" in the 70s, he scored a 3-movie deal with producer Robert Stigwood, two of which are well-known: Saturday Night Fever and Grease. The third one, 1978's Moment By Moment isn't so well-known and is regarded as a huge flop. It hasn't been seen much outside its original release as it was never issued on any home video format until now (but was available for a while on Netflix streaming back when they frequently got obscure older titles), but luckily Kino through its deal with Universal has finally rectified that so us lovers of bad cinema can experience it for ourselves.
Travolta plays a young drifter who goes by the name of Strip- in my initial viewing on Netflix a few years ago I thought he took that name because stripping was something he enjoyed doing, but when he introduces himself he actually says "Think Sunset- Strip" as in the street in Los Angeles so okay then. Strip has a similar persona to Travolta's other characters of that era such as Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero- overconfident and obnoxious, never taking no for an answer. (I always thought his performance in Saturday Night Fever was laughably bad and I was shocked that he was actually nominated for a Best Actor Oscar from that.) As the movie begins Strip sets his sights on a rich older woman- Trisha Rawlings, played by Lily Tomlin. She's got a divorce in progress after catching her husband cheating, and doesn't have a whole lot to live for despite her wealth. When Strip first chats her up, we learn that they had previously met while he was working as a valet and parked her already-dented Mercedes. Strip remarks that she could have blamed him for the dent at the time, and it was nice that she didn't.
Trisha is hiding out from her estranged husband at a beach house in Malibu, and Strip tracks her down there with the excuse that a friend of his lives nearby. (That friend who never appears in the movie could conceivably have just been made up, but later on we get some verification that he actually exists.) For several days he imposes himself on her despite showing every sign that she'd rather just be alone. A very laughable moment occurs when he drops by as she's relaxing outside, and starts telling a story about a past incident which she has no interest in. He eventually stops and asks "Aren't you gonna ask what happened?" Soon after that he finally says "If you wanna be alone I can take a hint."
In the real world this likely would have been the end of the story, but because this movie hasn't gotten ridiculous enough Trisha does a 180 when Strip drops by yet again on a cold rainy night and needs a place to sleep. She lets him in and they end up spending the night together. At this point Trisha suddenly sees him not as annoying but as an amazing person and the two soon proclaim their love for each other. He practically moves in with her and they have lots of sex, drink lots of wine and also take in a stray dog from the beach. The trouble starts when Trisha faces having to explain the situation to her friends. As Strip is out getting groceries a friend drops by to see how Trisha's doing, and when he returns she acts like he's just a delivery boy, tipping him and telling him to run along. Strip sees she's obviously embarrassed about him and disappears, causing her to realize she truly loves him, explains everything to her friend and they head out to find where he's hiding.
This movie seems targeted to lonely middle-aged housewives. Universal had hoped it would have been another big hit like Travolta and Stigwood's previous two films and released it right before Christmas. The critical and commercial responses weren't anything to celebrate however, and became the first notable failure in Travolta's career. The biggest criticism which is quite obvious and makes this movie so laughable is that there's no reason for the two main characters to be attracted to each other- besides of course Strip being young and horny and Trisha going through a divorce and realizing how many middle-aged women fantasize about having a fling with a younger man. (Director Jane Wagner was already a frequent collaborator with Tomlin in more intentionally comedic material, and the two eventually married.) Despite being anticipated as a "big" movie, it seems those involved with it lost their confidence in it early on- a famous quote from a crew member says "Two weeks into shooting, there was nobody on the set that didn't know we were in the middle of a turkey."
Knowing that just makes this movie all the more fun to watch for some viewers though. As someone who actually seeks out bad movies just to laugh at them, I know that there's a fine line separating movies that are just plain bad and unwatchable from those that are "so bad they're good", and this one falls on the right side of that. The passage of time certainly helps also, with the late 70s Los Angeles scenery being a supporting player.Picture, Sound and Subtitles:
Regardless of what you might think of Moment by Moment as a movie, you have to admit that it's at least pretty well-made technically. It's shot in anamorphic 2.35, which likely would have been butchered on any prior video releases but looks beautiful on this Blu-Ray disc. Most of the movie is very bright and clean-looking and one feels they could walk right into it (whether or not they would actually want to). There is one scene where a yellow scratch appears, most likely on the original negative and appearing on every print of the movie. I'm glad that was left in during the transfer as digitally erasing it would have been more distracting, for better or worse it's an artifact of the original production.
Though not a very music-heavy film, the audio was mixed in Dolby Stereo. The transfer I had seen earlier on Netflix was in mono, and I feared that this was a case where the stereo elements had been lost. The matrixed surround track has survived however and is reproduced faithfully on this disc. Most notable is the sound of the ocean waves in the side and rear channels in most of the outdoor scenes. Dialogue stays centered and is a bit unclear at times, sometimes drowned out by music or background sounds. Standard subtitles are included.Extras:
I've gotten used to Kino's audio commentaries by now, they seem to try to include them for every title and end up discussing random things about the cast and crew more than the movie itself; this one is no different. Here we have three participants, Lee Gambin in the studio with Sergio Mims and Maya Montanez Smukler joining by phone. They occasionally remark on the shots in the movie but for the most part go off in all directions. The movie's trailer is included, along with hi-def trailers for Breezy and Slow Dancing in the Big City, and 4x3 standard-def trailers for Big Business, The Other Side of the Mountain and Coming Home.Final Thoughts:
This may be a movie that all involved would like to forget, and its absence on home video until now has made that possible. That absence is probably what also makes me regard this release so highly, as it not only brings the movie back but presents it in the best possible technical quality. As a movie, it's certainly one to avoid if you only watch "good" films but it's a must-see for anyone who appreciates the value of troubled productions and movies that are "so bad they're good." Keep that in mind and treat it like a comedy, and you'll have a great time.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.