Archive for the ‘A Ghost Story (2017)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:32:07

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.37:1

Note: This Blu-ray comes with an Ultraviolet copy of the film.


[WARNING! The following text contains spoilers.]

There is a tendency amongst filmgoers to criticize or discount a film simply because it isn’t what they want it to be, and it seems that this tendency is more frequent when the film isn’t intended to be experienced in the usual manner. It’s impossible to explain this phenomenon without making a comparison: One doesn’t read a poem in the same manner that they would read a novel. Doing so would eradicate the poem’s power and perhaps it’s very meaning. It is necessary to be attentive to the manner in which a poem is written. We pay careful attention to every syllable and make sure that we read the stanzas with the proper emphasis. Even punctuation becomes important. We must question these choices because the style is very often informed by content—and the content is informed by the style. We read the typical novel in a much different manner. The novel requires less from the reader, but only a philistine would complain that a poem is an inferior form of expression.

Just as literary expression takes a variety of forms, there are also various forms of cinematic expression. In fact, one might say that there are films that are more like novels or short stories and others that have more in common with poetry. The trouble is that many viewers will treat every single film they watch as if it were a novel or a short story and become listless when it turns out that the film is in actuality a poem. People tend to say such films are boring, slow, or even pointless—but the reality is that these individuals aren’t doing their part. In these cases, the film doesn’t let the viewer down; the viewer lets the film down.

The Ghost Story is one of these challenging poetic films. It moves languidly but with purpose. The deliberate pace is directly connected to the themes inherent in the narrative, and if viewed properly this will pull the audience into that universe. Unfortunately, those who don’t engage properly with the images on the screen are doomed for a rather excruciating ninety minutes.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story

There are moments while writing certain reviews for this kind of film that I am reminded of something that Elvis Costello once said in an interview: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture—it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” The same can be said about writing about the cinema. How can one articulate something that needed to be expressed in images? A Ghost Story is a thematically rich visual experience that touches on such things as the intangible (but very real) quality of love and grief, the abstract nature of both time and existence, and a number of other moving subjects that are impossible to express here.

Those with an affection for the films of Terrence Malick should be able to appreciate A Ghost Story, but it is necessary to warn viewers that—like other poetic films—this film is deliberately paced. In fact, there are a number of static shots that last nearly five minutes. Nothing much seems to be happening if you choose to view the film without participating, but those who lean in to examine the frame and make an effort to understand its place in the overall design should find themselves rewarded. In order to illustrate this more clearly, we will examine two extreme examples:

There is a scene near the beginning of the film that finds Rooney Mara’s character looking upon her dead lover’s corpse in a hospital. After a certain amount of time, she covers the body back up with a sheet and exits the room. The camera lingers upon the image of her lover’s covered body for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. We lean in slightly in order to examine the frame. Did we see movement? No. The frame is empty. There is no life at all in this image. It is heartbreakingly final… Then, after a few more moments, we think perhaps we saw some slight movement. Then it happens: the ghost is born before our eyes. It is a remarkable moment.

Birth of a Ghost

The Birth of a Ghost: One of a number of lengthy static shots in A Ghost Story.

This is the perfect example of how David Lowery allows the style to inform and convey the meaning of a moment in this film. The emptiness of the frame coupled with the fact that the narrative stops completely for several minutes conveys the loss and death experienced by the main character, but in this instance, there is a payoff in the birth of the film’s ghost.

Another perhaps even more audacious example of this strategy occurs a bit later while the Rooney Mara character is left alone to grieve in the same house that she shared with her lover. A pie has been brought over as a condolence, and we see the distraught woman eat nearly the entire pie in a single unbroken take as the ghost watches her in the background. The ghost (her deceased lover) is forced to be a passive observer and this sort of shot places the audience in that same position. This particular shot is around five minutes long. This stretch of time feels incredibly empty as it does to both the ghost and to the grieving woman he is observing. The difference between this shot and the earlier shot in the hospital is that the payoff here isn’t forthcoming (unless one considers watching a character running into a restroom in the background to vomit a proper payoff). Lowery isn’t setting us up for anything here. He is merely putting the viewer through the moment.

The Pie Sequence

Eating Pie: Another lengthy static shot featured in A Ghost Story.

SELRES_f3da06dd-9266-4eae-ac1d-4535569ed829These examples are offered here in order to illustrate the unusual manner in which this film’s story is told, but it is lamentable that anyone reading this has been robbed of discovering and interpreting these two moments for themselves SELRES_f3da06dd-9266-4eae-ac1d-4535569ed829(in a manner that would have been much more personal to them). So much more than this could certainly be said about the film, but it seems best to let the viewer discover the film’s virtues on their own terms.


