The Disappearance (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time / 1977 / 91 mins / R
Some films fail with critics and audiences because they are "ahead of their time;" they are so cutting edge that the brilliance of the filmmakers completely goes over the heads of seemingly everyone at the time of the film's release. Only later are the movies reevaluated and acknowledged for the masterpieces they are. CITIZEN KANE, FANTASIA and, to a certain extent, BLADE RUNNER fall into this category. Other films fail at the box office but are so beloved by a group of critics and audience members that they refuse to go gently into that goodnight of oblivion and become cult movies that play for years and years gradually gaining enormous followings. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI represent this category. Then there are movies that fail with everyone but are so intriguing in their abstractness that they keep coming back. BLUE SUNSHINE comes immediately to mind as well as the film under discussion here: THE DISAPPEARANCE.
Director Stuart Cooper's THE DISAPPEARANCE has been called an incomprehensible movie, which is probably the reason for its amazingly short theatrical run. Jay Mallory (Donald Sutherland) is a high priced assassin who is married to Celandine (Francine Racette), a fashion model. Mallory returns home from a hit to find Celandine gone without a trace. The story pops back and forth in time as Mallory remembers bits and pieces from his past that suggests Celandine probably left him. However, a new assignment is brought to him by co-worker Burbank (the always excellent David Warner) who hints that Celandine's disappearance may be connected to Mallory's last job. Mallory has a bad feeling about his new assignment (one reason being he wasn't told who his target is) and soon starts to think it also is connected to his wife's disappearance.
THE DISAPPEARANCE is a hard movie to get through. There is no denying that. It isn't an action packed thrill ride. It is the exact opposite. Glacial is an accurate description of its pacing, wooden would not be an unfair assessment of the acting style and "impenetrable puzzle" could sum up the plot. Most movies would be dismissed as just plain bad for such criticisms, but not THE DISAPPEARANCE. All of these usually negative aspects are clearly intentional on the part of everyone involved with the movie. It is supposed to be like this rather than unintentionally ending up like this. To that end, you have to wonder what exactly they were shooting for. The movie is packed with talent in front of the camera (Christopher Plummer, John Hurt, David Hemmings, Virginia McKenna in addition to Sutherland and Warner) and behind (it was shot by frequent Stanley Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott who delivers some truly beautiful images here) but is simply slow beyond belief.
However, it is a movie cineastes can really get into and dissect for the editing and stylistic choices made by Cooper and company. To make this release even more tantalizing for film students, Twilight Time has included not only the director's original cut but an extended excerpt from yet a third version that was released in America (more on these in "The Supplements" below.)
Twilight Time was given an acceptable though unspectacular transfer of THE DISAPPEARANCE for their Blu-ray release. The source print is generally blemish-free though there are some extremely brief instances of color change in a shot. Detail is on the soft side and colors never really pop, but this could be from the original 1977 film stock used rather than any fault of this video transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack fares better but is still rather limited in scope. Dialogue and the piano heavy music come through clear as a bell and some of the outdoor winter scene deliver surprisingly enveloping ambience, but overall the sound mix along with the picture quality never rises above the very good mark, which ain't bad at all.
Far more impressive is the supplement package Twilight Time has put together for this little seen film.
"THE DISAPPEARANCE: Original Director's Cut" offers up a full 10 minute longer version of the film (mostly background on Sutherland's character) but is sadly only available in standard definition. My opinion of different versions of a film usually defaults to liking the Director's Cut over the theatrical release, but in the case of THE DISAPPEARANCE, I can't really put one over the other. They are just different beasts edited with different beats.
To see an even more different version, check out the "Excerpt from the re-edited and re-scored U.S. release version." This is basically the opening 15 minutes drastically re-cut with Craig Hundley much more active score replacing Robert Farnon's.
"An Interview with Stuart Cooper" is a really fascinating piece with the director where he discusses his career and the various versions of THE DISAPPEARANCE. This is well worth your time to check out.
The signature Twilight Time supplement, the Isolate Score Track, presents Robert Farnon piano score in a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
THE DISAPPEARANCE is an extremely difficult film to recommend to the casual viewer. It is far too dense, too abstract and most of all too slow to really connect with modern audiences accustomed to Jason Bourne and La Femme Nikita. However serious film students will eat it up and to them I recommend it whole heartedly.
** THE DISAPPEARANCE is available exclusively via www.screenarchives.com... an excellent soundtrack and film specialty site **