Release Date(s)1985 (June 8, 2021)
Studio(s)The Cannon Group/MGM (Scorpion Releasing)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
Fool for Love is a sadly neglected Robert Altman film which has always deserved a wider audience than it received during its limited theatrical release in 1985. After Altman’s unpleasant experiences with the big budget studio production of Popeye in 1980, he chose to retreat to making small scale adaptations of stage plays. Fool for Love was actually the fourth such film after Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Streamers, and Secret Honor. For this one, he turned to the 1983 play by Sam Shepard which had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1984. Even more interestingly, he turned to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for financing, and so Fool for Love would be a Cannon Films production. However strange those bedfellows may appear to be, the results were a worthy entry in the Altman filmography.
Fool for Love centers around a confrontation at a run-down motel between two ex-lovers, Eddie (Sam Shepard) and May (Kim Basinger). Eddie wants May to come back to him, but she’s trying to escape their self-destructive cycle of behavior—the exact nature of which will become all too clear as the story progresses. Shepard wrote the screenplay for the film, opening it up from the single room setting of his play to encompass the rest of the Mojave Desert Motel and to add more direct involvement from the character of the Old Man (Harry Dean Stanton). In the stage production, the Old Man functioned as something of a ghostly Greek Chorus, but for the film, he took on a more active role. Shepard later regretted the changes as he felt they diminished the intensity of the experience compared to the play, but the film is still intense in its own cinematic fashion.
Altman chose to keep some ironic distance from the characters by filming them from a literal distance with zoom lenses, and also by having his camera operators follow the action as it unfolds rather than lead it. That was typical of his filmmaking style since the 70s, and it suits this material well even if it creates a distinctly different feel from the original play. Altman also added his own layer of ambiguity to the proceedings by having his visuals sometimes contradict what the characters are saying. The resulting film is not so much an adaptation as it is an interrogation.
It was Altman who insisted that Shepard star as Eddie in the film, which he did not do on stage. It was a good choice as Shepard knows how to deliver his own dialogue, and the persona that he had developed in his previous roles helped to fill in the gaps of the character’s background. But the film truly belongs to Kim Basinger, who was a last-minute replacement for Jessica Lange after Lange became pregnant. She actively campaigned for the role and impressed Altman so much during her audition that he immediately gave her the part. Unsurprisingly, Fool for Love was ignored by the Academy, but Basinger's performance was worthy of a nomination.
Cinematographer Pierre Mignot shot Fool for Love on 35 mm using J-D-C Scope anamorphic lenses. It was then framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing don’t give any details about the transfer they used for this new Blu-ray, but it’s likely an older master. The opening credits display expected softness from being optically printed, but once they’re over, sharpness and fine detail improve. There’s minor damage such as speckling, but nothing very distracting. At first glance there appears to be occasional instability during the titles and throughout the rest of the film. This is due to Altman’s heavy use of zoom lenses—as a result, any tiny vibrations in the camera were magnified. The contrast range is good and the colors look accurate. Flesh tones can appear somewhat reddish because of the lighting choices and production design, but it appears to be faithful to Mignot and Altman’s intended look for the film.
The only audio option is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, which is in stereo despite Kino’s packaging describing it as mono. There doesn’t appear to be any record of a Dolby Stereo or Ultra Stereo mix for the film, and there are no logos in the closing credits, so this is likely the original mix (even the original MGM VHS release was in Hi-Fi Stereo). Surround effects are present but limited to things like passing automobiles or thunder, with most of the mix focused toward the front channels. The dynamic range is restrained but dialogue is clear and George Burt’s ominous score sounds good. Kino has also included optional English SDH subtitles.
The disc includes the following special features in SD:
- Robert Altman: Art and Soul (19:47)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:49)
Art and Soul is an interview with Altman which was produced for the 2004 DVD. He talks about his methodology for adapting the play and especially his decision to have the flashbacks contradict the stories being told by the characters, as he felt that people’s memories are often false. That’s ironic because Altman’s own memories of the production appear to have become cloudy by 2004—he claims that he shot the play as written rather than doing anything to open it up. Despite that slip, the interview provides a valuable look at Altman’s thought processes when transforming works from stage to screen. The theatrical trailer is interesting because it demonstrates that the marketing department at Cannon had no clue how to sell Fool for Love. It completely misrepresents the tone of the film and pitches it as a screwball romantic comedy. There’s plenty of dark humor in the film, but any viewer who saw it in 1985 based upon the trailer would have been caught off guard.
Fool for Love isn’t necessarily the easiest film to appreciate, but it’s very rewarding for those who are willing to look through and past its offbeat rhythms. In that sense, it is truly Altmanesque—you have to go to Altman, not expect Altman to come to you. But it’s always worth the effort. Kino and Scorpion’s new Blu-ray will please existing fans and hopefully uncover a few new ones as well.
- Stephen Bjork
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