Sordid Lives (Blu-ray Review)

Sordid-LivesBased on a long-running hit play by Del Shores, SORDID LIVES became a hit movie where it had a record-setting 96-week run at the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs. On the festival circuit, it garnered numerous awards, including Best Feature awards at the Austin and Philadelphia LGBT Film Festivals, and Best Feature and Best Actor: Leslie Jordan awards at the New York Independent Film Festival.  The story didn’t end there either.  In 2008, the Logo network produced a season of Sordid Lives: The Series that sort of started before the events of the play but went past them as well.  However, it was canceled after just that one season on the network.



A small Texas family has to gather together for the untimely death of the family matriarch.  She wound up passing in an embarrassing fashion.  In a hotel room with a much younger, married man.  The family has to confront their own demons and get it together in order to send her off.  Meanwhile, Latrelle Williamson’s (one of the family) son sits in West Hollywood pondering over whether to return home to Texas, where being gay isn’t accepted and nobody knows it about him, to say his farewells.

There is some really good material by the way of dark comedy and dramatic scenes that go pretty well in the film.  However, this is one of those instances where I think its probably much more effective on stage than it is captured on film.  The movie really feels like it was just the stage play filmed from multiple camera angles then edited later.  If you’ve seen these kind of adaptations then you know what I’m talking about.  There aren’t a lot of set changes and the same characters pretty much are on the same set and interacting with the exact same set of characters the whole time.  You feel locked in and unable to maneuver.

Another thing that may be a bit nit picky but sort of brings a bit of hesitancy to my viewing is the look of the film.  Maybe its the advent of this new Blu-ray, but this movie looks super cheap.  It feels like you’re watching something on public access television that happened to land Beau Bridges and Olivia Newton-John in parts.  If you’ve ever seen a live episode of 30 Rock or Will & Grace, its sort of like that but a bit lesser.  Almost like the whole thing was shot with a news camera.  There is not one instance during the almost two hours that this movie is that I felt I was actually watching a real honest to god movie.  Poke fun at SyFy movies and some direct to video affair, but at least the do their best to look and act like movies.

Those are really my bigger gripes with the film.  It doesn’t feel like much effort was put into adapting it for a movie and in turn doesn’t even look or feel like a movie.  However, there’s some fun dark humor and some solid moments of drama in the film.  To be quite honest, while it makes for great theater, I do happen to think there’s enough here to make a good movie as well, they just didn’t really get even close with this.  Don’t think I’m knocking the content of the film, I’m critiquing the production and technical merits of it which are at pretty much bare minimum.

Bonnie Bedelia is getting her own paragraph here.  This is her movie and she absolutely crushes it.  She’ll forever be Holly McClane to me (If they do another Die Hard, please bring her back), no escaping that.  She has some rather massive chops to her in this film and she gets to run the gamut.  Her character is pretty central and pivotal to a lot of the drama going on and the actress just excels.  Bedelia gets big moments without going over the top.  Her position and emotion gets to run a wide range but never is she too much or trying to hard, it all comes off as natural.  If there’s one reason to see this “movie” version over the play, its Bonnie Bedelia and Bonnie Bedelia alone.

Sordid Lives is a cult classic among the LGBT community as it had a lukewarm reception back in 2000.  It picked up enough steam to branch it out into a television series.  While I’m not crazy about this movie interpretation, I’m sure it works quite well on stage.  I also think there’s enough good material present to make an actual solid movie.  Like, really make a movie, not just film the play.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  Now, while I dogged what the video looked like in my review, this transfer is really impressive.  This looks like it actually could have been shot last weekend.  As a matter of fact, when I discovered the film was shot in 2000, it came as a surprise.  Detail is high and the image is vibrant (if not maybe overly so).

Depth:  As most of this takes place in really small interior rooms, its hard to gauge where this really stands.  Later on during the funeral, there’s some good depth of field.

Black Levels:  This is a very bright image.  However when blacks show up in hair or clothing, detail is masked a little bit.  Closeups prove better than medium and longer shots.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are bold and pronounced.

Flesh Tones:  Natural and consistent.  Facial detail is high.  Wrinkles, stubble, hairs, blemishes and the like are all clear and noticeable from about any given distance.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  No lossless audio, eh?  Well, luckily this film doesn’t really demand or need it.  Heck, it could have dropped the 5.1 altogether and just gone stereo.  This is a film that is all dialogue, but effects and music are good, loud and clear as well.

Low Frequency Extension:  Not a whole lot.  Doors closing and the music is enhanced slightly by the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Not much action at all.  Barely ambiance and then some lower volume score come from the rear speakers.  The front speakers manage to capture accurate vocals.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Loud, clear and front heavy.

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Sordid Lives comes with a DVD copy of the film.

Interview With Del Shores (HD, 11:48) – The writer and director talks all about Sordid Lives, how it came to be, what it means to him and its legacy.  He also discusses getting the cast together to do it.

Interview With The Actors (HD, 24:03) – Most of the cast including Beau Bridges, Beth Grant, Bonnie Bedelia, Rosemary Alexander and Sarah Hunley return to talk about their involvement, the stage play and making the movie.

New Sordid Trailer (HD, 2:03)

Trailers For New Wolfe Movies – Divine, Petunia, Five Dances, Lady Valor

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Fans of Sordid Lives should be extremely happy with this release.  Having compressed audio is a bummer, but it still very high end sounding and the video is outstanding.  The bonus material rounded up a bunch of key figures to come back and discuss this film 14 years later in some rather good interviews.  Its not a bad release for something that probably had a chance at never seeing a Blu-ray release, let alone getting good treatment like this.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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