The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film-related artwork that is similar to but not the same as the artwork featured on the film’s American one sheet. The case is further protected by a slip sleeve that features this same design. It is a reasonably attractive if standard package. However, it is too bad that they didn’t use exactly the same art because it was a bit more eloquent.

One Sheet

The Official One-Sheet Artwork

The animated menus employ footage of the film’s iconic ghost accompanied by Daniel Hart’s music for the film.


Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

A Ghost Story announces itself as an aesthetically unique film right away with the use of the 1.37:1 “Academy” aspect ratio (complete with rounded corners). The film was captured using the Arri Alexa line of cameras (which likely means a 2K source image). The overall color palette is decidedly muted and the contrast appears to be a bit flat. This was obviously the filmmaker’s intended aesthetic. There is a cloudy quality to the image but this is appropriate for the material. The trouble with this is that the resulting image doesn’t make the most of the high definition format—but the viewer should remember that the format should serve the needs of the material and not the other way around. However, some of the murkiness inherent in the image is lamentable. Clarity is decent throughout most of the film despite the soft quality inherent in the visuals.


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Obviously, any film that is nearly entirely lacking in traditional dialogue is going to lean heavily towards sound design and music. This is good news for audiophiles, but be warned that the immersive dynamics of the mix could only be described as subtle. Daniel Hart’s incredibly effective score is nearly as impressive as the film’s visuals and it is these musical flourishes that benefit most from the 5.1 surround mix—although the atmospherics are certainly helped as well. Again, this isn’t a track that will impress when it comes to its dynamic range but this is beside the point. It is an accurate representation of the filmmaker’s original intentions, and people shouldn’t care about anything else. Frankly, the film’s quiet scenes pack the most punch anyway.


Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with David Lowery (Director), Andrew Droz Palermo (Cinematographer), Jade Healy (Production Designer), and Daniel Hart (Composer)

This casual but informative screen-specific filmmaker’s conversation about the film is both engaging and informative as it covers various aspects of the production. We learn how collaboration led to a slightly altered beginning for the film, aesthetic choices made by the filmmakers—including the decision to shoot in the academy ratio, technical revelations, the film’s sound and music design, invisible special effects (such as the digital removal of Casey Affleck’s tattoos), elements in the film that weren’t in the script or were almost deleted, and more. (An example of a scene that Lowery considered deleting is the lengthy monologue scene. Frankly, this reviewer wishes that he had decided to do this because it is a tonal hiccup in a film that is otherwise impressively even.) Those who admire the film will appreciate having this available.

Deleted Scene – (HD) – (05:56)

A lengthy scene entitled “C Makes Coffee” finds Casey Affleck’s character making coffee on the morning he is killed. It doesn’t add much and the following scene revealing his death is better because of its omission from the film. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that warns viewers that the footage is raw and hasn’t been color corrected or mixed for sound. However, it looks and sounds good enough.

‘A Ghost Story’ and the Inevitable Passing of Time – (HD) – (20:20)

This is an unusual roundtable discussion that finds David Lowery (Writer/Director), Casey Affleck (Actor), Andrew Droz Palermo (Cinematographer), Toby Halbrooks (Producer), James Johnston (Producer), and Annell Brodeur (Costume Designer) as they look back on the production. What makes this so unusual is that it is held in a haunted building in complete darkness and seems to have been shot using infrared technology. A wide variety of topics are discussed and interesting information is divulged, but one actually wishes that it was presented in a more traditional manner—or even as a standard talking head documentary built around various interviews. Much of the information here is featured in the commentary track, although new information can be found here.

A Composer’s Story – (HD) – (04:37)

Some might actually find this short interview with Daniel Hart more to their liking. It is certainly much more informative than one probably expects at four and a half minutes—although some of the information here was revealed in the film’s commentary track. He discussed how the film’s score grew organically out of a song recorded by his band Dark Rooms entitled “I Get Overwhelmed.” The details I should probably leave to be discovered by those interested in this aspect of the film.


Final Words:

Written and directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) and boasting a top-notch cast including Academy Award® winner Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and two-time Academy Award® nominee Rooney Mara (Carol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), A Ghost Story offers a singular viewing experience to anyone willing to put forth the proper effort. However, it probably isn’t for everyone.

Review by: Devon Powell