Posts Tagged ‘The Criterion Collection’

Spine # 897

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 03:05:12

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 4051 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 27.19 Mbps

Title

“The American press was predominantly enthusiastic about the film, and Time magazine ran a cover story about it. The international press was even more enthusiastic. It is true that the English press was badly split. But from the very beginning, all of my films have divided the critics. Some have thought them wonderful, and others have found very little good to say. But subsequent critical opinion has always resulted in a very remarkable shift to the favorable. In one instance, the same critic who originally rapped the film has several years later put it on an all-time best list. But, of course, the lasting and ultimately most important reputation of a film is not based on reviews, but on what, if anything, people say about it over the years, and on how much affection for it they have.” –Stanley Kubrick (Interview with Michel Ciment)

We can announce with some certainty that there are enough admiring cinephiles to call Barry Lyndon a classic. In fact, there are those who would call it Kubrick’s masterpiece—although one might argue that his filmography is full of them. However, one doesn’t wish to imply that it is uniformly admired by general audiences. There are plenty of people who would agree with the following condescending words written by Pauline Kael:

“This film is a masterpiece in every insignificant detail. Kubrick isn’t taking pictures in order to make movies, he’s making movies in order to take pictures. Barry Lyndon indicates that Kubrick is thinking through his camera, and that’s not really how good movies get made—though it’s what gives them their dynamism, if a director puts the images together vivifyingly for an emotional impact. I wish Stanley Kubrick would come home to this country to make movies again, working fast on modern subjects—maybe even doing something tacky, for the hell of it. There was more film art in his early The Killing than there is in Barry Lyndon, and you didn’t feel older when you came out of it…” —Pauline Kael (Kubrick’s Gilded Age)

BTS

Frankly, any critic who hopes that a brilliant director will shovel out the same twaddle being shoveled out by lesser directors should throw their pen or typewriter in the garbage and tape their mouths shut. Kael somehow earned a great deal of respect as a film critic—no small accomplishment considering the fact that she was wrong more often than she was right. She was wrong about Alfred Hitchcock, she was wrong about the Coen brothers, and she was wrong about Stanley Kubrick.

When one is making cinema, details are never insignificant. They are used to build a very distinct world for the viewer, and those so-called insignificant details transport the viewer back in time with an efficiency that has rarely been matched by other directors.  What’s more, Barry Lyndon’s pacing isn’t slow—it is deliberate.  This distinction is an important one, because Kubrick has obviously worked the pacing out with the same meticulous attention. It is the sort of film that requires quite a lot of the viewer and will reward their effort. One must allow the images to wash over them with an understanding that the journey of this film is more important than the destination.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has really been on the ball lately as their beautiful package for Barry Lyndon is one of several exceptional releases in a matter of months. Other examples include last month’s 2-Disc Blu-ray package for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and a stellar 2-Disc/2-Version release of Orson Welles’s Othello earlier this month. This release for Stanley Kubrick’s period masterpiece is in every way their equal.

On the surface, this 2-Disc edition looks exactly like Criterion’s standard single disc releases. Both discs are housed in their standard clear case with a cover sleeve featuring a slightly altered and more simplistic incarnation of Jouineau Bourduge’s one sheet design for the film. Charles Gehm also contributed a design to promote the film, and Warner Brothers utilized it as the primary poster for Barry Lyndon’s original theatrical run. However, Bourduge’s more simplistic alternative one sheet design has become the most iconic image associated with the film. It is no wonder that Criterion decided to utilize it and they made the right choice!

Charles Gehm's One Sheet

Charles Gehm’s One Sheet Design

In addition to the two discs, Criterion houses an above average 40-page collector’s booklet that includes a scholarly essay by Geoffrey O’Brien entitled “Time Regained,” and two pieces that were originally published in a special March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer that was devoted to the film. The first is an incredibly in-depth interview with John Alcott entitled “Photographing ‘Barry Lyndon’” and it essential reading. Alcott goes into some technical detail about how many of the film’s innovative technological effects were pulled off—so much technical detail that some readers will find themselves ill-prepared to completely understand some of the information. The same can be said about a short article by Ed DiGiulio (president of Cinema Products Corporation) about the special equipment alterations and inventions that Kubrick needed for the film. It is entitled “Two Special Lenses for ‘Barry Lyndon’” and is well worth reading. This all adds up to an incredibly substantial booklet—which we prefer to Criterion’s single essay pamphlets.

One does wonder why Michel Ciment’s famed interview with Stanley Kubrick about Barry Lyndon hasn’t been included within these pages (especially since Ciment was interviewed for one of the disc’s supplements). However, to question why this hasn’t been included makes one feel like an unappreciative brat.

Each disc has its own menu design and features its own piece of music from the film, and both are attractive and intuitive to navigate. Anyone familiar with other Criterion discs will know what to expect.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has wisely secluded this three hour film on its own disc coupled only with a choice of soundtracks. This allows them to make the most of their new 4K digital restoration. The following information about the transfer was included in the collector’s booklet:

Barry Lyndon is presented in the film’s photographed aspect ratio of 1.66:1, as specified in a December 8, 1975, letter from director Stanley Kubrick to projectionists. This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film-scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The high-definition transfer created in 2000 and supervised by Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant, served as a color reference for this new master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management…” –Collector’s Booklet

The result is a substantial improvement over the 1.78:1 Warner Brothers transfer, and the differences go far beyond the fact that Criterion presents the film in its intended aspect ratio—even though the earlier transfer was really quite wonderful from a technical standpoint. For one thing, Criterion’s handling of the film’s grain results in an organic and very clean representation that is in keeping with the original image without getting in the way of fine detail. The image is much sharper here despite the intentionally soft appearance of the cinematography. This is simply the result of a technically superior 4K scan and not the result of digital tampering. Black levels are gorgeous and deep without crushing detail in shadowy areas of the frame. The clean-up work undertaken by those who restored the film has resulted in an immaculate image. As a matter of fact, the improvements evident in this new transfer are at their most remarkable during the darker scenes. Density is another area that shows a marked improvement over the previous Blu-ray transfers.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s sound elements have also seen a new transfer and restoration and technical details were included in Criterion’s collector’s booklet along with those concerning the image:

“…The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm magnetic DME (dialogue, music, and effects) track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. The alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2000 from original soundtrack stems by Vitali and audio engineer Chris Jenkins.” –Collector’s Booklet

Purists should be very happy to learn that the original mono track has been restored and included here along with the 5.1 mix. Both tracks are quite good and there aren’t any issues to report regarding either track as both sound incredible here.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Making Barry Lyndon – (37:52)

A “making of” documentary about Barry Lyndon should’ve been made years ago, but Criterion has happily corrected this oversight with this thirty-eight minute look at the film’s production. The program features new interviews with several of Kubrick’s collaborators, including Jan Harlan (executive producer/Kubrick’s brother-in-law), Katharina Kubrick, Leon Vitali (actor), Dominic Savage (actor), Brian Cook (assistant director), Michael Stevenson (assistant director), and Richard Daniels (senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive). It also includes an archival radio with Stanley Kubrick that certainly adds quite a bit to the proceedings. This is a somewhat comprehensive piece that covers such topics as pre-production research, the script—or what there was of a script, the special challenges regarding the film’s innovative cinematography, the meticulous costume designs, and anecdotes from those who worked on the film. One wonders why some of the stand-alone interviews weren’t included as a part of this more comprehensive piece, but this isn’t necessarily a complaint. Obviously, this is the strongest and most instructive supplement on the entire disc (and this is saying quite a lot).

Achieving Perfection – (15:32)

Achieving Perfection is an excellent featurette that focuses primarily on the film’s visuals and the painstaking work that went into creating them. It features interviews with Douglas Milsume (focus puller), Lou Bogue (gaffer), and excerpts from an archival audio interview with John Alcott (cinematographer). This piece gives a more detailed account of the infamous lenses utilized by the production in order to achieve the scenes that were lit using only candlelight. The problems and their solutions of shooting with these special lenses are elaborated on in some depth as are other scenes and their respective challenges. It is an incredibly informative fifteen minutes that seems to fly by all too quickly.

Drama in Detail – (13:34)

Christopher Frayling (Film Historian) discusses the tense working relationship shared by Stanley Kubrick and Academy Award–winning production designer Ken Adam. Their relationship was difficult for Adam because of Kubrick’s insistence on knowing the logic or reasoning behind each and every design. His sets had to work for the director both aesthetically and logically, and this was difficult for Adam who had a very different approach. As a matter of fact, he declined the chance to work with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey because his experience on Dr. Strangelove was so exasperating. Apparently, his decision to work on Barry Lyndon years later led to more than an Academy Award as he also had a well-earned a nervous breakdown.

Timing and Tension – (13:50)

Timing and Tension is a conversation with Tony Lawson who worked closely with Kubrick on the editing of Barry Lyndon. Lawson is modest about his contributions to the film and claims that he was not an equal partner during the interview, but it is clear that he was an essential cog in Kubrick’s well-oiled machine. His revelations about Kubrick’s approach to editing should fascinate the director’s admirers. The interview’s brief duration is rather deceptive, because there is an incredible amount of essential material here.

On the Costumes – (05:00)

This brief but fascinating interview excerpt with Ulla-Britt Söderlund (co-designer of the film’s costumes) was taken from a French television broadcast entitled Les rendez-vous du dimanche that aired on September 19, 1976. We see some of the costume pieces as Söderlund details the meticulous work that went into making them a reality. There is an incredible amount of information here considering its brief duration, and it is a remarkable addition to the supplemental package.

