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Docurama presents
The Brandon Teena Story (1998)

"You lied to me, and you pretended to be someone you're not. I was mad for probably a good two weeks, and then I started talking to him as a she again."
- Daphne

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: November 30, 2001

Stars: Lana Tisdel, Daphne, Reanna, Gina
Other Stars: John Lotter, Steve Goldsberry, Michelle Lotter, Jon Carson
Director: Susan Muska, Gréta Olafsdóttir

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult content)
Run Time: 01h:27m:35s
Release Date: September 23, 1998
UPC: 767685945339
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C A-B+B D+

DVD Review

We all know Boys Don't Cry, the indie hit that won critical acclaim and several awards, proved Hilary Swank as a great actress, and opened the eyes of everyone who saw it. That was 1999. Unbeknownst to most, in 1998, a documentary, The Brandon Teena Story was released. Telling the story of a girl, Teena Brandon, who wanted to be a boy, the documentary interviews people who had known her, so we could find out what this girl was like, and eventually, why she was killed. Coming out a full year before BDC, the documentary told an important story about hate and sexual confusion, a story that could help several people in similar situations. However, compared to the film it inspired, The Brandon Teena Story is a flawed affair. We never really get a picture of Brandon as a whole person, and on a purely technical level, the filmmaking is atrocious.

First, the good: Brandon Teena's story is an important lesson in sexual confusion and hate. Living in Los Angeles, I feel very comfortable with a wide range of people, but I too often forget that some people aren't as accepting. Also, the more I learned about Brandon, the more I felt it was society's fault for not letting her feel comfortable enough to accept herself. Was she actually a transsexual? I can't say for sure, but I have a feeling that a societal push towards changing sexes influenced Teena. Hearing accounts of how people reacted to Brandon, I could understand why she had to lie her way through life. Society didn't give her any other recourse. The documentary paints a detailed picture of the pressures on Brandon.

But what the documentary fails to do is show us what Brandon was really like. We hear a lot about how other people reacted to her, including how her own girlfriends reacted, but the most we hear about her as a person is "He was a good kisser. He was a girl's dream." It's like this is a documentary of the ripples created when a rock is thrown into a lake, instead of the rock itself. This is what Boys Don't Cry accomplishes; we feel connected with Brandon as a person, and therefore the message better. If The Brandon Teena Story is one example of the kind of pressure society puts on people, then Boys Don't Cry is one person's reaction to those pressures. You need to see both to get the whole story.

The biggest problem with this documentary is the filmmaking itself. Here is the structure: interview segments with no music intercut with montage of rural life in the south, set to really bad country music. These montages serve no purpose to the film. They tell no story, they cover no transition, they evoke no connection with any of the interviewees or Brandon herself. All they do is distance the viewer from the content, especially since once the montages end, the interviewees go on talking about the same things they were saying before the montage. Not only that, the montages quickly overuse the three or four pictures they have of Brandon. It's as if the filmmakers know these montages have no relevance to the film, and place pictures there to remind us exactly what this documentary is about in the first place. I'm sure these were inserted in an attempt to avoid the dreaded "talking head" syndrome that so many documentaries suffer from, but the result is distracting and at times annoying. Still, the annoyance of these cannot overshadow the importance of the subject matter.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The film itself is pretty grainy, showing off its low budget nature. The transfer faithfully reproduces the look of the documentary, without only a little pixelation (most evident when you pause the film, or play it in very slow motion). When watching the film at regular speed, there is nothing about the transfer that distracts.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Since this is just a documentary, and furthermore, just a documentary of people talking (I'll overlook the country music), this stereo mix is just fine. Everyone is clear and audible, which is really the most you can ask for.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Where are they now?
  2. Resource links
Extras Review: The only extras for this documentary are a bio and filmography for each director, a little bit of info on what happened to each interviewee since the filming of the documentary, and a list of community resources for helping people.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Marked somewhat obsolete after the gripping Boys Don't Cry, The Brandon Teena Story comments on the effects of societal pressures and sexuality. Still, Boys Don't Cry moves its audience so well that only a few people will really need to go see The Brandon Teena Story. But for those people who want to delve more into the subject it's a comfort to know that this documentary is available.


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