Severin has done some stellar work this year, particularly with their special editions of Dr. Butcher M.D. and Burial Ground, but they really pulled off a coup with their release of The Killing Of America. This shocking but smart documentary got only a handful of playdates in New York during its original release and has never been represented on any home video format in the United States. Severin has finally brought this cinematic prodigal son home in an edition that is not only technically accomplished but further enriched with some worthwhile supplements.
The transfer sticks to the film’s Academy (1.33:1) ratio and looks pretty impressive given the film’s mixture of footage from various sources: there’s lot of video-to-film transfers and different film formats in addition to the wraparound material the filmmakers shot. The new footage and key bits of vintage film-sourced footage really look impressive here, giving the overall look a big boost over the old video bootlegs of this title. The mono soundtrack mix is presented in the LPCM format and is free of distortion or other defects.
Severin also adds a nicely curated collection of extras. Here’s what you can expect…
Violence U.S.A. (1:55:00): this is the Japanese release version of The Killing Of America, presented in a transfer that is of equal quality to the main presentation. The narration is in Japanese but English subtitles have been included. Fans of the original cut will want to check this out as there several differences that give the film a different rhythm and mood: several scenes are recut and lengthened in some cases, the structure is altered and the narration has a different tone. There are also some new scenes, including a sports-oriented montage to show America’s positive side, footage of the assassination attempts on Gerald Ford and a montage of police gun-training scenarios.
Commentary: Co-director Sheldon Renan does the honors here on the original cut. It’s a densely informative piece, with plentiful anecdotes on the shoots for the new footage, how the shocking file footage was sourced for the film, the way cinematic techniques were used to achieve a psychological impact and. You’ll even learn about the film’s connections to Blue Thunder, Taxi Driver and Jack Ruby(!). An important listen for anyone interested in this film.
Sheldon Renan interview (20:22): Renan offers an amiable chat that covers a lot of ground. He starts with how his friendship with the Schraders and experience as an archivist led to his work on The Killing Of America. There are several interesting anecdotes along the way, including what Willy Kurant shot in the film and a scary anecdote about interviewing Edmund Kemper. He makes a nice case for how the film is designed to force viewers to confront the problematic aspects of the American experience.
Lee Percy interview (16:09): the veteran film editor talks about one of his first big gigs in detail. He starts with a fun anecdote about how his work on Roar!, another rarely-seen cult item, got him his start in the business then goes into detail on how cutting The Killing Of America was challenging on psychological and physical levels. Along the way, he talks about the differences between the film’s directors and producer, explains the curious sports-oriented montage in the Japanese version and offers his thoughts on the film’s reception.
Nick Pinkerton interview (14:48): Pinkerton is a writer and film historian who specializes in the mondo/shock-doc area and discusses the film from that vantage point here. He offers a thoughtful perspective on this problematic but important style of filmmaking, including great observations on The Killing Of America, the Jacopetti & Prosperi films that started these genres and the differences between the mondo and shockumentary styles. A must-watch for anyone interested in pondering the artistic validity of such films.
Original Trailer: a skillfully-crafted spot that communicates the film’s themes and its gut-punch effect in just a few minutes.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Killing Of America, click here.