Plot: What’s it about?
John Lurie knows absolutely nothing about fishing, but that doesn’t stop him from undertaking the adventure of a lifetime on Fishing With John. With that tag line on the case, how can this be a bad disc? After all, John knows nothing about fishing, but he piles famous people into a boat, and searches out the dangerous sharks, giant squids, and other urchins of the sea. The premise of these episodes, which originally aired on The Independent Film Channel, is John Lurie asks some famous friends to join him on a fishing trip. Not just to the local lake though, he takes Dennis Hopper to Thailand and makes Matt Dillon venture into the Costa Rican jungle. As you can tell, these are not places you’d usually take a normal fishing trip to. So what is the purpose of these episodes? Well, while the men are fishing, they banter back and forth, and we can see some humanity within these celebrities. They have some very interesting conversations, and hey, who doesn’t want to see Willem Dafoe in the freezing cold of Maine’s snowy landscape?
In order to really enjoy this disc, you have to enjoy conversations. Just listening in, while the fishing happens. These are not scripted, so what you hear is raw dialogue, no writing of answers. You actually get to hear some of these famous guys complain about the weather, and exclaim what a total waste of time this whole thing is. It’s very humorous, to say the least. It’s also interesting to see these guys out in the rough with little or no modern conveniences. The episode with Willem Dafoe is the funniest, as they believe they are going to freeze to death by morning, and slowly run out of food. Lurie has a hilarious tendency to almost antagonize his guests at time, bringing out some great dialogue, this disc is not to be missed!
The cast is basically John Lurie, our host, and his various guests. Lurie is a musician by trade, but has appeared in movies, such as Stranger than Paradise and New Rose Hotel. The liner insert says Lurie got the idea to do this project by thinking of it as a way to write his vacations off his taxes. You have to like a guy who thinks like that. Anyway, he invites several friends fishing, each to a different locale. The disc is divided into six episodes, each about 25 minutes long. First, he invites Jim Jarmusch to the waters off of Long Island, in search of sharks. What a great idea! Then he and Willem Dafoe travel to the northernmost point of Maine, to ice fish. This is the best episode, filled with hilarious antics. Dafoe plays along with Lurie, and it makes the episode an instant classic. The next episode involves a canoe trip in the Costa Rican jungle with Matt Dillon, which includes a funny segment on a cheap airplane, where both men are convinced the plane will crash before they reach their destination. Also of note in this installment is the man who turns into a bird and the good luck dance, great stuff! Episode four is a trek with Tom Waits and the natives in Jamaica, in which Waits gets boat sick and complains of the early start time. The final two episodes take place in Thailand, where Lurie is joined by Dennis Hopper. Their mission in these foreign waters? To be the first people to locate and catch a giant squid. Also in the episodes is Robb Webb, who serves as the narrator. Webb is excellent, and adds many laughs to the episodes.
Video: How does it look?
Fishing With John was shot for television with a handheld camera, so the image is full frame, but that’s the intended ratio, so relax. As I said, the image is handheld camera footage, so it’s jumpy and not film like in appearance. It basically looks like a home movie, and that seems to be exactly what Lurie wanted. Aside from the obvious flaws inherent with the medium, the transfer looks great. Colors are rich, but don’t have the same sharpness of a polished film, but still, the colors look very good. Black level varies greatly, although correct most of the time. Usually the image is very bright, so not many shadow areas occur. A fine transfer for the materials.
Audio: How does it sound?
Again, the audio is basically dialogue, which can be very quiet or very loud, depending on how close to the camera they were. Usually you can hear everything though, and that’s all you can ask for with this disc. The music, by John Lurie, is downright bizarre at times, and it sounds very good here. Lurie also overdubbed some unusual sounds effects, such as in episode one (not Star Wars), where birds fly overhead, and you hear “bird noise, bird noise” as opposed to actual birds chirping. Very cool, and very strange.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Not many extras can really be available for this, but Criterion has packed a couple on. First off, you get a decent music video by John Lurie’s band, the song is called “Big Heart.” Then you get a running commentary on each episode, with John Lurie. He is very funny to listen to, and describes what he went through to make this project happen.