Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): Special Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Artisan Home Entertainment, $26.98

In his commentary on this disc, director James Foley quips that Glengarry Glen Ross is suitable for the cable channel Animal Planet, and indeed, watching the film’s motley crew of real-estate salesmen going to humiliating and even criminal lengths to "close" deals is akin to studying rodents cornered in a cage. David Mamet adapted his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen, and it’s hard to imagine a more brutal and unflinching – albeit hilarious – look at the predatory, take-no-prisoners climate wrought by the free-enterprise system. In Glengarry, the ends not only justify the means, they encourage them.

This is easily one of the most quotable films of the past 10 years, but all the attention paid to Mamet’s profanely poetic one-liners overlooks the film’s considerable visual style. A different filmmaking team might have been tempted to go "gritty" in their approach to such a seedy milieu, but Foley and his longtime cinematographer, Juan Ruiz-Anchia, ASC, AEC (the two have worked on five films together, including the upcoming Confidence) opted for a bolder, more colorful and interesting strategy.

To open up the inherent staginess of the material – almost the entire film takes place in the real-estate agents’ shabby office or an adjacent Chinese restaurant – the filmmakers employ rich, primary colors (which somehow never seem to undermine the film’s melancholy feel), an effectively oppressive use of rain, and sly camera moves that become increasingly aggressive as the salesmen’s desperation reaches a crescendo. Artisan’s transfer of the film does justice to Ruiz-Anchia’s saturated colors, while rendering the film’s clean compositions with excellent sharpness and perfect blacks. (Viewers can watch the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio or in the less rewarding, full-frame version.)

The supplemental material, which occupies a second disc, is a decidedly mixed bag. The well meaning "Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon" offers anecdotes about the late actor (who portrays Shelley "The Machine" Levene in the film) from a variety of colleagues, but the segment is absolutely stultifying. I’m sure Lemmon was a great guy, but wouldn’t viewers have been better served with some choice clips of his most scintillating scenes? More interesting is Lemmon’s appearance on an episode of The Charlie Rose Show, during which he proclaims the Glengarry cast (which includes Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino) to be the best he ever worked with – which is really saying something, considering the many high points of Lemmon’s career.

Another supplement, "A.B.C. (Always Be Closing): An Original Documentary Tracing the Psychological Intersection of Fictional and Real-Life Salesmen," is as tedious as its title implies, while "J. Roy: New and Used Furniture" is a curious but interesting short documentary by Tony Buba on real-life salesman Jimmy Roy of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Roy’s earnest motivational sermons to his underlings play as the more encouraging and far less malevolent flip side to the Baldwin character’s notorious "pep talk" to the salesmen in the film.

The handling of Foley’s audio commentary is noteworthy; rather than talking through the whole film, the film simply jumps to points about which Foley has something to say. The director attributes the decision to use primary colors throughout the film to his desire to lend the film a "life or death" visual atmosphere, in order to convey the sense that the salesmen are trapped in an urgent situation. The director reveals that Baldwin’s famous monologue came late in the filming, so the actor arrived on the set after the other cast members had already bonded. The interloper was "treated like shit" by the rest of the cast, Foley recalls, which motivated Baldwin to give his ass-kicking speech its extra dose of necessary vitriol. Foley also ruefully notes that Glengarry has reportedly been used as a training video for corporate sales forces – an irony that would probably amuse Mamet to no end.

Also included on the disc are short audio commentaries by cast members Baldwin and Alan Arkin, production designer Jane Musky, and, of most interest to AC readers, Ruiz-Anchia. The cinematographer points out the significance of the orientation of the salemen’s desks in the office, observing that Pacino’s character (the only salesman in the office who is on a roll) faces a different direction than his co-workers. The strategy served the dual purpose of visually implying the hierarchy at the office, while also giving Ruiz-Anchia an out from having to light Pacino on his "bad" side. The cinematographer also reinforces the old adage that style should be motivated by script; whereas his stylized approach to the film was tailored to match Mamet’s equally stylized words, some recent films have adopted a visual aesthetic similar to Glengarry’s, but to lesser effect.

– Chris Pizzello

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