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Return of the Secaucus 7

The debut directorial effort of John Sayles, Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) is often heralded as the film that Lawrence Kasdan shamelessly ripped off when he wrote The Big Chill (1983). But aside from the central concept of a bunch of college friends from the '60s getting back together and discovering that they're all grown up, the two pictures have very little in common. Shot on 16mm for $40,000, Secaucus 7 is an ambitious but dated film about seven pals who, long ago, were on their way to a protest in Washington D.C. but were sidetracked when they got arrested in New Jersey. Years later they gather at the New Hampshire home of schoolteachers Mike (Bruce MacDonald) and Kate (Maggie Renzi), where they hang out and play volleyball and talk and talk and talk about their dreams, hopes, fears, desires, and — most of all — the way their ideals have changed over the years. The cast are mostly actors that Sayles and Renzi (his long-time life and producing partner) knew from doing summer stock theater — the performances range from the painfully amateurish to the surprisingly assured (look for Sayles-regular David Strathairn in a small role). Intelligently written but stuporously paced, the film hasn't aged well and, as uncool as it may be to say, isn't nearly as entertaining as The Big Chill ( a film which Sayles praises in the DVD's commentary, noting that he thinks his characters are more hopeful than Kasdan's.) However, having made the movie on a shoestring budget and no expectations, Sayles found himself ushering in an independent film boom with Secaucus 7, and whatever the film's flaws, it'll always be considered one of the most important films in ushering in the indie surge of the 1980s. MGM (with IFC Films) offers a very good transfer of Sayles' film, originally shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm. It's presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, with cleaned-up monaural audio (English and Spanish subtitles are available.) Sayles' commentary track is, as always, very good — he still has a lot of affection for his first movie and offers a wealth of technical information on the process of making such a low-budget movie. Also on board is a new 11-minute featurette with Sayles and Renzi on the making of the film and a trailer for Sayles' Casa de los Babys. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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