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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Back Underground

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Time to get back to business as usual here at The Bottom Shelf. But before we turn to pastures new, let's wrap up a few loose ends hanging from the Wish List columns. First off, many, many people wrote to point out that the good folks over at Synapse will be releasing a two-disc version of Street Trash just as soon as they finish putting the extras together. The ironic thing is that Street Trash was already a last-minute replacement for the list after I discovered that my first choice, Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man, was being prepped for release by Anchor Bay. So you see, sometimes your requests are fulfilled faster than you can keep your wish list current.

I also heard from plenty of people who also have fond memories of Cold Turkey. I believe Universal owns the rights to this one, so with a little luck, they'll take note of the fact that we actually want this movie on disc and do a good job of it.

Finally, I got slammed with dozens upon dozens of e-mails from people asking me how I could have possibly left off Movie X, Y or Z from that long list of movies that aren't yet available on DVD. For the record, that was never meant to be an all-inclusive list of everything that hasn't come out on disc. Those are just the titles I got specific requests for. If you wanted Movie X, Y or Z to be on the list, I'd have gladly added it if I'd heard from you in time. But, since everybody seems to like the Wish Lists, I'll do another one around the holidays. So keep those virtual cards and letters coming and I'll keep the list going. Like the man said, the list is alive.

In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to check out a few movies that actually are on DVD. Our friends over at Blue Underground have been keeping up a steady pace of new releases since the last time I checked in with them. Interestingly, they're beginning to expand their definition of "guilty pleasures for the adventurous movie lover". In addition to more typical releases like Lucio Fulci's Zombie and Paul Bartel's Cannonball, they've released a handsome box set devoted to cult British filmmaker Alan Clarke. I'm not entirely certain that the typical Blue Underground fan is likely to be adventurous enough to embrace the upcoming My Brilliant Career, a critically-acclaimed, G-rated Australian import starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill. I hope it does well for the company because there's certainly no rule that says a DVD studio must only produce discs for a certain type of film. If the Criterion Collection can embrace everything from Grand Illusion to Fiend Without a Face, then there's room in Blue Underground for My Brilliant Career.

Meanwhile, let's take a closer look at seven movies recently out from Underground. A little something for everybody in here, including women in prison, nunsploitation, and punk rock. But let's kick things off with another Australian import, very, very different from My Brilliant Career.

Bad Boy Bubby

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Bad Boy Bubby
1993 (2005) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/B-

For the first 35 years of his life, Bubby (Nicholas Hope) has lived in a windowless one-room apartment with his mother. She cooks for him, cleans him, and has him convinced that the air outside is poisonous. To pass the time, Bubby has incestuous sex with mum, plays with (and accidentally murders) his cats, and sits very, very still. One day, his long-gone father turns up and Bubby is forced to confront the world outside his four walls.

Bad Boy Bubby was made in 1993 by Australian filmmaker Rolf De Heer and while it did receive some limited distribution in America, it never made much of an impact. That's a shame because this is really an interesting and unusual film. For the first twenty to thirty minutes, we're confined to the one room with Bubby and his parents. During this sequence, the intensity gets ratcheted up further and further until it becomes so disturbing and claustrophobic that it's almost unbearable. De Heer seems to realize this and knows just how long to play this out until he relieves the tension by setting Bubby loose on the outside world. Once he's out, the film lightens up considerably. While it still maintains that disquieting edge, De Heer and Hope ultimately succeed in creating a character that's believable, funny, unpredictable, and surprisingly touching.

Fascinating as it is, Bad Boy Bubby is not without a few flaws. The movie overplays its hand and goes on a bit too long for my taste. Also, once Bubby's out in society, the film becomes extremely episodic in a way that doesn't quite flow as naturally as I'd hoped it would. The structure of this part of the movie is very jagged, with Bubby being moved from one scene to the next without much rhyme or reason to it. De Heer does make interesting use of this, however, by employing different cinematographers for each "episode" in Bubby's life. Considering the way it was made, it's a wonder the film holds together as well as it does. It's a daring experiment that could have totally backfired but somehow De Heer makes it work beautifully.

Blue Underground's anamorphic widescreen video shows off the varied cinematography of Bad Boy Bubby extremely well. Even more impressive is the audio (in Dolby Digital 5.1). De Heer recorded the sound using an innovative binaural microphone system that basically places you inside Bubby's head and lets you hear what he hears. Sound is vitally important to the success of this movie and Blue Underground did a tremendous job preserving the filmmaker's intent.

Extras are few in number but up to Blue Underground's usual standards. Best of the bunch is a new half-hour interview with director Rolf De Heer called Christ Kid, You're a Weirdo that provides a lot of interesting background information. Nicholas Hope gets his own interview, Being Bubby, which is shorter and suffers from some poor sound but is still worthwhile. Also included is Confessor Caressor, the short film Hope starred in that prompted De Heer to offer him Bubby. It isn't great, kind of student filmish, but it's great that it's on here in its entirety for the curious. The disc is rounded out with a trailer, a poster and still gallery, and at least one Easter egg.

