Archive for the ‘Silence of the Lambs (1991)’ Category

Spine # 13

Blu-ray Cover (No Sticker)

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 13, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:58:47

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3948 kbps, 24-bit)

2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1722 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.63 Mbps

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“It was all there. This brilliant novelist Thomas Harris, at the peak of his powers, telling this classic American story, with this great leading woman part. I was like, ‘Oh my God, yes.’ I just knew it could be scary as hell, an incredible picture. Ted Tally did a remarkable job on the screenplay. But every night we were shooting, I’d study the scene for tomorrow, and I’d also go back to the book and read what Harris had written, all the levels that were going on there. I’d arrive on the set just tremendously fortified, from the Harris point of view and the terrific Ted Tally script.” -Jonathan Demme (Deadline)

Can I make a confession? I’ve harbored a dark dirty secret for a ridiculously long time now, and I have to come clean about it before I begin writing about this film. Here goes: I’ve always had a fondness for well-made films concerning serial killers, and this might very well be the best of the genre. It is one of the few films that features a protagonist that is nearly as interesting as any psychopath. Actually, Silence of the Lambs features two serial killers (the most interesting of which spends most of the film locked up in a cell for the criminally insane). I can’t help but go into “fanboy” mode when writing about this film. However, even those who don’t have the same biased affection for it that I do should at least agree that it is a compelling story that is brilliantly told.

The structure of the film is based around a series of patriarchal power plays in which Clarice has to hold her own against various men who use different methods of asserting their control over her. This is how the entire film is structured, and this structure is personified in the film’s first twenty minutes—which is built of a trilogy of encounters that Starling has with three very different male figures.

The first interaction is with Jack Crawford (the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science unit). Crawford becomes a kind of surrogate father—or mentor—to Clarice, but the relationship that he has with Clarice is centered on his role as an authority figure. As a matter of fact, their first conversation in the film begins with a reminder to Clarice that he is the teacher and she is the student (although this is communicated indirectly in the guise of encouragement). In fact, he might be completely unaware that he is doing this:

Crawford-Starling First Interaction

Crawford

Throughout this exchange, Crawford seems to have Starling under a kind of invisible microscope. For example, how will she react to the crime scene photos that are displayed on his wall and scattered throughout his office? Apparently, she passes inspection satisfactorily enough for him to give her the “interesting errand” that will begin her career as an agent. This immediately catapults her into another encounter—this time with the lecherous Frederick Chilton. Unlike Crawford, Chilton is all pretense and condescension. He sees her as a possible lover and immediately hardens when he is tactfully rejected. What’s more, he suggests that her only qualification for interviewing criminals (in this case, Lecter) is her attractiveness to the male sex:

Chilton - Starling Conversation 1

Chilton

The scene continues as he leads Starling down into a dungeon that houses the worst of the institution’s insane criminals as he spews the institution’s safety rules in an almost antagonistic manner that suggests that he might be speaking to a child. The phrase, “Do you understand me?” is a perfect example of this. To make matters worse, he intentionally throws her off balance by showing her a grisly photograph of what happened to a nurse that didn’t comply with his rules:

Chilton - Starling Conversation 2
Luckily, Starling has the last word as she informs Chilton that she intends to question the inmate alone. After Chilton leaves her company, she continues down a catacomb-like corridor that leads to a cell at the end. The cell leads to one Dr. Hannibal “the cannibal” Lecter—and their conversation is the act’s third and final interaction. This is one of cinema’s most interesting verbal dances—an unsettling push-and-pull that leaves a permanent mark on both parties. Lecter’s dialogue is in turns vaguely patronizing and directly insulting—his insults peaking whenever the questionnaire she is there to administer is mentioned as he resents any effort to probe his psyche. He would much rather penetrate Starling’s psyche as he finds her fascinating despite his initial resentment (perhaps because he senses her intelligence):

Lecter - Starling Conversation 1
Lecter
Dr. Lecter’s question to Starling about whether she “knows Florence” is a good example of how he tries to make Starling feel inferior. He knows quite well that she isn’t well traveled and uses this question to reinforce her obvious insecurity. This is, of course, in addition to several more direct attempts. Meanwhile, he sizes up her investigatory abilities and intelligence—but she seems to pass his tests. Her intelligence and tenacity are very much on display despite her insecurity. The good doctor finds her fascinating despite his resentment—although, one must wonder if he would be as interested if her insecurities weren’t also on display. His verbal cruelty may very well be as much a test of her ability to withstand it as any real effort to hurt her (but it is impossible to say for certain). In any case, Starling manages her own manipulations in the face of this and probably earns his grudging respect. She proves herself to be his equal.

First Edition
The brilliance of Ted Tally’s script owes quite a lot to the original Thomas Harris novel as elements of the dialogue are nearly taken verbatim from the original text, but it also owes a good deal to the film’s excellent cast. Could anyone imagine anyone else as Hannibal Lecter after seeing Anthony Hopkins in the role? I certainly couldn’t—even after seeing Brian Cox in Manhunter and Mads Mikkelsen in the atrocious Hannibal television series. Jodie Foster was no less brilliant in her role of Clarice Starling, and her absence was sorely felt in the film’s sequel.

