Entertainment » Movies

The Landlord

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 14, 2019
The Landlord

Back in September of 2007, Hal Ashby's 1970 feature "The Landlord" had a one-week revival at Film Forum in NYC. Most of the critics who covered the revival for their respective outlets spoke incredibly highly of Ashby's first foray into feature filmmaking. Jim Hoberman of the Village Voice once called it "one of the funniest social comedies of the period, as well as the most human." And, believe it or not, it's still one of the most pertinent social comedies of the period.

Just ten years later, when even more neighborhoods in Brooklyn are being gentrified to force people from a lower tax bracket out of their homes, "The Landlord" is just as prescient as when it was unjustly swept under the rug in 1970. Did the film fail commercially because of its taboo subject matter or did it fail because it treated a serious issue in a way that made the audience feel compelled and uncomfortable in equal measure? This stunning new Blu-ray release stands as proof that the latter situation is less far-fetched than the former.

Elgar Enders (Beau Bridges) is a wealthy boy from an influential Long Island family who buys an apartment building in Park Slope with the intention of evicting the occupants in order to construct his own palace in Brooklyn. Once he meets the tenants, he grows fond of the tenement's denizens and even falls in love with one of them. This awakens something inside himself that he's never felt before. So, now he must rebel against his White Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing because he realizes his original intentions spoke to a much bigger issue of racism in America.

From the brief plot summary above, I bet you're thinking that "The Landlord" is something akin to "Green Book" or "Driving Miss Daisy," where the camera and story pander to the main white character and paints the main black character in broad strokes. If that's what you're thinking, you're wrong. The script for this was penned by none other than Bill Gunn, a black man from Philadelphia who was one of our foremost artistic voices when it came to detailing U.S. racial tensions and black identity in the '70s and '80s. If you haven't seen it already, I recommend seeking out "Ganja & Hess" immediately.

Director Hal Ashby, a hippie who rebelled against the straight life, saw filmmaking as a way to speak out against people like Elgar, so Bridges' manic performance is saddled with a lot of dramatic heft that film is relying upon him for. Bridges takes it all in stride, as he plays Elgar initially like a good-natured human who has no idea how those of other races live and then he dives headfirst into being this simpering wimp of a man. "The Landlord" deftly shows that racism goes much deeper than one's nature. Our whole country was built upon it and no matter the size of the rebellion, well-to-do people have a tendency to tap out when faced with adversity.

The new 2K restoration by Kino Lorber as part of their Studio Classics label is truly one of the great contributions to the history of the art form this year. All of Gordon Willis' indelible images are up on display in a way that doesn't strip their immediacy. "The Landlord" can vacillate between comedy and drama because to it, there's little separating the two. Pick this Blu-ray up as soon as possible.

Special features include:

• "The Racial Gap" - New interview with star Beau Bridges
• "Reflections" - New interview with star Lee Grant
• "Norman Jewison and Hal Ashby - Style and Substance": New interview with producer Norman Jewison

"The Landlord"
Kino Lorber Blu-ray


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