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HBO presents
A Father... A Son... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2004)

Kirk Douglas: Was I a good father?
Michael Douglas: You have ultimately been a great father.

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: February 21, 2006

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas
Other Stars: Fritzi Becker, Diana Douglas, Peter Douglas, Jack Valenti, Joel Douglas, Jann Wenner, Peter Travers, Anne Douglas, Gerard Haggerty, Sherry Lansing, Karl Malden, Kathleen Turner, Rabbi David Wople, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Lee Grant

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:32m:59s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 026359320729
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CB-B- C-

DVD Review

The off-screen exploits of Kirk Douglas and his son Michael Douglas are nearly as well documented as their impressive careers. Ranging from tabloids regarding Michael's rehab to the news of Kirk's stroke in the late 1990s, this family has been a staple of American cinema since the 1940s. Former actress Lee Grant attempts to tackle their complex relationship in the HBO-produced documentary, A Father... A Son... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Sadly, the movie never quite seems to grasp the essence of this Hollywood dynasty.

Made up of interviews with the titular figures, as well as other family members (including Kirk's sister Fritzi, ex-wife Diana, current wife Anne, and Michael's brothers) and artistic collaborators, Grant covers the basics of these two men. Unfortunately, perhaps due to a constrictive running time, none of the material digs very deep. Beginning with Kirk's upbringing at the hands of his stern father, Grant conveys his desire to prove himself and opens up a promising door to connect this father-son relationship to the next generation. Such a connection is never made, however, and the documentary quickly turns its focus on the career and various romantic encounters Kirk racked up during the 1940s and '50s. Michael and his brothers candidly discuss how difficult Kirk could be and the strains his womanizing put on the family. But these rather intense topics are shoved off to the side almost as soon as they are introduced, with Grant opting to portray Kirk as just a "good ol' boy" having a good time.

Much can be said of her treatment of Michael, whose marriage difficulties and alcoholism are barely mentioned, when Grant turns the narrative over to him during the film's second half. The interviewees seem more excited when talking about Michael's work on The China Syndrome and Fatal Attraction than when talking about the emotional rift between him and Kirk. There's even a gratuitous montage of Michael's sex scenes that seems to exist entirely apart from the rest of the documentary. Maybe the filmmakers felt pressured to include as many movie clips as humanly possible of the two men, especially since their work is clearly linked to their own lives, but it gets tiresome.

There are some nice moments, though, that did resonate with me. Some home movies with the Douglas' work well to visualize the atmosphere that existed in the family home. Even more effective is a candid interview of Michael and Kirk talking freely over a meal. Grant captures some rather amusing and even touching moments between the two men. Whether discussing the story behind making One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or recollecting their relationship during Michael's formative years, the two open up and hint at a genuinely intriguing familial history. It's just too bad that history never leaves the table.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks nice, though it isn't anything noteworthy. Colors are pleasant, if not vibrant, and detail is about what one would expect. This is a typical "talking heads" documentary, so the image transfer really doesn't have any opportunities to prove it.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Like the image transfer, the Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix doesn't really have anything to it due to the documentary's style. Dialogue is crisp and always audible, with the music score coming through cleanly. There's also a Spanish Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews—two separate video interviews with director Lee Grant and Michael Douglas' friend Danny DeVito.
Extras Review: A brief collection of special features accompany the documentary, beginning with an Interview with Filmmaker Lee Grant (15m:38s). In this video interview, she talks about her prep work for the film and the security the camera afforded her during the interviews. Perhaps more compelling, however, is her discussion of being blacklisted and the effect Spartacus had on her. A second video interview, Danny DeVito (07m:07s), allows the actor to reflect on his friendship to the younger Douglas. Some of his anecdotes are rather amusing.

Following the two interviews are five featurettes. A Tribute to Eric Douglas (04m:17s) is a brief look at the youngest Douglas son, who died before he could be interviewed for the documentary. Some of the family members discuss his troubled life and pay their respects quite nicely. Douglas Family Home Movies (03m:58s) is an extension of the material included in the feature film, with additional comments that present the Douglases as a normal American family. Kirk in Hollywood (02m:24s) is a brief reel of Kirk's antics with Dean Martin, Doris Day, and the Walk of Fame, and is a striking contrast to the image he exudes in the home movies. Yet another contrast comes in Kirk and Anne Douglas' Renewed Wedding Vows (03m:17s), where a much older and calmer Kirk seems to have found lasting peace with himself and his wife. Lastly, HBO Premiere Party (02m:02s) showcases interviews with Lee Grant, Michael Douglas, and his son Cameron.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A superficial look at Michael and Kirk Douglas, A Father... A Son... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood makes its debut on DVD in a rather by-the-numbers release.


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