Passion and Reason – (17:35)

Michel Ciment’s interview is interesting and fulfills the disc’s need for a scholarly voice, but one feels it is one of the least interesting supplements on the disc. It isn’t as focused as it needs to be and the commentary is sometimes rather obvious. It works as an appreciation of the director and of the film but somehow falls short in terms of actual insight.

Balancing Every Sound – (10:13)

Balancing Every Sound is an interesting discussion with Leon Vitali (who eventually became Kubrick’s personal assistant). Vitali talks about the reason behind Kubrick’s decision to present the film with a monaural mix and how these same sound elements were later used to create a 5.1 mix. He goes into somewhat general detail about how their choices were guided by an honest effort to present the sound in a manner that was faithful to Kubrick’s original Mono mix. Several comparisons between the two tracks are offered.

A Cinematic Canvas – (15:04)

Adam Eaker discusses some of the artwork that influenced aspects of the film as well as some of the paintings that appeared in it. It wasn’t at all surprising to find that this scholarly discussion was one of the most instructive academic features on the disc. In fact, it is essential viewing for those who appreciate the film and its director. Artists discusses here include (in no particular order) Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, George Stubbs, Johan Zoffany, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Eaker discusses how the works of these artists directly influenced Kubrick’s vision in an incredibly clear and concise way that makes this an extremely worthwhile fifteen minutes.

Theatrical Trailer #1 – (04:07)

Warner Brothers probably knew that they had an unusual film on their hands—one that would be rather difficult to market to the film going public. Their concept for the trailers was to highlight the film’s artistic merit. It wasn’t “the thrill ride of the year” or the “most fun you’ll have at the movies.” It was a languid but beautifully crafted cinematic experience made by one of the undisputed masters of the art of film. Therefore, quotations from enthusiastic critics and a list of awards and nominations are recited from a distinguished sounding gentleman. This approach is probably not as unusual today as it was then, because one now sees these sort of trailers every Oscar season.

Theatrical Trailer #2 – (02:09)

The shorter second trailer highlights a few different scenes at certain points, but it is essentially a condensed version of the first trailer and utilizes the same “review and award accolades” concept.

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Final Words:

In the opening paragraph of a seven-page cover review of the film for Time magazine entitled “Barry Lyndon: Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble,” Richard Schickel wrote the following:

“In [Barry Lyndon], [Stanley Kubrick] demonstrates the qualities that eluded Thackeray: singularity of vision, mature mastery of his medium, near-reckless courage in asserting through this work a claim not just to the distinction critics have already granted him but to greatness that time alone can — and probably will — confirm.” -Richard Schickel (Time, December 15, 1975)

The film would’ve proven this prophetic statement about Kubrick’s greatness even if it had been the director’s only effort. It is a singular experience that cannot be justified in any review (including Schickel’s). It is an uncompromising film that divides viewers, but this can be said about nearly all truly great films. Cinephiles should abandon all preconceived notions as to what a film should be and how it should be experienced—and if it is being experienced on home video, Criterion’s new Blu-ray is the best way to do this.

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Spine # 870

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 10, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

European – 01:33:31

US/UK – 01:30:59

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate:

European – 30.51 Mbps

US/UK – 30.51 Mbps

Title

“I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou the wars, defeat thy favor with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse.” -Iago (Othello, Act 1, Scene 3)

Orson Welles’s Othello is probably known more for its legendary production history than it is for its cinematic merits—and it does have merit that goes well beyond what anyone should expect from a film made under the conditions in which it was created. Understand before we go any further that this shouldn’t suggest that it is perfect or even the “flawed masterpiece” that some scholars have labeled it. What’s more, the film wouldn’t hold up if one examined it as a proper adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. In fact, one would wager that purists will probably hate it without even giving a second thought to the film’s strengths. When examined as a mood piece or a small thriller quite separate from the original work, it holds up much better.

However, one shouldn’t be led into believing that the final film hasn’t been scarred by its production limitations. In fact, there is a blemish for every serious challenge that Welles faced throughout the four year production (1948-1951). Why did the production last four years? Well, the director didn’t have any money to put in his purse. The director would shoot scenes when money was available and stop when these resources dried up so that he could go find or earn more funds. In fact, he performed in The Third Man during one of these extended breaks in the production schedule.

There is a famous anecdote about a scene in the film depicting the murder of Cassio—a scene that Welles has set in a Turkish bath house for the simple reason that there weren’t any costumes available for the scene. Various participants give a contradictory accounting as to the reasons for this: some say that there wasn’t enough money to pay for them yet, while others claim that they simply hadn’t been finished. Either way, Welles couldn’t afford to shut down production until the costumes were available. The result is one of the film’s most striking and cinematic sequences.

Such issues were frequent throughout the shoot, and Suzanne Cloutier once claimed that “no one connected with the picture knew what would be happening from one day to the next.” It isn’t any wonder considering that the film seems to have been created with nothing but an incredible amount of tenacity—and the talent of Welles and his faithful collaborators. Unfortunately, tenacity couldn’t provide the resources necessary to provide adequate production sound, and nearly the entire soundtrack was created in post-production. The result is an out-of-synch soundtrack that is incredibly distracting to the viewer.

Other issues are the result of the aforementioned extended piecemeal production that spanned not only years, but also a variety of locations (including Morocco, Perugia, Venice, Rome, Paris, and Italy). There are times throughout the film when Welles will cut from an actor in one country to a different angle of the same actor in another country that was shot either years later or years earlier. It works better than one might expect, but it would be misleading to imply that the seams aren’t at times all too evident.

Orson Welles once stated that a director is a man “who presides over accidents.” This seems to paint a much better picture of the filmmaker than the decidedly erroneous notion of the “infant terrible” perfectionist that the history books seem intent on selling to the universe. In fact—in the case of Orson Welles—it might be said that the director is a man who presides over chaos.

Fortunately, all of the soul-crushing production headaches resulted in a kind of triumph for Welles. The film was lauded a triumph by European critics and it took home the Golden Palm award for best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. However, the suits in Hollywood didn’t care about such success—a film is only successful if it sets the box-office on fire. Since the American public didn’t have much interest in a black-and-white Shakespearean art film, and it only pulled in around forty-thousand dollars when it was finally released in America in 1955 by United Artists. It was quickly pulled from distribution and went largely unseen until 1992 when it saw a somewhat questionable restoration by Michael Dawson, Julian Schlossberg, and Beatrice Welles. When the controversy of that release died down, it again descended into relative obscurity… until now.

SS01

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has once again given cinephiles a beautiful Blu-ray package. The special 2-disc set looks like most of their standard single disc releases. Both discs are housed in their standard clear case with a cover sleeve featuring a new cover taken from one of the film’s frames (which was credited to Sarah Habibi). Inside the case, there is a leaflet featuring an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien and the usual technical credits.

Both disc menus make use of stills from the film coupled with the film’s music, and they are up to Criterion’s usual high standards. Those who own other Criterion discs will know exactly what to expect.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion provides not one but two 4K restoration transfers on two separate discs:

The 1952 European Version was scanned in 4K resolution from a 35mm fine-grain master positive, and the resulting image is absolutely gorgeous. The film has never looked better on home video—although this isn’t saying nearly enough considering that it never really looked terribly good on home video until this release. Fine detail impresses here as does depth, clarity, contrast, and shadow detail. Any flaws are obviously inherent in the original source and never become problematic. The restoration work ensures that distracting anomalies such as dirt, scratches, damage, and other unfortunate issues never become problematic (even if the occasional speck of dirt remains).

The 1955 US/UK Version doesn’t look quite as good as the European transfer—especially in terms of density (which has some unfortunate fluctuation issues) and detail. The gradients between the various shades of gray aren’t as balanced as they appear in the other version either. However, these issues are source related and it would be a mistake to imply that the overall image quality isn’t remarkably better than anyone would’ve previously had reason to expect. It’s probably safe to say that this is the definitive transfer of the 1955 version of the film. On a positive note, there is slightly more information in the frame.

Interestingly, Criterion has chosen not to include the highly controversial 1992 restoration cut and its stereo sound mix. The reasons for this are probably obvious to Criterion enthusiasts.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The restoration team has also cleaned the monaural soundtrack (which was taken from composite fine-grain prints) so that listeners will not be bothered by such annoying issues as hiss, hum, crackle, clicks, thumps, or any other unfortunate audial blemishes. The LPCM transfer of this restored track is therefore the best anyone can really expect from this particular film’s original elements. Unfortunately, there are plenty of source related issues resulting from the troubled productions. Perhaps most distressing is the slightly uneven and not always entirely discernable dialogue (which can also be poorly synched).

Purists were infuriated when the team behind the 1992 restoration built the track from scratch and tweaked the edit to put the track in slightly better synch, because it wasn’t representative of Orson Welles’s original film. Criterion is devoted to presenting films as they were shown during their original release, and this track accomplishes this. The fact is that in this particular case, one cannot have it both ways.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel

The 1955 cut of the film includes this archival commentary track with Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel—two scholars who are well versed in Welles history. The track was recorded in 1994 and finds both Bogdanovich and Meisel in good form as they spend the duration of the track discussing its troubled production history and telling amusing anecdotes about the director. It is surprisingly informative and engaging for what is essentially a third-party track, and it adds an enormous amount of value to the package.

