Billy Wilder’s Best Picture winner comes to Blu-ray via Kino Lorber
Every time I see a Billy Wilder film for the first time I have a reaction along the lines of “that was incredible,” ”that’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen,” or “I think Billy Wilder is my favorite filmmaker.” He’s incisive and prescient in the way that is, and continues to be, timeless. Kino Lorber’s release of Wilder’s 1945 Best Picture winning The Lost Weekend, continues that trend for me. The Lost Weekend’s stark portrayal of alcoholism is clear-eyed and unrelenting.
There’s a playfulness Wilder deploys in his work that both sharpens his points and gives the audience a brief release. It’s absent from The Lost Weekend and leaves the audience trapped with writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland, who won an Oscar for his performance). From the opening shot of one of Don’s hidden bottles hanging from a string out his apartment window, Wilder establishes the two forces dueling inside Don: his success as a writer and alcoholism. The two are intertwined in the way that every facet of a person is an important piece of the puzzle, but Don has linked the two. He’s dealing with a bout of writer’s block and nearing the bottom of his alcoholism. At one point in the film, Don talks about a whole novel that he has figured out while drinking, but the alcohol wears off before he can get the story on the page. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point. What matters is what Don is telling everyone around him, which is that he needs the mirage he’s created for himself to justify his drinking.
Over Don’s lost weekend, it becomes clear to the audience and, eventually, Don, that he’s lost much more than a weekend to his addiction. He’s lost years off his life, he’s lost himself. It’s a revelation that viewers latch on to early in the film, but one that Don needs more time to reckon with. And a reckoning is what he gets. The Lost Weekend is an uncomfortable watch. Whether it’s real life or fiction, or fiction that feels real in this case, watching someone at their lowest moments is difficult. Seeing a person come to terms with their addiction is equal parts inspiring and horrifying. What Wilder does so well here, along with co-writer Charles Brackett, is show us that not only does Don understand the depths of his illness, but that he has two paths he can take. We get a glimpse of both the options of despair and hope, long enough to know how precarious Don’s situation is. It doesn’t take much to incontrovertibly tip the scales one way or the other.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a 4K master of the film that looks and sounds great. I’m not the most tech savvy viewer, but the black and white photography looks crisp, and the clarity of the image draws you into Don’s world. The disc is light on special features, with only a commentary track by Wilder aficionado and film historian Joseph McBride. It’s an insightful track despite McBride stating his general indifference to the film right off the bat. Hearing that right off the bad may lower viewer expectations, but McBride’s expertise on Wilder’s filmography is apparent and engaging. McBride works in talking points regarding his own battle with alcoholism, and his frankness adds a richness to the film. The depth and emotional complexity of The Lost Weekend helps offset the disc’s lack of special features. I wouldn’t call this an essential purchase, but fans of Wilder and/or classic cinema will surely be pleased with the upgrade.
The Lost Weekend is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Audio Commentary by Film Historian Joseph McBride
Trailers From Hell with Mark Pellington
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