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Sybil (1976) (DVD)
Based on a true story, this telefilm debut in 1976 to extraordinary response. Sally Field - in an Emmy Award winning and career-turning performance - portrays Sybil, a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder who develops over 16 distinct personalities in order to cope and escape haunting memories of her harrowing childhood. Joanne Woodward plays the understanding and compassionate psychiatrist that helps Sybil confront her horrific past and eliminate her demons.]]>
The word "landmark" is fairly used in the case of Sybil: this 1976 TV movie brought new frankness to television, it raised the quality bar for the made-for-television movie, and it utterly changed the career of a future Oscar-winning actress. The film was based on the bestselling nonfiction book about a multiple-personality patient and her exhaustive therapy. It opens with a brilliant series of scenes that suggest how a young woman named Sybil (Sally Field) experiences unexplained blackouts, which brings her to the attention of a psychiatrist, Dr. Wilbur (Joanne Woodward). The film unfolds around the searching therapy sessions, laced with flashbacks to Sybil's toxic childhood. There's also a tentative romance between the lonely Sybil and a manchild (Brad Davis) who lives across the alley. Most notably, of course, there are the appearances of Sybil's alternate personalities, who express her strangled emotional life. Stewart Stern's sensitive script seems to flow organically from one scene to the next, and director Daniel Petrie frequently allows the camera to observe the acting acrobatics in long, challenging takes.
Woodward, who won an Oscar for playing a multiple-personality patient in The Three Faces of Eve, is all nurturing warmth as the steadfast doctor. But really this film was a sober coming-out party for Sally Field, who astonished viewers at the time by erasing all memories of Gidget and The Flying Nun, the bubblegum roles she'd mostly been known for. Field's work is anguished but non-actor-y, and despite the character's hidden personalities, she seems as clear as day in her performance. The production won four Emmys, not surprisingly including nods for Field, Stern, and Outstanding Special (Drama).
The 187-minute movie takes up one disc; the second disc has informative featurettes about the making of the film. Examining Sybil is an absorbing hour-long documentary with comments from Field and Woodward, as well as executive producer Peter Dunne. It is dominated by the spellbinding storytelling of Stewart Stern, who developed the screenplay by spending time with the real Dr. Wilbur and listening to tapes of her sessions with Sybil. His tale of Sally Field's unlikely audition triumph is a small movie in itself. The Paintings of Sybil presents a generous selection of paintings by the real Sybil (who became a professor of art), along with recollections by one of her friends. Something listed on the DVD cover as "Sybil Therapy Session" is misleadingly titled, suggesting some kind of actual footage or transcript of the real Sybil and her treatment; in fact, it's Stewart Stern describing the harrowing process of listening to the doctor's tapes. The real Sybil (now deceased) remains protected, as she should. --Robert Horton
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1) It is so great to see a movie made back in the time when a New York City location was actually a New York City location. The actors really were on the streets of Big Apple and with filming costs so low up north in Canada, it's a rare thing.
2) I don't know that the extras contained really warranted a second disc. All this wasted space that could easily be saved with a double sided disc.
3) MOST HORRENDOUS IS THE MISLEADING BOX COPY FOR THE EXTRAS. On the box and in advertisements, it clearly states that one of the extras is "Sybil Therapy Session" leading one to believe that we will be privy to either videotape or audio tape of the actual Sybil in session or perhaps a deleted scene from the film. Not so. Not so at all. All it is is a few minutes of the screenwriter sitting in a chair talking about how he heard a few of the tapes and how amazing they were and how it helped in the writing of the script. That's it. It's practically just a sound bite culled from the larger interview they did with the writer and given its own title page. Just know there is absolutely no audio or video tape on this release of the actual "Sybil". SHAME ON THE STUDIO FOR FALSE ADVERTISING AND VERY DELIBERATE DECEPTION.
It's a great film and the transfer is wonderful but this anniversary release is in my opinion, almost ruined by this deception. What is the point of it? The movie and the actors deserved better.