Filming Othello – (01:23:02)

Filming Othello

Criterion generously includes a nice 2K scan of Filming Othello taken from the film’s original elements. It is often cited as Orson Welles’s final competed film—although one has difficulty considering it as an official part of his official canon of work any more than one would place the Quentin Tarantino-directed episode of “ER” in the list of that director’s primary works. It belongs somewhere else—perhaps under the heading of “other projects.”

It’s certainly an instructive viewing experience, and one feels that the director relished the opportunity to dabble in his favorite medium once again—even if it is essentially a retrospective essay film produced for West German television that never approaches the creative brilliance of F for Fake. However, there is a certain poetry to the fact that this 16mm production was also produced over a period of four years (1974-1978).

The heart of the film is an extended conversation between Micheál MacLiammóir, Hilton Edwards, and Orson Welles that was shot in Paris, France, in 1974—but this conversation isn’t the only reason to see this film, which begins with an introduction by Welles himself as he sits somewhat stoically behind a moviola (an image that probably won’t surprise anyone who has already seen F for Fake.

“This is to be a conversation, certainly not anything so formal as a lecture, and what we’re going to talk about is Othello, Shakespeare’s play and the film I made of it,” he announces before he leads into the events that led to the troubled production and indeed some of the challenges that plagued him throughout the experience. This portion of the film isn’t terribly different from most interview footage, but he soon introduces the aforementioned conversation with MacLiammoir (Othello’s Iago) and Edwards (Brabantio) which he has brought upon his moviola for our benefit. The footage plays on this machine before we cut into the actual footage. The three gentlemen discuss the themes inherent in the original play and possible character motivations—including those added to Iago’s character by Welles for the film’s production. It’s an interesting conversation that should appeal to anyone who admires either the film or the Bard’s original play. When the footage of this conversation comes to an end, we return to Orson Welles as he announces that he ran out of footage well before they ran out of conversation.

Another interesting aspect of the program is the brief footage from a post-screening question and answer session held in 1977. It is much too brief, but one is grateful that it has been included in any case. Shortly after this portion of the film, Welles gives the viewer his closing statement. It is a perfect statement that probably says everything that the director felt about the film:

“…There are too many regrets, there are too many things I wish I could have done over again. If it wasn’t a memory—if it was a project for the future, talking about Othello would have been nothing but delight. After all, promises are more fun than explanations. In all my heart, I wish that I wasn’t looking back on Othello, but looking forward to it. That Othello would be one hell of a picture.”

Apparently, the film enjoyed a screening at the 1978 Berlin Film Festival, but it had fallen into obscurity until very recently (much like Othello itself).

Return to Glennascaul (1953) – (28:06)

Return to Glennascaul

Hilton Edwards directed this short film starring Orson Welles as himself and was made during a lull in the production of Othello. It tells a rather simple but diverting story: While driving in rural Ireland during a break in the shooting of Othello, Welles offers a ride to a man having car trouble. The man ends up telling him a strange story about a pair of women who once flagged the man down. It turns out that the women were ghosts. Other details are best experienced by the viewer as it is a charming diversion that should satisfy viewers. The short was nominated for an Academy Award and adds value to an already amazing collection of supplements.

The film includes a short introduction by Peter Bogdanovich.

Souvenirs d’Othello – (48:46)

Criterion also includes a French-Canadian television documentary entitled Souvenirs d’Othello about Suzanne Cloutier (Desdemona) directed by François Girard. The program centers on a few interviews with the actress as she remembers the production of Othello (which she claims was the highlight of her life). Her memories of Orson Welles and his drive to complete the film in the face of numerous impediments are of enormous value. There are a number of revelations to be found here, and they should all please those who—like Cloutier—admire the film work of Orson Welles.

Interview with Simon Callow – (21:55)

Simon Callow (author of Orson Welles: Road to Xandu, Orson Welles: Hello Americans, and Orson Welles: One Man Band) discusses the production of Othello in some detail. The discussion covers a variety of topics, including the changing cast decisions, the trials of the lengthy shoot, and the director’s relationship with actors. There is the occasional erroneous claim, and a few of these will be obvious to even casual fans (such as his claim that Filming Othello was produced in the late 1960s). One imagines that the producers of the interview chose to exercise diplomacy and not correct these false statements.

Interview with François Thomas – (18:12)

François Thomas (co-author of Orson Welles at Work) discusses the two different cuts of the film and the differences between them from the obvious differences between the spoken and written credits to the small subtle alterations made to the later version of the film. His observations are interesting and useful to viewers and should clarify a great deal for those who don’t wish to dissect such things for themselves. This should also add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Interview with Ayanna Thompson – (21:12)

Ayanna Thompson is the author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America and a number of other Shakespeare-related texts. Her discussion here is an interesting addition to the disc that covers territory that isn’t really touched upon in any significant way in the other supplements. Thompson reflects on the history of the portrayal of Othello by white actors and Welles’s historical voodoo production of Macbeth that utilized black actors. One actually wonders why the director didn’t cast Canada Lee in the role of Othello (since the director had worked with the actor on the stage). He would’ve been amazing.

Joseph McBride on Orson Welles – (32:44)

Finally, Criterion includes a 2014 ‘Fiction Factory’ interview with Joseph McBride (author of a number of film related books, including What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? – A Portrait of an Independent Career). A number of pertinent topics are covered here and they range from those specific to Othello to more personal subjects like the Hollywood blacklist, and Welles’s move to Europe. It’s another very solid addition to Criterion’s rich supplemental package.

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Final Words:

This is an essential package for Orson Welles fans! The prospect of owning incredible transfers of two different cuts of Othello would be incredibly exciting all on its own, but Criterion has seen fit to include a 2K scan of Welles’s feature-length film essay entitled Filming Othello in this package as well! In addition to this, they include an Oscar-nominated short film made by Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards during one of the many lulls in Othello’s piecemeal production, over an hour and a half of scholarly interviews about the film, and an informative commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel. Those who aren’t impressed will want to check their pulse and seek immediate medical assistance.

SS06

hitchcockmaster

Spine #135

Blu-ray Cover (No Sticker)

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: September 05, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 02:10:40

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 35.69 Mbps

Notes:This title is also available both individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art) in the DVD format and was given an incredible release in the same format by The Criterion Collection several years before that release.

The film was later given a lackluster Blu-ray release by MGM Home Entertainment both as part of a three-film set entitled, The Classic Collection and as an individual release.

Title

“Well, it’s not a Hitchcock picture; it’s a novelette, really. The story is old-fashioned. There was a whole school of feminine literature at the period, and though I’m not against it, the fact is the…

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hitchcockmaster

Spine #885

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

The Lodger – 01:30:24

Downhill – 01:50:59

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

The Lodger – 2.0 Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Downhill – 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 192 kbps)

Ratio:

The Lodger – 1.33:1

Downhill – 1.33:1

Bitrate:

The Lodger – 29.36 Mbps

Downhill – 15.09 Mbps

Notes: This is the North American Blu-ray debut of “The Lodger,” but the film was given a DVD release by MGM. Unfortunately, the MGM edition is now out of print. The release also marks the Blu-ray debut of “Downhill.”

Title

The Master Finds His Voice

PART ONE:THE LODGER

The Lodger is the first picture possibly influence by my period in Germany. The whole approach to this film was instinctive with me. It was the first time I exercised my style. In…

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Spine #856

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

Before Sunrise – 01:41:05

Before Sunset – 01:20:31

Before Midnight – 01:48:57

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

Before Sunrise – 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Sunset – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Midnight – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate:

Before Sunrise – 35.34 Mbps

Before Sunset – 35.20 Mbps

Before Midnight – 34.05 Mbps

Notes: These titles were previously released in various DVD editions, and Before Midnight was previously available on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Classics.

One Sheets

“We’re lucky on these films because the construction of it is going for a certain kind of honesty. So many romantic films—they’re kind of built on an artifice that we have tried never to really abide by too much. We have some mythic audience in our mind that would appreciate the unvarnished honesty of the darker moments of a relationship. I’d say we can do things that another kind of film couldn’t support.” –Richard Linklater (Backstage, December 06, 2013)

That Linklater should use the word “honesty” so often in his interviews discussing this one-of-a-kind trilogy shouldn’t surprise cinephiles. If a single word could be used to describe The Before Trilogy, that word would probably be “honest.” The cornerstone of the career-long exploration of cinematic time by Richard Linklater, this celebrated three-part epic romance chronicles the love of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from their first meeting as idealistic twentysomethings to the disillusionment they face together in middle age. These three films also stand as a document of a boundary-pushing and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke. It is more than evident that these films are very personal documents to all three participants.

“The lack of vanity with Ethan and Julie is important. In the films—we’re all three of us doing this—we’re taking where we are at that moment and whatever life has thrown at us in the past nine years [and] using that as the clay for what we’re sculpting.” –Richard Linklater (Way Too Indie, May 21, 2013)

Attuned to the sweeping grandeur of time’s passage as well as the evanescence of individual moments, the Before films chart the progress of romantic destiny as it navigates the vicissitudes of ordinary life. It might seem extraordinary to imagine that this near-perfect trilogy wasn’t planned as a trilogy at all. Each film is a singular entity that captures two characters at a very specific juncture of their lives. They stand alone as wonderful films in their own right but expand into something even greater when all three films are united as a singular unit.

“They all feel like they’re of one piece. It was wonderful being in Vienna nineteen years ago. It was wonderful being in Paris making a movie, and Greece was just incredible.” –Richard Linklater (Parade, October 23, 2013)

However, even those who prefer to experience all three films as “one piece” will probably agree that it is impossible to discuss Jesse and Celine’s journey as a couple without examining each film individually.

