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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Storyville (1992)

"I remember you trying to explain why life was different down here, and you said, 'The difference is, down here, the past isn't dead. It isn't even past.'"
- Clay Fowler (James Spader)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: October 13, 2003

Stars: James Spader, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Jason Robards
Other Stars: Charlotte Lewis, Michael Warren, Piper Laurie
Director: Mark Frost

MPAA Rating: R for language, sensuality and a scene of violence
Run Time: 01h:52m:28s
Release Date: October 14, 2003
UPC: 043396103382
Genre: mystery

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

DVD Review

Ah, New Orleans. The Big Easy. The City that Care Forgot. With its European heritage, evocative colonial French architecture, and air heavy with humidity and the stench of corruption, it's been the setting of many a movie mystery. And in 1992, Mark Frost, fresh from his experiences working with David Lynch on Twin Peaks, released his own take on New Orleans, Storyville.

James Spader is perfectly (type)cast as Cray Fowler, scion of a wealthy New Orleans family, who is sleepwalking his way through a run for Congress. Although he is 20 points down on his opponent, Avner Hollister (Phillip Carter), and despite the fact that he is married, he inexplicably decides to have a dangerous liaison with the beautiful Lee (Charlotte Lewis), whom he met while she was serving cocktails at an election party. Meantime, Fowler is becoming increasingly suspicious, not only about his father's apparent suicide the day before he was to testify at a lawsuit against the family, but also about the very sources of the family's wealth.

Any complete summary of Storyville's baroque plot and thematic elements would run on for pages. Let's just say that the following are involved: blackmail, stolen oil rights, missing official records, police corruption, underage prostitution, mistaken identity, transvestite pornography, more police corruption, hush money, mistaken paternity, attempted murder, and even more police corruption. It's as if Frost and fellow writer Lee Reynolds, inspired by a big bowl of thick gumbo, decided to throw everything they could think of into the pot, stir, and see what kind of plot they could cook up. Granted, the resulting soup mostly makes sense (although there are several inexplicable events), but there is so much plot excess here that it's occasionally tempting to see the whole film as satire or parody.

In contrast, Frost's visual style is mostly straightforward and fairly pedestrian, and in no way reflects the excesses of the plot and its themes. There are a few instances of dialogue that overlaps into the following scene, some use of slow motion, and at one point a solarized image to reflect a character's internal mental state, but disappointingly, Frost is mostly content to follow the old form equals function equation. But is this a deliberate choice, or a limitation of Frost's ability as a director? Certainly, it's difficult to determine who was responsible for what on on Twin Peaks, but a comparison with an episode of the 1990 TV series American Chronicles, executive produced by Frost, is instructive. The episode Farewell to the Flesh, an examination of Mardi Gras, was both written and directed by Frost, and is visually the exact opposite of Storyville. Now any depiction of Mardi Gras is bound to have interesting things to look at, but Frost goes far beyond what's in the frame, and uses distorted reflections, unusual camera angles, slow motion and fast cutting to lend interest to the documentary. So perhaps, with Storyville, Frost deliberately chose a more straightforward visual style, in order to balance its narrative excesses.

In the end, this film will appeal strongly to those who love mystery stories for the sheer pleasure of putting together all of the pieces of a complicated puzzle, but anyone who expects a movie that takes advantage of the medium's most salient characteristics, and expresses that puzzle visually, will most likely be disappointed.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Although this is a pan and scan transfer of a 1.85 movie, the framing doesn't seem especially tight, and one is at no time reminded that there is missing information on both sides of the screen. But the transfer isn't very goodóthe image is grainy and dull, with overly-compressed blacks. Skin tones are orangish, and colors are in general inaccurate. At no time does this transfer even begin to look like a film.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is in straightforward two-channel Dolby with no surround encoding, so don't expect any activity from the surround speakers. It's a completely serviceable transferódialogue is always clear and focused, and there is obvious stereo separationóbut one might have wished for more dynamic range, in order to more fully appreciate Carter Burwell's score.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Alien Hunter, In the Line of Fire, Suspect, The Code
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: While Columbia gets credit for including the original theatrical trailers for the titles mentioned above, they have nothing to do with Storyville.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Mark Frost, who was David Lynch's partner in crime on the legendary Twin Peaks, here directs a plot-heavy murder mystery with little going on visually, and those visuals are served poorly by a sub-par, pan-and-scan transfer.


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