Sometimes, a movie that isn't entirely successful but takes risks and has its own distinct point of view is more memorable than one that does everything it sets out to do but plays it completely by the book. Bad Boy Bubby is one of those movies. It isn't perfect and it probably isn't something you'll want to sit down and watch with your grandmother's church group. But I'll bet I think more about this movie and revisit it more often than I do any ten great Hollywood blockbusters.


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1982 (2004) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/B-

Every place on Earth changes but some change more drastically than others. For example, if you want a glimpse of a Manhattan that simply no longer exists, check out Susan Seidelman's remarkable low-budget debut, Smithereens. Susan Berman stars as Wren, a hanger-on desperate to break into the music scene she idolizes. Only problem is she has no real talent and no real goal in mind other than being famous. She's not a singer. She isn't a musician. She thinks she might make a good manager but if you asked her, she probably wouldn't be able to articulate what managers are supposed to do. Wren just floats through life, promoting herself and leeching off her friends and those she thinks might be her friends.

If all Smithereens had going for it was the luck of capturing a certain place at a certain time, that would probably be enough to recommend it. The Manhattan we see in this movie is long gone. And while there are plenty of movies that shot on the city streets back then, Smithereens is one of the few to capture that very specific moment when punk was turning into new wave. The scene was changing from an anti-establishment way of life to a quirky set of stylistic choices. Smithereens gets all that on film, from the way these people lived to the clothes they wore to the music they listened to.

But even if you have no interest in all that, Smithereens stands on its own as an exceptionally well-written and well-acted independent film. Wren is simultaneously a very complex and frustratingly shallow character. Thanks to Berman's winning performance, we root for her at the same time we want to smack some sense into her. We want her to make the right choices and are disappointed when she inevitably does not. Equally good is punk legend Richard Hell as the faded musician Wren latches on to.

Picture quality for Smithereens is about what you'd expect for a low-budget movie from the early 1980s: kind of grainy and battered but probably as good as it's ever been. At least it's anamorphic widescreen. Blue Underground sprang for both a 5.1 and 2.0 remix which brings out the best in the terrific soundtrack. The original mono track is also included for purists. Seidelman contributes a new commentary, prompted by Blue Underground's David Gregory. It's a decent track and it's improved by Gregory's presence. Solo commentary tracks are difficult to master and Seidelman may well have been at a loss without someone to ask questions and bounce her answers off. Susan Berman and Richard Hell contribute new video interviews in the featurette Desperately Seeking Susan & Richard. There's a bit more repetition between the interview and the commentary than I'd have liked but that's somewhat inevitable. The trailer and Blue Underground's standard poster and still gallery finish up the disc.

After I finished watching Smithereens the first time around, I thought it was a good, enjoyable little movie. Within a week, I'd watched it again and thought it was even better than I had at first. This is an excellent, underrated movie and a must-see for fans of punk and new wave.

The Loveless

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The Loveless
1982 (2004) - Blue Underground

Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/C+

This movie is something of a curiosity. Willem Dafoe had his first lead role in a film as the leader of a motorcycle gang waylaid in a small Southern town on their way down to Florida. The gang repairs their bikes. Dafoe sleeps with the wild child daughter of a local bigshot with a money-making oil business. The gang members play games with switchblades. Hundreds of cigarettes are smoked. And eventually, after a very long seventy-minute build-up, violence erupts.

The Loveless was the first film directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who made a much bigger splash with her next one, Near Dark) and the only film to date directed by Monty Montgomery (who switched to producing, collaborating with David Lynch on Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks and turning up on screen as The Cowboy in Mulholland Dr.). And there's no doubt that it's a great looking film. Considering the limitations of the low budget and that it was their first film, the amount of period detail on screen is astonishing.

It is not, however, particularly compelling. Bigelow and Montgomery seem to be treading the same ground as Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, the fetishistic experimental ode to 50s biker movies like The Wild One. Unfortunately, The Loveless isn't doing anything that Anger didn't already do better in his film. So what we're left with is some terrific cinematography and some good rockabilly music (both of which are handled nicely on this DVD, with anamorphic widescreen video and your choice of 5.1, 2.0 and mono audio), a committed performance by Dafoe that definitely shows the promise of the actor he'd become, and lots of long, lingering scenes that make this short film seem much, much longer than it really is.

Extras are more limited here than on the simultaneously released Smithereens. Apart from the trailer and standard galleries, the sole bonus is an audio commentary consisting of two different recording sessions: one with Monty Montgomery, the other with Kathryn Bigelow and Willem Dafoe. Montgomery gets the most air-time but all three contribute interesting tidbits to the track. All of the contributors have fond memories of the shoot and the film which comes through nicely. Considering that they've all gone on to bigger and better projects, I'm impressed that they sat down to record a commentary track for this.

The Loveless is a minor film that probably not too many people will be interested in and even fewer will really enjoy. But if you're interested to see where some of these people came from, or if you're bound and determined to see every motorcycle picture ever made, Blue Underground's DVD does do a nice job of preserving the movie for the die-hard and the curious.

On to Part Two

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