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Criterion presents comedy classic “Lost in America”


Writer/director/actor Albert Brooks stars as David Howard and Julie Hagerty as his wife Linda. (Frame shots courtesy of The Criterion Collection)


Blu-ray, DVD; 1985; R for profanity

Best extra: Interview with director/co-writer/actor Albert Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide

ALBERT BROOKS first became famous for his eccentrically funny short films aired on "Saturday Night Live." In "Lost in America," his third feature film, Brooks uses the same brilliant restraint. He never wastes even a second of the 91 minutes it takes to tell the story of an upper middle-class couple's attempt to drop out of society.

Brooks plays a Los Angeles advertising executive and Julie Hagerty is his wife, a department store sales manager. When expectations go awry, they quit their jobs, pool their assets and buy a luxuriously-equipped Winnebago. They intend to spend the rest of their lives discovering America as free spirits, setting out with "Born to Be Wild" blasting on the stereo. Their first stop is Las Vegas, where they planned to get remarried in one of those tacky drive-in chapels – but before they can, things go horribly wrong. If you've never seen Brooks' incisive take on baby boomer/Reagan-era angst, you're in for a genuine treat. "Lost in America" has aged beautifully. With Gary Marshall nailing his first acting role as a casino owner, and absolutely perfect performances by Brooks and Hagerty, the film deserves to be hailed as a comedy classic.

David Howard an advertising executive can't believe he's being passed over for a big promotion and the conversation ends with his boss firing him.

David and Linda's farewell party before hitting the road in their luxuriously-equipped Winnebago.

The Criterion Collection obviously thought so, too, as they have transferred "Lost in America" to Blu-ray from a new 35mm positive taken from the original negative. Supervised by Brooks, this high-def version looks excellent, with saturated colors, natural skin tones, plenty of contrast and fine detail, while still retaining some pleasing filmic texture. The remastered soundtrack from the original mono version is clean and crisp, with effects well-balanced and dialogue crystal clear.

Extras include recent interviews with Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas, and filmmaker/screenwriter James L. Brooks, as well an illustrated pamphlet containing an essay by film critic Scott Tobias.

The conversation between Albert Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide is a delight. Brooks, born Albert Einstein, gives credit to his father Harry, a comedian whose stage name was "Parkyakarkus," and who died when Brooks was young. At a Friars' Club roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Harry collapsed the moment he sat down after his funny monologue. "It's amazing that he finished!" Brooks exclaims in admiration, after playing an audio clip from Harry's speech.

David and Linda have a huge fight at Hoover Dam.

Linda hits the gambling tables in Vegas.

After losing most of their money David Howard is now a crossing guard for a school in Safford, Arizona.

Brooks recalls his early television appearances as a comic on shows hosted by Steve Allen, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan and, of course, Johnny Carson. Says Brooks, those experiences "taught me that if I thought it was funny, I could trust myself enough to do it in front of 30 million people." He notes that making all those short pieces for SNL provided him with an education in filmmaking. He originally wanted Bill Murray to play the lead in "Lost," but Murray was booked for years in advance, so Brooks assumed the role.

He talks about his co-writer, the late Monica Johnson, who inspired Julie Hagerty's character in the film: "Monica loved to gamble." He says it was especially difficult to get the rights to Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York," and describes a letter he wrote to Sinatra that got convinced him to allow its release.

Brooks says that Siskel and Ebert both gave "Lost in America" a "Thumbs Up," which "opened that movie for me." When acknowledging that he cast a lot of non-actors in "Lost," Brooks says it was because he thought they would add to the film's reality: "The more real you can make the situation, the better the comedy."

— Peggy Earle

Criterion Collection Extra



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