Tuesday, May 24, 2005

#30: M

M, 1931, directed by Fritz Lang, written by Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang.

Wer ist der Mörder? Who is the murderer? That question is the starting point for any number of serial killer movies, from The Lodger to Identity. And the answer is usually pretty structurally simple: "That's him, officer," or "It was you, all along!" But although we see this question again and again in M, the movie isn't that interested in the answer, unless the question means something closer to "What is it like to be the murderer?" Even that's an oversimplification that doesn't cover the scope of Lang's achievement in M. This may be the best serial killer movie ever made; it also is one of the greatest police procedurals, portraits of a living city, movies about the criminal underworld, critiques of the media, and films noir.

Fritz Lang made M in 1931, but it is shockingly modern in tone, subject, and technique. The plot is relatively simple: Peter Lorre plays Hans Beckhart, who is compelled to kill little girls. The police can't catch him; newspapers keep writing about him (his repetitive compulsions feed the news cycle), and the public is outraged. Increased police presence in the city is bringing organized crime to a standstill, and so both the police and the criminals are desperately searching for Beckhart. The audience knows who he is and where he is from the beginning: we see him the first time we see a "Wir ist der mörder" poster. The question and the answer are in the same shot.

Lang has a real awareness of the myriad delicate relationships that keep a modern city moving; between upper and lower classes, between police and criminals, between the media and the public. You can see this most clearly in the scene of a police raid on a bar; Otto Wernicke, playing Kommissar Lohmann, checks the papers of everyone there, one by one. Lang lets the scene play long; we see three people go before the Kommissar, one with forged papers, one with real papers (but wearing a fur coat he's recently stolen) and one with no papers at all. Lohmann's interactions with these people are delicately played, but they show the very complicated power relationship between a good cop and career criminals. There's a certain fatherly affection present when Lohmann looks at fake papers, winks, and tells the bearer "You've been cheated." Although this is one of the most obvious examples, the movie is suffused with scenes in which complicated power and class dynamics are sketched out in very short order. He shows how these dynamics, carefully maintained, are pushed out of balance by the arrival of the child-murderer played by Peter Lorre; it's in everyone's interest that he be caught.

When you look at a movie like The Silence of the Lambs, it's clear that everyone involved in the project intended Hannibal Lecter to be charismatic and appealing. Even Kevin Spacey's killer in Se7en has his charm; he's just trying to teach us all a lesson. I always feel a little queasy about "cool" serial killers as characters, especially when surrounded with what's meant to be gritty reality (Se7en is a particularly bad offender here; in The Silence of the Lambs everything's so gothic that it's easier to discount Lecter). That's a little bit of a problem here; Lang doesn't ask or want you to sympathize with Beckhart; he's an evil man who does evil things. But Lorre's magnetic performance, particularly in the final scenes of the movie, makes him real in a way most on-screen killers are not. Here's his last monologue in its entirety. He's been captured by organized crime and is standing trial before a kangaroo court of criminals. He's just said that he can't help what he does, and someone in the crowd yells out that they all say the same thing when they're before a judge:

What would you know? What are you talking about? Who are you, anyway? Who are you? All of you. Criminals. Probably proud of it, too—proud you can crack a safe or sneak into houses or cheat at cards. All of which it seems to me you could just as easily give up if you had learned something useful or if you had jobs or if you weren't such lazy pigs. But me? Can I do anything about it? Don't I have this cursed thing inside of me? This fire, this voice, this agony?
I have to roam the streets endlessly always sensing that someone's following me. It's me! I'm shadowing myself! Silently...but I still hear it! Yes, sometimes I feel like I'm tracking myself down. I want to run—run away from myself! But I can't! I can't escape from myself! I must take the path that it's driving me down and run and run down endless streets! I want off! And with me run the ghosts of the mothers and children. They never go away. They're always there! Always! Always! Always! Except... when I'm doing it... when I... Then I don't remember a thing. Then I'm standing before a poster, reading what I've done. I read and read... I did that? I don't remember a thing! But who will believe me? Who knows what it's like inside me? How it screams and cries out inside me when I have to do it! Don't want to! Must! Don't want to! Must!

It reads a bit talky and overblown on the page, but when Lorre howls these lines at you, you can see the constant, unbearable pain Beckhart is in. In interviews, like the one with William Friedkin on the second disc, Lang says he doesn't intend for the audience to feel any sympathy for Beckhart; that said, he rarely cuts away from Lorre during the last scene, and when he does, it's usually to members of the criminal court nodding in agreement. Even Schränker only wants to kill Beckhart as a political exediency; he can't risk that he ever goes free again.

