When Etiquette Pictures first announced the release of Catch My Soul, I hadn’t heard of it. Which made me all kinds of curious. Upon looking into it, I realized a few things: it is a rock opera based on Othello, the director is none other than Patrick McGoohan who was responsible for creating the TV series The Prisoner, it is shot by Conrad Hall (who needs no further introduction), and it is a product of the 1970s. Everything about this intrigued me to no end. I had to see this film. And, luckily, the Blu-ray would only be months away. I could wait. And I’m happy to say that the anticipation was worth it.
Catch My Soul is really odd yet it fits in perfectly with what Etiquette have given us thus far, finding some sort of happy middle ground between the hyper esoteric nature of Some Call It Loving and the freewheeling 70s American aesthetics and attitude of The American Dreamer. And as an Othello adaptation it manages to tread new ground as well, though it is not the first film to adapt Shakespeare’s text with the use of music, Basil Dearden’s 1962 jazz fueled opus All Night Long did it ten years prior, it is the first (that I know of) to exist as a flat out musical. And as a musical, it succeeds surprisingly well. I’m no student of Shakespeare and can’t attest to how faithful McGoohan’s film is to its source, but I never had difficulty following the narrative and the songs themselves are catchy and strange. I’d absolutely listen to a soundtrack of this.
I’m not entirely sure who the audience for a film like Catch My Soul is in 2015. In the mid 70s, it was riding a wave of successful musicals and pandering to a very specific counter-culture. The target demographic may not be the same now, but the work is still captivating nonetheless. Othello has had a long, spotty history of being translated to screen – the most famous being Orson Welles’ 1952 film and the 1995 version that, naturally, stars Kenneth Branagh; the most awkward being the Columbine postponed, contemporary high school set O from 2001 – and Catch My Soul fits in as nicely as any of the others. But what really sets McGoohan’s film apart from the pack is how singular it all is. Dearden may have beat him to the punch by using music, but no other Othello adaptation on screen captures a time and space like Catch My Soul does. It’s as much a Shakespeare adaptation as it is a rather vital time capsule into a period of Americana that just doesn’t exist anymore. And it’s also a whole lot of fun to behold.
Etiquette Pictures have brought Catch My Soul to Blu-ray for the first time with this release. And not just Blu-ray either, this is the first time the film has been on any home video format. So, that alone is a cause for celebration. But, in due form, Etiquette have seen fit to drop a rather staggering presentation on us. The source here is the original 35mm negative which has to have been kept in great shape for the past 40 years. Colors here pop, with exterior desert locations looking bright with crisp blue skies and golden sand. Conrad Hall’s work is one of the stars here and it gets its due. Damage is very minor, with some wear noticeable at times but nothing overly detrimental appearing on screen. Audio is 1.0 DTS HD-MA which may not be ideal for such a music driven feature, but it works well enough. I had no issues with distortion or hissing, but the balance seemed a bit off, finding myself adjusting the volume more than I usually do. But that may also just be a result of wanting the music louder. Regardless, presentation here is faithful and in line with what we have come to expect from Etiquette after only two previous releases.
Starting off the extras is a very nice booklet with an essay by Tom Mayer. These booklets have been indispensable so far with Etiquette releases and I hope that they don’t go anywhere in the future. Mayer’s essay provides necessary context for Catch My Soul and doesn’t really spoil anything. It’s a great read before or after watching the feature and may be my favorite extra in the set. Next up we have a 20 minute featurette titled “Drink the Wine, Eat the Bread” which discusses the production history and release of Catch My Soul and is primarily anecdotal with a lot of ground covered regarding drug use and McGoohan being hard to work with. It’s a fun watch and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Following that we have an interview with star Tony Joe White titled “The Deacon Speaks” which runs 11 minutes and is mostly White discussing working with McGoohan and the music in the film. The final video piece is “True Soul” which is about Conrad Hall and features his daughter discussing his career for 8 minutes. Wrapping up the package is a still gallery, TV spot, and theatrical trailer. A great package for a film just making its home video debut after forty years!
Catch My Soul is only the third release from Vinegar Syndrome offshoot Etiquette Pictures and they’re already living up to the high standards set by VS, all while carving out a very specific niche for themselves. This is likely their most unclassifiable film so far – which is saying quite a bit – yet, like Some Call It Loving and The American Dreamer earlier this year, the release of this alone is a huge step in preserving a marginalized sector of American film history. There’s absolutely an audience for this one (albeit a very specific one) and I hope that it ends up in their hands more sooner than later. Highly recommended.