Such a odd experience, sometimes, revisiting ‘old’ films that you haven’t seen in many years. The films are the same but we aren’t- we are older, wiser, have more personal experiences that impact on our viewing experience. At least, that’s the way I see it- how else to explain this rather revelatory experience of re-watching this film after so many years? Admittedly, my previous experience of this film was a television broadcast with commercial breaks , which wasn’t ideal. Now, on Blu-ray, it was a whole different thing- yes, it was clearly a very good film before but now… now it is a rather profound, terrifying and almost brutally heartbreaking work.
I can only assume that now I am older and more wise of the world that its message is all the more powerful and effecting, I was surprised by just how terrifying it is; the sense of being isolated and powerless in the face of a brutal state and clear crimes against humanity going unpunished. Perhaps when I was younger and watching it before, I had felt that this was something of the past and events such as depicted in the film could not happen anymore, but the last few decades have taught me otherwise. Sadly, Missing is as relevant as it ever was.
Missing is based on a true story, of the disappearance, in September 1973, of American journalist Charles Horman (John Shea). Living in Chile with his wife Beth (Sissy Spacek) the couple and their freinds get caught up in a nightmarish military coup that, unknown to them, is secretly sponsored by the US Government, and Charles disappears. His father, Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon) a conservative New York businessman arrives in Chile a few days later to try to help Beth discover what has happened to Charles and where he might be. In the face of a increasing runaround by staff of the American Consulate, Ed begins to lose faith in his government and the integrity and protection he assumes is due an American citizen. Although the film is decades old now and the true events fairly well known (albeit increasingly forgotten today) I won’t go into any further details regards the twists and turns of their efforts, as the film deserves to be seen ‘clean’.
Jack Lemmon, of course, is s good as I remembered- when he finally receives the confirmation of his worst fears, I swear you can visibly see his heart breaking. Its a typical understated performance and I so miss him in movies today; he had a gift for portraying an ‘everyman’ that seems rather lacking in films now. Rarely do actors do ‘subtle’ like Lemmon managed, even if its just in the way he moves and walks or glances at people talking to him. Sissy Spacek, meanwhile, is actually a revelation-an actress I really haven’t seen much over the years (must be something to do with the films I choose to watch), I was really impressed by her performance here; its really quite endearing and I think I’ll have to look up some more of her work. She certainly manages to hold her own against Lemmon and she complements him very well.
The soundtrack by Vangelis is measured and understated – a product of the Greek composers’ prime it is a lovely reminder of his craft during his superior Nemo Studios era. Typically of him, its an unreleased soundtrack, barring a main theme that turns up on collections (a track which is actually, I believe, a re-recording by Vangelis himself). The popular main theme familiar from those collections is a tender and heartfelt piece that kicks you in the stomach by the films end but is a minor part of the actual score. I suppose you have to be a decades-long fan like I am to appreciate that old Nemo Studios sound that he used to have, but its certainly a nostalgic element that improves the film no end. Its a wonderful score that is the soul and tender heart of the film.
This recent Blu-ray release of the film from Indicator is as top-notch as we have come to expect from them. While the film’s master used isn’t a new one, its soft-focus, almost gauze-like picture (think Superman: The Movie, Days of Heaven and other films like that) probably wouldn’t benefit hugely from a new 2K or 4K remaster (and who’s going to do that for a film like Missing?) but it looks very good, has a gentle grain and solid colour. The mono soundtrack is fine; the dialogue is clear and the sudden crack of gunfire in the Chilean streets can still make you jump.
The extras, of course, are the real reward for investing in this disc release and they are very good; two pseudo-commentary tracks which are actually archive interviews (one with director Costa-Gavras in 1984, the other with Lemmon from 1986) which run under the film. Some accompanying featurettes include an appreciation piece by actor/director Keith Gordon which runs longer than you might expect, some interviews with the director etc. and a very special doc has an interview with the ‘real’ Beth, Joyce Horman. A charming and erudite woman, with still photographs of the real Charles Horman and his father, she explains the truth behind the film and shares memories of the making of the film and its impact over the years- including litigation against it. This last doc lasts nearly half-hour and as you might imagine is utterly riveting, worth buying the disc alone for.
If you have never seen Missing, then this release is the perfect excuse to correct that folly, and if you have, well, I’m sure you likely own this disc already. In all honesty, Missing is actually a much better film than I remembered, and I shall no doubt be returning to it often.
1982: a hell of a good year for movies.