This was Lang's first sound film; he'd done fifteen silent movies (including Metropolis) and resisted the coming of sound, refusing to add sound to Frau im Mond despite the producer's wishes. Seymour Nebenzal talked him into it for M, though, and Lang didn't waste any time mastering the medium. In early sound films, the soundtrack is usually synched to what you're seeing on screen; Lang wasn't the first director to disassociate the two things, but he did it masterfully. He also understood that you didn't need sound at all, necessarily; witness the absolutely silent footage of police preparing for a raid. Lang keeps these scenes silent until a police whistle blows and then suddenly there's sound everywhere; the tromping of boots, people running to escape, shouting, more whistles, &c. It's fantastic. Some other experiments with sound are less successful; Lohmann's voiceover describing a police investigation while we're seeing the investigation doesn't add much (though it's better than a similar sequence in High and Low). Here's a closer look at a sequence where everything comes together, right at the beginning.

We've seen Elsie Beckmann bouncing a ball down the street after school; seen her meet Hans Beckert (she's bouncing the ball against the poster in the shot at the top of the page); seen them make small talk, seen him buy her candy and a balloon. This is intercut with footage of her mother wondering where her daughter is as time passes (we know pretty precisely how much time has passed, thanks to shots of the clock in Mrs. Beckmann's apartment—this movie is filled with literal ticking clocks). Mrs. Beckmann goes to the window and calls out "Elsie!" and then we get this series of shots:

The stairs of the apartment complex (this stairway-as-maze shot should look familiar; it's been used a million times since). Over this, we hear Mrs. Beckman call "Elsie!" again. This, and the shots that follow, are basically still images; there's no camera motion.

The attic of the apartment building. Again, "Elsie!" Nothing moves in this shot, there's no breeze on the eerily still clothes.

Elsie's place at the table. For the last time, increasingly desparate, "Elsie!"

This shot is silent. Elsie's ball rolls into frame and stops. We're on this for maybe five seconds; long enough to really feel a sense of dread.

This shot isn't as long. Elsie's balloon comes into frame, gets snagged on the power lines for a few seconds, and then blows away.

We then get a dissolve to black, a few seconds of complete blackness, and then fade in on a newsboy yelling "Extra! Extra!" as he races down the street selling papers with the lurid details of Elsie's demise. It's a virtuoso sequence. A few take home lessons:

  • Static shots can be used to increase a sense of dread. They also invite the viewer to look for what's missing, so in a sequence like this they work beautifully.

  • Letting the viewer imagine what's happening to Elsie is far better than showing it, especially if the viewer has to make a few mental leaps (that's her ball, that's her balloon). Put the viewer in the mother's mental state immediately before and he or she will imagine the most horrible thing ever.

  • Use sound judiciously. Some shots are better without it.

This is a movie I'll be coming back to again and again; there are hundreds of practical decisions Lang made that are easy to suss out and I imagine (and hope) they will inform my screenwriting from here on out.


  • The new two-DVD set was something I had to buy; nobody in Los Angeles was renting it. I'm very glad I did; it's an embarassment of riches. For one thing, the movie itself was restored from the original camera negative; all earlier restorations were done from later prints.

  • You'll notice in the stills above that the aspect ratio is pretty narrow. Early German silent film was shot at 1.33:1, close to Academy ratio. When they added sound, they simply put an optical soundtrack on the filmstrip, cutting into the picture and producing a 1.19:1 ratio. All earlier restorations were done with a telecine set to 1.33:1, which produced a white cropping line across the top of the image. This includes the earlier 1 DVD Criterion edition. The new, 2-disc set was done correctly and it looks great, as you can see in the stills.

  • The information above is from the second disc, which includes "A Physical History of M", a rundown of all the various cuts and transfers of the film. Most interestingly, it includes footage from The Eternal Jew, a Nazi propaganda film that pointed to "the Jew Peter Lorre's" performance as an example of the kind of depraved character jews were naturally inclined to play. The section of the movie included is a rogue's gallery of decadent Jews, including "the relativity-Jew Einstein, who concealed his hatred of Germany behind obscure pseudoscience." I think Einstein would have had something to say about that if Germany had stayed in the war a little longer.

