Model Shop: Martini Movies
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (30th August 2009).
The Film

French director Jacques Demy’s one and only foray into the American film market, "Model Shop" released to theaters in 1969, was, while not exactly coldly received by critics of the day, the reception was unmistakably a lukewarm one. The film, starring Gary Lockwood and French actress Anouk Aimée, was deemed dull and pretentious, and I can’t say that’s an incorrect critique – at least partly, those are terms that I’d be willing to weave into my own review. Not able to grab an audience and berated by most critics, quickly, the film faded into obscurity. Today "Model Shop" has less than 200 votes from IMDB users (the average film has numbers in the thousands) and because of this it’s safe to assume that most readers will have never even heard of this picture, let alone seen it.

Lockwood plays George Matthews, a disenchanted young man vying for success as a big-time architect but not really willing to put in the numerous hours needed to get his foot in the door. Frankly, George’s life sucks. He’s got no job, no money; his prized MG is about to be repossessed by the finance company, his wannabe actress girlfriend, Gloria (Alexandra Hay), is seriously considering leaving him and he’s going to be drafted any day now. Down on his luck but not out, George quickly hits the town to borrow some cash from his always-dependable friends. If nothing else goes right in his life, at least he can try and keep the repo guys away from his little green machine. His first stop in his quest for cash – he needs $100 to get the finance company off his back – is unsuccessful; George already owes his friend Gerry (Tom Holland) $50 and well, Gerry needs that $50 because he wants to buy one of those new-fangled color TV-sets for his girlfriend. This little exchange is not entirely irrelevant; without his trip down to see Gerry, George would not have met the mysterious and beautiful Lola (Anouk Aimée), an older woman that he is immediately attracted to. George proceeds to follow the woman around L.A. up to a large home in the Hollywood Hills and down to a seedy corner shop that, it turns out, is a place that allows amateur male photographers to take semi-nude pictures of gorgeous ladies.

Just itching to meet the woman (no doubt, the chance to see her partially naked is a plus in his mind), George makes a quick detour to his friend Jay (Jay Ferguson) – the lead singer of Spirit, a psychedelic rock band both in the film and in real life (the band produced the film's soundtrack) – and gets his $100. Instead of doing the responsible thing of paying off his debt, George heads back to the Model Shop and puts $50 on an hour with Lola. The two sort of hit it off; they talk and then spend the day together. Lola later invites George to her home and the two continue their dialog on love, The War and various other things. At the end of their near-24-hours together the two part ways.

The film is very much in the spirit of a French “New Wave” piece; unsurprising as director, writer and producer Jacques Demy began his career as one of the new wave pioneers with his films "Lola" (1961) (Aimée reprises her role from that film here) and "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964). "Model Shop" is full of luscious shots – lots of long takes and nicely staged scenes. It is certainly competently made and remains, most of the time, an interesting experience, if not a completely satisfying one. "Model Shop" is not a good movie but it’s far from awful. It’s a defective product – sometimes it works; other times it truly doesn’t and the bad parts throw the whole thing off center.

The defects mostly come from the actors themselves. I find Gary Lockwood impossibly miscast in his role; the guy is a) not believable as an architecture graduate, b) sorely lacking in the charisma department, and c) just flat out wrong for the film. (Side-note: it pains me to think that Demy originally wanted Harrison Ford to play George – that may have been really interesting and corrected one of this films biggest flaws.) Other actors are bad as well – Alexandra Hay is cardboard and not the good, tough kind – the flimsy, useless kind. Whether it’s because she’s French speaking English or some other reason, Aimée is dangerously teetering into bad-actress territory (with that accent she’s either brilliant or awful – sometimes both.)

The script, from what I understand, was originally written in French by Demy and then adapted into English, and you can sort of tell (and maybe that’s part of the problem); a lot of the dialogue is long-winded and far too complex for its own good. This is essentially a French film that takes place in America with English dialogue and some American actors – if that makes any sense (I’m sure it doesn’t) and if for only that reason I say that the film is worth a watch because when you really think about it, that’s mind-boggling.

Yes, the film fails a lot of the time, but not always. Where the film succeeds is that at its heart the "Model Shop" is not about George, Lola or anyone really. The film is a mediation on Los Angeles and, in many ways, the city is the star. It’s a discussion on America and their car culture, on the Vietnam War and on the 1960's. It also works retroactively – viewing it from a contemporary standpoint – as an interesting look at late 60's fashions, music and pop culture. The film is an analysis of a time, and it’s sort of fresh (in the fact that a foreigner is presenting this take on a culture not his own) and frankly the most intriguing part of the film.

