The Loveless Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 9, 2019
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 82 minutes
Directors: Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery
A motorcycle gang roars into a small southern town en route to the Daytona races, unnerving and angering the locals with their standoffish attitude and disrespect for social niceties. When one of their number, the charismatic Vance (Willem Dafoe) hooks up with sportscar-driving Telena (Marin Kanter), he incurs the wrath of the girl’s father, setting the gang on a collision course with the rest of the town as simmering tensions boil over into violent retribution. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Six years before she tore her way onto the cult horror scene directing Near Dark (1987) and nearly three decades before she was named the first-ever female Best Director recipient for The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow paired with David Lynch collaborator Monty Montgomery to write and direct a savvy ‘80s throwback to ‘50s era rebellion entitled The Loveless. Surprisingly, even while developing her skillset and sharing the load with another filmmaker, Bigelow was already establishing her preferred themes, styles, and storytelling conventions. The most obvious parallels are the moments toward the end of the movie, where she and Montgomery build suspense in a Near Dark and Blue Steel (1990) fashion. Less obvious are the ways The Loveless subtly builds plot and theme through sometimes listless, slice-of-life vignettes, which match the episodic and methodical storytelling seen in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), albeit on a much smaller scale and compressed runtime.
The Loveless is a good reminder that ‘80s pop-culture was just as obsessed with ‘50s pop-culture as modern pop-culture is obsessed with the ‘80s. It wasn’t just the continuing popularity of Happy Days, but the visual language and production design of early music videos, which certainly informed movies like this one and Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire (1984). The Loveless’ stylized dialogue, production design, and costuming tend to authenticate the experience, unlike those music videos (feature-length and short form) and sitcoms, in which period trappings are purely decorative. Not to say that Bigelow and Montgomery aren’t fetishizing the iconography (or that there’s anything inherently wrong with that); just, in doing so, they manage to connect it to the youthful rebellions and anxieties of just about every other era. Following release, Dafoe was actually briefly typecast as Vance, appearing as variations on his Loveless character in John Mark Robinson’s Roadhouse 66 (1984), William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA (1985), and, of course, Streets of Fire.
The Loveless was released on DVD in 2007 by the folks at Blue Underground and that, along with BU-branded digital streams, has remained the only way to see it until now. Arrow’s new 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was restored using a new 2K scan from the original 35mm camera negative. The grading was approved by co-writer/co-director Monty Montgomery and cinematographer Doyle Smith. While the film was shot in a precise way, avoiding lots of handheld shots, et cetera, it still has a raw quality that is naturally reproduced here. Some of the darker, blue-tinged sequences are difficult to parse, but the important highlights are visible and the tonal choices seem accurate. Colors are rich, despite the muted brightness and shapes are neatly separated. The smoke-magnified grain levels are soft, but not smudged, while the brighter sequences exhibit minor noise that I assume is related to CRT scanning. Blacks are consistent with only minor background crush and there are no over-sharpening effects. Compression is limited to the most basic noise and is usually found in the simplest backgrounds and a few flecks of black print damage here and there.
The original mono audio has also been restored and is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. Minus the benefit of stereo, the audio’s strengths are related to its dynamic range and clarity. Dialogue and effects are natural, to the point that the volume levels can be inconsistent – specifically, effects can drown out performances – but I suppose that’s realistic and nothing important is missed. There’s little in the way of buzz or high-end distortion, even when motorcycle engines are blaring. Most of the original music was written and sometimes performed by co-star Robert Gordon with contributions from Eddy Dixon and Evan Lurie, alongside a cavalcade of period-appropriate pop. The music has an almost constant presence, both as score and diegetic source, usually radios or jukeboxes. It has a warm, round quality, despite the single-channel treatment.
Commentary with co-writer/co-director Monty Montgomery – This new commentary (not the group track included with the earlier Blue Underground DVD) is moderated by documentary/featurette producer/director Elijah Drenner (That Guy Dick Miller, 2014). Drenner does a great job keeping the conversation moving by asking questions and is insightful enough that he probably could’ve carried the track all by himself. For his part, Montgomery remembers the important factoids and doesn’t run out of steam.
No Man’s Friend Today: Making The Loveless (34:28, HD) – A collection of new interviews with cast members Willem Dafoe, Marin Kanter, Robert Gordon, Phillip Kimbrough, and Lawrence Matarese. The actors recall their professional lives at the time, casting, making the movie, and (in Robert Gordon’s case) writing/recording songs for the soundtrack.
U.S. 17: Shooting The Loveless (15:16, HD) – Producers Grafton Nunes and A. Kitman Ho discuss the film’s inception, developing Bigelow’s original screenplay, pre-production, casting, and shooting on a decent, but tight budget.
Chrome and Hot Leather: The Look of The Loveless (15:16, HD) – Production designer Lilly Kilvert and director of photography Doyle Smith talk about their early careers and developing the look of The Loveless.
Relentless (4:26, HD) – An audio interview with songwriter Eddy Dixon, who recorded/performed the opening title theme “Relentless” and other songs in the movie.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.