December 10, 2019

A Belated Appreciation of SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE
Starring Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman (RIP), Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Valerie Perrine, Holly Near, Perry King. Directed by George Roy Hill. (103 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😸

I first saw Slaughterhouse-Five in my early teens when it was the bottom half of a double bill with Futureworld (I think). Even though it wasn’t the reason we parted with our allowance that weekend, my friends and I figured a title like that could mean a gory good time, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What we got instead was 103 minutes of WTF?

Being 13, we didn’t know who the hell Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was, or that his novel of the same name was partially inspired by his own experiences as a P.O.W. in Dresden, Germany (which was bombed into oblivion by allied forces). But it actually turned out to be a sci-fi movie, though not as we always defined the genre.

Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is a quietly passive rube who’s become, in his own words, “unstuck in time,” revisiting pivotal moments of his life with almost no transition. As protagonists go, he’s hardly the most dynamic character in the world. Besides the fact he resembled an adult version of a kid we often teased on the playground during recess, Billy’s detached reaction to his time shifts and those who’ve shape his life – for better or worse – was really off-putting. Even after realizing he’s being manipulated by aliens, he seems little more than bemused.

Afterwards, we left the theater completely bewildered. On the plus side, we got to see Valarie Perrine naked. Like I said, we were 13.

Damn noisy neighbors.
Slaughterhouse-Five reared its ugly head again in high school when my English teacher assigned the novel. I got ten pages in before deciding Vonnegut’s prose was even more confusing than the movie. So I picked up the Cliff’s Notes version at a bookstore. Not only did it dumb things down to my level, it made me want to revisit the film that baffled the shit out of me a just few years earlier. Though I’d forgotten most of the movie, a few scenes really stood out, and not just those highlighting Ms. Perrine’s visual assets. Based on what I’d just read, some of those scenes now made actual sense.

But the movie seemed to be forgotten by everyone else, too. Over the years, it never showed up on TV, HBO or video shelves (at least where I rented from). And since there was no way in hell I was gonna try cracking open Vonnegut’s book again, the film once again became a distant memory.

But now here it is, on Blu-ray from Arrow (who else?), serving-up Slaughterhouse-Five with a new 4K restoration. It essentially allowed me to be “unstuck in time” for a few hours, revisiting one of the more befuddling moviegoing experiences of my youth, this time armed with the wisdom that comes with age. I still think Billy Pilgrim is a phenomenally static character, but also realize that’s probably the point. The film is not-so-much about Billy as it is the people and events which shape one’s life. And typical of most ‘70s-era sci-fi prior to Star Wars, Slaughterhouse-Five uses the genre to present contemporary themes and address societal ills.

The unconventional narrative structure is still jarring, even nonsensical and pretentious at times. But once the viewer picks up the beat, Slaughterhouse-Five is a uniquely rewarding film. While not quite a classic, it’s an intelligent and challenging piece of ‘70s sci-fi. This disc also includes a pretty generous batch of all-new bonus features, most of which provide a wealth of historical context.

"ONLY ON EARTH: PRESENTING SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE” - Interview with Rocky Lang, son of producer Jennings Lang, who’s arguably best known for disaster movies.
"UNSTUCK IN TIME: DOCUMENTING SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE” - Documentarian Robert Crawford Jr discusses his experiences behind the scenes.
"ETERNALLY CONNECTED: COMPOSING SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE” - Music historian discusses the film’s use of unconventional classical music.
"AND SO IT GOES” - Kim Newman, no stranger Arrow bonus features, offers another enjoyable appreciation for the film, author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr and director George Roy Hill.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Includes cast & crew credits, restoration credits and “The World According to Billy Pilgrim,” an essay by film writer Peter Tonguette.
REVERSIBLE COVER – Features new and original artwork (we kinda like the latter...vintage ‘70s).

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