Criterion presents Whit Stillmanís The Last Days of Disco in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has of course been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I donít own the original discontinued Polygram DVD and havenít seen it since I rented it when it first came out but I recall it being of about the same quality picture wise as other Polygram discs, which isnít great. They had a thing for putting widescreen and full screen versions of a film on the same side of a dual-layer disc effectively meaning you only had one layer to work with for the film (I oddly recall their special features usually had the layer jump in them.)
While Criterionís transfer has a few issues the image on here is certainly something Polygram would never have been capable of accomplishing. The first thing that struck me was the colours, which look absolutely gorgeous. The club scenes present strong blues and reds, and they look nicely rendered. All colours are beautifully saturated and are all bright and vivid. While again I caní compare I recall the Polygram looking a little dull in this regard.
The amount of detail is very high, lines are clean and sharp, and there isnít an instance where the image ever becomes soft. The print is pristine and I donít recall ever seeing a blemish anywhere throughout the film. There are some noticeable compression artifacts in sequences and Iím not sure if itís an attempt at preserving film grain or issues with rendering some of the bright reds and blues, but theyíre there and the image can come off fuzzy and noisy here and there.
Other than that itís an impressive looking transfer. Itís a real shame Criterion is really selective on their Blu-ray releases right now because this would look absolutely fabulous on that format (and itís somewhat frustrating since and it sounds like the commentary participants are watching a high-def version of the film since they comment on how the level of detail in ďHDĒ isnít always flattering during one sequence.) Looks good but I feel Criterion sort of blew it in not releasing a Blu-ray edition as well. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track. I canít recall what the Polygram edition contained or how good it sounded (and it wouldnít be fair anyways since I viewed that older edition with the sound coming through my TV speakers) but the Criterion edition is certainly impressive. Stillmanís film, and all of them really, are talkative (very talkative) and the dialogue sticks primarily to the fronts. But music fills out the entire sound field, working all of the speakers, but the club sequences are the most impressive where we get an excellent recreation of a club atmosphere all around, music and sound effects filling the environment, and itís quite loud with an excellent, though not explosive, amount of bass. Itís quite effective. Again itís a shame we didnít get a Blu-ray edition as a DTS-HD track would have been impressive. 8/10
Criterionís edition also beats out the Polygram edition in the way of supplements (that edition only including a trailer) but I canít say thereís really anything all that special about whatís on here, which is all, other than maybe one feature, pretty typical material for a DVD release.
The first and probably best feature on here is the audio commentary featuring director Whit Stillman, and actors Chris Eigeman and ChloŽ Sevigny. Stillman is clearly in charge here with Eigeman and Sevigny disappointingly only acting as a sort of back up to him and only speaking up when addressed by Stillman. I found it a wholly interesting commentary track, though, and was actually rather surprised by it. The track covers a lot about its production and where it fits in Stillmanís trilogy of films (which includes Metropolitan and Barcelona, the former also having been released by Criterion.) Though independent at heart Stillman still had to deal with studios (in this case Castle Rock Entertainment) which put some pressure on him, a big one being he had to get his film out before Miramaxís own disco film (the disastrous) 54 (though the directorís cut is supposed to be good.) By the sounds of it his biggest issue wasnít like other indie features where he was going over budget but it sounds like the studios were upset with him because he wasnít spending enough. Stillman covers his writing process, which sounds to be rather loose though this time around he forced a deadline upon himself. He goes into influences and talks a lot about the actual disco scene and Studio 54 (plus how he got a girl he liked to pay attention to him,) his work in publishing, and also points out aspects of the film he doesnít like. He also confirms that, yes, he hates Lady and the Tramp. While the other two participants do ring up once in a while they mostly wait until Stillman asks them a question about the production and how it compared to others. He also questions them on whether they prefer bigger shoots to smaller ones like this film (to which Eigeman states bigger productions usually have more food.) There are laughs to be found and itís certainly informative but I sort of wished the other two had more to share other than information on Sevignyís hair and clothes and Eigeman complementing Sevigny on her work in Zodiac. Still a surprisingly entertaining and informative commentary track. (As a little tidbit, the track was recorded after the opening weekend of 17 Again, only mentioned in the track because Burr Steers, who plays Van in this film, directed that film.)
Next up are four deleted scenes running a little over 8-minutes and accompanied by an optional commentary again by Stillman, Eigeman, and Sevigny. The scenes in question mostly take place in Desí (Eigeman) apartment and center around a subplot involving Mackenzie Astinís Jimmy and his feelings towards Sevignyís Alice. Itís an interesting subplot (which appears in the novelization apparently) though I canít say itís missed. Stillman explains the cuts as a simple case of keeping the pacing going and shortening the run time. While presented in enhanced widescreen, the image is picture-boxed and also looks to come from a shoddy video source.
From the Novel presents Stillman reading the epilogue from his novelization of the film called The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards. The epilogue is told from the point of view of Jimmy, who has moved overseas for the job prospects. It also sort of expands on the deleted scenes and his feelings for Alice. Itís an interesting addition and the only thing on here not typical of most DVD releases and while I enjoyed it I would have probably preferred a reprinting of it (or the complete novelization, though I believe itís out of print so Iím sure there were rights issues in either case.) I also donít think it helps that Stillman can sound like John Malkovich at moments.
Next is a fluffy PR featurette from its original theatrical release, and like most of these itís really just an ad for the film. At 6-minutes itís filled with moments from the trailer (also included on the disc,) some behind-the-scenes footage (flashes of it anyways) and brief interviews with Stillman, Sevigny, and Eigeman, as well as Kate Beckinsale, Mackenzie Astin, Robert Sean Leonard, and Jennifer Beals. Iíd skip it but itís at least short if you do decide to watch it.
The stills gallery presents a decent amount of production photos and on-set footage. A little different here are the notes about the photos, written by Stillman, which are unusually long for a feature like this. You scroll through using the arrows on your remote. You first get a rather wordy description (in most cases at least) and then have to move forward to the photo. The photos themselves are nothing special but Stillmanís notes do expand on things mentioned in the commentary track, including the studio not wanting Eigeman in the role of Des, Ben Affleck being the actor of choice, and then thereís more on how the original actor hired to play Josh was let go (there are photos but the actor in question has been brushed out and is never mentioned by name anywhere.)
The disc finally closes with the theatrical trailer that looks to have been taken from a video cassette, possibly one of those trailers that would play at the beginning of a VHS tape before the actual film began. While itís widescreen it has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Finally a thin insert is included with an essay on the film by David Schickler, which is an okay read though I question the comparison to the Wildeís The Importance of Being Earnest.
I enjoyed the commentary surprisingly, and I guess everything else was decent enough, but I guess I just didnít feel there was anything all that special about the supplements here with nothing standing out, Criterion having done more with newer Hollywood films in the past. Fans will be happy Iím sure but it didnít feel like a full effort. 6/10