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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Permanent Midnight (1998)

"You might say that success ruined me. You might say that I ruined success."
- Jerry Stahl, "Permanent Midnight, A Memoir"

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 04, 2000

Stars: Ben Stiller, Maria Bello
Other Stars: Elizabeth Hurley, Owen Wilson
Director: David Veloz

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive graphic drug use, strong sexuality and language.
Run Time: 01h:25m:00s
Release Date: February 23, 1999
UPC: 012236048909
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In this discs production notes Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher, the producers, are said to be "attracted to dark and edgy projects," and with Permanent Midnight they certainly hit the target on center. This is the story of Jerry Stahl, a junkie descending into the abyss, who, being seduced by the money to write for TV shows like Twin Peaks, Alf ("Mr. Chompers") and Moonlighting ( "No Such Luck") misused his considerable talent only to help feed his growing $6,000 a week drug habit. Which is contrary to the disc packaging claim that says this is a "...story about a hot television writer who learns first-hand about the dark side of success in Hollywood". Don't blame Hollywood; Jerry Stahl was a junkie long before he arrived in Hollywood. It's just a matter of proportion. The money he made in Hollywood simply allowed him to up the ante. This is the moralistic story about a man learning to fight a long-time drug habit that is ever faster hurtling him toward death.

A junkie doesn't care about anyone or anything, only from where or from whom his next fix will come. This film is so brutally honest in it's portrayal of "the junkie," that Shawn Ryder of the band Black Grape, who happened to be on the set during the Dagmar (Connie Nielsen) scene told the director, David Veloz, that it made him want to go home and shoot up. He's right. It all seems very sexy at first; pushing the envelope, the Hollywood scene, enhanced by the hipness of the music and the alteration of time and point of view by camera or editing techniques, and the quick cool of the high. But you see, nay, feel this man disintegrating before your very eyes, both in the physical aspect as well as in character. Stahl makes the inevitable junkie choices of his surrogate junkie friends and family over his real friends and family until he loses them all. The more Stahl cannot cope with reality, the more he spirals downward into depravity and is absolutely conscienceless: we see him running at a building window (one of the most powerful moments of the film), and trying to score while baby-sitting his own daughter.

My only argument with this film is a digression bordering on soapbox: the purist in me is disturbed by the fact that scenes are generated that never occurred to Jerry Stahl, or were changed to suit the film. On the one hand this is a quasi-biography, which makes any alteration of the actual events or characters disingenuous and misleading to the audience who may be unaware of any alteration. On the other hand, thus is the art of filmmaking—the film exists as a piece of art in and of itself despite its alteration of the actual events/people. In any event not only are nearly all of the "changes" taken directly from Jerry Stahl's life in one form or the other, it points out the advantage of DVD—because without the director's commentary track I wouldn't have known about the alterations in the first place!

But don't get me wrong, this is a powerful movie that at the same time is horrifyingly painful and darkly, amazingly funny to watch. If you had any doubt about Ben Stiller's talent or diversity: don't. If you hold up his work here against There's Something About Mary you realize that the depth and breadth of his skill border on genius. Yes, genius. The strength of this film is Stiller's ability to make you see, feel and taste JUNKIE—to feel the panic and mania surfacing as life drains out of his character. Stiller immersed himself in this role, actually losing 30 pounds with the aid of a nutritionist in order to portray visually the emaciation that occurs as Jerry plunges toward death. From the liner notes, Stahl says: "Watching Ben do in the movie things that I did in real life made me realize that my behavior during that time was truly disturbing. It was pretty startling and sobering, and I suddenly developed compassion for every poor soul on that planet who ever had to deal with me when I was in that condition." (Aside: How was this guy (Stahl) able to prop himself up at all, let alone make a living?!)

There are some fine supporting performances by Elizabeth Hurley (Austin Powers) as his emotionally disconnected Hollywood wife, Liz Torres (TVs The John Larroquete Show) as Jerry's dealer, Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction) as his junkie friend, Gus, Maria Bello (TV's ER), who is earthy and believable in her first movie role, and amusing cameos by Jeneane Garafolo, Cheryl Ladd, and even Jerry Stahl himself as a methadone doctor in the scene known to the crew as the "dueling Jerrys."

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Artisan streets a generally outstanding overall anamorphic treatment, proving that even the little guy can produce top notch transfers without making a big deal out of it. The colors are nicely rendered, black tones true. There is occasional shimmering and pluming, but not enough to detract from the overall experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer is center channel anchored, with occasional ambient sounds stirring up the rears. The rears kick up a bit during the Alf hallucination, adding to the on screen effects. Danny Benair's score is weaved nicely throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director David Veloz
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The disc contains some nice features, such as a director's commentary and four deleted scenes. My only complaint here (and it's a small one) is that I would have liked an optional or accompanying commentary for the deleted scenes ALA the Suicide Kings or a A Perfect Murder discs explaining why they were deleted (especially the "Muffin" scene!) The director's commentary gives interesting insight into many aspects behind the scenes, including how characters and sets are developed, the use of music to develop mood, guerrilla filmmaking (this was a low budget film shot in 25 days and running out of money toward the end), without being egomaniacal and talking just for the sake of talking as is the case on some other discs.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

In my opinion, I highly recommend these 83 minutes of painful enjoyment, and with the extras what is a real nice disc. This movie isn't for everyone however, so you may want to rent it before deciding on purchase.


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