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Bell Canyon Entertainment presents
Bad Manners (1988)

"This can't be easy for you, Wes. The lies, the inevitable comparisons, the what-ifs, now, twenty years later, right in your home."
- Kim (Caroleen Feeney)

Review By: Justin Stephen   
Published: July 05, 2000

Stars: David Strathairn, Bonnie Bedelia, Saul Rubinek, Caroleen Feeney
Other Stars: Julie Harris
Director: Jonathan Kaufer

Manufacturer: AIX Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:29m:29s
Release Date: June 06, 2000
UPC: 797381610224
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Bad Manners is an aptly titled film. Adapted to the screen by playwright David Gilman from his play Ghost in the Machine, it is a clever and extremely loquacious exploration of personalities at odds with one another who, trapped within the restraints of both proximity and social grace, must spend several days together. This is only Kaufer's second feature film directorial effort, his only previous stint at the helm being 1982's Soup For One (which also featured Saul Rubinek).

Bad Manners opens in two automobiles. The first, a sensible Japanese sedan, contains Wes and Nancy Westlund, unassuming married college professors. Wes is already in a sour mood. He is a comparative religions professor at a second-tier college and has just found out that he has, yet again, been denied tenure. While quick-witted and intelligent, he is also an incredibly inept human being. Nancy, on the other hand, is a professor of musicology at Harvard and has been tenured for many years now. In this opening scene we also get our first reference to a problem that has been plaguing their marriage, Wes's impotency. The second automobile, a convertible, contains two more academics. Matt is a tenured professor of musicology at another school and is on his way into town to give a guest lecture at Harvard concerning what he feels is an incredible discovery. He is also coming to meet with the editor of the academic journal of musicology about getting his research published. Joining him is his much younger girlfriend, Kim, a computer science academic who assisted Matt in his research.

Wes's sour mood is sure to worsen. Matt and Kim are coming to stay at their house as Matt is an old college friend of Nancy's. More to the point, Matt is an old college boyfriend of Nancy's. Wes is clearly threatened by Matt before even meeting him. The reality of Matt makes matters worse. He is a pompous self-important man with a overly-elevated opinion of the importance of his research. It seems that during his study of random computer-composed music from an "important" Vietnamese composer, he has discovered perfect bars of Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God buried deep within the chaos of the music. Matt is careful not to verbalize the conclusion that could be made from this freak occurrence, but he clearly thinks this may suggest the existence of God. He is, of course, unwilling to seriously consider that the notes appear there from a random occurrence or, perhaps, were deliberately placed there as a practical joke by either Kim herself or the original composer.

Wes's hackles are up from the moment he meets Matt and Kim, and things only go downhill from there. He is turned off by Matt's pomposity and Kim's direct crassness. He discovers Kim smoking in his living room (an activity that he does not permit in his home) and, to make matters worse, using an antique goblet as an ashtray. Kim is a man eater who enjoys toying with the emotions of others. She quickly discovers a prime target in Wes. Kim also takes some pleasure in creating some fissures in the serene existence that Nancy lives in. Initially, Nancy and Matt are allies on the side of civility. There may even be some rekindled feelings between the two of them. However, this all comes to a screeching halt later in the film when Matt makes some accusations concerning the fidelity of her husband.

Bad Manners might just have well been entitled The Case of the Missing $50 Bill. At the end of their first night with the new houseguests, Wes discovers that a $50 bill is missing from his wallet. Rather than just assuming that he has lost or misplaced the money, he immediately espouses to Nancy his theory that Kim stole it. He even manages to convince Nancy to search Kim's luggage the next morning. There, buried deep within a makeup case, Nancy discovers a folded $50, which she returns, with some sarcasm, to Wes. That evening, Kim discovers that her $50 is missing from her luggage and begins espousing to Matt her theory that either Nancy or Wes stole it. And so it goes. Ultimately, this experience will have an indelible effect on all four main characters. However, it is Matt and Kim, and not Nancy and Wes, whose lives are most changed by their time together and the ensuing results. Perhaps, however, Kim has had a notable influence on Nancy as well, as the film's closing scenes suggest.

