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The Birthday Party [1968] [DVD]


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The Birthday Party [1968] [DVD] + The Caretaker [1963] [DVD] + Pinter's Progress & The Homecoming [DVD]
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Product details

  • Actors: Robert Shaw, Patrick Magee, Dandy Nichols, Sydney Tafler, Moultrie Kelsall
  • Directors: William Friedkin
  • Writers: Harold Pinter
  • Producers: Edgar J. Scherick, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Fremantle
  • DVD Release Date: 2 July 2001
  • Run Time: 119 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005JCB4
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 38,634 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Reviews

Product Description

Stanley Webber (Robert Shaw) - a scruffy, stay-at-home lodger in a seaside resort - is visited by two sinister strangers who insist on throwing a birthday party for him. The two men continue to menace Stanley until he gives in, and then further unsettle him by reminding him of various fears and guilty secrets from his past. 'The Birthday Party' was Harold Pinter's first full-length play, and although its hostile reception ensured a swift exit from the London stage on its 1958 premiere, it has since become one of modern British theatre's most performed plays.

From Amazon.co.uk

Harold Pinter's first full-length stage play, The Birthday Party, was 10 years old when William (The Exorcist) Friedkin directed it for the cinema in 1968. In some ways, it was already a period-piece by then, Pinter's use of a combination of silence and excruciatingly banal dialogue to generate precipitous dramatic tension having been absorbed by contemporary theatrical mythology long since. Are the sinister McCann and Goldberg real? Or do they exist only in Stan's head? At the end, we're none the wiser. But Friedkin's claustrophobic direction, with the tormented Stan as its focus, has taken us through a master study in understated horror. The handheld camera, so fashionable in modern television drama, has rarely been used to such hypnotic effect.

As Stan, Robert Shaw is mesmerising in his descent to animal-like submission. Sydney Tafler's Goldberg and Patrick Magee 's McCann make a truly terrifying double act. Cult television fans will appreciate an early appearance by Helen Fraser (these days best known as a sadistic prison warder in Bad Girls) as the easily seduced neighbour. Now that Friedkin's film is itself over 30 years old, the scent of mothballs ought to be even more pronounced. Its decrepit seaside boarding house setting and the drabness of the peripheral players are redolent of the distinctly non-swinging side of the 1960s in which it was made. But more than anything, The Birthday Party is about unspecified terror and the sort of inner demons that lurk in all of us.

On the DVD: Excellent sound quality helps to make this a compellingly theatrical experience: never has the noise of tearing newspaper been more menacing. And the picture quality retains the grainy authenticity of the original print. Special features include brief backgrounders on the history of the play and Friedkin's career, and a slide show of still s from key scenes. --Piers Ford

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Nov. 2003
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Birthday Party on DVD may not be an actual theatre going experience but it does come pretty close to experiencing the excruciating pyschological intensity of this play by Harold Pinter. Stage sets, camera close-ups and top acting by, amongst others, Robert Shaw as lodger Stanley, produce an atmosphere of heightened domestic banality and humour. The constant dialectic between humour and psychological pain that pervades this play is well balanced, none of this is overdone or over-emphasised thus giving time and space to characters and allowing the viewer to really think about them and why they behave the way they do. The viewer becomes involved in a theatre play on screen as opposed to watching yet another poor attempt to turn a play into a film. As a theatre goer I had my doubts about watching this play on screen but was impressed by the ability of the actors and the production/direction to convey the obvious tension amidst the apparent 'normality' of Meg's boarding house. Pinter's screenplay is no doubt a huge bonus to this production but this is equally true of the actors. Dandy Nicols as Meg is wonderful also.
The only 'complaint', if it can be called that, is the dialogue volume which is a little low but this is more than made up for by the play/film as a whole and Macann's newspaper tearing can be felt as well as heard at a volume that more than does justice to this somewhat bizarre habit of his. It just means you have to turn your volume up a little. Although made in 1968, I doubt the transition from stage to screen of this great play could ever be done better without losing the down to earth feel of this production. Excellent!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By jonstillz on 8 Jun. 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The quality of the acting in this film by all the cast is beyond reproach, as is William Friedkin's direction, especially his use of black & white for some of the scenes.

Sadly the quality of the acting and the direction is totally destroyed by the abysmal quality of the DVD, which is as bad as anything I have seen. The front cover of the DVD proudly states that it has been digitally remastered. But from what? I doubt if it was from the original negative.

There are two major faults with this DVD. The first is the picture quality, which tends to be slightly soft, and has, at times, colour changes between shots in the same scene. Not what one would expect from a film that has been digitally remastered.

What is far worse than the soft picture quality and the colour changes is the format in which the film is presented. On the rear cover of the DVD it states that the film is presented in 4:3 Full Frame. 4:3 it may be. But full frame of the negative it certainly is not. The presentation of the film appears to be a direct copy of a 4:3 VHS tape panned and scanned from a 1:1.85 projection print matted from a full frame 4:3 negative. If I am correct then what we have is the centre of the original negative. So not only do we get heads nearly out of the top of the frame in one or two shots but we also get speaking characters half out of frame, on one occasion only a speaking arm appears in frame. Again not what one would expect from a film that has been digitally remastered.

This DVD should be avoided by all except those who wish to own a copy of one of the few filmed versions of Harold Pinter's plays.The Birthday Party [1968] [DVD]
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alan on 16 Jan. 2013
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Hugely claustrophobic and brilliantly acted film but strange and menacing. But what exactly happened here? The two men who came to stay, who were they and why are they here? What did they want with the man already staying there? Its a holiday guest house from hell.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Lou Knee on 2 Aug. 2007
Format: DVD
Here I get to make amends for a damming review I gave of another of this director's films. I take nothing back from that one, I hate the film that made him famous, (The Exorcist) it was pure self indulgent opportunism with not a care in the world for artistic integrity. There I go again, well someone surely has to! Back to a much better film then, a tricky thing for any director to attempt, an adaption of a theatre piece. They are notorious for not transferring well to the big screen, so lets see how he did:

Actually, very, very well. He keeps it tight, keeps the focus mainly on Webber, and actually does a fair bit of directing. (The reasons why a stage play doesn't work as a film are very often to do with under direction. You can't just let the thing run as it would on stage) Camera work is the key to success here, and Friedkin gets it to zoom in and out from Webber, pan all around him, feign leaving him and then come back, so that the result is what Pinter the playwright wanted, a complete obsessional stalking of Webber's character. The whole piece centres around Webber's breakdown, and so the lead up to it must be intensely noticable.

Very well cast and very well acted. These actors know their Pinter. They are faithful to the obliquness of the play, the abstractness, giving performances with plenty of ambiguity. The nihilistic angst or whatever it is fuelling this modern abstract piece is very tangible. Solid version this, very good indeed, the best thing about it is, it was attempted: This is Pinter's masterwork, after all, and not to have a film version of it would not have been right.
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