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Release Date(s)1974 (March 11, 2014)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Twilight Time)
Based off of the autobiographical novel “The Water is Wide” by Pat Conroy, Conrack tells the story of Conroy (portrayed by Jon Voight), a young unorthodox teacher who travels to an island off the coast of South Carolina to teach a group of young African-American students with little to no education. He is railed against for his teaching methods by the school’s principle and the superintendent, but Conroy (known as “Conrack” to his students who cannot pronounce his name properly) is bound and determined to teach the children as much as he can in the best way he knows how, no matter what the consequences may be.
For all intents and purposes, Conrack is an uplifting, hopeful film on the surface; the kind of film you’d want to gather the entire family around to watch. Fortunately, it steps outside of those confines and works to be less trite. It’s less of a story about hope and more about sacrifice and loss. The sacrifice is what Conroy has to endure to reach these children while everyone around them, especially the principle, has them under the impression that they’re not bright and not really good for anything. To toughen them up, in other words. The loss is the loss of the children’s minds and the creativity and intelligence hidden within, which Conroy is attempting to bring out. Even though the film ends on a bit of a sour note, you still feel like things may move forward differently from there on in. It may not be smooth sailing, but it WILL be different.
Shot on location in Georgia, the film has a soft look to it, which is appropriate given the timeframe that the film takes in, which is the late 1960’s (when things seemed out of focus and uncertain). Jon Voight gives a terrific performance, as you might expect, but its the direction of Martin Ritt that’s really impressive. Granted there are moments in the film that don’t really feel like they help the story to continue, but all of the characters are very well-formed and well-directed. There’s also some fantastic cinematography by the great John Alonzo (who, by the way, also lensed Chinatown the same year) and a very low-key score from John Williams. While it’s not perfect, it’s certainly better than most films of its ilk. It feels very raw and real, with very few punches pulled. It also leaves many things unsaid, so dialogue is never wasted nor overused. It may touch a bit on the clichéd side, but overall, it’s a terrific little film with some very good performances.
For Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of the film, a very pleasant and film-like transfer has been carried out. There’s a light amount of grain overlay to the images with some very fine detail revealed within. Skin tones seem very natural, and while the color palette isn’t lush, it’s effective. Shadow delineation is good, although blacks appear too bright at times. This plays into the brightness and contrast of the film, which is inconsistent, especially in the darker areas of the frame. I didn’t notice any real sign of digital manipulation, which only helps the transfer’s organic appearance. This disc’s audio track, which is a single English Mono DTS-HD track, is equivalent to the film’s video presentation. It’s very good with mostly clear dialogue (sometimes a bit too quiet for my taste) and good score work. I didn’t hear any real anomalies in this vintage track either, so again, it’s very good without being perfect. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on this release.
Extras are pretty skimpy, but you do have a few to choose from. There’s an isolated music and effects audio track for the film, an audio commentary with film historians Paul Seydor and Nick Redman, the film’s original theatrical trailer, a scroll-through of Twilight Time’s current catalogue, and a 6-page insert booklet featuring an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.
Some might call Conrack a classic, and while I can’t quite bring it up to that level, it does run pretty close. I would instead call it the best I’ve seen of this type of story, that’s for sure. It may not be perfect on all sides, but it’s damn entertaining and very well-made, and that’s good enough for me. And since it hasn’t been available on DVD or Blu-ray previously, do check out this release of the film, as well. It’s a pretty good one.
- Tim Salmons