It's spoiled on the theatrical poster and all home video releases (including this one), so there's no getting around it: Permanent Record (1988) is about how a teen's suicide affects his friends and family in life-changing ways. The film's first half is dominated by the exploits of high school students and aspiring musicians David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) and Chris Townsend (Keanu Reeves); the former seems to have a perfect life including a solid family, a beautiful girlfriend and excellent prospects. Chris, in comparison, has a mostly absent father and a complete lack of focus in school; this obviously makes him the more reckless of the two, but their desire to succeed as a band seems to fuel their friendship. Yet David's unhappiness soon becomes apparent: there's too much going on in his life and he's not prepared for it.
Before long, existence gets the best of him and David is gone. His friends and family assume an accident claimed his life, but Chris eventually finds out the truth. Most of Permanent Record's brisk 90-minute lifespan deals with the aftermath of this discovery; David's presence hangs over almost every scene, even when he's not mentioned by name. Naturally, this abrupt shift in tone and pacing gives the film a logical "before and after" division that, within the context of the story, plays out quite nicely. There's no real villain here, save for a school administrator who attempts to block a memorial assembly for David (at the risk of "glorifying" his suicide) and Chris, despite a number of poor decisions and his obvious social shortcomings, never feels too far gone. Not surprisingly, the remainder of Permanent Record depicts friends and family struggling to pick up the pieces, asking questions that obviously don't have any concrete answers.
Directed by Marisa Silver (only her second film) and featuring a score by late Clash frontman Joe Strummer, Permanent Record moves along at a deliberate pace and features a number of heartfelt, natural performances. Alan Boyce does a commendable job in just over 30 minutes as the doomed David, a likable young man who still manages to retreat into the background despite his obvious ambition. Keanu Reeves takes over nicely during the film's second half, offering a fine performance that rightfully led to bigger things in his career. Richard Bradford also performs well as the fair but restrained principal: he obviously cares for his students' well-being more than falling in line with his superiors. A handful of supporting characters seem almost interchangeable...but if Permanent Record left one impression, it's that natural performances and subtle touches easily trump overcooked melodrama. While the film's lack of flash and somewhat dated appearance can make it feel like a lost, made-for-TV relic more than 25 years old, it's more than the sum of its parts.
Originally released on DVD by Paramount almost a decade ago, Permanent Record eventually went out of print and has sold for over $50 via third-party sellers. This reissue arrives courtesy of the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, but has two strikes against it right out of the gate: the format is obviously one step down from a traditionally pressed disc, and the original DVD's underwhelming A/V presentation and lack of extras haven't been improved. Even still, Permanent Record is a worthwhile film and, for obvious reasons, should be much easier to track down now that it's back in print.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Unlike Paramount's now out-of-print DVD (presented in 1.85:1), this burn-on-demand release appears to be opened up slightly at 1.78:1. Regardless of the minor framing difference, this is a relatively bland, unimpressive transfer that didn't even impress by 2004 standards. Overly dark, drab, excessively grainy and speckled with dirt and debris, the film maintains a distinctly thin, video-like appearance; not surprising, given that this is a single-layered disc. Overall, the only positive here is that, like the original DVD, it's 16x9 enhanced and the natural, slice-of-life appearance doesn't demand a squeaky-clean presentation every step of the way. But Permanent Record is a capable production that deserves a solid Blu-ray (let alone a passable upgrade on DVD), and this burn-on-demand rehash is far from "solid".
DISCLAIMER: This review's compressed, resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480p resolution.
Presented in "Ultra-Stereo Surround" (or, as my receiver calls it, "Dolby Digital 2.0"), this disc's soundtrack is marginally better than its visual presentation...but it's still a little subdued on certain occasions. Nonetheless, dialogue and background noise are relatively clean and easy to understand, while Joe Strummer's score has a little bit of punch and dynamic range at times. A true lossless presentation would undoubtedly yield better results, but this is a decent enough presentation for what's clearly a dialogue-driven film. Optional English subtitles and Closed Captions are available.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the attractive menu interface is clean and easy to navigate. Separate sub-menus are included for chapter selection and audio/subtitle setup. The burn-on-demand disc is locked for Region 1 players only. This release is housed in a standard keepcase with similar artwork to the previous release. No insert or bonus features have been included.
While it may seem like a made-for-TV production at first sight, Permanent Record is a forgotten but valuable little film. It passed the 25-year mark a few months ago and, in some respects, feels more than a little dated...but without a doubt, the subject matter is timeless and the performances are heartfelt. Joe Strummer's score is another highlight. Warner Bros.' "Archive Collection" burn-on-demand disc replaces Paramount's out-of-print DVD; while this format undoubtedly has its drawbacks, it's essentially the same disc but now easier to find. The mediocre A/V presentation and lack of extras prevent a stronger endorsement, but Permanent Record is still worth a look. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.