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MGM Studios DVD presents
Six Degrees of Separation (1993)

"How do we fit it into life without turning it into an anecdote, with no teeth, and a punch line you'll mouth over and over, years to come: 'Oh, that reminds me of the time that impostor came into our lives... ,' 'Oh, tell the one about that boy - ,' and we become these human jukeboxes, spilling out these anecdotes. But it was an experience. How do we keep the experience?"
- Ouisa Kittredge (Stockard Channing)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: September 10, 2000

Stars: Stockard Channing, Will Smith, Donald Sutherland
Other Stars: Ian McKellen, Mary Beth Hurt, Bruce Davison, Richard Masur, Anthony Michael Hall, Heather Graham
Director: Fred Schepisi

MPAA Rating: R for (language, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:53m:00s
Release Date: August 17, 2000
UPC: 027616851574
Genre: black comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B+ D+

DVD Review

A brilliant success on the stage, Six Degrees of Separation translates seamlessly to the screen. The credit rests almost entirely on Stockard Channing, who, in a rare good choice, continues her Tony®-nominated role as Ouisa Kittredge, this time winning an Oscar® nomination for her performance.

Of course, Six Degrees still plays like a stagescript, heavily dependent on dialogue. For better or worse, the sparse stage is transformed into a swank 5th Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park, home to class-conscious Ouisa and her art-dealing husband Flan (Sutherland). The Kittredges are that typical New York cocktail couple, well-to-do (on other people's money) with a deep love for art, but not much else. Their lives are busy and their day-planners full, but their souls are empty. They have 2 college-age children who hate them, and one double-sided painting ("Chaos. Control. Chaos. Control....") by Wassily Kandinsky that is their pride and joy.

On a fateful evening, the couple are entertaining a very wealthy South African friend/business associate whom they plan to hit up for the extra investment cash ($2M) needed to sell an important Cézanne canvas to a Japanese buyer. On the verge of broaching the subject, they are interrupted by the arrival of a young man, Paul (Smith), who has been mugged in the park and remembered his college friends' parents, the Kittredges, live nearby. Claiming to be the son of Sydney Poitier, he manages to endear himself directly, and in a matter of hours, transformed their lives in a variety of subtle but powerful ways.

Based on a true story, this is at once a comedy, a burning social commentary and a soul-wrenching journey. Playwright John Guare carries his script to the screen and turns his characters inside-out for our inspection with more skill than a Shao-lin warrior. He reveals his story layer by layer through a series of conversations and flashbacks, masterfully placing us in the room with his other cocktail-sippers, hanging on every sordid detail.

The cast is superbly believable. Sutherland ("I thought, dreamt, remembered how easy it is for a painter to lose a painting. He paints and paints... and then one day he loses it—loses the structure, loses the sense of it.") is wonderfully credible in the variety of lights shed upon his portrait of Flan (having most recently seen him as the young and virile baddie in The Avengers' classic The Superlative Seven, it is a joy to be reminded of the scope of his career) and wears this role as naturally as his 5th Avenue clothes. Smith ("The imagination is not our escape. On the contrary, the imagination is the place we are all trying to get to.") has lost his way. Anyone who cares to believe he really can act needs to see him transform Paul from urchin to polished man to frightened boy. But it is inarguably Channing's Ouisa ("I am a collage of unaccounted for brushstrokes. I am all random.") that invites us into her home, nurtures our spirit and connects us (if only by the 6th degree) to her world, her life, her humanity. When she "high-fives" the "hand of god", we too are lifted a little higher—inspired to reach a little further.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: MGM has done a fine job with this rich, anamorphic transfer. The interiors are vivid and sharp, with some very minor shimmering throughout where the lighting is extreme (how DID they shoot that night scene in the livingroom, in front of that huge picture window, with everything that should be reflecting, doing so perfectly?). Good black levels and color saturation; fleshtones are very real throughout. The source print, still fairly recent, allows for a clean image, free of dirt and flecks. The outdoor scenes, day and night, are well balanced and smooth.

The fullscreen version destroys the fabulous camera work, which stays in motion during conversational scenes to keep the eye's interest. Highly successful in widescreen, for me it is nearly nauseating to watch with the additional movement of P&S.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A dialogue-dependent film, most of the 5.1 track is focused in the front, while the rear speakers fill in the ambient sounds of New York and are used to carry the underlying score to good measure. Nothing to write home about, but fully adequate for this film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English and French
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. "Collectable Booklet"
Extras Review: O! The inclusions possible for a film like this! The screenplay or stage script? Guare discussing the transition from stage to screen? Channing on her unusual coup? Smith on how he refused to participate in a scripted, onscreen kiss? Something more than the booklet reveals about how the real life "Paul" attempted to cash in on his "likeness"? A bit of information about Kandinsky or the painting itself? Tsk, tsk.

The booklet, in the absence of any real extras, whets the appetite but leaves us far more than 6° from so many interesting aspects we hunger for.

Subtitles and captions appear below the image.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

"It is the worst kind of yellowness to be so scared of yourself that you put blindfolds on rather than deal with yourself. To face our selves—that's the hard thing. The imagination—that's god's gift, to make the act of self-examination bearable."
- Paul

A beautifully scripted vignette, Six Degrees draws us in, whether viewed as an intriguing anecdote ("Oh, sure, I remember that film") or as a spotlight on the two-sided canvas of our unconscious lives. Not for home action heroes, but highly recommended for fans of fine writing and performance.

 


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