Much, much superior than the Twilight Time release - starting with amazing 4k restoration. The price is right, too.
Paul Schrader’s 1979 film Hardcore is an unrelentingly grim but fascinating look at the sordid world of low-budget pornography and prostitution in California. It is not for all tastes, but it has been brought to Blu-ray by U.K. outfit, Indicator/Powerhouse with outstanding picture and sound. All region!
An updated/re-imagining of John Ford's The Searchers (also present in Schrader's Taxi Driver script), Paul Schrader’s 1979 film Hardcore is an unrelentingly grim but fascinating look at the sordid world of low-budget pornography and prostitution in California. It is not for all tastes (like any great film, I guess).
Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is an upright and uptight businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His theology is Calvinism, his business (custom wood furnishings) is successful, and he lives in a nice but unpretentious house with his teenage daughter, Kristen (Ilah Davis). Shortly after Christmas, Kristen and other members of her church board a bus to attend a Youth Calvinist Convention in Bellflower, California. The youngsters are thrilled to be leaving snowbound and dull Grand Rapids for sunny and exciting California. A few days later, while having dinner with his sister and brother-in-law, Jake receives a devastating phone call from California. Kristen has disappeared while on a group outing to Knott’s Berry Farm.
Jake immediately flies to Los Angeles (the first thing he sees is the "Hustler/Think Pink" billboard adjacent to Larry Flynt's monolithic HQ), where the police have little in the way of leads to go on. Kristen was last seen at Knott’s Berry Farm in the company of a young man, but nobody knows his name. The only encouraging news they have for Jake is that there is no evidence that Kristen has been physically harmed. He turns to a sleazy but seemingly competent private investigator, Andy Mast (Peter Boyle, at his sleaziest), who assures Jake that he has a nose for tracking down people and promises that he will find Kristen. And he does find her – sort of.
Back in Grand Rapids, Jake receives an unexpected visit from Mast, who has something important to show him. They proceed to a small screening room which shows X-rated films, a room which Mast has rented for an hour. Jake takes a seat and, in the most powerful scene in the film, his demeanor changes to anguish and anger when he sees Kristen engaging in an expicit sex act with two men - a soundless 8mm "loop" making it all the more "underground" and ominous. Mast (who takes sadistic delight in this development, by the way.) does not know who made the film, or where Kristen is. Finding no clues at home, Jake decides to fly back to Los Angeles, where he fires Mast (one wisecrack to many) and begins searching for his daughter on his own.
Pretending to be an investor looking to finance an adult film, Jake immerses himself in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. He visits strip clubs, adult book stores, peep shows, and the set where a pornographic film is being made. While at the set he meets Niki (Season Hubley of the sleaze classic, Vice Squad), a pretty young woman who carves out a living of sorts by appearing in X-rated films and working at a peep show. Niki knows her way around the sex trade in L.A., and she agrees to help Jake, whose obsession is now punctuated by anger, to find his daughter. (Not unlike John Wayne's, Ethan from The Searchers.) Indeed, at this point rage is the driving force - rather than his daughter's predicament.
Paul Schrader wrote and directed Hardcore, and he clearly drew upon his own upbringing in a stern Calvinist household in Grand Rapids, where he was not allowed to see a film until he was 18 years old. His screenplay has two minor drawbacks. The part of Kristen is underwritten, so much so that we scarcely get to know her until the film’s final scene. A quick scene between father/daughter at the beginning could have fixed it. The other drawback is the final scene, which is a wee bit contrived (in fairness to Schrader, in his commentary track he says that the ending was forced upon him by Columbia Pictures president David Melnick). In between, however, there is much to like, including a scene where Niki intuitively concludes that Jake’s wife, who he has claimed is deceased, actually left him and is very much alive. She asks, “What was the problem? Sex? Always is.” In fact, Jake professes to have no interest in sex, and Niki see the irony in this. “I mean,” she tells him, “you think it’s so unimportant that you don’t even do it, and I think it’s so unimportant that I don’t care who I do it with.”
George C. Scott turns in a powerful performance as the repressed, humorless Jake, who seemingly has to force himself to smile. Jake’s puritanical ways lead Mast to give him the nickname “Pilgrim.” (a nod to John Wayne, too.) Season Hubley is excellent as the cynical but not entirely jaded Niki, and Peter Boyle is entirely believable as a private eye who is not shy about getting down and dirty. Ilah Davis, who as Kristen has little to do until the end of the film, is interesting in that she never made another film after Hardcore. Supposedly she joined a commune in New York City and later married and was divorced by a man named Ralph Rogers. She developed multiple scleroris and became an advocate for victims of MS before dying in 2007. Fine supporting performances are turned in by Dick Sargent and Leonard Gaines and Shrader regular, Ed Begely, Jr. All minor roles and extras all completely authentic, lending the film a documentary vibe.
Although Hardcore contains a fair amount of nudity and strong sexual language, not to mention the terrifying screening of a "snuff film," there little eroticism in it. As a sex scene is being shot in a cheap motel room, the producer and his assistant try to convince themselves that they are doing something artistic because their director is a graduate of UCLA. (Not an uncommon phenomenon, back in the day). Schrader’s message is two-fold: there is no attempt by Schrader to excuse or sanitize the seamy side of the sex trade, but he also is sharply critical of the rigid religious upbringing which he and Kristen were subjected to. Still, as noted it should be apparent that this film is not for all tastes.
Colors are muted but accurate/ appropriate in the dreary, Amway owned dump that is Grand Rapids. Trust me. Scenes become bolder and even garish (obviously) when the action moves to California. The picture is consistently sharp, with strong contrast, excellent detail, solid blacks, and fine shadow detail. There is no sign of dirt, speckling, or other anomalies. The gritty cinematography is by Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) and benefits greatly from location filming in Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack has a surprising amount of punch, particularly when the great Jack Nitzsche’s pulsating score (Cruising, Performance) kicks in. Nitzsche was an integral part of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” and worked with The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Neil Young and others. Dialogue is clear and understandable but at times is almost - just almost - overwhelmed by the music. English SDH subtitles are available.
A new commentary track by director/writer Paul Schrader is interesting, although he sometimes gets so engrossed in anecdotes that he fails to comment on individual scenes. He talks freely about George C. Scott’s drinking problem, and while he commends Season Hubley for her performance he feels that she was too pretty for the part. He also laments the fact that he had to change the ending of the film in order to placate the studio. The thematic similarities between Hardcore and John Ford’s The Searchers are intentional.
Also included: an audio interview (1993) with Schrader that synchs nicely with the film. A novel way to do a commentary track.
Shooting Hardcore: a ten minute interview with DP, Michael Chapman - also known for Taxi Driver, 1978s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Wanderers... indeed some of the best films ever made.
Hardcore Nitzsche: a twenty-two doc on the great - and ultimately doomed - producer/composer. Features William Friedkin, Milos Foreman, Ry Cooder (slide guitar on The Stone's "sister morphine") and whos contributions to cinematic soundtracks spans decades. I've read that this short is going to be expanded to a full-length film. If nothing else, Jack Nitzsche is the only celebrity to get arrested on TVs "Cops." But I digress....
Trailers, stills and isolated soundtrack round this out.
A great buy - better (and cheaper!) than the Twilight Time release six or seven years ago.