Shout! Factory // 2003 // 375 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // March 14th, 2007
i-con: One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol
James Lipton, dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School, has sat across from more than 200 renowned actors since Inside the Actors Studio debuted on Bravo in 1994. The concept is simple, and so is the execution. On a barebones set, with nothing but two chairs, a table, and a pitcher of water, Lipton sits, steno pad in his lap, and chats -- just chats -- with his celebrity guests for about 90 minutes.
Lipton's style takes some getting used to. His seriousness of purpose frequently verges on amusing, and he fawns too much over certain celebrities (although even the most seasoned interviewer can be forgiven for occasionally being star struck by the likes of, say, Paul Newman or Meryl Streep).
Then there's the matter of that damn Bernard Pivot questionnaire that concludes each interview. What is your favorite word? What turns you on? What is your favorite sound? Whether the test succeeds in stripping away the subject's mask is debatable, but it is a strangely fascinating exercise, and the show's trademark. (By the way, Barbara Streisand's favorite sound? An orgasm.)
Lipton and his show have become punchlines over the years (Will Ferrell memorably nailed Lipton's intensity and doting style during his SNL stint), but give the man credit for steering clear of two potential traps a lesser host could easily have stumbled into: he never attempts to play amateur shrink (even with the kind of headcase that Streisand herself practically admits to being), nor is he interested in addressing tabloid gossip. His questions are often personal, but they also always relate directly to his guests work. And the depth of his research often astounds even his guests, who on more than one occasion try to catch a peek at his notes. Those interested in the unsavory rumors about a celeb's private life can wallow away over at the E! network. Meanwhile, anyone fascinated by the art of screen acting will find Inside the Actors Studio compelling viewing.
This three-disc set, one of the long-running series' few releases, compiles four of the series' best episodes, each spotlighting, as its title suggests, a bona fide cinema legend. It's hard to imagine four actors better suited to the "icon" label than Newman, Streisand, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, who have all enjoyed lengthy, colorful and varied careers. To sit in on their intimate conversations (well, disregarding the 200 students in the audience) is a treat.
Newman has always been one of Hollywood's more elusive celebrities, preferring to practice his craft while staying out of the public spotlight. Which makes it all the more surprising that he became the first guest to appear on Inside the Actors Studio. As expected, though, Newman is one cool drink of water. The same goes for the Eastwood, who, as expected, has more to say about his career as a director than as an actor. He's soft-spoken, modest, perhaps even a tad shy, but never less than fascinating when discussing his unorthodox career trajectory (how Dirty Harry went on to direct the moving weeper The Bridges of Madison County will forever be beyond my understanding).
Lipton worked hard to book Redford on the show, and the results are not disappointing. Redford started as a matinee idol before finding a second career as a highly regarded director. He discusses both here, and he is articulate and highly intelligent. As is Streisand, whose well documented political opinions gave her the potential to be one of the series' most provocative guests. Instead, she turns out to be engagingly low-key, funny and even vulnerable. Her politics are barely addressed.
As a supplement to your collection of classic films, Inside the Actors Studio -- Icons is highly recommended.
Inside the Actors Studio -- Icons is presented on three discs, each packaged in a thin-pack amaray case. The three cases are housed in a tastefully designed cardboard slip-case. Each episode is shown in its original 1.33:1 format with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, appropriate for this release. Subtitles not included.
Each disc includes a brief introduction by Lipton and "Great Moments That Didn't Make the Cut," segments that were edited from the broadcast. Curiously, Streisand's interview is the only one for which cut scenes are not included.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital Stereo (English)
Running Time: 375 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* James Lipton: Flashbacks
* Great Moments That Didn't Make the Cut
* Inside the Actors Studio