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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Pit Stop aka The Winner [Blu-ray]

 

(Jack Hill, 1969)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Jack Hill Productions

Video: Arrow Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:30:49.235

Disc Size: 35,233,517,718 bytes

Feature Size: 26,788,031,616 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps

Chapters: 13

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 7th, 2014

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

New audio commentary with Jack Hill moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell
Crash and Burn! Jack Hill on the making of Pit Stop (15:31)
Drive Hard actor Sid Haig speaks about his experience of acting in Pit Stop (16:49)
Life in the Fast Lane producer Roger Corman on the genesis of Pit Stop (11:36)
Restoring Pit Stop - restoration demonstration by Technical Supervisor James White (3:53)
Original trailer (2:04)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film's soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

PAL DVD of the film and extras

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: The most dangerous game ever devised, to pit man against man, flesh against steel the figure-8 race! Jack Hill (The Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown) follows up Spider Baby, once again teaming up with Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects) in one of his greatest roles for this action-spectacular crash-o-rama!

Richard Davalos (Cool Hand Luke) stars as Rick Bowman, a street punk who winds up in jail after a street race goes wrong. Bailed out by race promoter Grant Willard, Davalos is put in the deadly track where he comes up against Haig's maniacal winner Hawk Sidney. Featuring an outstanding supporting cast including Brian Donlevy (Hoodlum Empire) in his last film appearance, Ellen Burstyn, billed as Ellen McRae (The Exorcist) and Beverly Washburn (Spider Baby) Pit Stop is one of Hill's lesser known films but arguably his greatest.

Filmed on a real figure-8 track, Hill and his crew were able to capture gripping real-life car wreck scenes lending the film a brilliant sense of realism. You've never seen a motion picture like this before can you take it?

 

 

The Film:

After witnessing a drag race between one of his cars and hot shot Rick Bowman (Dick Davalos, COOL HAND LUKE, cynical sports promoter – "There's a suicide born every minute" – Gavin Willard (Brian Donleavy, KISS OF DEATH) bails Rick out and introduces him to the world of figure eight stock car racing. Rick is reluctant to get involved until he is challenged by Williard's current dingy "bad boy of racing" Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig, GALAXY OF TERROR. Although beaten in his first tries at the track, Rick picks up some pointers from an old timer racer and humiliates Hawk. The win puts him in the position to supplant Hawk in driving interference for champion racer Ed McLeod (George Washburn) at the nationals against Southern hot shot Sonny Simpson (stunt driver Ted Duncan, John Carpenter's CHRISTINE). When McLeod is dismissive Rick's abilities, Rick instead seduces McLeod's neglected wife (THE EXORCIST's Ellen Burstyn, billed as Ellen McRae and radiating star quality from her very first shot) then plots to have Hawk drive interference against Simpson in order to take on McLeod and win the championship himself. Beverly Washburn (OLD YELLER) also appears as Rick's tomboyish love interest.

Producer Roger Corman first became familiar with director Jack Hill through his UCLA student films when he needed someone to shoot additional scenes for Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13 when the director's cut ran short. He would also perform similar duties on Corman's THE TERROR - which also included contributions from Francis Ford Coppola and Monte Hellman – as well as Corman's Coppola productions DEMENTIA 13 and OPERATION TITIAN, a thriller shot in Dubrovnik that went to TV in close to its original form as PORTRAIT IN TERROR but proved not suitably horrific for Corman who hired Hill and TERMINAL ISLAND's Stephanie Rothman to "salvage" it with new scenes into BLOOD BATH (Rothman would end up shooting more scenes and turning it into the vampire film TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE). Corman was so impressed by what Hill had been able to achieve on a miniscule budget with MONDO KEYHOLE - SPIDER BABY having been shot in 1964 but only scantly released in 1968 - that he was sure that Hill could get similar results in a film about stock car racing. Hill found stock car racing appalling but would agree to do the film if he could make it an art film (Corman did not care so long it featured cars driving fast and crashing). Hill's concept was of a hero who loses the big race, but Corman insisted that the hero had to win the race; so Hill modified his idea to a hero who wins the race but loses his soul. As a result, PIT STOP, originally titled THE WINNER, has a fatalistic, almost film noir – due just in part to the low-key monochrome cinematography of the usually workmanlike Austin McKinney, THE LOVE BUTCHER) - feel even if the viewer in which the fate the character is racing towards feels fatal even if it might not necessarily be his death.

Eric Cotenas

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Pit Stop gets an impressive transfer to Blu-ray from Arrow. There has been film-level restoration (in collaboration with Arrow overseen by James White - at Deluxe Digital Cinema - see comments below) and the image quality has some highly impressive moments showcasing rich contrast and shadow detail. Any softness appears to be inherent in the source. The transfer is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate for the 1.5 hour feature. Grain textures are evident. There are some, barely noticeable, frame specific, light scratches. The 1080P exhibits healthy, consistent black levels without excessive flickering.  It is transferred in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the UK Blu-ray provides a highly pleasing HD presentation.

