Release Date(s)1969 (January 1, 2018)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
There’s much to unload when discussing Paul Mazursky’s sexual counterculture send-up Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. While being a beautiful film with a lot of heart and humor to it, never straying into full-on spoof territory, it’s certainly a humorous reflection of not just a sexual revolution, but also the willingness to be open and honest with each other. In the film, the phrase “the truth is beautiful” is said several times, and that kind of self-serving, naive introspection into how people intermingle with each other is an interesting notion that gets fully explored, ultimately reaching a very human and, surprisingly, touching conclusion.
Husband and wife duo Bob and Carol (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood) visit a secluded group therapy session for film documentary research purposes (or in Carol’s case, because her husband wanted to). There they have an inner awakening, finding that it’s better to be open and honest and understanding with each other without the need for hang-ups like insecurity or jealousy. They attempt to share this newfound way of existence with their closest friends Ted and Alice (Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon), which doesn’t exactly go well. Their friendship with each other, as well as Bob and Carol’s ties to each other, are thoroughly tested in a variety of ways, including (as the film’s artwork has no doubt made clear) the possibility of sexual encounters between the four of them.
What could be an uninteresting detour into the lives of the enlightened without going any deeper than the surface for overt comedic value, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice actually gets into the nitty-gritty of relationships, particularly marriage. One needs to look no further than the bedroom scene between Ted and Alice. As they tuck themselves in, Ted wants sex but Alice doesn’t, and the dance between them is so realistic that it ultimately becomes funny. Culp and Wood are also dynamite together, with Wood looking more amazing than she did in almost any other production. One must also remember that this was a directing debut for Paul Mazursky, who at this point had only written a couple of films. The movie gods were in his favor as it was a strong opener for him, immediately finding success.
I honestly wish I could talk more about the film than I do here. Obviously, spoiling a nearly fifty-year old film probably doesn’t mean all that much, but for those who might have sat on the fence about it (including myself for a number of years), the best reaction will always be the least-informed one. It’s a compellingly awkward film, meaning that things get uncomfortable often, but you find yourself unable to look away because the dialogue and the performances are so good. Simply put, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a wonderful film.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release features what appears to be a slightly older transfer of the film, but no less impressive. It’s a natural and film-like presentation that’s crisp and detail-oriented throughout, save for the opening titles which are a little softer. Charles Lang’s lush 1960s cinematography is in good hands with a strong color palette that doesn’t offer an enormous variety of hues, but reproduces them beautifully. Black levels are deep with good shadow detail, although some mild crush may be evident in some of the more darkly-lit scenes. However, this could be inherent in the original cinematography. Overall contrast and brightness levels are good and there are only mild instances of leftover speckling. Stability is also never an issue and the disc is well-encoded without any obvious artifacting. It’s a gorgeous presentation. The film’s soundtrack is also ideal, presented via an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. Primarily a dialogue-driven film, the soundtrack also gives an ample amount of room for music as well. It’s all mixed together well, including the club scene late in the film when music playing clearly in the background never drowns out the dialogue. Quincy Jones’ score, as well as Jackie DeShannon’s rendition of Hal David’s and Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now is Love” are lush and given the proper amount of heft, never distorting the track.
Included in the supplements is an isolated score track in 2.0 mono DTS-HD, which is fairly standard for Twilight Time releases; two excellent audio commentaries that offer up plenty of entertainment and educational value: one with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, and the other with director/co-writer Paul Mazursky, and actors Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, and Dyan Cannon; Tales of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, an 18-minute Live Q&A with Paul Mazursky and host Peter Strasberg; a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue; and as always, an 8-page insert booklet with an excellent essay on the film by Julie Kirgo (always essential reading).
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice may feel antiquated to anybody under 30, or perhaps even a little older. Context is everything, and when this film was released, it was seen as something new and subversive. After all, films had only recently been given permission to be freer with their content, and this film is one of many examples of filmmakers expressing themselves in less controlled environments. Regardless, I still think it’s a fine film and a brilliant study of relationships between people that, oddly enough, still feels relevant. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of it is certainly not to be missed.
- Tim Salmons