Arrow Video presents Scott McGehee’s and David Siegel’s debut feature film, Suture, on Blu-ray in this new dual-format edition. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the original 35mm negatives. It is presented here on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Listening to McGehee and Siegel talk about getting the film processed and printed in one of the special features found on this release, it sounds as though the film hasn’t looked exactly as they desired and are incredibly thrilled the film is getting a new 4K scan and restoration. And they’re thrilled with good reason: this is a gorgeous black-and-white widescreen presentation and one of Arrow’s sharpest looking presentations to date (of what I’ve seen mind you). Despite the film being fairly obscure (in all honesty I had completely forgotten I had seen this, renting it on VHS way back in the day) they don’t hold back at all here.
It’s an incredibly stable and filmic looking image. Arrow makes a note in their booklet about some banding that is inherent in the source, and despite all the work that went into this they couldn’t completely remove it. This is noticeable in a number of places, but I feel you have to be looking for it most of the time, so it’s really not an issue (I’m guessing Arrow wanted to stop any possible online freak-outs so they decided to address it right out of the gate). Past that the restoration work has been very, very thorough, and only a couple of odd bits of dirt pop up. The print is otherwise pristine.
But the digital transfer itself is the star. I don’t think the image could look any sharper or more detailed. From close-ups to long shots the level of detail is hard to believe. Everything is cleanly defined and crisp, and the film’s grain structure looks, for the most part, clean and natural (a couple of instances look a bit noisy but they’re rare). Add on to this the contrast levels, from bright (but not blooming) whites to rich (but not crushing) blacks, with terrific gray levels and tonal shifts in between, and you get such a sharp looking black-and-white image.
The film’s photography is easily its best aspect and it looks superb here. I can get a bit hyperbolic at times and say things like “it hasn’t looked this good ever” but judging from comments from the directors that sounds to actually be the case here. It looks stunning. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
As mentioned before MGM released this on DVD in a barebones, “Avant Garde” release. The film seemed to be sort of doomed into obscurity but Arrow gives the film a great special edition here, bringing it to the forefront. The best feature is the new audio commentary that not only features the two filmmakers but also includes executive producer Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh being present was a bit of a surprise and I wondered if it was older, but since he mentions newer projects it’s obviously been recorded recently.
It is a fantastic track, and though I feel it probably would have been just fine with just the two directors, Soderbergh ends up adding a whole other level to it that may not have come out if he wasn’t there. McGehee and Siegel talk about the film’s production from inception to completion and explain (for the most part) what they were trying to accomplish with the film. I think they also see some of the weaknesses to the film but they ultimately did what they wanted to do. We also hear how Soderbergh became involved. Funny enough, Soderbergh barely recalls the screening, other than how he felt about the film, while the two directors were pretty much, from the sounds of it, scarred for life from the screening, where everything that could go wrong did.
All of this is quite fascinating and engrossing, but it’s when Soderbergh and the two talk about filmmaking, particularly in the 90s during this “indie boom” I guess you could call it, that the track takes on a whole other bit of life. They share the stories of the difficulties they faced, McGehee and Siegel with this film, Soderbergh concentrating on Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and share what they have learned since then, Soderbergh being his toughest critic, though that’s not really a surprise. It’s such a casual conversation that it sounds like you’re just eavesdropping on three friends sharing war stories but it’s one of the more fascinating recollections I’ve heard about a certain time period in filmmaking and just the craft overall. I also welcomed their insights on modern filmmaking and distribution (they agree it’s easier to make a film now, but far harder to get it seen). It’s a wonderful addition to this release and honestly, if Arrow included nothing else this on its own would have been fine.
But thankfully Arrow does include more! There is a 32-minute making-of documentary entitled Lacerations: The Making of Suture, which features interviews with McGehee and Siegel, along with actors Dennis Haysebert, Mel Harris and Sab Shimono, director of photography Greg Gardiner, composer Cary Berger, editor Lauren Zuckerman, and production designer Kelly McGehee (wife of the one director). There is a rundown on the production history again, covered fairly well in the commentary already, but the advantage here obviously is we also get more input from other members in the cast and crew, along with other little details (like the fact the script had a section 3-page in informing the reader that, yes, the “twin” half-brothers don’t look alike at all, one is black, one is white, but nobody will notice this). Haysebert and others talk about the film’s conceit, while the actors talk about their roles and the experience. I was particularly interested in Gardiner’s brief points about shooting the film and capturing the look. In the end it’s a very thorough, satisfying piece on the film’s production.
Arrow next includes three deleted scenes, running under 4-minutes in total. All take place in the mid-section of the film, two around the main character’s reconstructive surgery (another has Haysbert and Harris watch The Wizard of Oz together). There’s also an optional commentary track featuring the two filmmakers, who explain the scenes and why they were cut, the reason mostly being the scenes didn’t work or were unnecessary. In the main feature commentary it sounds like more had been cut, Soderbergh apparently going in and giving direction on what to take out, but this small sampling is good. It also doesn’t look too bad surprisingly.
As mentioned in the commentary this release also includes McGehee’s and Siegel’s first short film, Birds Past. Its loose “story” focuses on two men (played by the filmmakers) who go on a road trip to Bodega Bay to revisit locations from Hitchcock’s The Birds, though most are gone. Intercut with this “narrative,” which has been shot on film, looks to be home video footage (which I assume was shot by the two using a camcorder) of locals recalling the film. And as a bonus, Tippi Hedren even appears. Things take a turn, though, when their camera goes missing. It’s an interesting film, blurring the lines between a narrative film and a type of documentary. It has a sort of student film feel to it, mostly through the acting (the two shouldn’t quit their jobs as filmmakers to pursue careers in acting) but it’s a very assured, nice looking film. It has also been restored here and other than some large tram lines in places it’s in excellent shape.
Arrow then closes the features with a short stills gallery featuring about 20 or so production photos. The disc also includes both the American and European theatrical trailers, which both present the films in very different ways.
Arrow includes another one of their excellent booklets, this one featuring two essays, one by Philippe Garnier and the other (a reprint from an article that appeared in Sight & Sound in 1995) by Jonathan Romney. There is then a collection of notes by the filmmaker’s on four sequences in the film. The booklet then concludes with notes on the restoration. Arrow also includes a reversible sleeve featuring artwork inspired by the original theatrical poster on the reverse side.
Overall Arrow has delivered some great supplements, and from the commentary to the booklet, I enjoyed each one. 9/10