Before Sunrise Cover

BEFORE SUNRISE – Spine #857

“The movie’s about crossing paths with someone who needs the same thing you do. The question is, could this really be something more, something bigger, eternal? I think it’s something they’ll both know at some point in the future.” –Richard Linklater (Interview, February 1995)

On the surface, Before Sunrise seems to be an extension of Richard Linklater’s independent debut effort. Slacker had a unique structure that found a group of marginalized outsiders talking about a variety of subject. However, Slacker finds its characters talking at each other without ever really interacting. In Before Sunrise, both Jesse and Celine give long philosophical monologs that seem to have much in common with Slacker—but these characters are actually connecting. They listen to one another and relate to what the other is saying.

“I was going for a sincere communication. I felt I had bounced around between no communication and an interior monolog communication that arguably doesn’t stick or only communicates to a certain extent, maybe only makes sense later. I think I liked the idea, starting with Before Sunrise, of people who were trying to connect. It was about being understood…” –Richard Linklater (Film Comment, July/August 2006)

It is evident while watching the film that Jesse and Celine understand one another—even as they might disagree. Their conversation is the basis of their romance, and this might be why the film resonates with audiences. The film opens with a chance encounter between two solitary young strangers. After they hit it off on a train bound for Vienna, the Paris university student Celine and the scrappy American tourist Jesse impulsively decide to spend a day together before he returns to the U.S. the next morning. As the pair roam the streets of the stately city, Linklater’s tenderly observant gaze captures the uncertainty and intoxication of young love, from the first awkward stirrings of attraction to the hopeful promise that Celine and Jesse make upon their inevitable parting.

It is a scenario that was actually inspired by a formative experience that Richard Linklater shared with a woman named Amy Lehrhaupt in 1989 (after shooting Slacker). As a matter of fact, Before Midnight was even dedicated to this woman.

“The whole plot for Before Sunrise was inspired by a woman I met in Philadelphia. I was just hanging out with my sister—who used to live near Rittenhouse Square—and I met this woman at a toy store. I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night. We walked around downtown from midnight until six in the morning. It was our own nooks-and-crannies tour of Philadelphia. But all the time I was thinking, `There’s a movie here.'” –Richard Linklater (The Morning Call, May 10, 1997)

Unlike Jesse and Céline, Richard and Amy actually exchanged phone numbers—but the different dynamic of their telephone conversations formed an invisible barrier between them.

“It sort of did the fizzle… So in the first movie that was a thing, the idea that they would intellectually kind of get beyond that and say ‘Well, we’re on different continents. What are the odds that it’s gonna work? Let’s just commit to this night.’” –Richard Linklater (Slate, May 30, 2013)

Linklater later learned that she had died tragically before the film even entered production.

“I just found out a couple years ago that she had died young, in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t know… She wasn’t even alive when we shot in Vienna. She died that Mother’s Day weekend. It’s just so sad.” –Richard Linklater (Moviefone, April 23, 2013)

A script had already been written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan before Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke was signed to the film, but it was reworked after they came onto the project.

“I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really [the] first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.” –Richard Linklater (NPR, May 30, 2013)

This collaborative process between Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy would extend to the film’s two sequels and this is probably what sets these three films apart from other films. There is a sincerity inherent in the trilogy’s very design that most films could never hope to emulate—and this is a direct result of the collaborative nature of these works. The director and actors have each poured part of themselves into these projects, and their passion and sincerity can be felt in every frame.

Before Sunset Cover

BEFORE SUNSET – Spine #858

“We made the first film and no one ever asked ‘is there going to be another film?’ That was not a logical question. When we were making the second film in Paris, every day we looked at one another and asked ‘how are we getting to do this? This is amazing!’ We’re getting to make this very personal film that no one really even cares about except for three people, and you’re in a good spot if you can ever be making a film like that.” –Richard Linklater (We Got This Covered, 2013)

Before Sunset wasn’t expected and raised a few eyebrows upon its release. Before Sunrise was certainly successful, but it wasn’t the sort of success that demanded a follow-up. Perhaps this is the reason why the film actually works. In the words of Richard Linklater, “Jesse and Céline kind of reared their heads and had something to say.” The film wasn’t made to exploit the first film’s success or to make a lot of money. As a matter of fact, Linklater went forward with the project with a healthy dose of anxiety and doubt about its potential.

“Fear is a real obvious emotion. Leave it alone. Yeah, I know. That was the temptation, I think that’s why it took so long. I’m not going to say the first film’s perfect or anything, but to us, it was really special. So you realize, ‘Oh, you could not only screw that up, you’d screw up the film you’re working on, but [also] screw up the first one.’ But, you know, it’s good. If you’re afraid of something and still compelled to do it, in the arts at least, you should probably still do it.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

Before Sunset again benefits from Linklater’s collaboration with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but this project allowed the two actors to work with Linklater on the film’s original script instead of altering an already prepared script as they did on Before Sunrise.

“The three of us wrote it. We all [put the pen to paper]. First, we talked about it for years, and then we took a lot of thought and building there, and then we sat down, the three of us in a room, for like three or four days, and worked on a very, very specific outline. I mean, the beginning, the end, what happens in every scene, all the emotional beats. It was very worked out. And then we kind of went our separate ways for almost a year. Julie would send 20 pages, Ethan would send monologs. I was re-writing and writing stuff. It was all on my laptop ultimately. If you did a word count, they would probably exceed me. At some point, we didn’t, if one of us had an idea we were trying to squeeze in the movie and the other two didn’t want to do it, or didn’t understand it or didn’t get traction in it, then it disappeared.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

This method obviously worked for them, because Before Sunset is actually superior to the original film. The story follows Celine as she tracks down Jesse at the tail end of a book tour in Paris, with only a few hours left before his flight back home to the States. Their chemistry is rekindled by increasingly candid exchanges about professional setbacks, marital disappointments, and the compromises of adulthood. Impelled by an urgent sense of the transience of human connection, Before Sunset remains Linklater’s most seductive experiment with time’s inexorable passage and the way love can seem to stop it in its tracks. The entire film has a nuanced sense of urgency and desperation as we find that both characters are less than content with the current state of their lives. Experience has made both characters more interesting, and there is much more for each character to lose (and gain) by being together.

Before Midnight Cover

BEFORE MIDNIGHT – Spine #859

“We didn’t know if we were making a mistake there or not, but we were just compelled to do it. We created these characters, Jessie and Celine, they seemed to be living this parallel life with us but the fact that we did a second film and the way it ended, that ending kind of begs the question. So the three of us, everywhere we’ve gone in the last nine years it’s always that last question on the interview. ‘Oh, one more, do you think Jessie and Celine will ever get together?’ It’s a question that we all lived with. No one wanted the second film or asked about it really. But this one they wanted.” –Richard Linklater (SBS, June 12, 2013)

This bittersweet third entry in Linklater’s Before Trilogy finds Celine and Jesse several years into a relationship and in the midst of a sun-dappled Greek retreat with their twin daughters and a group of friends. The couple soon finds their vacation upended, however, by the aggravations of committed monogamy, which have long since supplanted the initial jolt of their mutual seduction. Marked by the emotional depth, piercing wit, and conversational exuberance that Linklater and his actors had honed over two decades of abiding with these characters, Before Midnight, grapples with the complexities of long-term intimacy and asks what becomes of love when it no longer has recourse to past illusions. There are moments when the film feels like an Edward Albee play, but these darker elements never feel at odds with the earlier films in the series.

“It’s harder to express something interesting and cinematic about being 41. And that territory that we were getting into was just a deeper, touchier subject matter that didn’t lend itself to what the other two films had, which was this kind of connection. This wasn’t about that; it was something else.” –Richard Linklater (The Star, June 06, 2013)

Jesse and Celine spend the majority of the film trying to avoid the ultimate confrontation that serves as the film’s climax—or perhaps they are merely attempting to prolong the inevitable.

“The whole movie builds to that moment. That fight’s been coming the whole movie, and, probably, for nine years. If you really go back, the fault line in their relationship leads to that. But I always call it the ‘hotel-room scene,’ because it doesn’t start off a fight. It’s quite the opposite; it starts off as a love scene, a sex scene. And the pace of the fight was very important. You know, people don’t just start to fight. They try not to fight. They try to resolve it. But they both want to be heard. Jesse and Celine are two master manipulators, and I often make the analogy that they’re two prizefighters; they’re very evenly matched. Slightly different styles, but ultimately, they’re gonna go all 15 rounds. So many times that fight could have ended—if one person would just eat a little crow and end it. But they have to keep going. They have to say one more thing. That’s the difference between courting someone and spending the rest of your life with someone. You can dig in on a subject that’s bugging you, and it can escalate into a fight, or you have to negotiate that space that you’re occupying together. That’s the challenge, and that’s what the movie [is] really about.” –Richard Linklater (Slant Magazine, May 22, 2013)

Before Midnight is the strongest entry in the series—not despite the film’s darker tone but because of it. It is ultimately very rewarding to discover that each film in the trilogy is better and more nuanced than the last. What’s more, the films seem to enrich one another other in a very honest and organic manner. This might be the best character-based trilogy ever produced.

