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Zeitgeist Video presents
The Essential Egoyan (1984-1993)

"Excuse me. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind not pacing around so much. You're blocking her view."
- Van (Aidan Tierney) - Family Viewing

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: January 29, 2006

Stars: Patrick Tierney, Aidan Tierney, Michael McManus, Arsinée Khanjian, Gabrielle Rose, Atom Egoyan
Other Stars: Ashot Adamyan, Tony Nardi, David Hemblen, Patricia Collins
Director: Atom Egoyan

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations and language)
Run Time: 05h:25m:00s
Release Date: January 31, 2006
UPC: 795975107532
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AC+C- B+

DVD Review

Of all the art-house-friendly filmmakers of the last few years, Canada's Atom Egoyan has been the most difficult to figure out. While still not the first name to roll off the tongue during "best director" discussions, Egoyan has still amassed quite a filmography since his 1984 feature debut, Next of Kin. His crowning achievement is The Sweet Hereafter, a mystifying look at the effects of a tragic school bus accident on the people of a small town. Egoyan followed up this Oscar-nominated effort with the equally compelling Felicia's Journey. Since then, the director has stumbled a bit; struggling to make a movie that approaches the quality of his late '90s efforts. Ararat, and his most recent picture, Where the Truth Lies, are among the stumbles, but they are still much more entertaining and thought-provoking than most of today's big studio efforts.

Atom Egoyan began his film career with the four short films: Howard in Particular (1979), After Grad with Dad (1980), Peep Show (1981), and Open House (1982). Three out of four (the only omission is After Grad With Dad) of these projects are included in Zeitgeist's new boxed set, The Essential Egoyan. Considered "extras" in the grand scheme of this DVD set, their inclusion gives us a broader look at Egoyan's talents. He's never really been considered an experimental or surrealist filmmaker, but that side of the Armenian auteur is on display in these shorts. Peep Show is the edgiest of the bunch, taking us into a photo booth that opens up a world of vivid color and other strange surprises. Howard in Particular shows us how not to handle a retiring employee, and Open House tells the story of a young man whose family is in total disarray. It's Open House that emulates Egoyan's future films the most, but getting to see this side of the director is almost worth the price of this set alone.

The feature films included here are typical examples of a potentially great filmmaker who hasn't figured out how to utilize his talents just yet. Chronologically speaking, the first feature in the set is Next of Kin (1984), which isn't to be confused with the Patrick Swayze vehicle of the same name. Peter Foster (Patrick Tierney) is mired in a deep depression. His answer to the problem: a series of video therapy sessions with his worthless, self-centered parents. When Peter returns to the clinic, he sneaks access to other patients' tapes, and poses as the missing son of an Armenian couple depicted in these archives. What begins as a study in isolation and depression evolves into a look at how quickly one individual can spread his problems to strangers. The acting isn't up to par with Egoyan's later films, but these generally amateur actors (especially Tierney) excel at remaining believable throughout the film's emotional roller coaster of a plot.

The similarly-themed Family Viewing (1987) stars Patrick Tierney's brother Aidan as Van, a young man who finds that his father, Stan (David Hemblen), recorded over his home movies with clips of sexual games involving his stepmother, Sandra (Gabrielle Rose). Van turns to Aline (Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan's wife and frequent collaborator), a phone sex operator who might be able to help him release his ill grandmother from a nursing home. Family Viewing is slightly more engaging than Next of Kin, if only because Egoyan's talents are starting to come together, but both pictures make for an excellent, dysfunctional family double feature.

Speaking Parts (1989) takes a small step away from the family dynamic to focus more on individual relationships. Khanjian stars as Lisa, a hotel maid longing for Lance (Michael McManus), a lifetime movie extra still going after his first speaking part. Clara (Gabrielle Rose) is a screenwriter who might give Lance the career opportunity he's looking for and much more. This is the most surreal of this set of films, presenting the exploits of this desperate, passionate trio in a collection of strange, experimental sequences. From the amazing, dialogue-less opening to Egoyan's constant pondering of the wall between reality and fantasy, Speaking Parts grabs you and keeps you awestruck throughout its running time.

