The Party's Over Review
American Melina (Louise Sorel) has made a group of new friends in London, ones typically branded as beatniks. Their unofficial leader is the brutish Moise (Oliver Reed), who's taken with Melina but rejected time and again and often sleeps next to the welcoming arms of Libby (Ann Lynn). Melina's wealthy father (Eddie Albert) is so worried about his daughter that he sends company vice president Carson (Clifford David) - who also happens to be her fiance - overseas to find out what's going on with her. Carson has difficulty meeting up with the elusive Melina but he does find time to fall for Nina (Catherine Woodville), a sexy friend of Melina's who lives in her building and belongs to the same social group of Beats. Just when Carson loses interest in locating Melina, odd and unfortunate events imply that something terrible has happened and no one seems particularly interested in being forthcoming about her disappearance.
It's enormously thrilling to now have access to an expanded, "pre-release" version of a film as mired in controversy and censorship battles as the BFI's newest Flipside title The Party's Over. Directed by Guy Hamilton just before he did Goldfinger (though put in cinemas a year after the Bond picture and without Hamilton's name in the credits per his request), The Party's Over breathes with a clarity now that shows it not as a dated relic of the past but as a fresh discovery ripe for examination. The beatnik sorts that populate the film seem to merely be one generation's incarnation of youth rebellion and no less relevant than the subsequent countercultures of hippies, punks and slackers. The haircuts and clothes change but the attitudes remain largely familiar. Distrusting the establishment seems like the point up until some independent thinker ruins it all by remembering how the dynamic between leader and followers is roughly the same regardless of social standing. Without the herd mentality, we're left with the impractical idea of true equality amid divisions of power and the realization that all heads and no bodies as a philosophy is about as useful as all bodies and no heads. In short, baaah!
In this longer, theoretically as complete as possible cut of The Party's Over, accusations of the anti-establishment gang of beatniks acting like sheep are flung twice and by two different characters, both of whom have been aligned with their targets throughout the film. It comes across like a critique, a subtle jab at lazy hypocrites. It doesn't, however, weigh particularly in favor of the alternative of a more socially acceptable lifestyle. Had Hamilton and his collaborators made a stronger cautionary tale about the apparent evils of the Beats, the British censors might have been more likely to pass the film. There's instead a reluctance to dismiss either side. The group of beatniks are portrayed as variously frustrated, passionate and vapid, not at all easy to pin down or label as a collective. Their dead-eyed method of coping via drugs and alcohol always has the potential for trouble but just as often does the job by creating a separation from the outside world. This handling of the material is especially admirable given its elegiac presentation of the era, including, most obviously, the title, and the basic lack of respect usually afforded anything outside the mainstream involving youths.
Hamilton makes a distinct point of detailing the tragedy that could result from reckless lack of responsibility. It's here where he most notably waves a finger at the beatnik way of life, of saying that actions have consequences that should be respected. Nothing feels judgmental but the punch is still landed. I took it all as indicating that alternatives and exceptions should be welcomed without suspicion but they don't excuse violations of the most basic of societal expectations. In the booklet, Hamilton sums it up as "by all means get rid of values you dislike, but make sure you replace them with something worthwhile." That's as instructive a statement as you could reasonably want. The film refuses to argue either way. The beatniks are cited quite fairly as exhibiting an ideology that is probably as flawed as the one with which they disagree. Similarly, no one here can be characterized as embodying the Western theory of social democracy and capitalism with any effective degree of persuasion. It's telling that the American Carson swoops in ostensibly to check on Melina but actually ends up drawn to the free-spirited Nina and exhibits little concern when he's fired from what must be an enviable position of employment.
Worth mentioning, too, is the slightly odd treatment of that perpetually percolating relationship between the British and their American friends. Oliver Reed's Moise does a dead-on medley of accents that begins with the classic cowboy denunciation of American eloquence and sophistication. As it turns out, though, square-jawed Carson, played in the key of minor Rock Hudson by Clifford David, does indeed sweep into town like there are six-shooters and horses involved. He's portrayed as tough, aggressive, and driven. For a corporate lackey anyway. Carson does get distracted by Nina - an understandable choice - but he always tends to approach every encounter quite differently and distinctly American when compared against the Londoners in the film. He's a clenched fist while the others rely on an open hand slap. A stronger actor, one who could do better against the virile and moody Reed, might have established this separation even more clearly. As it is, Carson is set up as an impotent outsider but still transforms himself into something more distrustful, wounded, and open to the unknown.