Bad Manners is a four-piece chess game and Kaufer has chosen his pieces well. David Strathairn, a film veteran whose credits include L.A. Confidential and The Firm as well as John Sayles's Limbo and Eight Men Out, plays Wes. Nancy is played by Bonnie Bedelia, whose credits include Die Hard 1 and 2 and Presumed Innocent. Saul Rubinek (Unforgiven, And the Band Played On) gained quite a bit of weight to play Matt while Kim is played by relative newcomer Caroleen Feeney, whose most noteworthy previous exposure was in Hal Salwen's Denise Calls Up. All four do exceptional work here. The only other character in the film with any substantial dialogue at all is Professor Harper, the editor of the academic journal that Matt is so anxious to have his discovery published in. This limited role is filled by stage and screen legend Julie Harris. The climactic meeting between Professor Harper and Matt, is perhaps the most memorable of the film.

While the subject matter and presentation are likely to remind many of the 1966 classic Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Bad Manners is no cheap knockoff. It stands on its own quite nicely and is tautly written and deliciously bilious entertainment. Kaufer makes very adroit use of his limited budget with some terrific camerawork and timing.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The video transfer for Bad Manners was surprisingly good, considering its restricted-budget, indie origins. Director Jonathan Kaufer and Bell Canyon have clearly gone out of their way to release a quality product and it shows. Most of the "Action" in Bad Manners does take place in somewhat muted, indoor surroundings but the atmosphere and color are captured very well. Skin tones are accurate and black levels, where important, are also effective. I saw virtually no evidence of graininess. Film blemishes are very occasionally detectable but they are subtle and infrequent and do not detract from the presentation.

I have been unable to determine what the original aspect ration of this film was. I do have some small reason to believe that it might have been 2.35:1, as I elaborate on below, but the presented ratio of 1.85:1 works well and captures all of the action quite nicely.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: I suppose one could fault the Bad Manners DVD for featuring only a 2.0 track, but this is not at all a film that really cries out for a 5.1 transfer. As I mention above, this is film grounded entirely in conversations between the main characters. With only rare exceptions, these conversations occur exclusively in and around the quiet home of Wes and Nancy. Only in an early restaurant scene and again during some footage of Matt traversing busy Cambridge streets would surround sound offer any real enhancement of atmosphere. What we do get is a very effective stereo track that is consistently crisp and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jonathan Kaufer and Saul Rubinek
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Bad Manners is not terribly rich with extras but what we do get is very well done. The commentary track is credited on the case as being "the director and 'friends'" but is, for the most part Kaufer and actor Saul Rubinek. The "friends" part comes from the brief inclusion of several cameos by celebrities (included via a rather hokey comedic device). Briefly joining Kaufer and Rubinek are actress Marcia Strassman (who also appeared in Soup for One), director Penny Marshall, actress Carrie Fisher, and actor Peter Riegert. Despite the clumsy inclusion of these cameos, this is one of the better commentary tracks to which I have had the pleasure of listening. Kaufer includes a lot of filmmaking detail "for film students" that is, at times, downright fascinating. Rubinek is able to offer much detail on the experiences of the actors and their outlook on this thought-provoking material. The chemistry between the two is very good and they, on occasion, take some very clever gibes at one another.

Cast filmographies for Rubinek, Bedelia, Strathairn, and Feeney are also included but I could not help but notice that they were not thorough.

The only other extra included on the disc is a 19-minute "Behind the Scenes" documentary that splices film footage together with cast and crew interviews. This is rather standard fare in format but well above average in presentation in that those interviewed typically have some interesting things to say. One interesting aspect of this feature is that the film footage included is unedited, un-mastered footage. I could not help but notice that this footage was also in 2.35:1 aspect ratio which leads me to consider that the 1.85:1 ratio of the DVD's video transfer is not the original ratio.

The subtle, full-motion menus are attractive but unexceptional. Tori Amos's Putting the Damage On provides the background music for several of the menus and is also the song played over the closing titles of the film. One interesting shortcoming of the DVD is the lack of subtitles in any language. While this did not bother me personally, this may definitely be something that potential viewers with hearing problems may want to consider.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

While not likely to appeal to everyone, Bad Manners is a caustic, and somewhat jocular, character study replete with subtlety and effective dialogue. It could, perhaps, be best described as "comedic trauma." A very good DVD release by Bell Canyon, Bad Manners is at least worth a rental, if not a purchase for fans of intelligent, but not overly artsy or condescending, independent film.


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