William Friedkin's self-described ‘indie film' – largely produced with a crew culled from genuine independent filmmakers – has enjoyed a cult following over the years, and has aged rather well, considering the film's look and soundtrack are very indicative of what was fiercely in vogue during the mid-Eighties.
Visually, one can accuse Friedkin of borrowing a little style from “Miami Vice,” but that's a superficial claim against a movie that revels in the kind of idiosyncrasies typical of its director. Going for more industrial terrain, cinematographer Robby Muller captured a mix of grunge and soothing California tans; the primary colour saturation is just a few steps away from overkill, and manages to avoid the dated look of other action flicks that tried to parlay the “Vice” look verbatim.
In his excellent production commentary track, Friedkin also describes working with the composers of the band Wang Chung to fashion a film score; it's a method based on directorial suggestions, realized impressions, and refinement in the editing phase, which he also applies to Muller's cinematography, and the film's informal screenplay structure. Even the actors were pawns in Friedkin's desire to mix scripted dialogue with improvised moments – a ploy the actors respected – and the film's longevity among action fans owes a lot to several naturalistic scenes.
Editing figures greatly in Friedkin's comments, but the veteran director also believes a film's true finishing occurs in the digital suite. When a movie is refined for DVD, weaknesses from the developing, processing and release phases of a film print are washed away; and in the eyes of William Friedkin, “To Live” on DVD isn't just the best-looking version, but the closest approximation of his true vision.
The “Making Of” featurette gathers the director, two leading men, actress Darlanne Fluegel, and co-producer/editor Bud Smith. The group recall filming on location, Friedkin's laissez-faire approach with the actors, and the infamous (and completely illogical) wrong-way car chase. Propmaster Barry Bedig also adds his version of being shaded by Federal Agents when some of the production's ‘funny money' was accidentally passed off as real U.S. currency in a convenience shop. Nicely edited and paced, the featurette also incorporates vintage 16mm production footage, expertly intercut between the final film and interview segments.
Friedkin also provides intros for two extras: a deleted scene between John Pankow and an actress playing a tortured ex-wife, taken from an old tape widescreen dub; and the preposterous alternate ending that was shot/edited/scored/mixed with titles, when UA executives wanted audiences to leave with a greater sense of optimism.
With an effective score by Wang Chung, “To Live and Die in L.A.” is also of note for Petersen's major film debut, along with small roles by Gary Cole (“A Simple Plan”), Valentin de Vargas (“Touch of Evil”), and Jane Leeves (TV's “Frasier”) playing a gartered kabuki dancer with a yen for Debra Feuer.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan