Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 1.0
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, $19.95

Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon sitting in bed together in the climactic shot of Bob & Carol & Ted... has become one of the seminal images representing that moment in film history when the collapse of the studio system led to newfound sexual, political and aesthetic freedom onscreen. Yet the picture is as classical as it is modern, a perfect convergence of old-style Hollywood storytelling and contemporary social comedy. It presages the anti-Establishment movies of the 1970s, yet it also features Academy Award-nominated work by one of “old” Hollywood’s most lauded cinematographers, Charles Lang, ASC.

Bob & Carol & Ted... works as a cultural artifact of its time, yet its insights into sex and friendship still feel remarkably fresh. This is partly due to the witty screenplay by Paul Mazursky (who was directing his first feature) and Larry Tucker, who infuse their satire with a surprising amount of affection for the title characters, two married couples who struggle to come to terms with the Sexual Revolution. This delicate balance of tone would be impressive coming from a veteran director, let alone a first-timer, and Mazursky acknowledges in his DVD commentary that he has never made a better film.

The smooth craftsmanship of Bob & Carol & Ted... is surely a result of Mazursky’s wise decision to collaborate with Lang, whose distinguished and diverse career included Westerns (The Magnificent Seven), horror films (The Uninvited) and comedies (Some Like It Hot). With Bob & Carol & Ted..., Lang proved to be equally adept at creating gorgeous, scenic shots of Southern California and intense close-ups that revealed characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings, even when they were lying to themselves and each other. The breadth of Lang’s cinematography is vividly apparent in this new hi-def transfer, which beautifully captures sun-drenched Los Angeles landscapes and glamorous, impeccably lit night interiors with equal clarity. The monaural soundtrack is surprisingly rich; the dialogue is much clearer than on previous home-video editions, and Quincy Jones’ dynamic score sounds better than ever.

Bob & Carol & Ted... is a film about private spaces, and Lang’s mastery enables the actors to play scenes in long, uninterrupted takes that respect the integrity of those spaces. The cinematographer’s Oscar nomination for the picture was one of 18 he earned between 1931 and 1973, a record in the Best Cinematography category. Lang’s classical Hollywood craftsmanship complements Mazursky’s youthful sensibility, producing a film that combines the best of studio technique with the modern attitudes that emerged following that system’s collapse. The combination of sophisticated adult content and stylish visual storytelling has kept Bob & Carol & Ted... from dating, in spite of the specificity of its Swinging Sixties milieu.

This DVD offers two bonus features: an interview with Mazursky that was taped at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in Hollywood, and a feature-length audio commentary shared by the director, Culp, Gould and Cannon. In his interview, Mazursky relates a number of amusing anecdotes about the production but offers little information about the technical aspects of the picture. The same goes for the commentary track. Although the actors’ enthusiasm for the film is infectious, as the commentary progresses they occasionally gets so caught up in the film that they forget to talk, or they spend more time laughing than analyzing — a common problem with shared commentaries. Though Mazursky and the actors acknowledge the importance of Lang’s contributions several times, viewers looking for insight into the filmmakers’ technical approach will be disappointed. Nevertheless, this DVD is well worth picking up. It’s a superb transfer of a contemporary classic that’s funny, wise and filled with gorgeous images.

— Jim Hemphill

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.