  • One other lesson from M for filmmakers and especially editors: cutting on an action, that's cool. Cutting on an action that's followed through by another character in a different scene to connect the two character, that's very cool. Having a crime boss say the first half of a sentence and begin a sweeping arm gesture, and then cutting to a police chief finishing the sentence and completing the gesture: that's unbeatable.

  • I much prefer commentary tracks where all parties are in the same room talking to each other; Criterion so far has frequently used commentaries that are edited together after the fact. I like knowing how the people talking feel about each other (Fight Club is a great one for this; Chuck Palahniuk clearly loathes screenwriter Jim Uhls, and their joint commentary is a masterpiece of passive aggression; plus David Fincher and Edward Norton do all they can to ignore anything Brad Pitt says). Anyway, on this DVD, Anton Kaes and Eric Rentschler share a commentary track, and they don't get along too well either. Rentschler is very bare-bones; Kaes goes on and on a bit. The basic structure is that Kaes will make a point, and expand on it for a while, until Rentschler gets frustrated and tells him he's wrong. Sometimes, Kaes bounces back from this, and the results are spectacular. For example, Lang tells a great story about meeting Josef Göbbels, being offered the mantle of Nazi filmmaker, and fleeing Germany as soon as possible (you can hear him tell this story on the second disc, in Conversation with Fritz Lang, a movie William Friedkin made about a year before Lang's death. Unfortunately, the story isn't true; Lang went back to Germany several times after his "flight," and he may not have met Göbbels. After Rentschler points this out, Kaes says—and I'm not making this up—something to the effect of "but regardless of the 'truth-value' of this story, don't you think the way Lang tells the story says something about his greatness as a filmmaker?" "Truth-value." Really!

Friday, May 13, 2005

#27: Flesh for Frankenstein

Flesh for Frankenstein, 1973, written and directed by Paul Morrissey, characters created by Mary Shelley.

Paul Morrissey made this movie immediately before Blood for Dracula; I liked it less, although it's pretty good. (I do mean "immediately before," incidentally—they wrapped Flesh for Frankenstein one fine morning, had lunch, and started shooting Blood for Dracula). As with Blood for Dracula, Morrissey has nothing good to say about modern permissiveness. Flesh for Frankenstein has one thing Blood for Dracula doesn't, though: Spacevision 3-D! Which means you get shots like this:

Udo Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, with his heart on his sleeve and his stomach on a pole.

A bit about 3-D; as you probably know, 3-D works by presenting the left and right eye with a different image, photographed simultaneously with two lenses that are about as far apart as the human eyes. As in the real world, the brain interprets the slight differences in perspective between the two images as depth, and thus images seem to stand out from the screen. The differences in various 3-D formats have to do with how the images are isolated in each eye. I've seen four 3-D movies actually in 3-D, and three of them were at Disney theme parks (Captain Eo, Honey, I Shrunk The Audience, and The Muppets Present: Medea! Ok, I can't remember the name of the Muppet movie). The fourth 3-D movie I saw was The Creature From The Black Lagoon, which used the analglyph duo-color red-blue system. If you've ever seen an analglyph duo-color 3-D movie or image, you know the effect is not so great, the depth of color is limited, and your eyes get tired from watching them. So my impression was always that the Disney systems required a very expensive projector or some sort of heavy equipment to use polarized light;1 I didn't think there was ever a mass-market format that used that kind of 3-D effect.

I was wrong. The first 3-D process, NaturalVision, used polarized light. It also required simultaneous projection using two projectors, and was therefore prone to go wrong. Most movie theaters could do dual projection (they had two projectors for reel changes), but if the projectors weren't in sync, the 3-D effect was spoiled. Poor presentation quality may, in fact, be what killed 3-D off as a commercial medium; I shudder to think what the format would look like now that there are so few theaters with even moderately skilled projectionists. If you're interested in the history of 3-D film, there's a good summary here.

SpaceVision was a one-strip process, designed to eliminate the errors that two-strip projection introduced (my understanding is that the projector had a specialized dual lens); but like NaturalVision, it used polarization rather than a duo-tone system. So as you can see above, you get the same depth of color you would with any one-strip color system of the time. Plus it's in 3-D!

Except, of course, it isn't. Televisions can't show things in SpaceVision. So this is the first Criterion DVD where the image on screen is not just inevitably worse (because lower res) than a theatrical presentation, but different in kind. So if anyone ever screens this in SpaceVision near me, believe me, I'll be there.

