Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice' Blu-ray

Developing The Monkees was the most substantial thing on Paul Mazursky’s behind-the-camera résumé before he made his feature-film directorial debut with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969. If nothing else, his TV work indicated he had genuine sympathy with the counterculture even though he was well past the age that hippies could trust him. But these are all elements that make Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice such a fascinating film. The infamous swingers angle is how the movie was marketed, but it’s really about how two almost-middle-aged couples acclimate to a rewritten world in which the sexual mores of their youths have basically been obliterated and things like unfiltered honesty and communication are new to marital relationships. Bob (Robert Culp) and Alice (Natalie Wood) are the privileged pseudo-hipsters of the quartet, attending a sort of Plato-Meets-Janov Retreat to get in touch with their feelings. Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (a truly marvelous Dyan Cannon) are that couple’s uptight, old school best friends with whom they end up in bed by the film’s climax. The touchy feely philosophy of the film makes it as dated in its own way as such other counter-culture items as Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy both also released in 1969 (and the former is also a product of The Monkees’ camp). Yet those grittier films traded in a hip cynicism that appealed to hippies at the time but now reads as a criticism of counter-cultural ideals. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice never sneers at the idea that “All You Need Is Love” even as it examines that philosophy from a number of angles, some of which are a lot less flattering than others. It is a film that truly believes in love to the point that its unexpectedly transcendent climax finds the characters all but reaching out of the screen to embrace and comfort its audience. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is also surprisingly mature for a movie mainly marketed as titillation, as it examines marital relationships with more honesty and openness than any other late-sixties movie I’ve seen. It is certainly refreshing to watch a movie that deals incisively with themes of consent in the bedroom that was made at a time when slobs chasing secretaries around desks was still considered funny.

The image of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is good overall, with strong colors and nothing egregious in the way of scratches, dots, or debris. The grain is on the heavy side and you may find it excessive depending on your tolerance. Bonus features include the 18-minute Tales of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (a stage interview with Mazursky that deals as much with his thoughts on comedy as it deals with our main feature) and the informative and charming commentary with Cannon, Gould, Culp, and Mazursky (the latter two have since died) ported over from the DVD, as well as a new commentary with Twilight Time’s resident historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman.
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