DirectorJoan Micklin Silver
Release Date(s)1977 (June 18, 2016)
Studio(s)Midwest Films (Cohen Film Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Between the Lines, directed by Joan Micklin Silver and released in 1977, is a comedy about the last days of a fictional Boston alternative weekly newspaper, The Back Bay Mainline. Millionaire mogul Roy Walsh (Lane Smith) is set on buying the newspaper, changing its focus, and firing its more vocal muckrakers. The staff is composed of former 1960s radicals who fear that the paper’s glory days are in the past.
Harry Lucas (John Heard) was once the paper’s foremost crusader but these days he turns out fluff lifestyle pieces, such as one on strippers. Star reporter Michael (Stephen Collins) is writing his Great American Novel about the death of the counterculture and hardly ever comes to work. While he hopes for a lucrative publishing deal, his girlfriend, Laura (Gwen Welles), works two jobs to pay the bills. Office manager Lynn (Jill Eikenberry) encourages the writers’ dreams and feeds their outsized egos. Photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), one of the more pragmatic characters in the film, has an on-again, off-again relationship with Harry.
Max Arloft (Jeff Goldblum) is the resident rock critic. Ever ready with a wisecrack and perennially broke, he sells his review copies of LPs to a scruffy dealer and hustles free drinks at local bars. David Entwhistle (Bruno Kirby) is a cub reporter whose idealism and drive echo the spirit that has long since left the newsroom. The sole salesperson, known only as the Hawker (Michael J. Pollard), maneuvers through heavy traffic to sell the papers at .25 cents each. Stanley (Lewis J. Stadlen) is the paper’s one-man advertising department, an establishment type in a non-establishment setting. Frequently the butt of the reporters’ practical jokes, Stanley is the source of many of the film’s comic moments.
Personal stories of the staff dominate the film, while the work of reporting takes a backseat. Harry and Abbie interview a stripper (Marilu Henner). Inexperienced David, who knows little about pursuing a story, is repeatedly rebuffed by his subject and gets himself into a dangerous predicament. This is the point. Little excitement is brewing at the Mainline these days, yet the staff hangs in, longing for the time when their efforts mattered.
Director Silver has put together an excellent acting ensemble. The interaction among the characters feels real. These are flawed individuals whose shortcomings grate on others. They still thrive on the newsroom environment but changing times have reduced them to just going through the motions of journalism. Only Abbie seems to retain the enthusiasm and drive that has evaporated among her colleagues. When she learns that there are still abuses at the nursing home that Harry once exposed, for instance, she suggests rushing there instantly to photograph it.
It’s fascinating to see so many now-established actors as newcomers. Silver sure had a knack for casting; nearly every actor in the film went on to a successful career. The episodic structure of the film allows stand-out moments for each of the principal characters.
The film has a meandering quality that reflects the loose working atmosphere of the newsroom, but not every scene works. A man comes in, trashes a typewriter, and announces he’s a conceptual artist available for an interview. This sparks a chain reaction of destruction that’s both unlikely and rather silly. A long sequence in a nightclub where the entire staff attends a music business showcase turns into a mini music video of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. This interrupts the narrative, though it does inject some fire and moves the action out of the newsroom.
There’s a nostalgic feel to Between the Lines. Writer Barron worked for a couple of alternative weeklies, and his affection for that form of journalism is apparent. In the 2000s, many newspapers have struggled to stay afloat or have simply gone out of business so, for younger viewers, the film’s concentration on a brick and mortar place where people congregate to pursue muckraking stories may seem quite odd.
The new 2K restoration Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The print contains no visible imperfections. Because much of the film is set in the office of The Back Bay Mainline, the color palette is fairly mundane. The outdoor scenes open up the film somewhat and are filmed on sunny days. Visual quality is sharp, and the film has a fresh look even though it was made 42 years ago. The long hair on the men reflects the time period. Bruno Kirby’s full, dark mane stands out. Marilu Henner’s skimpy red stripper costume certainly draws the eye, and Jeff Goldblum’s red silk jacket along with his tall stature make him a visual focus in the newsroom scenes. The Asbury Jukes scene is brightly lit, with lots of dancing, shots of the band members, and an overall vibe of excitement.
Audio is LPCM 2.0 mono. Dialogue is consistently sharp and clear, a significant factor since the film is dialogue-rich. Volume in the club sequence is amped up and the mix between the on-stage performance and the dialogue in the club is good. When the Hawker is selling papers in the street, ambient sounds such as car engines, the occasional horn honking, and a distant siren capture the sounds of rush hour traffic in a big city.
Bonus features on the R-Rated Blu-ray release include an interview with director Joan Micklin Silver, the original trailer, the restoration trailer, and a booklet.
Conversation From the Quad: The Making of Between the Lines – Director Joan Micklin Silver is interviewed. The writer Fred Barron asked her to read his script about a group of people working for an alternative newspaper in Boston. She loved the characters and agreed to direct. She made some changes in Barron’s script and collaborated with him until they had a final version. She speaks of Jeff Goldblum’s unorthodox audition. Rather than read his two assigned scenes, he started reading through the whole script. His delivery impressed Micklin so much that she hired him on the spot for the role of Max. Noting that so many of the cast went on to successful careers, she notes, “They deserved it. They were terrific actors.” They brought their own talents and tastes to their roles, which created a comfortable rapport and an easygoing and humorous ensemble who occasionally improvised. She acknowledges that directing is collaborative. She had a great crew and was not afraid to ask for help. She worked with cinematographer Kenneth Van Sickle for the third time. He had worked with her on Hester Street and the TV movie Bernice Bobs Her Hair. The characters in Between the Lines had a radical background, had experienced revolutions of the 1960s, and were now simultaneously longing for the past and trying to figure out their futures.
Trailers – The original trailer is quite brief. The restoration trailer is longer, with excepts from several scenes that reflect the content of the film. Many of the principal characters are featured.
Booklet – The enclosed 8-page insert booklet lists chapter headings on the disc, cast, and key crew members. It also contains 4 color photos of scenes from the movie and a color reproduction of the film’s poster.
– Dennis Seuling