So the end result of watching a 3-D movie on a television is that there are lots of strange shot compositions that don't make much sense; there's always something in the foreground and people keep waving flowers, knives, and organs directly at the screen. Also, in contrast to the deep colors of Blood for Dracula, this movie seemed overlit to me. Morrissey talks on the commentary track about how much he hates underlit films and naturalistic lighting; in both Blood for Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein, he just kind of throws lights on his actors. Which looks great in a 30's sort of way, in Blood for Dracula, but feels overdone here.

The movie's a pretty far departure from Mary Shelley's story. In this version, Dr. Frankenstein (Udo Kier, who's great as always) is trying to create a super race of racially pure zombies. As a result, he's reanimated not just one corpse, but two, both designed to be irresistably beautiful. His goal is to get them to breed; he has a LaMarkian understanding of genetics, and believes their offspring will be as perfect as they are. The female monster, played by the ridiculously attractive Dalila Di Lazzaro, is an unmitigated success. But as the movie opens, he's still looking for a perfect head for his male monster. He wants a sexual powerhouse, so he hangs out outside of a brothel looking for someone with unstoppable, racially-pure sex know-how. Unfortunately, he goes looking for his head on the same day that Joe Dallesandro convinces his friend Sacha to try sleeping with girls before becoming a chaste monk. In the brothel, Sacha completely ignores the girl he's with while sending longing, languid looks in Joe's direction—so guess whose head ends up on the monster?

It's certainly a funny enough variation, but Udo Kier's Baron Frankenstein never quite rises to the level of tragic the way his Dracula does. Perhaps Dracula is just inherently sexier than Frankenstein, in the same way that blood is sexier than shit. Because man, is this movie ever interested in human viscera. I would guess that 75% of the on-screen deaths are by disemboweling; the only exceptions are Sacha and the Baroness. And these aren't subtle deaths; the effects are by Carlo Rambaldi, who went on to design effects in Alien. Let's just say he used a lot of animal organs in this movie; the still above is one of the tamer examples.

So it's not as good, on the whole, as Blood for Dracula. That said, it has one moment that's funnier than anything else in either movie; Frankenstein's monster has chased him out of his own laboratory and slammed the gate on his hand, severing it (you can see above that Kier's left hand is missing). The doctor staggers back in and retrieves his hand; he tries to reattach it, fails, realizes that he's dying, and throws his own hand at Joe Dallesandro in a fit of rage. Which is pretty much exactly how most people would react in that situation. Kier does this sort of spoiled-child routine as part of his character in both movies; that's its apotheosis.

That's all for this one; sorry about the extended, wonky discussion of 3-D. I leave you with the following still; SpaceVision at its most terrifying:

Here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

1There is, in fact, a more expensive and complicated system for separating images than using polarized light; IMAX produces 3-D movies that use glasses with timed LCD shutters, so that each eye sees every other frames (i.e., for frame one, the left eye's lens is opaque, for frame two the right eye lens is opaque). However, the difficulty of syncing the glasses with the projection make this even less practical than a dual projector polarization system in terms of costs and projectionist training.

Update (9-20-2006): I was fortunate enough to see Flesh For Frankenstein in 3-D Saturday night at the Egyptian Theatre here in Hollywood as part of the second World 3-D Exposition. It was a new print, but a strange one, in that it seemed to be a letterboxed 4:3 frame. In any event, it was in 3-D, which was an entirely different experience than watching the DVD. Kier's death speech is fantastic when the spear that's run him through is hovering in front of your face. Best of all, Udo Kier was there for a pre-movie Q & A (he told the same story Morrisey tells on the commentary track about casting him in Blood for Dracula), and watched the movie with the audience, the second time he'd seen it in 3-D since it was made.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

#20: Sid and Nancy

Sid and Nancy, 1986, directed by Alex Cox, written by Alex Cox and Abbe Wool.

What can you say about a twenty-year-old girl who died? Well, if she was Nancy Spungen, you can't say much about her being beautiful or brilliant. I don't think she loved Mozart or Bach, and I'm sure she didn't love the Beatles. But she loved Sid Vicious. And I don't think Alex Cox wanted to make Love Story, anyway.

