Arrow Video USA goes arty and indie with their 4K-mastered special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo of the Steven Soderbergh-produced nineties monochrome sleeper SUTURE.
After meeting at their father's funeral and mutually struck by their strong resemblance to one another, a pair of long-lost half-brothers – working-class Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert, TV's THE UNIT) and icily aloof heir Vincent Towers (Michael Harris, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III) reunite in Arizona ostensibly to get to know one another. After gifting him with their father's wristwatch, Vincent is called away to business in Los Angeles and leaves his home and car at Clay's disposal only asking that Clay drive him to the airport. While Clay is driving back from the airport, Vincent calls him and remotely triggers a car bomb. His face obliterated and his memory gone, Clay lies in the hospital with everyone believing he is Vincent Towers, including Lieutenant Weismann (David Graf, POLICE ACADEMY's Tackleberry) for whom Vincent was the prime suspect in the supposed home invasion shotgun killing of his wealthy father. Weismann is just as anxious as psychiatrist Dr. Shinoda (Sab Shimono, PRESUMED INNOCENT) for plastic surgeon Dr. Renee Descartes (THIRTYSOMETHING's Mel Harris) to reconstruct his face, but for different reasons: Shinoda towards helping "Vincent" recover his identity and Weismann in order for him to appear in a line-up for Ms. Lucerne (Fran Ryan, PALE RIDER), the only witness to the home invasion who was shot by the assailant and has only recently recovered her eyesight.
While Descartes' interest in working on "Vincent" is at first aesthetic – content to judge a book by its cover, or rather by Weismann's case files and profile of Vincent Towers – Shinoda is more sympathetic and intrigued since Clay is troubled by dreams of people and places unfamiliar from what he has been told of his life by Shinoda and Vincent's family friend Alice Jameson (Dina Merrill, THE PLAYER) whose interests in the younger man are not entirely platonic. While Shinoda tries to interpret the symbolism of Clay's dreams, Descartes comes to believe that Vincent is a more sensitive and misunderstood individual than depicted by Weismann and tries to help him recover his memories by finding the places in real life of which he has dreamed. As the murder investigation seems to be hitting a dead end, Clay still thinks he is being hounded by Weismann surveilling him, but Vincent has actually returned to finish the job before Clay remembers who he really is.
The feature debut of filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel (WHAT MAISIE KNEW, THE DEEP END), SUTURE is as much a film noir of the 1940s as a paranoia thriller of the 1960s; and, indeed, it is photographed by Greg Gardiner (ORANGE COUNTY) in a cool, sixties monochrome style that is as suggestive of the French New Wave as Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy of alienation. In spite of the unknown filmmakers, and largely unfamiliar cast, the film had some arthouse cache in the nineties as a Steven Soderbergh (SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE) production and for its central conceit of casting a black actor and a white actor as lookalikes whose identities are indistinguishable by those who profess to know one of them personally or from video and photographic records. Lacking the stylization of Hitchcock's amnesia and dream interpretation thriller SPELLBOUND, the film is actually more intriguing as Shinoda (like everyone else, believing that Clay is Vincent) tries to get Clay to impose symbolic meanings on what are actually concrete images, and only the villain has a truly vested interest in turning Clay into Vincent. However straightforward the film otherwise seems, it does tantalizingly suggest the existence of some other intertwined but unresolved threads, and the film has aged better than imagined when it was announced that Arrow was putting it out on Blu-ray.
Given sparse theatrical release by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and cropped VHS release by Evergreen Entertainment and widescreen laserdisc in 1995, SUTURE made its digital debut via MGM in 2001 in a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer (presumably recycling the laserdisc master). Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray of this Super 35mm production is derived from a startlingly beautiful 4K restoration of a film that seemed an unlikely candidate for Blu-ray having been largely forgotten after it had achieved a little distinction back in the nineties by being in black and white. From the largely black or white color set decoration to the contrasting skin tones and wardrobe of the "twins" to a Rorschach ink blot painted on a stucco wall, texture is often impressively rendered. The Dolby Stereo track is given the uncompressed treatment as a full-bodied LPCM 2.0 stereo track, and the English SDH subtitles emphasize some pointed use of song lyrics.
The extras package for the film is entirely new. Directors McGehee & Siegel appear on a commentary track with producer Soderbergh. The directors discuss the influence of Japanese film at the Pacific Film Archive during their schooling, and the particular influence of Hiroshi Teshigahara's THE FACE OF ANOTHER (on DVD from Criterion) as well as twin melodramas like DARK MIRROR and sixties paranoia thrillers like SECONDS and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. They also discuss how the film's central conceit went over with some studios they approached as well as shooting in black-and-white, the use of music (including a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire"), the photography and design of the film, and the casting. Although Soderbergh was not on set at the time, like his commentary shared with writer David Koepp (STIR OF ECHOES) on director Martin Donovan's APARTMENT ZERO – which Soderbergh was not involved in but he was in attendance with the filmmakers as a fellow 1989 Sundance Director on Independent Film – it provides an overview of the circumstances of independent filmmaking in the nineties before it became a fashionable medium for bigger actors to make prestige works and vanity projects.
The impressive featurette "Lacerations: The Making of Suture" (32:25) includes contributions from McGehee and Siegel, actors Haysbert, Harris, and Shimono, cinematographer Gardiner, composer Cary Berger (CLEOPATRA'S SECOND HUSBAND), editor Lauren Zuckerman (S.F.W.), and McGehee's sister Kelly (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY) who served as production designer. McGehee and Siegel discuss more of their friendship and schooling – meeting through MeGehee's sister – and cover much of the same ground as the commentary track on the film's influences while Haysbert discusses the film as his first big role, Harris on coming off of THIRTYSOMETHING and being intrigued by the script and its conceit, and Shimono on emulating his own twin brother who actually is a psychotherapist. They discuss the Arizona shoot, and the convivial atmosphere while working in high heat (with everyone invited to watch the film's rushes daily). Gardiner discusses his choice of Super 35mm over anamorphic lenses in terms of confined shooting spaces as well as the greater depth of field and the role depth plays in the film's compositions whether it involves the positioning of actors in the frame or the actors in context of their surroundings while Berger discusses the choice of instruments and the placement of the scoring.
Three successive deleted scenes (1:07 + 0:49 + 1:47) are offered with directors' commentary track in which they discuss the research that went into the scene of Renee reconstructing Vincent's/Clay's face on paper and their regret that they deleted the scene while explaining that the reasoning for the loss of the sequence as a whole in that it made it seem as though Renee and Clay took a liking to each other sooner than necessary for the purposes of suspense. The directors' earlier short film "Birds Past" (27:31) in which the directorial duo play a pair of video editors who travel to Bodega Bay when they hear Melanie Griffith is visiting the area. Visits to locations from the film are intercut with talking head interviews in which various Bodega Bay and San Francisco locals discuss the details of THE BIRDS' plot, subtextual meanings, and even compare Griffith to her mother Tippi Hedren in terms of star power now and then. A stills gallery is included along with a more emphatic US theatrical trailer (2:07) and European theatrical trailer (1:38). Not supplied for review was the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm. (Eric Cotenas)
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