• Taking Tiger Mountain (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: June 25th, 2019.
    Director: Tom Huckabee, Kent Smith
    Cast: Bill Paxton and The Townspeople of Llangadog, Llandovery, Llanelli, Gwynfe, Llandeilo and Bethlehem of South Wales
    Year: 1983
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    Taking Tiger Mountain – Movie Review:

    At least partially based on William S. Burroughs' short story 'Bladerunner’ (which has nothing to do with the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner), Taking Tiger Mountain is set in the future where the world has gone to Hell. The film opens with a scene in which a quartet of middle-aged woman observe a young man named Billy Hampton (a 19-year-old Bill Paxton) as he lies in bed. Their discussion lets us in on his history – he’s homophobic, he’s had his penis removed (and then reattached) and he’s been groomed to believe that his father was killed by a tiger (who is, in fact, an aged chubby guy with a beard). They essentially turn him into an unwitting assassin of sorts, convincing him he needs to kill the tiger before the tiger kills him.

    He’s unleashed into the general public where he goes to a small Welsh town, popular because it’s one of four locations throughout the United Kingdom where sex work has been legalized. Here he has a tryst with a beautiful dark-haired prostitute, but after that, things go from weird to even weirder as it turns out that the man the woman want him to kill is the Welsh Minister of Prostitution.

    A strange experimental film originally shot by Kent Smith on short ends in the mid-seventies, it wasn’t until Tom Huckabee stepped in to get the picture finished that it was released in 1983. Even then, the film failed to find much of an audience and has languished in legitimate obscurity ever since. In fact, it wasn’t until now that the movie even got a legitimate home video release of any kind. Either way, the film is certainly an odd one. You’d expect a certain amount of weirdness from anything related to Burroughs’ work, and the film definitely delivers. It has a very alien vibe to it, with most of the audio consisting of snippets of the four women, feminist activists we learn, interviewing Hampton about his views on life, sex, politics and, well, anything else that seems to pop into mind. Reportedly Paxton was put under hypnosis and this audio taken from recordings made between he and the director, which explains why they all come across as randomly as they do. Strange stuff.

    All of this sexually charged existentialism is wrapped up in a weirdly dystopian trapping that is strangely at odds with the visuals. The footage of Paxton writing around in his small room early in the film feels right, but from there, once he heads out into the world, the movie is actually rather pretty in how it has been filmed. The scope photography is often times quite impressive and the black and white compositions look quite good. This is still miles away from a traditional film but there’s some definite and appreciable polish to the production that goes a long way towards making it as interesting as it is.

    As to Paxton’s presence? Even at this early point in his career he’s got an interesting screen presence. His lazy, charming Texan accent makes the aforementioned ramblings more palatable than they would be otherwise. It’s also worth noting that the film’s most notorious quality is that it features Paxton running about completely nude and at one point the recipient of some non-simulated oral sex from the prostitute mentioned earlier. If nothing else, these qualities up the film’s curiosity value considerably!

    Taking Tiger Mountain – Blu-ray Review:

    Taking Tiger Mountain arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and “newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm Techniscope negative.” The end results are very, very impressive. The black and white image is essentially pristine, and it shows excellent contrast and detail. There are no problems with any compression issue and no noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement problems to quibble about. Black levels are nice and deep and there’s strong depth and texture throughout the picture.

    As far as the audio goes, we get an English language DTS-HD Master Audio option in Mono, with removable subtitles offered up in English only. For the most part, the audio here is pretty decent. The limitations of the source material does come through in spots but the levels are properly balanced and the dialogue is clean throughout.

    As far as the extras go, Vinegar Syndrome’s disc provides both the original theatrical version and the 2019 ‘revisited’ version. The main difference is that the new version features some freshly created titles and newly inserted text cards that help to make the flow of the film more coherent. There are also trims to certain scenes and a few newly added adjustments made throughout the film. The original is the more interesting version of the film and the one to go with, but this is definitely an interesting addition toe the extras and a worthy inclusion on the disc. Note that this has not been taken from the some restoration that was given to the original cut, the disclaimer that plays before this version noting that Huckabee basically did this himself digitally. As such, it doesn’t look as nice as the original (default) version of the picture.

    Tom Huckabee provides very quick intros for both versions of the film and also sits down for two separate interviews. The first, Taking Over Tiger Mountain, focuses on the original version of the movie and it runs twenty-eight-minute. In this piece, he speaks about where some of the ideas for the film came from, shooting locations, working with Paxton and Smith, how a few people involved with the film wound up in jail and a fair bit more. In Revisiting Tiger Mountain, Huckabee spends eighteen-minutes talking about updating the film, explaining why he changed what he did, what it was like going back to the project after all these years and pointing out some of the changes both obvious and not so obvious that were made to the newer version of the movie.

    Vinegar Syndrome also includes Interviews With Welshmen, a sixteen-minute short film by Kent Smith that is pretty much just what the title advertises – it’s a selection of interviews that Smith shot with a selection of Welsh locals who were around while he and Huckabee were making Taking Tiger Mountain.

    Menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc. As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie taken from the same restoration and featuring the same extras. Included inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the reversible cover art is an insert booklet containing an interesting essay on the film written by Heather Drain that covers the Burroughs connection and offers some insight into the film’s qualities.

    Taking Tiger Mountain – The Final Word:

    Taking Tiger Mountain is clearly not a film meant for mainstream consumption but those with an affection for cinematic oddities and experimental art films should appreciate the film for its constant barrage of ‘weird.’ Vinegar Syndrome has done an excellent job bringing the picture to Blu-ray with a nice selection of extras and a beautiful presentation for the original cut of the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Taking Tiger Mountain Blu-ray screen caps!