It’s all kind of a blur to be honest but I can’t say that I was bored by the film (some of it yes, but mostly no) and, I guess then, that means it wasn’t half bad – at 90 minutes it isn’t a long film so it makes for an easy watch. But "Model Shop" is not great – certainly not and I definitely understand why "The Graduate" (1967) endured and this movie, well, didn’t.

Video

I was frankly surprised by Sony’s 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; I see terms like “Completely Remastered” and “newly restored” thrown around far too often – and falsely so sometimes – to get even moderately excited when something like "Model Shop" proclaims to be either (or both), as it does in its press-release. But, actually, this DVD truly does look good. So good that I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony did a true restoration of the original 35mm film elements and not just some paltry digital clean up via a quickie-scan of an old dupe negative.

I have no concrete evidence to support that the film received a restoration from the original 35mm source – unfortunately, the press release and any of the other information I could gather on this film was depressingly light on the details of the remaster – but my observation of the DVD has lead me to believe that Sony spent some time and money bringing "Model Shop" into the 21st century. The print is impeccably clean – no obvious signs of damage or defects, and grain is surprisingly well digitized for standard definition, resembling a film-like texture while simultaneously not reverting to a noisy appearance (at least within the confines of the DVD format). There is also little sign of digital noise reduction or edge enhancement being applied – at least not nefariously. Colors are solid and respectable for a 60's era production and detail is strong for the timeframe – indeed strong, actually, for DVD in general. I’m not going to call this one of the best catalog efforts ever released but I did expect far less for a film long lost in the belly of the studio vault. I don’t know, I’m probably overstating the quality here but this disc just flat out amazed me – perhaps because my expectations were so low; I really thought that Sony would put out a tattered old relic with loads of print damage and age-related artifacts but they didn’t.

Not that this is perfect – "Model Shop" is still occasionally soft, blacks aren’t as deeply resolved as I’d like them to be (at times they’re more gray than anything) and the grain-level does fluctuate throughout… but these little “issues” are irrelevant to the vast number of problems that could have plagued this DVD. "Model Shop" looks downright amazing for a film passing into its fourth decade – especially when you consider that it’s been out of the limelight (unlike say, "The Graduate") for a majority of its lifetime.

Audio

The film retains its original English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix, the encoded 2.0 track is mixed at 192 kbps. On one hand this doesn’t sound half bad. "Model Shop" is sourced from clean elements with no noticeable hissing, crackling or popping. Dialogue is easy to understand and at least Sony hasn’t tried to remix this into faux-5.1, which, I’m sorry to say, most of the time I find to be poorly done with pre-1970's films (results end up sounding way too artificial to my ears.) On the other hand "Model Shop" isn’t all-that great; in fact it’s a pretty lifeless, overly compressed monaural experience suffering from its 1960's origins with poor dynamic range, absolutely no directionality and some obvious dubbing. I can’t say I expected more out of the audio but it’s still barely passable. Suitable for what it is maybe but nothing overly noteworthy at the same time.
The film offers optional English subtitles.

Extras

All of the discs in the third wave of Sony’s “Martini Movies” collection have no extras of consequence. The DVD's aren’t completely bare – there is the theatrical trailer and a few bonus trailers, even one that is irrelevant to the feature film – but, unfortunately there are no other supplements. An audio commentary, documentary or even a vintage featurette would have added a lot to this otherwise lousy package. The lack of any real extras speaks volumes about Sony’s real motives behind this DVD series.

The original theatrical trailer for "Model Shop" is included in anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen. It runs 59 seconds.

3 bonus trailers are included offering previews for:

- "The Norman Lear Collection" runs 2 minutes 3 seconds.
- "The Three Stooges Collection" runs 1 minute 10 seconds
- "Columbia Classics" spot runs 3 minutes 34 seconds.

Packaging

All of the “Martini Movies” come packaged in Viva Eco-boxes with some wickedly hideous cover art – seriously, who ever designed the artwork for this series has very little (quite possibly no) taste.

Overall

After an extremely long wait, fans will now be able to view a lost film from the 1960's on remastered DVD. In theory, that’s excellent and something I support wholeheartedly. But, given my overall lackluster conclusion on this disc, unless you’ve been dying to add this to your home video collection for years, I can’t really recommend it. And, with a complete lack of non-promotional based supplements, "Model Shop" (and, really, the same is true for all of the other “Martini Movies”), what could have been a decent package is considerably less valuable.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: C- Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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