[box cover]

Waking the Dead

Scott Spencer is obsessed with endless love. The first film made from one of his books, Endless Love, was an hysterical and shallow version of an unusually realistic novel, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who proceeded to homoeroticize one of literature's few full-steam-ahead paeans to unabashed heterosexuality. Now comes Waking the Dead, a variation on Endless Love with the inevitable separation of the lovers, coming this time coming via death rather than Shakespearean-level family feuding. Produced by Jodie Foster's Egg Pictures, Waking the Dead offers up the non-chronological story of the ridiculously Woody Allen-monickered Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup, whose named is pronounced two different ways on the promotional features provided on this disc). At the beginning of the story, which is at the height of the hippie era, he is a straight-arrow Coast Guard officer. His brother Danny (Paul Hipp) is a long-haired, pot-smoking publisher, and Fielding starts dating Danny's secretary Sarah (Jennifer Connelly). But they have significant differences. The conventionally minded Fielding wants to become a politician, where he misguidedly believes he can change the world "from within," while Sarah is a radical who ends up in the sancturary movement. Nonetheless, they happen to love each other, despite all odds. At least until she dies in a car bombing while riding with a South American politician (which is how the movie begins, so this is not a spoiler). The story is complicated when years later, in the middle of a tense political campaign, Fielding begins to see and hear Sarah everywhere. He thinks he is going mad until his sister Caroline (Janet McTeer) reveals that she thinks she also saw Sarah, in New York. Could it be that Sarah did not die in the assassination? Director Keith Gordon, as he reminds us in his audio commentary, prefers to leave the reality of her survival ambiguous, even when Fielding has sex on the floor of his new and empty congressional office with the tangible personage of the usually spectral Sarah. In Scott Spencer's world, love hurts. In the films made from his books, love bores. Gordon, an actor turned director, is one of those helmers who is more interested in "story" and his actors than in the full art of cinema. In his audio commentary he goes on and on about how nice everyone was to work with, which may very well be true, but is a measure of Gordon's actor-centric inclinations. What suffers is the visuals, editing, pacing, and other crucial components of cinema. It is painful to hear Gordon praise the rather conventional camera set-ups by his DP Tom Richmond, seemingly unaware of how inert and bland his film is visually and dramatically. Besides that, the principal problem with Waking the Dead is that it alienates the viewer with its romantic dichotomy. Fielding is a character we are not suppose to like. He is a political flunkie, a hollow man under the sway of a Chicago pol (Hal Holbrook). In fact, we are rather baffled that Sarah likes him. Meanwhile, she is a censorious, browbeating, self-righteous shrew whom we are meant to see as a noble, caring goddess. Two unpleasant principals, coupled with an excruciatingly boring presentation, makes for joyless viewing, even on DVD. This USA Home Video release has a fine transfer in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), with audio in discrete 5.1 and 2.0. Among the extras are Gordon's informative if average commentary, as well as seven deleted scenes amounting to about 45 minutes of additional footage, also with commentary. These scenes expand a subplot about Fielding's brother trying to save his girlfriend, a Korean refugee, but all are equally boring, comprising in some cases long takes of cars pulling up to buildings, or long slow walks down hallways. The best is one featuring an unusual performance by Ed Harris, who was cut out of the finished film. Talent files for the two leads and director, theatrical trailer, "making-of" featurette (that comes across more like an expanded trailer). Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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