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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Frances (1982)

"It ain't for the lack of trying."
- Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 02, 2000

Stars: Jessica Lange
Other Stars: Sam Shepard
Director: Graeme Clifford

MPAA Rating: R for language, nudity, sexuality, rape.
Run Time: 02h:20m:00s
Release Date: June 22, 1999
UPC: 017153111897
Genre: drama

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

DVD Review

From a young age, Frances Farmer was tough minded, stronger willed, and with an even sharper whit was without a need for conformity, but in that time before Kennedy's assassination changed the hopelessly paternal, paralyzing, stifled American way of life, and decades before the Women's Lib movement began burning bras, not even a woman with such a sense of determination and purpose could overcome what was less like a roller coaster life than Kansas during tornado season.

Frances, rising 1930's Hollywood starlet, enjoyed being different, pushing the limits, and when provoked was not past a bit of fisticuffs. It is this mixture of high spiritedness and occasional unladylike outbursts, that landed Frances fighting for both her sanity and rights against the state, institutional doctors, and always her overbearing mother. This is a dark tale told from the biased perspective of her life long lover and confidante, Harry York, played by a young, dashing Sam Shepard. In other words, although this film angles the point of view that Frances Farmer was railroaded, much like Hillary Clinton's "right-wing conspiracy," we cannot be entirely certain that dear Frances wasn't in fact mad as a hatter.

For Frances, Hollywood was merely the means by which she intended to attain her one true desire: to be a stage actress. Unfortunately for Frances, this avenue was quickly closed when Paramount, who had inked her to a 6-year deal, had other thoughts. It is the betrayals of both the studio and her playwright lover that begin Frances' downward spiral, which eventually leads to her committal in an insane asylum. Truly, the slings and arrows that Frances received from the world outside seem negligible and benign in comparison with those she suffered at the hands of the mental institution; something not entirely unusual for such facilities during this period. Francesis at the polar opposite of the healing spectrum from the movie Awakenings and closer to the brand displayed in One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. Frances Farmer was made to suffer drugs, electric shock therapy, and worse—much worse.

Yet despite, in my opinion, what seems to be a lopsided script, like Hamlet, one is never quite sure whether there is method to this woman's madness. Frances is portrayed here with ravaging beauty and damning ugliness, with such remarkable breadth and depth of range and with such compassion by a young Jessica Lange, it is hard to take one's eye off the screen. Her sly smirks are devastating, yet her insanity crawls upon one's skin with a fierce, quiet desperation that requires no dialogue to express. Miss Lange's performance is a tour de force, which most befits the Academy Award ® nomination it received.

Oh, and by the way, notice the young Dr. Ben Bronschweig (Jeffrey DeMunn) from the Xfiles, Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley II) from The Bob Newhart Show, and try to find Kevin Costner (screen time a smidgeon above The Big Chill).

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a very nicely rendered, anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that belies the age of this film (1982). It is obvious that Artisan received an exceptionally clean print, free of scars and nicks from Spelling Corporation when they bought Republic's catalogue. This is a movie awash in earthy browns, which for some reason reminded me of the Godfather, at least in it's color scheme and clarity. There are instances of aliasing distortion and pixelation, but nowhere near as bad had this DVD not have been 16:9 enhanced. There are also a couple of night scenes that are too dark to distinguish the action, but this is most likely the fault of the print.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English monoyes

Audio Transfer Review: This disc is labeled Dolby Surround 2.0, but is really center speaker monaural. Despite this, most of the dialogue sounds natural, with one exception where it is obvious a dubbed voice-over is being used. To tell the truth, Miss Lange's performance was so engrossing that I didn't notice the audio until I watched the disc the second time for the express purpose of such observation.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Unfortunately not only does this one-sided picture disc contain no extras, that if it were not for the wonderful transfer it would barely reside a step above VHS by the hair on it's scene selection chinny-chin-chin. No trailer, no cast and crew bios, no production notes, no chance for increasing revenues from a film not likely to be a best seller based on title alone. I love that the interactive menus are considered a special feature. Also, I am not sure if Artisan is experimenting with two different keepcases, or if they obtained leftovers from the Republic deal, but they seem to be alternating between the Amaray and Alpha cases. This one came in the latter.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

All in all, this is a performance to be treasured, and a fine transfer, but at a $25 retail price, unless this is on your must-have list, the lack of extras make this a renter. It is rumored that Artisan may be altering their price structure. If so, I would implore them to wither lower the retail price to reflect the content on this disc, or, better, to add some extra content to it to make the disc worthy of the price.

(Editor's Note: Artisan did change their price structure soon after this review originally appeared.)


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