“KANSAS CITY”— Music and the Movies


Music and the Movies

Amos Lassen

Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” is “an evocative, bullet-riddled tribute to the music and movies” of the director’s youth in the city of the title..

Blondie O Hara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) uses desperate measures when her low-level thug husband Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) is caught trying to steal from Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), a local crime boss operating out of The Hey Hey Club, a jazz haunt. Blondie kidnaps socialite Carolyn Stilton (Miranda Richardson), hoping that her influential politician husband can get Johnny away from Seldom Seen. “Kansas City” is one of Altman’s most underrated films.

Johnny messed with the wrong man when he tried to steal from Seldom Seen. Two kidnappings bring forward the complex power dynamics in the corrupt thirties; the movie takes a look at the big issues of love, crime, race and politics.

The jazz soundtrack is integrated into the film, re-creating the Kansas City jazz of the time. The performances of Leigh and Belafonte are the main high points in this well written screenplay.

The movie opens with Blondie faking her way into a mansion and kidnapping Carolyn whose husband is a powerful Democrat. Blondie’s plan is to hold the wife to force the husband to use his influence in order to free her husband. This takes a lot of influence because Johnny has foolish in trying to rob best customer of the local black gambling boss. O’Hara pulling his stickup in blackface adding an extra insult.  

A memorable scene is an extended exchange of solos involving Craig Handy, Joshua Redman and James Carter. The musicians not only celebrate their own styles but quote and borrow from one another, and weave elements of other songs into the one they’re playing.

The film does a fine job of re-creating the 30s in the look of interiors and the tone of the colors.


  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio

  English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Audio commentary by director Robert Altman

  Newly filmed appreciation by critic Geoff Andrew

  Gare, Trains et Déraillement, a 2007 visual essay by French critic Luc Lagier, plus short introduction to the film narrated by Lagier

  Robert Altman Goes to the Heart of America and Kansas City: The Music, two 1996 promotional featurettes including interviews with cast and crew

  Electronic press kit interviews with Altman, Leigh, Richardson, Belafonte and musician Joshua Redman, plus behind-the-scenes footage

  Four theatrical trailers

  TV spots

  Image gallery

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing by Dr Nicolas Pillai, original press kit notes and an excerpt from Altman on Altman

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