Blu-ray Review: Between the Lines (1977)

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Ignoring the instructions to arrive with two scenes prepared like everyone else, when Jeff Goldblum auditioned for Joan Micklin Silver's Between the Lines, he had the entire script up his sleeve. Not content to merely act out the scenes involving Max, the rock critic that he would go onto play in the film, Goldblum went through the rest of Fred Barron's screenplay, commenting on the rest of the characters as a combination of himself and Max. Impressing Micklin Silver with ease, the filmmaker let him know at once that he had the role.

A great anecdote included in an interview with Micklin Silver on this brand new 2K restored Blu-ray release, Goldblum's bold choice might have won him the part of Max but it fits the filmmaker's approach to the movie as well.

American Graffiti set at an alternative weekly newspaper in Boston, Micklin Silver's episodic comedy Between the Lines moves freely between the characters as friends, lovers, and above all creative professionals navigate deadlines, job opportunities, and romance (or lack thereof) while the rest offer their opinions and advice, whether solicited or not.

A terrific hangout movie where the people in the frame routinely usurp the plot just for being there, Lines marked Micklin Silver's return to feature filmmaking following her acclaimed Hester Street debut and a stellar adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story Bernice Bobs Her Hair crafted for PBS.

With a knack for the material given both the authenticity of the script from Boston alternative newspaper veteran Fred Barron as well as the filmmaker's background as a reporter for The Village Voice, Between the Lines takes us to work and then loses us in the surroundings.

Sitting in on cramped editorial meetings, pleas for raises, and near fights between the advertising salesman and editor, we feel like we're about to get caught eavesdropping during a slightly heightened but otherwise real week in the life that doesn't end at the office as we join the staffers after hours to their bars and homes.

From an employee hawking papers during morning traffic — complete with a different come-on for each car — to the on-again, off-again romance between reporter Harry (John Heard) and photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), Micklin Silver's obvious affection for the film's characters fills each scene of her comedic ensemble piece with wit and warmth.

With so many spinning plates and bowling pins thrown into the air for our amusement, however, there are times when we lose our focus on the circus overall. Caught up in the plight of Laura (Gwen Welles), a reporter who's never sure if she wants to leave the man (Stephen Collins) in her life or not along with other minor players such as Bruno Kirby's aspiring investigative journalist, we wish we could stay with characters a little longer to learn more. Quickly paced and handsomely shot, however, it's such a fun big chill (made before The Big Chill) that when Micklin Silver's circus moves on to the next attraction, we happily go along.

Featuring songs by Steven Van Zandt, the 1977 film might have inspired a short-lived TV series but it's as overlooked today as the vital independent filmmaker at its helm. A light piece of entertainment, Micklin Silver's work looks and feels just as vibrant in 2019 thanks to this flawless restoration. And while there's no doubting its appeal overall, writers in particular are sure to gravitate to this portrait of freelancers, reporters, editors, and authors we either are or probably know, commenting on the goings-on as we read Between the Lines from scene to scene like Jeff Goldblum.

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