‘The Cotton Club’ Gets an Encore

Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish 1930s mob musical is getting another moment in the spotlight 35 years later with The Cotton Club Encore.

Coppola’s new cut of the troubled 1984 production arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Dec. 10, featuring exclusive new bonus material, from Lionsgate. The cut adds 24 minutes and deletes 13 from the original, allowing the original theme of two characters caught up in music and the mob — one white and one black — to be more fully realized. The new version also reinstates stories about the African-American performers who lit up the real-life Jazz Age nightclub during desperate times.

Actress Lonette McKee’s rendition of Ethel Waters’ “Stormy Weather” was added to the new cut.

The film stars Richard Gere, long before he won a Golden Globe in another movie musical set in the 1930s, Chicago, and the late Gregory Hines (1992 Tony Award, Best Actor in a Musical, Jelly’s Last Jam), whose extended performance with his brother Maurice Hines is one of the highlights of the new cut. Diane Lane, Lonette McKee, Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Laurence Fishburne, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Grey and Tom Waits also star. McKee’s rendition of Ethel Waters’ “Stormy Weather” and Coppola’s originally envisioned ending also are part of the additions.

In the film, Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club becomes a hotbed of passion and violence as the lives and loves of entertainers and gangsters collide. While the 1984 version centered on Gere’s character, Coppola meant for it to be a story of his and Hines’ character navigating life in and around the Cotton Club with their families. During post-production, the film was condemned as too long, and, according to some stakeholders, as having “too many black people” and “too much tap dancing.” Coppola was pressured to minimize Hines’ character and lose many musical numbers.

Along with his team at American Zoetrope, Coppola set out to create an updated version that would more closely resemble the original intentions of the film.

“I and my company American Zoetrope set about the daunting task to find the more than 30 minutes of lost negative, in some cases restoring it from old print material, and to restore, remix and allow this film to re-emerge in a new and worthy edition,” said Coppola. “This is The Cotton Club Encore, the film the world should have seen despite the countless court cases, murder trial proceedings and warring producers.”

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Coppola spent half a million dollars to restore the film.

“I’d always been discouraged about The Cotton Club, and it didn’t seem to blossom in the way I might have hoped,” Coppola told Vanity Fair.

He faced conflicts with a former Paramount chief and Hollywood legend, the late Robert Evans, as well as growing costs, infighting and even a murder. One of the film’s financiers was kidnapped and killed.

“There was a murder; there were lawsuits. And after all this stuff the movie itself was an anti-climax,” Coppola told Vanity Fair. “But I wanted to say, in a way, that we survived all that, and this is the way the movie should have been seen.”

Special features include:

  • Introduction to The Cotton Club Encore by Francis Ford Coppola
  • The Cotton Club Encore Q&A