Art

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection includes three different Digi-packs for each of the three films in the trilogy, and each film is given its own respective artwork that is simple but attractive. These Digi-packs are held in a sturdy box with its own artwork. An attractive booklet with an essay about the trilogy by Dennis Lim is also included and can be placed in the Digi-pack for Before Sunrise (the first film in the series). This essay is entitled “Time Regained” and it is an interesting read. The overall effect isn’t unlike the films themselves as the package appears to be quite simple and modestly designed, but the combined effect is surprisingly beautiful.

Menus

The menus for the three discs utilize footage from their respective film with music and sound clips from that particular film. Most will agree that all three of them are simple but attractive.

SS01

Picture Quality:

BEFORE SUNRISE & BEFORE SUNSET

4.5 of 5 Stars

According to the included booklet, the transfer of Before Sunrise and was “created from 35mm interpositives and scanned in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner. Thousands of instances of dirt and debris were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.” Criterion makes the most out of their painstaking work by utilizing a maxed out bitrate and the results are impressive. This is especially true of the daytime exteriors which exhibit a respectable level of clarity and a reasonable level of sharpness. There are no unsightly DNA issues and there is a healthy level of grain that remains stable throughout the duration of both features.

There is a significant increase in visual information at the left and right edges of the frame when one compares the transfer to the previous DVD releases. The level of fine detail is also dramatically increased, and the look of the nighttime scenes in Before Sunrise are dramatically improved upon.  There is no noticeable dirt or film damage to distract the viewer either. Density is improved as well and colors are well rendered and stable (although there might be some slight fluctuation that never becomes distracting). These are solid representations of the original film elements and the shortcomings of this transfer merely reflect those inherent in the source materials.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s booklet tells us that Before Midnight was “shot in 2K resolution on an Arri Alexa camera.” Criterion’s transfer looks to be sourced from the same elements that was used for Sony’s 2013 Blu-ray release (which was apparently supervised by Richard Linklater). Frankly, every aspect of that disc was incredibly satisfying and it is nice to see that Criterion represents it here with an even higher bitrate. Clarity is outstanding and the image looks great in motion. Fine detail is remarkable as well and the image displays strong depth. The picture is stable and has a crispness that should please fans of the trilogy (even those of us who miss the more organic look of the film). If the transfer has a weak point, it is the shifting shadow detail. However, few are likely to notice of be bothered by this as it isn’t at all distracting. This is simply a result of the production elements and should not be blamed on Criterion.

SS02

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

While Before Sunrise (2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio) and Before Sunset (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) are sourced from their original 35mm magnetic tracks and were cleaned of any anomalies such as hiss, hum, crackle, and etcetera, the audio for Before Midnight (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) was recorded digitally and mastered from the original audio master files using Pro Tools HD. Despite the discrepancies in the nature of their sources, each track seems to accurately represent the respective film in the matter that Linklater intended without any technical issues to mar one’s listening enjoyment.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has spread nearly four and a half hours of supplemental features across the three discs (and this doesn’t even take into account the commentary track provided for Before Midnight).

Before Sunrise Title

DISC 1: BEFORE SUNRISE

The Space In Between – (43:39)

The highlight of the first disc is without a doubt this discussion between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy. The conversation is moderated by Kent Jones, who does an excellent job of focusing the conversation while remaining invisible. When Kent contributes to the conversation, it is always interesting and pertinent to the conversation. The conversation was recorded in New York in 2016, with Julie Delpy participating via satellite from Los Angeles. Linklater discusses the encounter with Amy Lehrhaupt that planted the seed for the original film, and they all discuss the collaborative nature of the three films in an extremely relaxed and informal manner. These 44 minutes simply fly by in what seems like an instant. Time is, after all, relative.

3×2 – (39:49)

Dave Johnson (author of Richard Linklater: Contemporary Film Directors) and Rob Stone (author of The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run) have a contagious enthusiasm for their subject that carries the viewer through this scholarly discussion about the three Before films. Even those who disagree with some (or most) of their theoretical insights are bound to find a newfound appreciation for Linklater’s work.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (05:57)

While the brief glimpses of “behind the scenes” footage is nice to see, this is really just EPK material built from on location interview footage of Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy delivering the typical general navel-gazing statements about the film. It’s nice to have this included here, but it isn’t particularly insightful or entertaining.

Before Sunset Title

DISK 2: BEFORE SUNSET

Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny – (01:29:52)

What a gift this is for anyone who appreciates Richard Linklater’s cinema! It can be said without any reservations that this feature length documentary about Linklater’s career (up to this point) is the star attraction of this set’s supplemental package. The film was directed by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein as part of the PBS series American Masters. New exclusive interviews with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Sandra Adair, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Chuck Linklater (Linklater’s Father), Tricia Linklater (Linklater’s Sister), and a number of other participants mingle with archival interviews and footage to paint a more interesting portrait of the director than one expects from such programs. Especially interesting is a glimpse into some of Linklater’s journals, writings, and even financial logs. Less interesting is input from other filmmakers such as Kevin Smith—but this may be due to my innate dislike of this particular filmmaker.

Linklater // On Cinema & Time – (08:28)

This video essay by :: kogonada is certain to divide viewers as to its value. It is certainly enjoyable as a kind of tonal montage of visuals and sound with Linklater’s use of time as its main concern. A telephone interview with Linklater serves as the guiding vehicle, but at no point does it feel as if this essay is intended to inform the viewer or propose any theoretical rhetoric. This telephone audio plays over footage from various Linklater films and other cinema classics from around the globe. Examples include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (as well as other films in the Antoine Doinel cycle), and several others (we remember spotting some Godard and Ozu thrown in for good measure). The fact that Linklater’s voice has been filtered through the telephone adds to the aesthetic in interesting ways. It works as a celebration of Linklater’s special brand of cinema, but it is bound to disappoint anyone hoping for a scholarly examination of this particular theme.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (09:44)

This “behind the scenes” featurette is essentially EPK material, but it does provide more sustenance for information hungry cinephiles than the one provided for the first film. Here, we see glimpses of the cast and crew working behind the scenes mingled with the standard publicity interviews, but these interviews actually manage to be genuinely interesting. This shouldn’t imply that they delve any deeper than is usual, but they do manage to hide the fact that their commentary never really reveals anything terribly worthwhile.

Before Midnight Title

DISK 3: BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Commentary with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

This 2013 commentary track was recorded for the Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray release of Before Midnight—and it was the disc’s most significant supplement. Criterion has wisely carried it over to their release, and fans will agree that it was well worth their effort. The relaxed conversational nature of the conversation makes the information related therein more digestible (despite the fact that much of what we learn here is related elsewhere on the disc). The strength of the track lies in its ability to zero in on specific scenes and details in the film.

After Before – (30:41)

Athina Rachel Tsangari’s After Before is the set’s second best supplement (after Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny) as it provides viewers with a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the actors as Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke develop their scenes. It really is an invaluable documentary despite its relatively brief duration. One can listen endlessly as these collaborators discuss their creative approach to the three films in this set, but to actually see this work in action is much more revelatory. The “behind the scenes” production footage also adds to the experience. As a side note, Linklater seems to have suffered some sort of foot injury, and one wonders what might have happened to him to cause such an injury.

Love Darkens and Deepens – (39:37)

This lengthy radio interview is actually an episode of a Philadelphia-based radio program known as Fresh Air with host Terry Gross. It is presented with a single still image and so is basically an audio-only presentation. However, it manages to be extremely entertaining and somewhat informative (even if certain information revealed here was discussed in other features in this same set). Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy are all on hand to discuss the trilogy, but the conversation really zeros in on Before Midnight more than either of the other two films.

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Final Words:

This is an essential release for Linklater fans! The Before Trilogy is required viewing for serious cinephiles and Criterion has finally given them the Blu-ray release that they deserve.

Review by: Devon Powell

blu-ray-coverSpine #843

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 15, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 34.77 Mbps

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available from Criterion, and is also available in various DVD editions from Sony Pictures Classics. This new edition from Criterion is superior to these earlier releases. 

title

“I wasn’t writing the script and then thought of Adam [Sandler]. I actually wanted to write a movie for Adam—something I thought he would have fun doing.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BBC, February 07, 2003)

Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an Adam Sandler film. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film that subverts the Sandler persona while humanizing it. Let us take a very quick look at three prototypical Sandler vehicles:

In Happy Gilmore (1996), the titular character is a wannabe hockey player forced into professional golf in an effort to buy his grandmother’s house when it is repossessed. Happy is given to violent outbursts of rage when the game isn’t going his way.

The Wedding Singer (1998) finds Robbie Hart jilted at the altar, and this sends him spiraling into a breakdown. His repressed rage and self-loathing surfaces while performing at a wedding. While giving a self-pitying speech, he explodes into a tantrum, insults the guests, and even threatens to strangle someone with his microphone wire.

The Waterboy (1998) details the rise of a mentally challenged water boy named Bobby Boucher who discovers that his violent bouts of rage give him the edge on the football field when properly channeled.

angry-adam

Angry Adam: Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy.

These are only three examples, but Sandler’s career has been built on portraying similar characters. All are basically decent and kind hearted underdogs who are prone to emotional outbursts of violent rage, and Paul Thomas Anderson was obviously aware of this pattern. In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan is a lonely man suffering from social anxiety and a lifetime of small emotional wounds that have accumulated over time. His suppressed emotions manifest themselves in—you guessed it—fits of destructive rage. However, this isn’t played in broad comic strokes for cheap laughs. It is all too clear that these problems are keeping Barry from happiness. There is a poignancy to Barry’s outbursts, and his loneliness is palpable.

