There’s a buzz in San Francisco on the night of Thursday 21st November 1963, “the four bees” arriving in the city for twenty-four hours leave before departing for Okinawa and deployment in Vietnam, Lance Corporal Eddie Birdlace and his three US Marine buddies taking part in the “dogfight” where they are challenged to bring the ugliest girl they can find to the dance, the winner taking home the cash stake.

Happening upon Rose in the diner owned by her mother, Eddie asks her to be his companion for the night, but overhearing a conversation in the ladies restroom at the venue where Berzin’s “date” Marcie complains about having to push for her promised cut of the cash Rose realises the truth and confronts Eddie with suitably justified rage, he realising that there is more to the timid waitress with aspirations to being a folk singer than he presumed.

The second feature for director Nancy Savoca and the first for a major studio, Dogfight merged her indie credentials with mainstream appeal in the same way as the film combined multiple locations across Seattle and San Francisco to create the Bay City of the early sixties, radically changed in the final scene as Eddie returns several years later to find the counter culture has occupied the neighbourhood and that he is far from a homecoming hero.

Starring River Phoenix as Eddie and Lili Taylor as Rose alongside Valley Girl’s E G Daily as Marcie, he was already a star half a decade past his debut in Explorers while she was the indie darling on the rise, on her way to lead roles in The Addiction and I Shot Andy Warhol, while his destiny took him to the Viper Club on Hallowe’en night of 1993, Dogfight a bittersweet reminder of what he accomplished in only twenty-three years and how much more he should have achieved.

Eddie a man who is easily swept along, by the mindset of the military, by the pack mentality of his comrades, even as he changes course to apologise to Rose he continues to behave the same way, engaging in a vendetta with a maître d’ to whom he takes exception when she would rather he focus his attention and his kindness on her; a touch naïve, believing in peace and the power of music for change, she is less confrontational than her dinner date but in her own way no less stubborn.

Originally released in October 1991 and featuring a soundtrack from the era in which it is set, Dogfight now joins the Criterion Collection in a new 2K digital restoration for Blu-ray supported by an audio commentary by Savoca and producer Richard Guay, interviews with Savoca, Taylor and many key crewmembers, the original trailer and an essay by film critic Christina Newland.

Dogfight will be available on Blu-ray from Criterion from Monday 6th May



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