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Image Entertainment presents

Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (2005)

"It'll all work out."- Patrick (Gary Betsworth), from Cutting Moments

Stars: Nica Ray, Gary Betsworth, Jared Barsky, Christine Caleo, Ray Bland, William Stone Mahoney, Letty Sierra, Sally Conway, David Thornton, Beth Glover
Director: Douglas Buck

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (gore, mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:43m:18s
Release Date: 2006-02-21
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B-B- A


DVD Review

The rumor mill has underground filmmaker Douglas Buck allegedly set to direct a remake of Brian DePalma's classic Sisters with Asia Argento, and after watching his Family Portraits trilogy I have to think his stark vision of perverse familial dysfunctionality will mesh really well for a demented story such as that.

His directorial approach is like Todd Solondz on crack, slowly adapting and mercilessly twisting American family life into something ugly, horrific and bleak, with Buck's Portraits opus existing essentially as three short films—shot between 1996 and 2002—and presented here with two different viewing options. The films can be watched as separate shorts or as part of one long three-part feature, and it really all depends on your ability to endure the grotesque brilliance that Buck captures.

The three films that make up Buck's cheerless trilogy are entitled Cutting Moments (25m:32s), Home (28m:47s) and Prologue (51m:31s), and while they each can be viewed independently, it is best to watch them in sequence for maximum impact. In reality, the less said about the plot machinations of Buck's work the better, because his spartan storytelling doles out small, vague fragments that eventually come together into something truly hideous, and the gory denouement (courtesy of Tom Savini) in the trilogy's first part—Cutting Moments—sends the message that unexpected and brutal ugliness will be the recurrent theme in his vision of suburbia. It would be too easy to ruin the impact of any of these short films by explicitly describing the plot specifics, so I won't, and it would only diminish the way Buck chooses to let a given tale unfold. Just be warned that the content is extremely grim and downbeat, filled with minimalist everyday small talk that leads to startling resolutions. No happy endings here.

By far Buck's best work here comes with the final piece—Prologue—a noticeably more polished film that offers less visual shock value and a more carefully constructed method of storytelling that reveals tragic details in tiny doses as the narrative shifts between two sets of characters, and the viewer is left spending a good portion of the time trying to decipher how they are connected. The slow reveal is certainly less in-your-face than his other two family chapters, but Prologue delivers the most profoundly disturbing emotional punch, thanks in large part to wonderfully detached performances by William Stone Mahoney and Sally Conway.

Just as a Harmony Korine film is not for everyone, Douglas Buck is similarly irregular. His Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America moves across bizarrely unpleasant tangents, loosely interconnected if only by the message that everything is f**ked up behind closed doors. My own demented tastes aside, I'm hesitant to give this an across-the-board recommendation, but you probably know if things like Gummo or Happiness move you in some special way.

Buck likes it ugly. It just makes me wonder what his childhood was like.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame 1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes yes
Anamorphicno no

Image Transfer Review: Cutting Moments and Home are presented in 1.33:1 fullframe, while Prologue is delivered in nonamorphic widescreen, with an aspect ratio of roughly 1.77:1. The physical prints have seen obviously seen better days, and are peppered with frequent specking and assorted debris throughout. Colors for Cutting Moments and Home appear slightly washed out, while Prologue (the newer of the trilogy) retains a noticeably more vivid palette.

A little rough around the edges, but somehow perfectly apropos for the content.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: A simple 2.0 stereo audio mix, marred by bouts of hiss, provides largely understandable dialogue, even when characters speak in quiet monotone. Slightly flat, but serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 50 cues and remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by Douglas Buck, Douglas E. Winter, John Freitas, Marc Lapadula
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Galleries
Extras Review: An outstanding presentation by Image for Buck's bleak trilogy, with the two-sided disc split between showcasing the three works as separate entities (side A) or as one longform film split into three distinct parts (side B).

Side A carries a total of six commentary tracks, two per film. Buck does solo tracks for all three, while author/critic Douglas Winter contributes for Cutting Moments, New York professor/scholar John Freitas for Home and Yale Film Professor Marc Lapadula for Prologue. Flip over to Side B, where the trilogy is presented as one long feature, and we find Buck paired with Winter for a track that is more question-and-answer, and touches on the "touchy subject matter", and the director comments about the negative reactions his work has received and his attempted appeasements to the gore audience, primarily with Cutting Moments.

Side B is where all of the other supplements are, and continues with After All, a early short film from Buck, shot on 16mm in 1994, and running just under 17 minutes. It's referred to as "darkly humorous", but that's like calling a Todd Solondz film "family friendly". After All is about a boy with finds pleasure in watching animals killing each other in nature documentaries, and Buck labels this a "student film", according to the accompanying text screen notes.

A single deleted scene (01m:25s) from Prologue, between the characters Billy and the young girl Chloe, is featured, as well as a few text screens of explanation from Buck detailing the how's and why's of the moment. There are also two behind-the-scenes segments, one for Cutting Moments (06m:43s) and another for Prologue (16m:06s) that are essentially a random collection of narration-free scenes of setups and the like.

The extras conclude with a full compliment of trailers for each of Buck's films, original screenplays for Home and Prologue, and an extensive Stills Galleries, split into three sections (one per film).

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

Here's the dark underbelly of American family life presented in three short films, or so claims filmmaker Douglas Buck. An immensely strange and disturbing trio of stories, presented simply yet wallowing in great waves of depression, death and tragedy.

Image has done an exceptional job packaging Buck's trilogy—most importantly presenting the three shorts as separate entities on one side, and then as a fully assembled single feature on the other—and has also included 7 commentaries, screenplay access and notes from the director.

Highly recommended, but only if you like things that project an alarming level of anti-Rockwellian grimness and despair.

Rich Rosell 2006-02-13