However, Anderson isn’t finished yet. He understands that by giving his audience a laundry list of unexplained but interesting details about Barry, he is simultaneously raising twice as many questions. Characters can give a story a remarkably strong drive when a storyteller is skilled, and the creator of Punch-Drunk Love is one of cinema’s best contemporary filmmakers.

Why, for instance, is Barry so eager to take advantage of a promotion that offers a ridiculous number of frequent flyer miles? Barry’s obsessive drive to accumulate as much pudding as he possibly can so that he can earn frequent flyer miles is confounding to an audience because it is established that he doesn’t even travel. Interestingly, this particular element was inspired by a true story.

“There is an engineer in California, who in fact bought $12,000 of pudding to get these frequent flyer miles.  But it went even further: There was a promotion of seven or eight South American airline companies that wanted to advertise their flights between North- and South America.  If you would fly on these airlines within a specific timeframe, they would promise you one million frequent flyer miles.  This guy really did it.  He was in twelve countries in four days.  He now had something like five million frequent flyer miles.  But I have no idea if he had violent outbursts, or what kinds of suits he wore.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (Spiegel, April 13th, 2003)

Anderson’s mention of suits at the end of this quote alludes to the bright blue suit worn by Barry throughout the film. It is yet another interesting but unexplained detail that sets the character apart from everyone else. More interesting than the suit, however, is his interest in an old harmonium that has been left on the side of the road. Barry might feel compelled to rescue the harmonium because it is unwanted and abandoned. It seems reasonable to conclude that Barry might see the harmonium as a sort of symbol for himself. He certainly feels driven to rescue it and he has a mystifying fascination with the instrument (as does the audience).

Roadside Harmonium.jpg

The lonely man meets the unwanted harmonium.

Even hints at Barry’s backstory seem to raise as many questions about our misfit hero as are answered. It is more than apparent that he is an outsider in his own family, and his sisters obviously look down on him. Their reminders of painful moments merge with insult in the guise of incidental small talk: “Remember when we used to call you gay boy and you’d get all mad?” Such small talk is common in families, but they betray an unpleasant past in which Barry has been made to feel separate from those closest to him. Furthermore, it is clear that this alienation has followed him into adulthood. He doesn’t engage with others.

 Of course, he wants and needs to feel a connection with someone, and this basic human need motivates him to call a phone sex hotline. As this initially awkward phone conversation progresses, anyone with misguided notions that they are watching a stereotypical romantic comedy will probably assume that a romantic relationship will form with this phone sex operator. Unfortunately for Barry Egan, this is nothing like a stereotypical romantic comedy. In fact, she calls him the next morning in an effort to blackmail him for money.

The film’s romance is instead launched soon after this when one of his sisters introduces him to the lovely Lena (Emily Watson). Lina seems to offer him hope for happiness—but only if he can overcome his own anxieties and put an end to the chaos in his life. It should be mentioned that the aforementioned harmonium comes into play again here, because—whatever it represents to Barry—it seems to symbolize equilibrium (or “harmony”) in the film context of the overall film. Barry needs to find balance and peace of mind in order for his relationship with Lena to be successful. This has been written about elsewhere, most notably in Cubie King’s essay, “Punch Drunk Love: The Budding of an Auteur.”

 “The root word of harmonium is harmony. The harmonium, like Lena, appears suddenly in Barry’s life; when things are going poorly for Barry, the harmonium is somehow mysteriously ripped, and like his new relationship Barry must learn to find its harmony… After returning from Utah, Barry grabs the harmonium and physically brings it to Lena’s apartment door, thus combining the two elements that bring him joy. It is as if Barry has suddenly recognized their connection, a surreal moment…

…In the final shot of the film the puzzle is solved. Barry plays the exact notes from Jon Brion’s score for Punch-Drunk Love, playing the harmonium almost concurrently with the music that plays over the scene. The diegetic and non-diegetic music playing together is a moment of cinematic harmony; Barry, Lena, and the harmonium are now in sync.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)

bleeding-love

Barry Egan and his harmonium.

There is plenty of visual support for this theory, as the harmonium is often seen placed in the background between Barry and Lina in Anderson’s miseen-scène. His use of composition and color is actually of paramount importance to one’s reading of Punch-Drunk Love, and his color scheme was discussed at length in King’s essay.

“Anderson also uses colors as key indicators of Barry’s psychological battle; blue, red and white being the most prominent. Blue is largely seen in Barry’s workplace and home; it is also the color of Barry’s suit that he curiously begins wearing the day the film begins. Barry is literally blue throughout most of the film…

Red serves as the color that leads to Barry’s happiness. Very precise red objects throughout the film visually direct Barry out of his damaged life (or psyche) and point him in the direction of escape and/or change. Take for instance the first scene in the supermarket. Barry walks down an aisle whispering to himself, ‘What am I looking for?’ As he utters this, in the far background, a woman in a red dress is visible. When Barry turns his head and notices her watching him she quickly walks off. This woman could be seen as Lena, but more importantly a manifestation of the ‘idea’ of Lena, what Barry is actually ‘looking for.’ Because the woman is never identified, the color red becomes the most important aspect of the sequence. Anderson answers Barry’s “What am I looking for?” visually (there is no motivation otherwise to explain this), thus showing us tangible elements of Barry’s subconscious in an environment which we assume is entirely real.

The usage of the color red goes well beyond Lena’s dress (which she wears in all but a few scenes)—a red arrow can be spotted pointing the way to escape from the four blonde brothers, [and] in the supermarket a red arrow points in the direction of where Barry will find the pudding (the pudding offers a way out for Barry)…

…White, on the other hand, takes on a much more sophisticated role. White is the color that coats many of the barren rooms throughout the film. If red works towards Barry’s mirth [sic], then white works in the opposite, as his oppressor. Throughout the film, Barry travels through all white environments that are sparse, isolated, nondescript, and cold. Instances such as Barry’s workplace resembling a large white box, or scenes of Barry running like a trapped mouse through white mazes while attempting to escape the blonde brothers, or finding Lena’s apartment door, demonstrate its recurring influence. White is also the color of the oppressive blown-out light which floods in and suffocates Barry from the outside world, thus emphasizing a greater suppression Barry feels in all his environments. This suppression correlates to the film’s many compositions that imprison Barry within the frame.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)

It is interesting that King fails to mention that the harmonium was dropped at the side of the road by someone in a red taxi because this detail would support the theories about color and those about the harmonium. However, it isn’t necessarily important to overanalyze what these colors represent. If the meaning cannot be articulated or explained intellectually, they can certainly be absorbed and felt by the viewer emotionally—which is actually better. After all, this is what the cinema does best.

It would certainly be difficult to explain the meaning behind the unusual transitions in the film, which utilize Jeremy Blake’s tailor-made artwork.

“I had written that there would be some kind of color—bursts of color. I didn’t know what it was exactly. I didn’t know. After we finished shooting the first chunk of the movie, we actually ended up shooting two chunks, and after the first chunk was shot I saw [Jeremy Blake’s] work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and called him up and he came to Los Angeles and had him in our studio. We had this great studio where we set everything up. He saw the movie. All I had done was put red, white, blue and green flashes as placeholders for him. We talked for a while and he did ten or fifteen different pieces a day and it was just sort of a great thing. I ended up with a lot more than I thought I would get.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BAM Q&A, June 23, 2013)

 That Anderson had intended such transitions from the beginning says something about the importance of these transitions, which has an enormous effect on the viewer’s experience. It creates a kind of euphoric dizziness that can again be felt but never articulated. Some of the best films of all time feel as if they are dreams that have been put onto celluloid, and Punch-Drunk Love can certainly be added to the list of these films.

 Those who expect the film to be a pessimistic study of human relationships will be pleasantly surprised. Barry’s character is certainly alienated and rather disturbed, but the universe seems to be doing everything in its power to help Barry. The harmonium seems to have been left for him to find it, he seems to be magically led to the pudding isle, and he is introduced to Lena despite his own objections. Barry might not think that he is worth loving, but the universe doesn’t agree. What could be more positive than that? This is one of Anderson’s only “feel good” efforts, and it is worth seeing for this reason alone.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. While Criterion is known for their brilliant tailor-made cover designs, Dustin Stanton’s cover for Punch-Drunk Love is somewhat disappointing. It utilizes a still from the film that reminds one of the covers found on run-of-the-mill Blu-ray releases. Wouldn’t it be more sophisticated if they were to utilize some of Jeremy Blake’s wonderful artwork for the film—or even the film’s original one-sheet design? This is a minor complaint, and one doubts if most people will be terribly disappointed with the presentation as it stands. It is simply disappointing when one compares the artwork to some of Criterion’s other releases. As is their habit, Criterion also includes a fold-out pamphlet featuring an admiring essay by Miranda July.

The disc’s menu showcases the harmonium that features largely in the film coupled with Jon Brion’s unusual score. The result is elegant in its simplicity.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars 

Criterion’s 1080p transfer of Punch-Drunk Love almost makes up for the fact that PTA fans had to wait such a ridiculously long time to own the film on Blu-ray. As always, the film’s transfer is discussed in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

Punch-Drunk Love is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised by Paul Thomas Anderson, this high-definition digital transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive.” –Liner Notes

The result is an image vastly superior to the film’s original Super-bit DVD transfer. It probably goes without saying that Detail, depth, and clarity are all substantially improved upon as the image reveals textures that were never before evident while viewing the film on home video. Colors also show substantial improvement, which is good news considering the film’s creative use of vibrant color. Perhaps the biggest improvement over the Super-bit DVD release is that there are none of the ugly and distracting compression anomalies that marred the earlier release.

