Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Blu-ray Review

Here The Killing of a Chinese Bookie review is in snippet format in HeyUGuys's Blu-ray and DVD Round up 19th July 2013. Below is the review in full. 

BFI have been working hard on their Masters of Cinema collection, a British equivalent to the Criterion Collection. This is their fifth and final introduction into their John Cassavetes collection which includes Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night and now The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The story of Cosmo Vitelli (mesmerising Ben Gazzara), a small strip-club owner who gets in too deep with some murky characters because of his consuming gambling addiction which leaves him $23,000 in the red. The mob then use this as a handle to blackmail him into murdering someone to wipe off some of his debt. It goes behind the scenes of a seemingly successful man living out the American dream when nightmarish darkness and bad deeds operate everything behind the red curtain of the stage. 

There are two versions to watch: the original 134 minute 1976 version or the shortened, recut 109 minute version. Both have the same story but they're dealt with in different ways with different scenes and even alternative takes to each other. There's even a change in characters with the shortened version making the Mafiosi seem much more menacing and threatening on the screen when they scam a doctor for files on her patients which shows how merciless and crippling they can and want to be. They're devious people are setting this character up to fail at the table for either the money or to be able to strong-arm him - and others - to do their dirty work to keep their hands clean. It's a brilliant depiction of the muddy background that tramples the idealistic view of appearances - one which Ben Gazzara soliloquises magnificently.

Sometimes the camera technology is too behind for this film by being too dark to see the details or too dark to even register what's on the screen as it's mostly at night. Other times the visuals are beautiful, there are moments when Cosmo is walking around the club, the stagelights bright and blaring, that are simply gorgeous. Shots in the streets have bokehs in the background surrounding the characters to make it look effortlessly pretty. It's simple visceral visuals are not dissimilar from Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Taxi Driver which was released the same year. John Cassavettes was an apparent influence which can be seen in Scorsese's early work as well as a direct reflection in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

It's a dark take on a talentless, obsessive entrepreneur who gets involved with the wrong people and gives a semblance of suave sophistication as well as the air of carefree, envious living.  Cassavettes is exploring something in this, whether it's the exhaustion of Hollywood which requires relentless obsession for financing or a self-reflection of questioning the worth of the hassle that he goes through; whatever is true, it's a fascinating thing to think about regardless - aided by the essays within the extras of this copy. The confession scene is a man spilling himself out finally revealing what's behind the limo and tuxedo. Enigmatic performances are throughout, especially from Timothy Carey and Seymour Cassel as two members of the mob shaking him down and the performance of Mr Sophistication by Meade Roberts as a self-involved performer believing he's the best of a show in a strip club. Ben Gazzara does steal the show with his pinpoint precision performance as Cosmo Vitelli that's captivating, enigmatic and poignant with every look and word. The entire film is captivating and different even though it's the kind of story that's familiar but it's told in a different way. It's most definitely a must see.
★★★★½

Extras
There are two editions: standard and special. The standard edition is a dual format two disc collection which features commentary by Al Ruban and Peter Bogdanovich on selected scenes. You also get both cuts in an illustrated booklet with an essay by Tom Charity and pieces by Al Ruban and John Pym. The Collector's Edition will feature a limited third disc as there are strictly only 1000 copies available. It has the two previous discs mentioned before as well as a third disc featuring a short starring John Cassavettes called The Haircut (1982) by Tamar Simon Hoffs. There's also a documentary called Anything for John (1993) by Doug Headline which is feature length running at 91 minutes. There is also an extra six-minute interview with Tamar Simon Hoffs.
★★★★★