Nearly every sequence could be dissected and probed for meaning and nuance—and these three scenes could be dissected further as this review hasn’t made any real attempt to scratch the surface. The Silence of the Lambs demands repeated viewings. Those who haven’t tasted this classic owe it to themselves to indulge. There are no empty calories here. Bon Appétit.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging—which this reviewer isn’t always a fan of if he is completely honest. However, the packaging is quite sturdy in this particular instance and the design is really quite remarkable. The concept is based upon a macabre combination of the Rorschach test and blood stains that hints at the psychological profiling evident in the film—the bloodstain inkblot are in the shape of the deaths-head moth that has always been a prominent part of the film’s marketing art. It really is a great design. In this instance, the Digipak design is actually above criticism.

Criterion sweetens the deal by adding a rather thick booklet that includes a short Introduction by Jodie Foster, a nine-page essay entitled “A Hero of Our Time” by critic Amy Taubin, two writings by Thomas Harris that were originally published as introductions to newer editions of “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” (the first is entitled “Dr. Salazar” while the second is called “A Forward to a Fatal Interview”). Both of these texts probe the origins of Hannibal Lecter. The final offering “Identity Check,” which is a very nice seventeen-page interview with Jonathan Demme by Gavin Smith.
The book makes for very nice reading and elevates the value of Criterion’s package considerably.

Menu

Menu2

There are two discs contained in the package and the first utilizes animated menus that features footage from the film that has been slightly altered while the second features artwork that utilizes close-ups of both Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector. It all falls in line with what one has come to expect from Criterion. They are both attractive and fairly intuitive to navigate

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

We can say without any qualifiers that Criterion’s transfer of Silence of the Lambs offers a substantial improvement over all previous home video releases. The 4K restoration (which was approved by Tak Fujimoto) has resulted in an impressive filmic image that looks as if the film was shot rather recently (albeit on film instead of the all-too-common digital format) as it is free from age-related blemishes. It certainly honors Jonathan Demme’s memory to see the film treated with the reverence that it deserves. It is a sharper more well-defined image with much-improved depth and clarity. Color has also seen subtle but substantial improvement over the previous releases. This new transfer also looks much better in motion.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion collection offers the viewer a choice of two different audio options. The first is a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio track and is a faithful reproduction of the theatrical mix. The second is a more dynamic 5.1 re-mix created for modern home entertainment systems. Both are extremely effective in their own way. Purists will no doubt opt for the 2.0 track, but those open to the 5.1 mix will have to admit that it is an above average sound bump that respects the original intentions of the filmmakers and never becomes obnoxious. Fans will want to experience both options and decide for themselves as to which choice they prefer. In any case, neither option leaves a lot of room for complaint.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Most of Criterion’s supplemental features are carried over from previous DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film. However, a few items from previous releases haven’t been carried over. The list of missing features includes Breaking the Silence—a picture-in-picture feature that blends text based trivia with video based interview excerpts from several members of the cast and crew. Most (if not all) of this information is available in the various supplements that have been carried over for this release. In addition to this, there is also an Original Teaser Trailer and a dozen Television Spots that haven’t been carried over to this disc. However, none of these omissions should really be missed. Frankly, Criterion’s commentary track is less annoying and more engaging than MGM’s Breaking the Silence feature, and most people won’t miss the teaser or television spots.

Those who already own previous editions of the film may wish for more as the only truly new feature is an interview with Maitland McDonagh (although the commentary track will be new to fans who don’t already own Criterion’s first DVD edition). There is, for example, an excellent episode of the Biography channel’s The Inside Story focusing on the film that would have been most welcome here. However, in all fairness, this episode merely covers the same territory as the included documentaries. The fact is that Criterion’s package covers the entire scope of the film in some depth and viewers don’t really need any new bells and whistles.

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Disc 1

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and John Douglas

The included feature length commentary track was originally included on Criterion’s 1994 Laserdisc release of the film. It actually contains information and insights that aren’t included in any of the other supplements and is well worth hearing. The track seems to be compiled from a number of individual interviews or commentaries by each participant.

Deleted Scenes – (37:58)

Who doesn’t love deleted scenes—especially when it comes to classics like The Silence of the Lambs? They offer viewers an opportunity to glimpse the creation and refining of the film in question. They are invaluable learning tools for the analytical future filmmaker and an interesting treat for the fan. This particular reel also includes a number of outtakes and a silly answering machine message by Anthony Hopkins. Some of these aren’t in the best condition but this is to be expected.

Interview with Maitland McDonagh – (17:58)

Maitland McDonagh discusses America’s fascination with serial killers and their prominence in American cinema. Various films are mentioned before she focuses in on the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. While the mention of the horrible television series leaves a bad taste in our mouths, her comments about the series do offer food for thought. One wishes that more could have been said of the Manhunter and Red Dragon films but this is a minor complaint.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:49)

It is nice to see that Criterion has included the primary theatrical trailer for this release. It is unnerving that so many Blu-rays don’t bother including the theatrical trailers. It is the least that a disc can offer fans and it is ridiculous when they are ignored. One does wonder why the teaser trailer hasn’t also been included here, but this is probably the more interesting of the two.