Of course, he didn't want to make The Buddy Holly Story, either. You're kind of setting yourself up for failure when your subjects are Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Nancy Spungen, the camp follower that he may or may not have killed. Most music biopics (e.g., Ray) take for granted that their subject is talented; the story is usually about them trying to wrestle their immense talent into productive directions. You can't really do that when you're making a movie about Sid Vicious—he doesn't give you much to work with. He was the least talented member of a band that was never famous for its skill. In movies like Ray, the movie takes off when the main character gets their personal goals in line with their artistic ones; in Sid and Nancy things don't really get going until Sid leaves the Sex Pistols. To put it bluntly, Sid's artistic goals aren't very interesting; and his psychotic lack of introspection means his personal goals aren't much to look at either. They're funny, though; here's the scene where Nancy brings Sid to her family's home for an incredibly uncomfortable dinner:

          So! Are you gonna make an honest
          woman of our Nancy, Sid?

          Well, she's always been an honest
          woman to me, Granpa, so... she's
          never lied to me.

          But what are your, uh, intentions?

          Well, first off, we're going to go
          down to the methadone clinic on
          Monday and then, uh, Nancy's gonna
          get me some gigs. And then we're
          gonna go off and, like, live in
          Paris, and just sort of go out in a
          blaze of glory. But don't worry,
          though, you know, you'll be proud
          of us.

For what it's worth, Sid achieves every goal but the last one.

The structure of the movie is unusual; it's a straight two-acter. The first half is set in Britain and America and is more closely tied to the actual career of Sid Vicious; it's interesting enough, but it only really transcends the squalor of its main character in the scenes where Cox focuses on Sid's feelings for Nancy Spungen. There's a beautiful sequence during the Sex Pistol's disastrous Silver Jubilee celebration where Sid and Nancy walk through police mayhem like ghosts. It's one long slow-motion tracking shot backwards through the chaos, and it's gorgeous; you really believe these two people have been chosen by fate to love each other.

Cox gives his characters' doomed romanticism full reign in the second half, after the Sex Pistols have broken up. As Sid and Nancy descend into heroin addiction and become increasingly divorced from the world around them, Cox shows them as residents of their own, purely subjective world; notably when Sid's cigarette sets their room at the Chelsea Hotel on fire and the two of them sit in bed watching things burn until they're dragged out. And of course, there's this:

Add a song by Pray for Rain and you're well on your way into mythmaking. The second half of this movie is brilliant; Cox manages to make Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious not just bearable, but tragic.

By most accounts, they were neither. The DVD features footage from D. O. A.: A Rite of Passage, a documentary about punk that features an "interview" with the two of them. Sid, clearly strung out, keeps passing in and out of sleep, mumbling incoherently while Nancy screeches at him to wake up and answer the filmmaker's questions. Sid lets his cigarette burn a hole in the blanket; Nancy's voice is near unbearable. Gary Oldman's Sid Vicious isn't 100% coherent all the time, but he's worlds ahead of the actual article. Chloe Webb's Nancy isn't pleasant to listen to, but she, too, is cleaned up a bit for film.

That seems to be the main problem people who were there at the time have with the film (I base this opinion solely on the commentary track); Cox wasn't true enough to the actual story. Sid often wore a shirt with a swastika; Cox changed it to a hammer and sickle. I don't really buy the argument that a filmmaker has a responsibility to his subjects or the truth or whatever; I think bending the truth to accomplish narrative ends is a requirement. In this case, I'm willing to forgive a lot; for one thing, I'm not sure I'd want to spend two hours with the real Sid and Nancy. For another, I'll support any story that can make the last scene of Sid and Nancy seem earned; it gave me chills.


  • Cox may have prettied up Sid and Nancy's story. The marketing department at Embassy cleaned up Alex Cox's story. Here's the same still from above, as it appears on the movie poster:

    Notice the vanishing garbage, the chopped off arms, the miniskirt, and Chloe Webb's magical expanding breasts.

  • Sid and Nancy marks the film debut of Courtney Love, who called Abbe Wool at home during casting and insisted that she should play Nancy. She didn't get to be Nancy, but she did get to be Gretchen, one of Nancy's American friends. Here she is, pre-diet and pre-nosejob:

  • Greil Marcus is on the commentary track, and, wow. He consistently starts with something that seems interesting and then goes off the rails completely. Example: he correctly points out that Sid and Nancy doesn't spend a lot of time placing its characters in a cultural or social context. He's right, and I'm sick of movies that go to great lengths to do this; e.g., Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man. Horses and boxers didn't restore America's broken spirits during the Great Depression. And the Sex Pistols didn't save rock and roll forever, either. So, so far, so good. But Marcus goes on to say that Cox expects the viewers themselves to add social context; that is, to draw the obvious connections between the Sex Pistols and the Gordon Riots of 1780, not to mention the Ranters of the 1640s and 50s. Really, Greil? You think Alex Cox had antinomian religious reformers on the brain when he made Sid and Nancy? And he expects viewers to draw the same comparisons? It takes a lot for me to say someone's intellectually pretentious, but wow.