The newest picture is Calendar (1993), which immediately preceded Egoyan's breakthrough film, Exotica (1994). Armenian culture is touched upon in most of his films, but this is the only entry in this collection in which his heritage is the focal point. Khanjian is the star again, this time as the wife of a photographer who is played by Egoyan himself. The couple travel to Armenia on a calendar photography assignment, and meet their guide (Ashot Adamyan). As the wife and guide become very close, the photographer chooses to ignore this budding relationship, allowing his marriage to slowly slip away. With only a handful of acting credits under his belt, Egoyan is surprisingly effective. There is a genuineness to their visit to their homeland that causes us to invest more emotion into a couple that exists both on film and in real life.

An Atom Egoyan film is usually full of metaphors and deep, non-linear connections between the director's own life and human nature as a whole, making many filmgoers reluctant to fully embrace his filmography. Now that his earliest works are compiled in one nice package, reluctant viewers have a primer to prepare them for the filmmaker's newer, even more challenging pictures. Here's hoping that such a preparatory tool is enough to propel this under-appreciated talent into the upper echelon of cinema's great directors.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: All of these films are presented in their original full-frame formats, with varying degrees of video quality among them. The short films are in the worst condition, but given their age and shoestring budgets, this isn't surprising at all. As we progress from Next of Kin to Calendar, the sharpness and image clarity vastly improves, with colors brightening and a more vivid spectrum being put into play. There's plenty of grain and dirt to go around, but some restoration work has been done to this source material, resulting in the best video representation that any of these films has enjoyed to date.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: There's nothing special at all about the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, which keeps much of the sound in the front of the soundstage. A bit wider dynamic range is in play for the newer pictures, namely Calendar, but, almost every aspect of these tracks is unspectacular. The dialogue for every film is always crisp and easy to hear, which is a plus given the age of the material.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 75 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Atom Egoyan and Arsinée Khanjian.
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Family Viewing: "Rehearsal" - Preparatory footage for the production of Family Viewing.
  2. Photo Galleries - Four, including a narrative for Calendar.
  3. Behind the Scenes - Rehearsal footage for Next of Kin.
Extras Review: There are extras collected on each of these four discs, including audio commentary by Egoyan for each feature. These tracks solidify Egoyan's reputation as one of the best commentary participants in the business. His in-depth discussions about each picture leave no stone unturned, touching on each and every theme, as well as his experiences with his tight-knit group of actors. Egoyan is joined by his wife for the Calendar commentary, and Arsinée Khanjian is nearly as pleasant to listen to as her husband.

The Family Viewing disc houses the three short films mentioned in the body of the review, as well as a biography and filmography on Egoyan. There's also a photo gallery and a 12-minute rehearsal session for the film. It's interesting to see these actors going over their lines before the shoot, if only to give us a candid look at the preparation process.

Next of Kin has another bio and filmography on Egoyan, a 13-minute behind-the-scenes look at rehearsal footage, and a photo gallery.

Speaking Parts gives us another bio and filmography on Egoyan and another image gallery, but there's also a five-minute interview with Egoyan. Here he discusses the types of films he gravitates to, and how he gets his original ideas. Three deleted scenes are also available, which are basically extended versions of existing sequences.

Calendar comes up with the best supplement, thanks to the 51-minute documentary, Formulas for Seduction: The Cinema of Atom Egoyan. This is an interview with Egoyan where he goes into great detail about Calendar, and touches on the rest of his film career, including The Sweet Hereafter. A shorter, seven-minute interview is also available, with Egoyan talking mostly about his rare appearance in front of the camera. There's also a stills gallery and yet another bio and filmography on Egoyan.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

While each of the films in The Essential Egoyan has been released on DVD before this, it's nice to finally have them in one comprehensive boxed set. These discs are actually the same editions that we saw from Zeitgeist a few years back, but this is a case of not messing with a good thing. The audio and video quality varies from film to film, but is generally good, while the extras that are offered are extensive and sure to please the Atom Egoyan completist.


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