As a rule, Grindhouse Releasing is a label devoted to cultish cinematic pleasures – but they’ve truly gone “deep catalog” with their resurrection of Duke Mitchell’s filmography. As their recent blu-ray/DVD edition of Massacre Mafia Style proved, they have an honest, warts-and-all appreciation for the man’s work and have put in a lot of time to create special editions that allow fans new and old to appreciate the complexity behind Mitchell’s tightly-budgeted yet passion-rich films. Their new special edition of Gone With The Pope completes this journey – and if you embrace the extremes of cult cinema, it’s a journey you’ll want to take.
First, it must be noted that Grindhouse does more than provide a swell transfer for this film: Gone With The Pope was a lost, incomplete piece of work before they took an interest in it and a team led by label founder Bob Murawski completed the film’s edit and gave it a proper sound mix. The results look and sound gorgeous: this film was shot using whatever film was available, including short ends, but you’d never guess it from the vibrantly colorful, richly detailed image you see here. The look is consistently gorgeous.
As for the sound, you get 5.1. and 2.0 stereo choices as well as a genuine 1.0 mono mix, all presented in lossless form on the blu-ray. All options do well with the hastily recorded sync sound and weave together a nicely-crafted sound design, including a Scorcese-esque use of music, to complete the soundscape for everything that was shot M.O.S.
Better yet, there’s a cavalcade of extras to dive into once you’ve finished with the film. The centerpiece is a retrospective interview piece called “Gone With The Pope: The Players,” which incorporates input from cinematographer Peter Santoro, editors Robert Florio and Robert Leighton, cast members John Murgia and Jim LoBianco and filmmaker/distributor Matt Cimber.
The results give you a nice sense of how independent filmmakers worked on the margins of Hollywood in the ’70s, focused around how Mitchell applied the off-the-cuff, improvisation skills he developed as a nightclub entertainer to filmmaking. There are fun stories of Mitchell’s filmmaking methods, including how he’d feed lines to his inexperienced cast from off-camera and how he once stole developed footage from a lab to skip out on the lab bill. Along the way, you get a sense of how Mitchell mixture of independence and loyalty inspired his creators to keep working with him, even when the odds were stacked high against them.
Two shorter featurettes revolve around Santoro. The first deals with how the film was shot, allowing Santoro to discuss the equipment and techniques used to create a movie-style look on an impossibly tight budget: the methods used to create the illusion of shooting in Rome are particularly interesting. The other is a 3-minute piece on the restoration of the film in which Santoro reveals how the film’s restoration was completed and the different processes used to clean up the footage.
Next up is a set of seven deleted scenes, offering about seventeen minutes’ worth of additional footage. Highlights include a longer take of a scene pairing Mitchell with his son Jeffrey, an extended version of the “Pope kidnapping” setpiece and the setup for a golf course assassination (!). Thirteen minutes’ worth of outtakes offer a mixture of flubs, often hilarious profane, and examples of Mitchell’s directorial style, including him feeding lines to actors and hilariously blowing up at interruptions to takes.
One of the most unique inclusions is a brief piece called “Inserts,” which involves Santoro telling a wild tale about Mitchell schemed to shoot porn inserts so he could sell them and raise money for the film. Said footage ended up being softcore and is presented in this piece, complete with a Duke ballad playing over it. On a different tip, you also get the full takes of Frankie Carr and the Novel-ites, a lounge act that appears in the film. It’s a fun glimpse into the kind of vaudeville-derived music and comedy acts that have passed into showbiz memory.
A bigger featurette pops up in the form of “Hollywood World Premiere,” a 20 minute piece that chronicles the film’s 2010 debut at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater. Much of it is devoted to a post-screening Q&A session featuring many of the people in the “Players” featurette. However, you also get to see Murawski talk about how Grindhouse ended up with Gone With The Pope and Jeffrey Mitchell offering a fond thanks to the film’s fans.
Next up is a set of promo materials. The first is the trailer that Grindhouse put together to promote the film: it’s a mini-classic that touches on everything that makes the film such a wild ride. You also get a pair of still galleries: “Production Materials” offers a lot of paperwork form the film while “Theatrical Release” includes the film’s excellent promo art and snaps from a variety of screenings. A Duke Mitchell filmography includes a couple of trailers and the Grindhouse Releasing trailers reel offers all the genre diversity and wild sights that the label’s fans love. There’s also a fun easter egg tucked away on the extras menu.
The DVD offers up more extras in the DVD-ROM section. It includes a pair of PDF documents. The first is a collection of documents mixing treatments, script pages, song lyrics and breakdown of how he intended the film’s scenes to be organized on each reel. You get a sense of Mitchell put together his creative ideas: even though they were constantly revised during the shoot, his ideas about the clash of the secular and the spiritual remain consistent.
The other document is a 20-page thesis about the restoration of the film. Devoted fans will love this because it gets into the complex artistic issues, namely the fine line between preservation and re-interpretation, that Murawski and company dealt with in completing a film that only existed as a rough assembly. The final touch is a liner notes booklet with a thoughtful appreciation of the film by novelist John Skipp.
To sum up, Grindhouse Releasing’s work here has resulted in one of their finest achievements. They went beyond honoring a film’s legacy here: they actually resurrected, restored and finished an abandoned work. They really earned their tag as “the Criterion Collection of exploitation” with this impressive set.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Gone With The Pope, click here.