 

NOTE - From the attached booklet in the package: "The original lab elements for Pit Stop have been lost. The filmmaker’s own 35mm answer print was transferred in High Definition and graded using the Nucoda Film Master color grading system. Restoration work was carried out using a combination of software tools and techniques. Thousands of instances of dirt, scratches and debris were carefully removed frame by frame, damaged frames were repaired, and density and stability issues were improved. Some minor picture and issues remain, in keeping with the condition of the film materials."

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Audio is transferred via a linear PCM mono at 1152 kbps. It has also gone through extensive restoration: "The soundtrack was also remastered, minimizing audio issues such as pops, bumps, clicks and audible buzz." It remains unaffected by any of the digital processing. The film sounds authentically flat. There is no score, to speak of (odd, period, garage-band-like guitar riffs highlight the credits), but there are plenty of effects with car engines, racing, crowds and more exporting depth. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE - playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

Extras :

Extras include a brand new commentary by director Jack Hill, moderated by Callum Waddell (the OOP Anchor Bay DVD had a commentary with Hill and Johnny Legend), who recalls the film's $75,000 budget (including many free resources like houses that were scheduled for demolition and a car club contributing their members and automobiles as extras) and how the film afforded him the chance to utilize what he had learned in acting classes about directing method actors (he had worked around the contrasting acting styles of actors and non-actors of SPIDER BABY). Of the racing scenes, he recalls shooting thousands of feet of crashes with five cameras, sifting through it for the best ones, and then doubling the cars to incorporate them into the film. The black and white shooting was necessitated because color film was not fast enough for the film's night racing scenes, and that doomed the film to the B-feature status when it was shown with the Corman-produced color biker film THE NAKED ANGELS. Waddell prompts Hill with questions about his style of dialogue (the rhythmic nature of his dialogue as well as the structure of the script and editing to his background in music), as well as screening a rough cut of PIT STOP for producer Luis Enriquez Vergara which lead to him getting the job to write four horror films - HOUSE OF EVIL, THE SNAKE PEOPLE, THE SINISTER INVASION, and THE FEAR CHAMBER - for Boris Karloff with the sick actor's scenes to be shot in Hollywood while the rest of the scene would be shot in Mexico (Hill shot the American scenes but the Mexican unions did not allow him to direct there, and he did not know until years later that the producer had finished them with Juan Ibanez helming the rest of the sequences), as well as the additional work he did on the Corman productions DEMENTIA 13, THE TERROR, and OPERATION TITIAN.

 

Hill also appears in an on-camera interview covering much of the same ground he did in the commentary as he discusses how he first came to work with Roger Corman, his feelings on stock-car racing, the real life personalities he incorporated into the script, writing characters specifically for Haig and Washburn, working with method actors like Davalos and Burstyn, and exploiting name value actors like Donleavy (making him seem like a major character even though the actor only did three days of work), and the film's reception (as well as the title change from THE WINNER to PIT STOP because of Universal's Indianapolis 500 film WINNING). In another interview, Haig describes Hill as an underrated director because he is a bad self-promoter, and recalls working with him during the director's student film days followed by Hill's reshoots on BLOOD BATH - a film Francis Ford Coppola shot for Corman in Yugoslavia that was released to TV as PORTRAIT IN TERROR and reshaped into a vampire film with reshoots by Hill and then Stephanie Rothman (TERMINAL ISLAND) – and SPIDER BABY. Of PIT STOP, he speaks warmly of his co-stars and recalls that "product placement" made getting access to a lot of the film's resources and locations possible (the Ascot track, letting the doctor who actually regularly patched up stock car racers play himself in the scenes shot at his clinic, letting the beer distributor know that their product would be prominently featured in five party scenes in the film). Roger Corman describes how he had first become familiar with Hill through his student films and then hired him to shoot additional scenes for Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13 when his cut ran short. His discussion of PIT STOP is brief and mainly relegated to exploiting the popularity of stock car racing as well as working with Burstyn. Later in the interview, he discusses working with Hill again on THE BIG DOLL HOUSE for his company New World Pictures. James White contributes a wonderfully informative and concise restoration featurette showing the before and after of the HD scan of Hill's own fine grain answer print and explain in accessible language how restoration is usually performed. The disc also includes a trailer for the film, a reversible cover, and a collector's booklet.

Eric Cotenas

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Pit Stop isn't what I was expecting. I, incorrectly, presumed I would be seeing a typical Jack Hill / Roger Corman style exploitation effort - this time, on grassroots car racing. Glenn Kenny makes some excellent points in his essay in the liner notes booklet - but I don't know if I lean to 'Art' as a way to describe the film. It has something subtly strong going for it - no doubt, but I think I would just put it down to being intelligently realized by an adept storyteller... who knew exactly what he was doing. The Arrow Blu-ray provides an excellent a/v presentation with very appreciated supplements. I was glad to see the film and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Another great package from Arrow - strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze and Eric Cotenas

March 28th, 2014


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze

 

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