It is probably possible to complain about a few moments of minor noise and muddy shadowy areas of the frame, but one wonders if these problems might be related to the actual production photography. Franky, blacks are—for the most part—extremely well handled here. There might also be a few quick moments of mild ringing, but this too seems to be a production related issue and not the fault of this excellent transfer. As is usually the case, Criterion has cleaned quite a bit if dirt and other anomalies from their scan of the film leaving fans with an immaculate image. It is easy to understand why Anderson improved this wonderful transfer.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—which was re-mastered from the 35mm magnetic track—is as close to perfect as any reasonable listener could possibly expect. Jon Brion’s score, sound effects, and dialogue are all masterfully mixed into what stands as a surprisingly effective sonic experience—especially for a film of its kind. It goes without saying that Anderson makes good use of sound design in his films, and Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an exception.

This is truly a surprisingly dynamic mix that finds Brion’s score dramatically crossing across all five speakers. The directional mix also gives weight to some of Barry’s more chaotic scenes—where his head seems to be going in all directions. It really elevates the entire experience in interesting ways. It has the effect of placing the viewer in Barry’s mind. It’s brilliant work! An entire book could be written about the film’s sound design.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion carries over Sony’s previous DVD supplements over for the film’s Blu-ray debut while adding quite a few new features for fans to enjoy. The materials carried over from Sony’s previous DVD edition are simply presented in up-scaled standard definition, but most of Criterion’s new video features are in true high definition. One wishes that the deleted scenes could have received a new high definition transfer for this release, but one shouldn’t complain about such trifles.

Deleted Scenes:

The Sisters Call – (07:18)

It is interesting to compare this sequence with the abbreviated version that is included in the film. While this series of telephone calls is amusing and interesting, Anderson made the correct decision when he simplified things. The phone conversations in the finished film have more pathos. Less is sometimes more.

“Are You from California” – (02:23)

This interaction between Barry and the goons sent to intimidate him wouldn’t have added anything interesting to the film, but it is instructive to see what was cut from the finished picture.

Blossoms & Blood – (11:58)

Blossoms & Blood is simply a 12-minute assemblage of various deleted and alternate scenes that have been woven together with Jeremy Blake’s art and Jon Brion’s music. Since deleted scenes are amongst the most useful and interesting of all supplemental features, it is wonderful to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD release.

Mattress Man Commercial – (00:52)

This humorous short spoof on those ridiculously low budget regional commercials that are a staple of late night cable. Actually, it is an almost verbatim reenactment of an actual commercial outtake from the 1980s! (The real commercial is available on Youtube.) It isn’t clear whether this spoof was shot specifically for Punch Drunk Love and deleted from the final cut of the film or if it was merely intended as a fun promotional artifact. Either way, it is a rather amusing addition to the disc. Fans should be pleased to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD edition of the film.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Press Conference – (37:43)

This lengthy panel discussion featuring Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and JoAnne Sellar is only limited by the sometimes ridiculous questions asked during its duration. At its best, this is an informative discussion about the film and its production. At its worst, it is an amusing glimpse of the aforementioned panelists as they try to answer questions that are either unclear or unbelievably pretentious. Since it entertains when it doesn’t enlighten, fans should agree that its inclusion adds quite a bit of value to the disc.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Studio Interviews – (07:02)

This “live” television interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is both interesting and entertaining without ever offering much in the way of revelatory information. It is one of those surface level group interviews where all participants praise the work and collaborative efforts of all other participants as they generally discuss the film without ever revealing anything about it. However, it is certainly an amusing way to spend seven minutes and it is nice to have it included in the supplemental package.

Jon Brion on Punch Drunk Love – (27:19)

Many fans will undoubtedly consider this incredibly informative interview with Jon Brion to be the standout amongst the new Criterion offerings available on the disc. Brion is simultaneously engaging and comprehensive in this discussion about his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. He discusses their work together in a manner that even viewers who are completely ignorant about music and sound production should be able to understand. Better yet, the information revealed enhances the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the film itself.

Jon Brion’s Recording Session – (09:56)

Those interested in film scores will find this “home video” footage taken from behind the scenes of Brion’s recording sessions of the Punch Drunk Love score especially interesting. It is a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of Brion and his orchestra at work without any additional commentary to give the footage context. This lack of context may frustrate certain viewers, but most will welcome it as a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

Gangitano and Connor: Jeremy Blake’s Artwork – (20:25)

Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano discuss Jeremy Blake’s background, artwork, and work on the film in an impressive amount of detail. The viewer is also shown a liberal amount of Blake’s art throughout the conversation, which certainly adds value to the program. Unfortunately, their dry shop-talk tends to be slightly less than completely digestible for the average viewer and there isn’t nearly enough information or analysis about Blake’s work on Punch Drunk Love—which should really be priority one. It is certainly a valuable addition to the disc, but most will probably see it as a missed opportunity.

Katie Couric Interview with David Phillips – (05:04)

This interview with Katie Couric and David Phillips was probably aired as part of NBC’s Today show in 2000. David Phillips (aka “the pudding guy”) is interviewed about his efforts to collect frequent flyer miles by purchasing an enormous quantity of “Healthy Choice” products—most notably pudding. Paul Thomas Anderson used Phillips’ unusual mission as the starting point for Sandler’s character in Punch Drunk Love.

Additional Artwork by Jeremy Blake – (02:42)

This is essentially a gallery of additional artwork that was completed by Jeremy Blake for the film presented in slideshow form and set a Hawaiian-flavored song by Annie Kerr entitled “I’ve Gone Native Now.”

Twelve Scopitones – (06:20)

To call these short segments “Scopitones” seems misleading. They are merely very short clips edited from Jeremy Blake’s artwork and footage shot for the film.

Trailers:

Standard Theatrical Trailer(02:27)

The standard theatrical trailer isn’t much different than most other trailers, but the quirky nature of Anderson’s under-appreciated gem shines through here.

Jeremy’s Blake’s Love – (01:24)

Jeremy Blake’s artwork is utilized prominently here until it finally bleeds into live action footage of Barry and Lena. It is a nice little teaser that must have raised a lot of questions about the film upon its initial release.

Eat Tomorrow – (00:33)

This teaser seems to have been made for French audiences. It is a nice little advertisement that captures the tonal flavor of the film, but it is the least effective of the three trailers included here. One wonders if this wasn’t actually a foreign television spot for the film.

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Final Words:

Punch-Drunk Love lives up to Paul Thomas Anderson’s reputation for creating brilliant cinema, and Criterion gives the film a solid Blu-ray debut.

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Review by: Devon Powell

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Spine #839

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 02:45:27

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.99 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released by Paramount as a Blu-ray/DVD combo and in a standalone DVD edition. This Criterion collection represents a significant upgrade but doesn’t carry over Paramount’s two supplements. A 2 Disc DVD edition of the Criterion Collection is also available.

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“I had been a dad for about seven or eight years, and I wanted to express something about childhood. You know this now: when you have a kid, it puts you so much in the present tense with their lives, but you can’t help but churn through your own life at that age. It’s such an interesting refraction. So I was thinking a lot about development and childhood. I wanted to do something from a kid’s point of view, but all the ideas that I wanted to express from my own life were so spread out. I couldn’t pick one year, one moment. I was going to maybe write a novel—some little weird, experimental novel. And it hit me, this film idea: What if I filmed a little bit every year and just saw everybody, this family, age? The kids would grow up, the parents would age. In a way, it’s a simple idea, but so damn impractical.” –Richard Linklater (Interview Magazine)

Boyhood isn’t simply a remarkable film; it is a miracle on celluloid. Having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Film, it isn’t terribly surprising that the film received as many as six Academy Award nominations (Best Picture, Best Director – Richard Linklater, Best Original Screenplay – Richard Linklater, Best Supporting Actor – Ethan Hawke, Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette, and Best Film Editing – Sandra Adair). What Richard Linklater has accomplished with this film is nothing short of extraordinary. A few reviewers have noted a similarity with Michael Apted’s series of Up documentaries, but Boyhood is something very different.

The cast of Boyhood had to commit to a film that would take twelve years to complete.

“I called up Patricia [Arquette], who I had only met once, and she jumped aboard. I sat down with Ethan and told him what I was thinking, and he wanted to do it. Then I started casting, looking for kids. Lorelei, my daughter, demanded to have the part. I had the luxury of, every year, just tapping in. I would hang out with her and Ellar, the boy, and just try to pick up where they were at their age, what I felt they could do that year, and then work stories around all that. But pretty soon Lorelei was the sullen teenager who did not want to do it anymore… She’s like the person on the TV series who wants off. ‘Can you kill my character?’ [laughs] I’m like, ‘No. That’s a little too dramatic for this movie.’” –Richard Linklater (Interview Magazine)

Instead of writing a screenplay for his project, Linklater made a detailed outline of the major events that he wanted to occur. A short script was written every year for each individual shoot. This allowed Linklater to incorporate the personality of the actors into the film in an organic manner.

“All the marriages, divorces, moves, big stuff—I knew he’d go to college and I knew the last shot of the movie from the beginning. The photographer thing? I knew by high school he’d be expressing himself. I thought he’d be a writer. Knowing Ellar [Coltrane] himself at that point—he’s living in a music town, his dad is a musician; I thought he might be in a band. I thought I’d be filming band practice. The film would go where he wanted to some degree. That’s not what happened. He ended up with an interest in photography. I thought, ‘Great.’ I like that more. That’s closer to who I was [at that age]. I was taking pictures. I was observational. It was more fitting. That’s a good example of us going in his direction.” –Richard Linklater (Interview with Brian Tallerico)

Of course, there were many logistical headaches involved with a twelve year production model.