  • Your actors don't have to look like the people they're playing; Oldman's Sid Vicious is great. But. Here's Johnny Rotten on the Bill Grudy show in 1976:

    And here's Andrew Schofield playing Johnny Rotten:

    Not bad. But here's Alex Cox during the filming of Sid and Nancy:

    I dunno, Andrew, I think Alex just wants it more.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

#29: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975, directed by Peter Weir, screenplay by Cliff Green from the novel by Joan Lindsay.

I imagine in most video stores this is filed under "Drama," but in my book it's a horror movie. Of course, if I were running a video store, I'd put it in drama, too—I don't think most viewers would find this an adequate substitute for Saw. Still, there were parts of it that scared the shit out of me, and I'm not the easiest scare in the world. It's set in Australia in 1900, and tells the story of a group of students at an all-girls boarding school who go on a picnic to celebrate Valentine's Day... a Picnic at Hanging Rock, that is! On the trip, three of the students and one of their teachers disappear under mysterious circumstances; the movie is about their disappearance and its consequences. It's a mystery without a solution. Although Weir presents a few things that might have happened (there are other people at the rock that day, the area is known for poisonous snakes, &c.), in the end, they seem to have been swallowed up by the rock itself.

I'm not sure if it's really fear that the movie produces; there aren't any monsters (except, perhaps, for the headmistress of the school, played by Rachel Roberts), and there aren't any big shock scenes. It borrows from the grammar of horror movies a bit; there are some unexplained tracking shots and other places where the camera suggests that you're seeing things from someone's perspective, but doesn't tell you whose. On the whole, however, this is a very different kind of horror film. I think the conventional emotional arc of a horror movie is to build tension higher and higher until it breaks; you have these moments of revelation (it's Jason's mom! Samarra is evil! Norman's mother is dead!) where all the clues that have been floating around coalesce. Peter Weir managed here to make a movie where that release is missing; there are moments that feel like those archetypical scenes, but they don't reveal anything to the audience. The classic example would be the actual disappearance scene, which is hard to watch more than once. You know that you're witnessing something bad, or at least unsettling, and it's unbearably intense. But you don't know exactly what it is you're seeing, and you don't find out later, either. The most the movie offers you in terms of an answer are some phrases that are repeated; the sorts of things that seem innocent when you first hear them and then take on, if not a darker meaning, a stranger one. Two examples:

  • Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.

  • A surprising number of human beings are without purpose, though it is probable that they are performing some function unknown to themselves.

Those two sentences do about as good a job at capturing the tone of the movie as I'm going to be able to. There's not much else I want to say about this one, cause the experience of seeing it is very unique and I think benefits from knowing as little as possible about the movie. I defy anyone to watch the last scene with the headmistress without getting really creeped out.


  • The score is performed by Gheorghe Zamfir. Yes, that Zamfir: the Master of the Pan Flute. It's pretty good, though.

  • The Criterion Edition of this is different from the version that showed in theaters in several ways. First, although it's the director's cut, it's shorter than the theatrical version; occasionally (very, very occasionally), directors want to see less of their film on the screen. I don't know if additional scenes were added originally against Weir's wishes, or if he just decided to trim it a bit when given the chance, years later. Second, the DVD is remastered in Dolby 5.1. Which I'm not a big fan of, in theory; I'd like to see it with the same sound it originally played with. In this case, however, I think the movie gains a lot from the remaster, especially with the liberal use of the effects channel during some of the more intense sequences. So I tentatively approve.

  • Peter Weir, of course, has done well for himself in America. He seems to be the master (and commander) of the movie that everyone talks about incessantly the year it comes out, and then everyone forgets completely. The Truman Show is probably the best example of that. Still, that kind of movie makes money. He's currently attached, in theory, to Pattern Recognition, which is my favorite William Gibson novel; it's at Warner Brothers but doesn't have a greenlight. Although Studio System lists it as being in active development, it hasn't had an update to its status since April of 2004, so it may be in turnaround by now. Peter: get this movie made and do it right.