Mask
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Mask

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There are some movies that I have to wonder what the pitch meeting was like. When the studio executives where told about a real life story of a grossly deformed teenaged boy living with his mother and a bunch of bikers I would have lived to have seen their faces. While this may sound like a rather implausible plot for a film the resulting film remains one of the truly emotional highlights in film of the mid eighties. Rocky Denis (Eric Stoltz) is a boy with a horrible genetic deformity of his face, distorted and elongated; his faced will continue to grow in all directions until his brain is finally crushed by his own skull. While the teen years are difficult enough a malformation like this would naturally greatly affect the young man’s outlook on life but Rocky looked at life with awe and wonder. Although the world at large would reject Rocky as a freak he is being brought up by wife free spirited mom Rusty (Cher) and the constant presence of her biker friends head by Gar (Sam Elliott). In this counter culture environment Rocky thrives, he embraces life and is seen by his family and the bikers for what he really is, a vivacious young man. Natural, in typical Hollywood fashion, Rocky finds himself falling in love with Diana (Laura Dern). Of course, she is blind and is able to perceive his inner self.

While there are many over used Hollywood clichés that abound here the story has heart. The family relationship between Rocky and Rusty is turned about. Rusty is the sexually aggressive drug user while Rocky is the center of any stability this family may know. The fact that his closest friends are bikers, a socially outcast group, gives a plausible rationale as to their acceptance of Rocky, they take people for what they are not the façade they may present. There is honesty here in the emotional interactions of the characters that propel this film with a real synergism. Although Rusty is normally self centered, seeking only her own immediate satisfaction, she treats her malformed son as a true gift in her life. While the makeup for Rocky is so realistic (the real Rusty served as a consultant) it is at times difficult for the audience to look past the deformity, the emotional connection here is almost immediate and extremely strong. While watching this film I could not help to reflect on personal experiences where superficial impressions overtook more meaningful criteria, I doubt that anyone will fail to be touched by this film.

This is a strange but excellently considered cast. Eric Stoltz has never been the kind of actor that only considered safe parts. It always seems that any project he becomes involved with will have a rather bizarre twist to it. Although this film came at the start of his career he carries the role with ease and sensitivity beyond his then tender years. One of the most difficult tasks for any actor is to have to wear such heavy appliances that completely cover his face. Stoltz is able to use his eyes and body language here to great advantage, without facial expressions it was all he had to work with to convey the emotional content and he does it. While much has been said about Cher the woman can act. She knows how to draw in an audience and hold them there. While here is one of the most fastidiously styled drug addicts I have ever seen it is forgivable, she takes the character of Rusty to its ultimate level. Another now well known name was just starting out here, Laura Dern. She is another actress whose career has been towards the quirky flicks, always willing to take parts that require her to act beyond the norm. Sam Elliott has made a career on both the small and big screens with his portrayals of the tough guy. In Mask he is able to temper this rough image as the biker with the heart of gold.

With a cast so willing to take chances you need a director that is also able to push things a bit. This production found this in Peter Bogdanovich. Here is a director that respects the talent of his cast and crew, allowing them to take the film and make it their own. He brings out the best in his actors and it really shows here. Bogdanovich is also a man that appears to be driven by giving the audience something that is not only entertaining but something that they will discuss and remember. He paces this film exceptionally well. A film of such emotional direction could easily become bogged down in sappy dialogue but Bogdanovich keeps things moving along. The movie flows with ease while not sacrificing any of the impact. He manages scenic design that assists the mood without overwhelming it.

This movie was first released on DVD back on 1998 but this version is the one to get. For one thing technology has come a long way in these short years. The video of this release is crisp, clear anamorphic 1.85:1. There are no notable edge distortion or compression artifacts. The color balance is very well preserved. The audio is presented in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. The sound stage is realistic making good use of the surround speakers, mostly for a rich ambience. Speaking of the sound here one of the best reason to invest in this release is the restoration of the original sound track. Just before the theatrical release back in 1985 some music rights where at issue and music by Bob Seger were substituted for the original score featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen. Just a few months ago Bogdanovich announced that the rights have been settled and this release would feature the Springsteen sounds never before heard as part of the score. This alone makes this disc a treasure. The extras include a commentary track by Bogdanovich where he explains a lot of the hassles in the production. There is also "Mask: Revealed", a conversation with Bogdanovich about the film. Get this one and enjoy the film the way it was intended to be presented.

Posted 9/7/04

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