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The Criterion Collection presents
Mala noche (1985)

"I'm in love with this boy...really."
- Walt (Tim Streeter)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: October 09, 2007

Stars: Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate
Other Stars: Ray Monge, Nyla McCarthy
Director: Gus Van Sant

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations, nudity, strong sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:17m:55s
Release Date: October 09, 2007
UPC: 715515026123
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+C+ B

DVD Review

Filmmaker Gus Van Sant has crafted a unique, always-interesting career for himself. In recent years, he's gone from making indie darlings like To Die For, to concocting a shot-for-shot remake of the Hitchcock classic, Psycho. Now that he's basically a house-hold name, it's time to venture back in time to his earlier works. Leave it to the always wonderful Criterion Collection to make such a thing possible, as they release his first feature film, 1985's Mala noche.

Walt (Streeter) is a livin' for the moment kind of guy that works at a liquor store in Portland, Oregon. When a young Mexican boy named Johnny Alonzo (Cooeyate) arrives in town, Walt falls in love at first sight. He goes so far as to proposition Johnny for sex, but when he refuses, Walt settles for intimacy with Johnny's friend, Roberto (Monge). Not satisfied, Walt continues to pine for Johnny's affections, but his persistence may prove to be a huge waste of time.

Mala noche, which translates to "Bad Night", is many things, but the most interesting way to look at it is as a portrait of 1980s Portland, Oregon. This is a part of the country that isn't exactly chronicled to death on film, but the locations used by Van Sant here beg for further exploration. Walt Curtis, whose semiautobiographical book is the basis for this story, is a native of Portland, and a poet, whom Van Sant met while working on a film. Running a scant hour and fifteen minutes, there isn't much time for detailed story development, but the result is a nice character study that stays true to the source material and offers a nice glimpse of what Van Sant would bring to the table later in his career.

There's a wonderful reflection on how easy fast food restaurants make it for us to forget about the animal that had to die to make such a meal possible. Walt even goes so far as to say (and rightfully so) that if we had to watch an animal be slaughtered before we ate it, it would never happen. Such random discussions are what drive the picture. Van Sant's focus on his main characters works wonderfully, but the choice to use black & white, and cameraman John Campbell's camera work lends a great deal of style and gritty realism to the proceedings. Campbell would go on to collaborate with Van Sant in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and My Own Private Idaho, making this a great introduction to a strong filmmaking team.

Van Sant doesn't shy away from nudity or depicting homosexual intercourse either, but his filmography speaks for itself in this regard. An open homosexual, himself, Van Sant has done wonders to enhance and promote gay cinema, while remaining true to his artistic vision. He is the rare filmmaker who can create lasting, memorable images, while never wavering from his beliefs, and for such qualities to be evident in his first feature is impressive. Gus Van Sant has made much better films since, but this is a great way to see a glimmer of what a master filmmaker had to offer early in his career.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in its original full frame format, and things look amazingly clear. The black-and-white cinematography comes across well, with realistic black and shadow levels throughout. There's still some dirt and grain, but it's truly incredible how few print flaws there are here.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is nothing flashy, but it is a clean track, that doesn't feature any hissing or distortion. The music sounds good, but restrained, and the dialogue is always crystal clear, especially Walt's monologues.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gus Van Sant Interview
Extras Review: While not exactly plentiful, the extras that are here definitely warrant a look. We start with a nearly 25-minute interview with director Gus Van Sant, during which he discusses the early part of his career, focusing heavily on Mala noche.

Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet is a documentary that runs for an hour and three minutes. Directed by animator and filmmaker Bill Plympton, this 1995 film shows us the life of poet Walt Curtis, the man on whose memoir the story is based.

There's also a storyboard gallery and the original trailer.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Fans of filmmaker Gus Van Sant can finally rejoice that his first feature film is finally available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. Mala noche might not be the best film for the uninitiated, but those who are familiar with his work owe it to themselves to check it out. The audio and video presentations are quite good, despite the age of the source material, and there are a few intriguing extras to give the disc a boost.


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