Kino on Video presents
"I made my first trip to the West Coast ever and realized, 'I want to make a movie about mountains.' George Toles wanted to make a pro-incest movie. So we compromised and made a pro-incest movie set in the mountains."- Guy Maddin (Director)
Stars: Kyle McCulloch, Sarah Neville
Other Stars: Michael O'Sullivan, Paul Cox
Director: Guy Maddin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:39m:44s
Release Date: 2000-10-17
DVD ReviewI once was witness to a heated argument between several film fans on the advantages of the full frame composition for movies as opposed to the modern-day widescreen. One particularly hard-headed film nut made the rather bold claim that widescreen had ruined the art of filmmaking and that he hadn't see one widescreen film as artfully and carefully composed as the silent films made in the 1920's. While I disagree with him to an extent (who could see American Beauty and not notice the care that went into every shot?), I do agree that cinematography has become a less recognized part of moviemaking.
So, what does the above have to do with Guy Maddin's Careful? Well, actually, an awful lot. Careful seems not so much a modern film, with all the technological tricks and cheats available, but an unearthed relic from the silent era, full of dreamlike sets and overstated performances. More than anything, Careful reminds me of any number of the German Expressionist films I watched in Film History class. German Expressionism is a movement that concentrated on heavy use of lights and darks, exaggeration, tilted angles, a dreamlike atmosphere, and a distorting of the external world to reveal a given psychological state. The images and characters in these types of films are not realistic by any stretch of the imagination; rather, they are purposely unnatural to convey some psychological context or message. Careful uses all these elements to create one of the most visually striking films in recent times. I am not surprised that, when it was released, it was voted "one of the ten best films you'll never see."
Careful could be called a very Freudian film. It deals with a lot of Freud's hot button issues—the id, repression, and the œdipal complex. The town of Tolzbad is located at the base of a giant, snow-covered mountain. Any loud sound or shout could cause an avalanche and crush the village. So the people of the town must learn to suppress their outbursts, to keep quiet ("Careful, children! Silence! Propriety!"). That is not the only thing being suppressed (repressed?) in Tolzbad, however. The sibling rivalry that flares between brothers Grigorss (Kyle McCulloch) and Johann (Brent Neale) is nothing compared to this: despite his engagement to Klara (Sarah Neville), Johann's attentions are on his mother. He watches her as she works and spies on her in the bath. But when Johann has a sexual dream about her, he punishes himself and sets off a chain of horrific events—jealousy, betrayal, lust, and murder—that lead to a climax that will rid Tolzbad of its troubles once and for all.
Before Careful, Maddin filmed two other works in the same style: Tales from the Gimli Hospital and Archangel. All three use the "hyper-realistic" style of German Expressionism, but from what I saw in the documentary included on the disc, none are as successful as Careful in creating a true dreamlike state. The most striking and unusual aspect of the film is the color scheme used—many scenes are shot in just one color (most memorably an icy duel scene with a deep blue filter). Others are so saturated with reds that they bleed over the entire image. The colors are unnatural throughout, recalling images of early Technicolor films. All the sets were constructed indoors, and there is not a bit of natural light in the film. Maddin was able to completely manufacture the entire town, from the weather to the foliage, and everything adds to the creepy repressed feel of the place. The sets especially reminded me of the skewed reality presented in The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari. As in that film, everything in Tolzbad is "off" somehow; unreal. Images are carefully composed, with lighting playing over a certain area of an actor's face to highlight emotions or thematic elements. Looking at this film, it is almost impossible to believe that it was made in 1992 (by someone in his late 20's/early 30's, no less).
The acting in Careful is also very reminiscent of the silent era. Emotions are overplayed. Actions are broad and theatrical. An emphasis is made on facial expression. If dropped into any other film, these actors would seem downright bad. Here, however, they add to the feel of the film; their curious style of acting blends right in with their curious surroundings. I think that if you simply deleted the vocal track and played the film in silence, it would still "work."
So, why did I only award the film a B+? Well, as provocative as the images in the film are, the script was a bit trite. Certainly the issues dealt with were consistent with the tone of the direction, and certain elements are brilliant (a village at the base of a mountain as a site of physical and emotional repression), but I felt the overall thematic elements covered were a bit "Psych 101"-ish. It made me feel the same way I did when I first read Freud. I mean, come on, not everyone is in love with their father/mother! The simple issue of repressed emotions would have been more interesting than the tired incest elements dealt with here. Still, I have to say that the script fits the film perfectly, nonetheless. The dialogue and situations would be right at home in any expressionist film.
Careful is not a film for everyone, not by a long shot. I was glad that I had the (admittedly small) base of knowledge of film history to work from. If you have an open mind and an interest in older films, give Careful a try. It will be an interesting experience, I guarantee it.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The image on this disc is sort of tough to review because of Maddin's unique visual style. Sure, the colors are oversaturated and blurry, fine detail is lacking, and there are some visible pops and scratches, BUT it is supposed to look that way, because it is supposed to recall a silent film of 70-80 years ago. It that case, the image on this disc represents the director's vision quite well. It does have a "digital" look, with a bit of pixelization on some of the more complex patterns, but for the most part, the image fits the film well.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound on this disc is generally good, and again, I don't know how many of the shortcomings of the track are intentional on the part of the director. Dialogue is generally very clear, and the music never sounds harsh. The biggest problem is the constant audible hiss that runs the entire length of the film. I think it was intentional, and I guess it adds to the "old time" feel of the film, but it does get rather loud and annoying at times. Still, this isn't a bad mix, and it really does sound like an old silent or early talkie track.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Guy Maddin and writer George Toles
Extras Review: Normally I wouldn't expect a small film like Careful to have any extras at all, so the inclusion of the two substantial extras here is quite a welcome surprise. Props to Kino for recognizing the cult audience this film has. Of course, considering the small budget and limited release the film had, many "normal" extras like trailers simply do not exist, but they won't be missed when you see what is included.
First is the hour long documentary entitled Waiting for Twilight, which covers Guy Maddin's personal and film history and offers a preview of his future plans. Produced in 1997, it offers a fairly comprehensive look at this very strange visionary and the people that populate his world. Clips of many of his earlier films are offered, and it is clear that Careful was no fluke—all of his films have the same "lost in time" look. There are interviews with his friends and relatives, and Maddin himself tells (while sitting in a barber's chair getting a haircut) some very weird stories about his childhood (like how he used to go into the hockey player's locker rooms and soap them up in the showers - . [Not touching that one with a ten-foot pole]), and the piece gives a good idea of the state of mind this guy is in when he creates. I would have liked more information on this specific film, but this is an excellent inclusion nonetheless.
Fortunately, the screen specific commentary with Maddin and Careful screenwriter George Toles DOES go into detail on the making of the film, and while it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, it does shed some light on the director's intent and the unique style of the film. The two were recorded together, and I get the impression of two old friends sitting down together to reminisce. Generally the track is informative, although the speakers do get a bit sidetracked at times.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThey don't make movies like Careful anymore. Well, "they" don't, but Guy Maddin certainly does. Watching this film is like unearthing something that was lost years ago. The obsessive composition, the dreamlike color scheme, and the absurdly over-the-top acting all add to create the feel of an old silent horror film. Maddin was obviously influenced by films like <b>Nosferatu, and his works seem all the better for it. In an age where the art of filmmaking is being destroyed by commercialization, it is nice to see that true visionaries still exist.
Joel Cunningham 2000-10-06