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New Video presents
Following Sean (2005)

"It sounds a little naive now, but at the time the pull was almost magnetic."
- Ralph Arlyck

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 30, 2007

Stars: Sean Farrell, Ralph Arlyck
Director: Ralph Arlyck

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:27m:34s
Release Date: March 27, 2007
UPC: 767685981030
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-B- B-

DVD Review

While living in the cosmic blender known as San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, young filmmaker Ralph Arlyck shot a fourteen-minute short in 1969 entitled Sean. The subject was a streetwise four-year-old boy named Sean who lived upstairs from Arlyck, and what brought this short to controversial fame was the shock value of seeing and hearing the chatty offspring of the dreaded drug-addled hippie underground speak openly about pot, the cops and his complete cluelessness about knowing the days of the week. Sean came to represent something larger, as the boy became the inadvertent poster child for what was wrong with the counter-culture subculture, and in the 2005 doc Following Sean Arlyck makes a return to California to track down Sean and see how he has turned out.

But this is larger than simply filling in Sean's blanks between 1969 and 2005 and doing another take on the 7 Up series of films. As Arlyck narrates, it becomes a flipbook of the filmmaker's life, as it goes from meeting his young bride-to-be in California to a marriage-threatening work situation to the raising of their two children. His attempts to locate Sean, while understandably the central thesis at work here, seem to take a backseat to watching a man's life (in this case Arlyck's) flutter past in less than 90 minutes. And there doesn't seem to have been a shortage of homemade film footage either, and we see babies turn into 20-somethings while Arlyck, his wife and his parents all age in that way that happens when years pass by in moments.

Arlyck's travels back to the Haight lead him to the old stomping grounds, which now have taken on an almost corporate-sponsored counter-culture sheen. There's not quite the Where's Waldo? sense of adventure I was expecting in locating Sean and his separated parents—which Arlyck does rather easily—but there are some rather surprising revelations about all three, and while I won't go into details here, the wheel of time has impacted all very differently. And that's really what Following Sean locks into, as the range of changes span the gap between sad and inspired, eventually poking through in a couple of particularly bittersweet moments between Sean and his father.

There is an abundance of groovy vintage footage from the height of the Haight, and Arlyck makes the freeflow movement appear idyllic and fantastic, and when he talks about how the draw was magnetic, it's not too difficult to doubt that. In his own words, they were all "playing revolutionary in the streets" and that it had become an art form. And about the time Arlyck made the mental segue between love-the-one-you're-with and what's-with-the-smelly-stoned-drifters is when he moved back east.

Those early images of Sean, a barefoot product of the free love generation, raised the hackles of Middle America (or at least those who saw Arlyck's short film), and in Following Sean those hackles get patted back down. It's not all rosy and bright, but time does march on, and as Arlyck shows you either get in line or get passed by.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Arlyck's film has been issued in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen from Docurama. Step away from the understandable variances in quality from some of the decades old footage, and what's left is a rather nice-looking doc, with a set of solid colors and natural fleshtones. Some minor specking is evident, but overall no major complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo. It's a simple and nondescript mix, with Arlyck's narration clean and free of distortion, while the gentle Eric Neveux score sounds fairly full-bodied. Some of the on-location audio varies in quality a bit, especially the older material, but there was a never an issue understanding what was being said.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, The Weather Underground, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers And Tides, The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill
10 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Arlyck's original 1969 short Sean (14m:08s) is included here, presented in anamorphic widescreen. While the feature doc has a number of clips from the short, it was a completely different experience to watch it unfurl in its brief entirety. There's also a block of ten deleted scenes (14m:00s), the best of which highlight Sean's feisty communist grandmother Hon; as an addendum to the deleted footage there's two screens of text explaining why the cuts were made.

An audio interview with Arlyck, conducted by Minnesota National Public Radio in March 2006, runs approximately 20 minutes. Much of the content ("how did you find Sean?") are answered in the doc itself, so much of this is just a recap. A text-based Filmmaker Statement from Arlyck covers more of the same ground. A brief director bio, the film's theatrical trailer (and a quartet of other Docurama previews) complete the extras.

The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with no subtitle options.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Maybe it's the contemplative nature that comes with being my age—stuck as I am in those middle-aged years between having aging parents and a teenage child—but there was something about Ralph Arlyck's journey that I really connected with. There's more here than finding out what the worldly four-year-old Sean has been up to in the years since 1969, and that part of Arlyck's story is almost secondary when it is all said and done.

In one way what we're actually seeing is the director's life fly by in 87 minutes, and while his discoveries about Sean are ostensibly what this is all about, there's a deeper subtext to Following Sean than perhaps even Arlyck intended.



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