“I didn’t know that heading in, but you can’t contract for more than seven years—which is a good thing, especially when working with children. This was all a wing and a prayer. It was a life project that everyone committed to. Certainly, a few people shifted around. But we all make our life commitments—whether it’s to a family or a partner or a career.” –Richard Linklater (A.V. Club)

The cast and crew would shoot for about three days every year during the twelve year period. This might sound easy, but each shoot required a lot of preparation.

“Logistically, things were just off the charts. Crazy… Each time you have to get a crew, you’ve got to rent just for a three-day shoot, you still have to do all of that stuff: Get production insurance, tech-scout, [and] location-scout, cast the additional parts, get the crew together, [and] make deals. So weeks and weeks each year… We had a cast and crew of over 450 people who came through in various capacities for various times. We had a core crew that was there the whole time, with quite a few people who put in nine years or more. And there are probably 10 or 12 [people] who did either 11 or 12 years.” –Richard Linklater (The Dissolve)

This allowed Linklater to edit the film in the same piecemeal fashion that the film was shot. The editing process could then inform what he would shoot the following year.

“We would edit every year, attach it to whatever had gone before and then edit the whole thing again if we had the extra time. Then I could kind of hang out with that for a year, watch it, think about it, how to incorporate my incrementally aging cast, work that into my ideas and—it was just a fine life project. But that gestation time was incredible. Most movies, if you think about it, you put all your thoughts up front, and then you’re shooting, you’re on your toes, you’re making adjustments and dealing with reality, but you’re rendering what you conceived and then you’re editing that. This was in a much different order. I could edit, [and] then think, then I’m writing and shooting and editing again. So it was unlike any film ever.” –Richard Linklater (Indiewire)

It seems incredible that Linklater was able to find financing for such a project, and many studios passed without giving the project any real consideration. Fortunately, the director had worked on previous productions with IFC, and they agreed to finance the project. Their faith in the director has certainly paid off.

Boyhood defies articulate description. It isn’t quite like anything that has preceded it, and yet it seems vaguely familiar. It is difficult to account for the familiarity. Are we somehow reliving something in our own lives through the characters on the screen? The answer to this question is impossible to answer.

Those expecting the typical ‘coming of age’ melodrama might become irritated to some extent. Linklater shows the audience the small moments that make up a life. We are shown the little moments that people cherish in their mind, but that carry little to no importance to anyone besides the person who holds that particular memory. This is the film’s greatest achievement in many ways, because the viewer adopts these moments as he invests in the film. All of these things somehow become personal. We understand these little moments, even if they are different from our own memories. Somehow, we find ourselves adopting these moments (at least for the duration of the film). Perhaps this is due to the dreamlike nature of the film.

One might think that Boyhood would be rather episodic (perhaps with chapter headings that indicate each year). Instead, the film flows without interruption like memories played out in a dream. It is a dream that I plan to have again and again.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. F. Ron Miller’s original artwork is brilliantly conceived and is vastly superior to even the film’s original one sheet artwork—not to mention Paramount’s earlier Blu-ray art which utilized the same photograph as the aforementioned poster. An added bonus is the wonderful illustrated booklet included inside the case with the two Blu-ray discs which features an essay by Jonathan Lethem.

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The disc’s menus utilize footage from the actual film coupled with a song that featured in the film. I admit to not knowing the title of the song but it should be said that the result is quite pleasant. The passing of time seems to be the menu’s core theme and it is really a very nice little montage of moments that follow Mason’s growth and development.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars 

As is their usual practice, the technical details of Boyhood’s transfer is detailed in the booklet provided in the disc’s case:

Boyhood is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm original camera negative.” –Liner Notes

 The result is quite lovely. The filmmakers were able to maintain the continuity of the image’s texture throughout the twelve year production, and this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer accurately showcases this achievement. The texture of the film’s 35mm photography remains intact without ever becoming inconsistent. Actually—with the exception of the occasional fleeting scratch—there aren’t any problematic blemishes to report. Clarity is always excellent and color is vivid while remaining natural. There are no discernable digital artifacts to distract the viewer either. This seems to be a marginal improvement over Paramount’s transfer, and this is likely due to Criterion’s maxed-out bitrate. In any case, there is certainly no reason to complain with the fine quality of this disc’s image.

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 Sound Quality:

 4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn’t sound much different than the one that Paramount offered on their 2015 release of the film. This isn’t particularly surprising because that track was quite solid. While the 5.1 mix isn’t likely to give high end speaker systems much of a workout, it does represent the filmmaker’s intentions. Boyhood is an epic drama with a very simple sound design that is appropriate for the film. The mix is made up of the same quaint sounds that viewers hear daily and these sounds are given some subtle separation that never calls attention to itself. Dialogue is heavily favored and is always clear and well-focused.

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 Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given Boyhood a rather special 2-Disc release that is packed with interesting supplemental materials. There is well over 5 hours and 38 minutes of enlightening supplemental entertainment included in total (and over 2 hours and 53 minutes if one excludes the commentary track). Some might complain about the absence of the two Paramount supplements, but rest assured that the territory covered by those features is covered here as well and in more detail.

Disc 1:

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Richard Linklater (Writer/Director), Cathleen Sutherland (Producer), Sandra Adair (Editor), Rodney Becker (Production Designer), Beth Sepko-Lindsey (Casting Director), Kari Perkins (Costume Designer), Vince Plamo Jr. (First Assistant Director), Marco Perella (Actor – Professor Bill Welbrock), Libby Villari (Actor – Grandma) and Andrew Villarreal (Actor – Randy)

This engaging track was recorded in Austin, Texas in 2015. It would be reasonable to expect any commentary track running nearly three hours to be filled with lengthy silent stretches but the participants fill the time with plenty of information and anecdotes about the film’s unusual production. Some listeners might ament the absence of the principal cast, but these actors have plenty of opportunity to contribute during many of the other supplements provided on the disc. Actually, if the track has a weakness it is that the sheer number of participants might make deciphering who is actually speaking somewhat challenging (although this particular listener didn’t have this issue).

Disc 2:

Twelve Years(1080p) – (49:28)

Essentially a chronicle of the film’s massive 12 year production, this documentary primarily utilizes interviews and fly-on-the-wall production footage taken throughout the 12 year period. The interviews illuminate some of the unique qualities of working on such a project (such as vast changes in the personal lives of those involved). The actors are literally involving with their characters, and this seems to be reflected in the final film. In some ways, it might be said that the production is only discussed here in a rather general manner but the “behind the scenes” footage makes up for whatever one might find lacking otherwise. This certainly isn’t the standard EPK drivel that one might expect. This is well worth the viewer’s time.

Memories of the Present – (1080p) – (57:35)

This discussion featuring Richard Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and moderated by John Pierson was recorded in Austin, Texas in 2015. It is a fairly standard panel discussion that somewhat resembles the 2014 Cinefamily discussion that graced the earlier Paramount disc. Similar territory is covered here as the participants candidly discuss the twelve year production. At almost an hour in length, the viewer is given all sorts of interesting information. It is wonderful to have this included on the disc and it is an adequate substitute for the aforementioned Paramount supplement (even when one takes into account the absence of Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke).

Always Now – (1080p) – (30:10)

This is a surprisingly engaging conversation between Coltrane and actor Ethan Hawke. The two actors seem to be having a genuine conversation with one another about their time working on such an unusual production. It is a very nice addition to the disc.

Time of Your Life – (1080p) – (12:29)

Time of Your Life is a video essay by critic Michael Koresky about time in Linklater’s films featuring narration by Ellar Coltrane. Cinephiles who enjoy scholarly examination will find this short piece both instructive and engaging. Several of the director’s films are discussed throughout the length of the essay (Slacker, the Before trilogy, Boyhood). In some ways, this might be the most important supplement because it addresses how Boyhood works as a film. Linklater devotees will no doubt be pleased to have it included here.

Through the Years – (23:59)

This much more engaging than one might expect. A collection of production portraits by photographer Matt Lankes is narrated with commentary by Richard Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Cathleen Sutherland. The various commentaries (and some of the photos) were originally published in Boyhood: 12 Years on Film but they somehow elevate the photography.

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Final Words:

Fans of Boyhood have been hoping for this release since shortly after the film hit theaters. As a matter of fact, Richard Linklater promised such a release in an interview with Hypable on early as July 13, 2014. When asked what fans could expect, he spoke enthusiastically:

“We’ve got a ton of behind the scenes stuff. We made this in the era where everyone has a digital camera so we unearthed an interview from year one with Ellar, Lorelai, Patricia and myself. Patricia interviewed me in 2002. I hadn’t seen this since we shot it, Ellar had forgotten quite a bit of it but he got to see himself as a wide-eyed six year old. For people who like the movie, I think there will be a lot of cool little treasures.” –Richard Linklater (Hypable, July 13, 2014)

Of course, a lot of people were disappointed when Paramount released their 2015 Blu-ray. Cinephiles were uncertain if the promised Criterion release would ever see the light of day. Luckily, it has finally surfaced with excellent results. Criterion’s release of Linklater’s critically lauded film is a definite upgrade.

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Review by: Devon Powell