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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Fat City (1972)

"There are some women that love you for yourself. But that doesn't last long."
- Tully (Stacy Keach)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: January 21, 2003

Stars: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell
Other Stars: Candy Clark, Nicholas Colasanto
Director: John Huston

MPAA Rating: PG for language and violence
Run Time: 01h:36m:30s
Release Date: December 10, 2002
UPC: 043396078888
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B- D-

DVD Review

Fat City is one of many highly underrated films from the 1970s, a rare gem that, for some reason, has all but faded into obscurity. Renowned director John Huston has expertly crafted a film that will leave no viewer unaffected, even though many of its messages are widely open to interpretation. It is refreshing to watch a movie in this day and age that invokes so many conflicting thoughts without hitting the audience over the head with overt symbolism. A subtle powerhouse that appears simple on the surface, Fat City contains much more depth than one initially might think.

As the film opens in the dreary town of Stockton, California, we meet Billy Tully (Stacy Keach), hungover and disheveled in his dank and cluttered apartment. Through nothing but Keach's movements and the Kris Kristofferson song Help Me Make It Through the Night, we can immediately tell that Tully is a washout, a has-been who lost whatever dreams he once might have had through aging and alcoholism. After shaking off his hangover, Tully heads down to the local YMCA to expend his pent-up frustration. The gym is empty with the exception of 18-year-old Ernie (Jeff Bridges), a spunky young kid with a charismatic charm but a gentle naivété. Once a professional boxer, Tully recognizes Ernie's talent for the sport and encourages him to get in touch with his old manager, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto). Ernie is reluctant, informing Tully that he only boxes as a hobby, yet Tully insists that Ernie has an inherent talent that could one day elevate him to greatness.

It is at this moment where an elusive parallel between these two characters begins. Little is seen of their relationship after this point, but their lives faintly connect through interlocking stories that might have some viewers wondering if they are not watching two separate films. John Huston has an innate talent for visualizing scenes inside the ring (the amateur fighters deliver appropriately sluggish body blows and dance around one another in an almost laughably cumbersome fashion), but it is his understanding of human behavior, the human psyche if you will, that makes Fat City so undeniably compelling. Rather than a boxing picture, what we are truly watching is an exploration of emotional themes that run through all of our lives. Hopes, dreams, love, loss, and mortality are all viewed through the eyes of Tully and Ernie, two characters that could conceivably be seen as the same soul wandering through separate stages of the journey through life.

On one side of the spectrum is Tully, a down and out alcoholic, divorced and unable to hold a job. He spends most of his time in sordid bars, drowning the sorrows of his yesteryear while yearning for the day when he can get himself back into shape and become a prizefighter once again. He attempts to find solace through Oma (Oscar®-nominated Susan Tyrrell), a drunken floozy whose only appeal to Tully is perhaps the fact that she is more ill-fated and dejected than he is. Yet, Oma's shattered life ultimately serves as nothing more than a reminder of the failures that Tully has endured.

On the other side of the spectrum is Ernie, the confused teenager with his whole life ahead of him. Ernie roams a similar path as Tully did in his youth, marrying his pregnant girlfriend, Faye (Candy Clark), while attempting to scrounge enough money through amateur boxing matches. He too is on the road to heartache, yet there is something holding Ernie back, a slight hint of recognition that seems to be swaying him from inevitably arriving face down in the alcohol-soft middle-age depression that numbs Tully's life. While Tully and Ernie share little screen time, their two spectrums eventually collide in a masterfully pensive denouement.

The realism of here has a way of tapping into the core of each viewer's feelings. The undeniable but abstruse message of youth gone by particularly struck a chord with me. One scene in particular shows a drunken Tully lamenting about how he will turn 30 in just four days. As I sit here typing, I cannot help but think how closely this parallels my own life, as I am just two weeks away from my own 30th birthday. Much like Tully, I have spent the past few weeks thinking of my past and wondering what the future might hold. While my life is far from that of Billy Tully, I, too, cannot help but contemplate over the "Ernie" years of my life. Given the chance, would I encourage or discourage Ernie from traveling the path I have traveled? While everyone will obviously not share this similar connection, the abundance of introspective themes in Fat City are those that anyone can relate to, no matter how young or how old.

A movie like this would never see the light of day in the current Hollywood system. It works on the viewer's emotions almost subconsciously, never pandering to those who insist that their entertainment be spoon-fed to them. Filled with great ambiguity, Fat City allows the audience to formulate varying opinions of its dense subject matter. My thoughts are merely an interpretation of what may take on an entirely different meaning for another viewer. How refreshing it is to see a film that actually works with the viewer's emotions rather than against them.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Likely the intent of John Huston and cinematographer Conrad Hall, the image is very coarse, gritty and grainy. The source material certainly looks its age, almost like bad 16mm plagued by an abundance of film artifacts. Do not be fooled, however, into thinking this is a disappointment. The image is incredibly film-like with no signs of distracting video artifacts. Other than the heavy film grain, the image is clean and smooth with exceptionally vibrant color saturation. Though a bit rough, I am pleased to report that this is a stunning representation of the intended visual style.

Also included is a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer that fails to capture the film-like splendor of the visuals.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a minor step above what I would expect from a thirty-year-old monaural soundtrack. More so than most mono mixes I have heard, the soundtrack boasts a strong dynamic presence backed by a respectable level of bass. At times, dialogue and music sound a tad strident, but never uncomfortably so. While not terribly exciting, the mono soundtrack effectively drives the narrative of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Greatest, On the Waterfront, XXX
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: My enjoyment of the main feature makes the lack of special features all the more disappointing. Even the film's theatrical trailer has been omitted and instead three trailers for other films are included. The inclusion of anything remotely relevant to Fat City would have been more worthwhile than this insignificant section.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Despite a dreadful upset in the special features department, this is an admirable restoration of a classic film. It is apparent that great effort went into remastering the old elements while also preserving the originally harsh aesthetic intended by the filmmakers. Thanks to the power of DVD, hopefully Fat City will now find the audience it never had.


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