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Disc 2

Inside the Labyrinth: Making of ‘The Silence of the Lambs – (01:06:25)

Inside the Labyrinth is a 10th Anniversary retrospective that covers the production and the release of The Silence of the Lambs in some detail. The meat of the documentary is provided by numerous interviews with various participants, including Ted Tally (screenwriter), Jodie Foster (actress), Anthony Hopkins (actor), Ted Levine (actor), Scott Glenn (actor), Anthony Heald (actor), Brooke Smith (actress), Diane Baker (actress), Roger Corman (actor), Howard Shore (score), Mike Medavoy (co-founder of Orion Pictures), Ron Bozman (producer), Craig McKay (editor), Tim Galvin (art director), Kristi Zea (production designer), Karen O’Hara (set decorator), Carl Fullerton (special makeup effects creator), Colleen Atwood (costume designer), Skip Lievsay (sound designer), Christopher Newman (production sound mixer), Tom Fleischman (re-recording mixer), Raymond A. Mendez (moth wrangler and stylist), Kenneth Utt (unit production manager), and Amy Taubin (film critic). It is much more comprehensive than either of the other two programs covering the production and it is really nice to see that it has been carried over for this release.

The Silence of the Lambs: Page to Screen – (41:07)

Those familiar with Bravo’s Page to Screen series will know what to expect from this 2002 premiere episode. After a brief (and pointless) introduction by Peter Gallagher, viewers are taken through the production of the film with a special focus on how it was adapted from the original Thomas Harris novel. Included are interviews with the likes of Ted Tally (screenwriter), Edward Saxon (producer), Mike Medavoy (co-founder of Orion Pictures), Jodie Foster (actor), Gene Hackman (actor), Anthony Heald (actor), Scott Glen (actor), Kasi Lemmons (actress), Richard Marek (book editor), and John Douglas (former FBI agent). It covers much of the same material as Inside the Labyrinth but approaches the subject with a slightly different slant. It is nice to have it included here.

Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster – (52:31)

The previous two documentaries didn’t really include any insight from Jonathan Demme (the film’s director), so this particular program is quite welcome as it adds his voice to the conversation. Jodie Foster’s interview also seems much more straight forward than some of the more generalized statements included in the previous features. Some might argue that the other two programs provide a more comprehensive account of the production, but this piece makes a great companion and the new perspective is essential.

Understanding the Madness – (19:33)

Understanding the Madness finds various FBI personnel discussing criminality, psychological profiling, investigatory procedure, and the origins of the film’s two serial killers. The featurette was originally produced in 2008 for one of the film’s DVD editions, but it is exactly the sort of program that Criterion may have produced themselves as it examines the film’s subject in a more practical “real world” manner and therefore adds to the viewer’s appreciation of the film itself. Anyone with an interest in this subject should find this a very welcome addition to the disc. The following retired agents lend their perspectives: Michael R. Napier, James R. Fitzgerald, Richard L. Ault Jr., R. Stephen Mardigian, Roger L. Depue, and Robert R. Hazelwood.

Scoring the Silence – (16:00)

Scoring the Silence is an archival interview with Howard Shore produced in 2004. Shore discusses the score and reveals that it represents the internal emotions of Clarice Starling instead of offering the typical scares one expects in such films. Some viewers may be turned off by the inevitable navel-gazing in this piece, but it is instructive and rather interesting if one happens to have any interest in film scores. Actually, one might describe it as a select scene commentary as it relies heavily on footage from the film itself. The scene being discussed is used to illustrate the Shore’s revelations.

Original 1991 Behind-The-Scenes Featurette – (08:07)

Less instructive is this vintage EPK featurette about the film. Various participants discuss the story and the characters that inhabit the film. One does see some interesting ‘behind the scenes’ footage, but there isn’t anything particularly revelatory being discussed. It was strictly a promotional tool and a rather heavy-handed one. However, it is an interesting marketing artifact.

Storyboards – (04:11)

The disc is rounded out with what is essentially a video slideshow of various storyboards from the film’s pre-visualization that were illustrated by Kalina Ivanov.

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Final Words:

This chilling adaptation of the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris is perhaps the best “serial killer film” ever made and is one of the undeniable highlights of Jonathan Demme’s career. It swept the Academy Awards as it won an award in all of the five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor) after being nominated for seven awards (it lost in the Best Editing and Best Sound categories). This is a major accomplishment when one considers how the Academy has an unfortunate tendency to ignore genre films entirely. The Criterion Collection offers up the best home video transfer and supplemental package that it has ever received and arrives with our enthusiastic recommendation.

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[Note: There were changes made from the script to the actual film. However, this article refers to the scenes as written since the inevitable changes do not actually alter the meaning and subtleties of the scene in any significant way.]

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