Blu-ray Review: The Disappearance (1977) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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The Disappearance is an obscure 1977 thriller starring Donald Sutherland that features an intriguing non-linear structure. Twilight Time has recently revived this little-seen but eminently watchable film as part of their ongoing limited edition Blu-ray series (only 3,000 copies were issued). Directed by Stuart Cooper, The Disappearance made zero impact on the U.S. box office. Cooper disavowed the butchering (and rescoring) committed by the distributor.

Presented on this disc are two different cuts of the film. Neither of them is the theatrical cut (though an excerpt appears in the bonus materials for reference purposes). Cooper’s director’s cut, 101 minutes long, is presented in standard definition and framed at 1.33:1. A 91-minute version, referred to by Julie Kirgo in the liner notes as a “hybrid” of the theatrical and director’s cuts, is offered in high definition. I’m still a bit confused about the source of this cut (and in what capacity it was previously released), but it’s likely the one that will be most watched. It’s unfortunate that a high definition transfer of the director’s cut wasn’t available as it is subtly preferable (with further insights into Sutherland’s character) to the truncated version.

Disappearance booklet (191x225).jpgSutherland plays Jay Mallory, a steely efficient hit man working for an organization called The Office. Mallory’s wife, Celandine (Francine Racette), has left him. A complex intercutting of flashbacks and present-day begins, during which we learn that Celandine had long planned to leave her husband. Despite gifts and sincere expressions of love on Mallory’s part, there’s always been a disconnect between the couple. As Mallory encounters various coworkers (including David Warner and John Hurt) and begins to falter in his job, the depths of his marital troubles surface. Both spouses have been unfaithful and it becomes increasingly unclear why they even love each other. It spoils nothing to say that the nature of their relationship remains ambiguous for the entirety.

The stark Montreal winter reflects the dispassionate, utterly unsentimental characters. Sutherland and Racette remain rather vacant, which isn’t a mark against their performances. Evidently their distant, haunted portrayals were entirely by design. Though Mallory’s career as a hired assassin certainly figures into the story, the primary theme is the intangible mystery of romantic attraction. Despite the jumbled narrative, Cooper’s storytelling is sure-handed enough that The Disappearance never becomes confusing.

Aside from a few shots where the colors shift hue a bit, the 1080p transfer presented here is quite strong. John Alcott’s muted cinematography looks pretty great throughout. The source print was obviously in good shape. There’s less to be enthusiastic about with the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix. There’s frequent background hiss and a touch of distortion on the music. Even the occasional line of dialogue is marred by harshness. It’s certainly listenable, just not what is usually expected from a lossless mix.

Disappearance Cover.jpgSpecial features include a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated score track featuring Robert Farnon’s music. There’s also the aforementioned extended director’s cut and the 15-minute excerpt from the theatrical version. A ten-minute interview with director Cooper is included as well. The Disappearance is a somewhat challenging film. It’s unsentimental and largely humorless. But as an examination of the largely incomprehensible attraction between two people, it’s fascinating.

For ordering information, visit Screen Archives (distributor of Twilight Time titles).

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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