Though there's certainly more to The Party's Over than just the peeling back of a group like the beatniks, this seems to be, along with the censorship brouhaha, a real point of emphasis in the marketing and perception of the release. The written material found inside the BFI's booklet focuses less on analysis of the film than its troubled history and place in the world of British beatnik-centric efforts. That's somewhat unfortunate considering how much this movie has to offer beyond its primary gimmick. Hamilton crafted an eccentric but accepting portrait of rebellious youth without romanticizing or demonizing them. He directed something sparse in provocation and ultimately modern in considering characters on the fringe as people rather than subjects. I interpreted it as a major work, a significant addition to our collective cinematic consciousness, and something that extends far beyond its narrow reputation as a victim of censorship.
Like The Pleasure Girls, this new Flipside release (spine number 011) has been issued in a dual format edition containing both DVD and Blu-ray discs. Similar problems arise when trying to remove the sticker attached directly to the plastic, though the BFI has acknowledged this mistake and promised it's been taken care of for future releases. The case here is thick and transparent. Think of the type used for Comrades and Herostratus except clear instead of blue plastic. A nice, thick booklet is tucked away inside. Both Blu-ray and DVD are dual-layered and region-free.
There are a few complicated issues regarding this transfer. In general, and I want to get this out first and foremost, parts of it look gorgeous. Depth is remarkable and contrast takes your breath away. It can be as sharp as anything the BFI has done in high definition. The problems arise with the way the film was assembled for the pre-release version, which is presented as the default choice. The pre-release version, taken from a combined print, had to be used for many sequences not included in the primary source (which was the original negative of the theatrical version) and these look noticeably worse. The beginning and ending of the film, as well as frequent instances in between, have decreased sharpness, sometimes inferior contrast and significant lines of damage running vertically down the image. It's definitely a distraction, though I trust that the BFI's production team was unable to provide any further relief and that the result is as good as one could fairly expect. Again, the transfer in general looks exceptionally strong but don't be too annoyed when large, dark scratches materialize on the print or the image suddenly softens. These scenes are, if I'm understanding correctly, the ones previously missing from the release version and inserted here to make this a more complete representation of the original intention of the filmmakers. In that regard, it's tough to complain.
Both DVD and Blu-ray discs offer the film in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and the former is in the PAL format.
The English PCM Mono audio (24-bit on Blu-ray and 16-bit on DVD) never struggles to present John Barry's highly impressive score, a nice mixture of jazz pieces and more traditionally cinematic mood enhancers. Those same hiccups in the transfer also find the audio in a less polished condition. Volume tends to shrivel and the overall fullness of the sound takes a hit during these times. Subtitles are provided in English and are white in color.
As alluded to, the default option for watching the film on both discs is the longer pre-release version. In addition, a shorter cut (92 mins.) containing the theatrical release has been included in full on the Blu-ray and the alternative theatrical release sequences (18:42) can be seen on their own on the DVD.
The BFI includes a pair of shorts on the disc, both in HD for the Blu-ray. "The Party" (15:44) a black and white offering from 1962, is described as "a time-capsule short about an art school get-together" by the BFI. It has only a few lines of incidental dialogue and mostly follows around one fellow whose night includes vomiting into a sink and making funny faces in a mirror while wearing a plastic moustache. His morning after starts off by leaving the party and snagging a bottle of milk from the sidewalk. There's a nice scene in between where a slower jazz score moodily accompanies him walking in the night air. The short is in 1.33:1 and has some mild dirt in the otherwise fine, if noticeably grainy, print. The second short film on the disc is "Emma" (12:25), directed by The Party's Over producer Anthony Perry. In it, a little blonde-haired girl traipses around a cemetery and meets up with a young boy. The 1964 color short looks almost unbelievably sharp and vivid, with no damage to speak of in the print. It's also at 1.33:1, and has no dialogue.
Though I'm glad to see the inclusion of these short films, especially in high definition on the Blu-ray, I do have to admit some disappointment in not finding much to further the appreciation of The Party's Over. The booklet contains some nice essays which provide vital context into the beatniks and the particular situation with this picture, but it's a little light on spirited defense. It runs 36 pages and begins with an essay by Andrew Roberts which I enjoyed despite it containing two clear mistakes in the span of consecutive sentences. (Eddie Albert never did win an Oscar and writer Clifford Odets had that last "s" in his surname rather than it acting as a possessive.) Roberts' piece goes five pages while director Guy Hamilton writes about his involvement for just a couple more. Detailed background information on the censorship and the elements used for this release take up another five pages. An essay of the same length by William Fowler about the film in relation to the beatniks follows. Cast lists, information on the transfer and release, and write-ups on Hamilton and the two short films complete the always impressive booklet. I write some variation of this with almost every BFI release, but fans of these editions can only hope that the BFI continues producing such considered and relevant text-based supplements to its releases as what's provided here. They really are several cuts above most other labels.