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Bound - Signature Series
For most mainstream viewers, it's likely that the only time Bound crossed their radars was as a parenthetical on the back of the original Matrix DVD and VHS, credited to the hot new filmmakers, the Wachowskis. Others may have a more erotic impression of it, stemming from the (single, relatively brief) lesbian sex scene from the Unrated version. But Bound is neither a mere stepping-stone to big-budget filmmaking or some sort of Skinemax B-thriller. In fact, it might be the best movie the sisters have made to date, a precision neo-noir built around a lesbian romance that's more sincere than salacious, filled with the kind of razor-sharp writing, stylish direction, and pitch-perfect performances that one rarely expects from veterans, much less debut filmmakers. Anyone who hasn't already seen this underrated masterpiece (especially anyone who subscribes to the hyper-earnest, deeply emotional filmmaking the Wachowskis have since staked out as their trademark) is doing themselves a disservice.
1996 was a long time ago in terms of queer representation in media, and the Wachowskis reportedly had trouble casting the film, but it's hard to imagine anyone better than the two women they ended up with. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly have made careers out of playing similar sorts of characters, but the screenplay is rife with detail and nuance that both women make a meal out of. The beauty of the reveal that Corky's prison sentence and Violet's marriage were the same length of time isn't just that it's a perfect bit of dramatic confluence, it's further elevated by the world-weariness that both of comiserate with. Later, during a fight, the characters push and pull in a way that goes beyond basic plot-driven conflicts or the Wachowskis needing to move their chess pieces across the board, deepening the bond between two fighters who have approached their battles with different strategies. Throughout the film, Tilly excels at revealing the cracks in the sexy ingenue routine that she puts on, and Gershon's eyes are always moving, inquisitive, searching for weakness or deception. Given the strength of their performances, together and apart, Joe Pantoliano's performance could have easily seemed incidental, but he crafts a scenery-chewing, sweat-drenched villain for the ages, decending into desperation while trying to maintain his natural snarkiness. He is simultaneously funny, terrifying, and even oddly sympathetic at times, as his panic overcomes him.
Bound was made for a mere $6 million, and largely takes place within two locations (Caesar's apartment and the apartment Corky is working on), but the film is very nearly as stylish as The Matrix, which featured two separate universes and cost over 10 times more. Much of the team from those movies was first assembled by Lana and Lilly here, including cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis, and much of the look and feel of Bound is similar to The Matrix. The look of some of the costuming and set design has a similar film noir/1950s style, editing tricks that would be re-used appear for the first time (characters discussing a plan and the plan being executed are shown simultaneously, saving the audience from having to see the same scenario twice), and of course, there's some clever camerawork (the film's single sex scene involved a set that could come apart at will for a 360-degree pan). You can see future echoes of something like bullet time in the Wachowskis' use of slow motion: the surreal tumble of a body to the floor, a bullet hitting a wall slowly enough to see it traveling through the air. A chase sequence brilliantly uses the limited space of the apartment complex as part of the concept, and there's a sequence that seems to be a tip of the hat to Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel. Throughout, there is the intensity of the female gaze (Corky checking Violet out in the elevator), the symbolic use of water to represente sexual desire, and some stunningly erotic compositions (Corky and Violet's lips, held an inch apart, before finally locking).
Underneath all of it, providing an incredible foundation, is the extremely sharp screenplay. The Wachowskis wisely ratchet up the tension by allowing the characters to outsmart one another, forcing the other characters to think on their feet. Having recently watched a thriller with a "wildcard" character serves as a great reminder of how Bound sets it up so that any of the characters are fully formed and smart enough to be the wildcard. However, again, the final element that elevates Bound beyond some other expertly-executed genre pictures is the depth of emotion on display, the degree to which the viewer can invest in Corky and Violet's romantic relationship. It's common knowledge that both Wachowskis have since come out as transgender women, and the film shows a deep respect and insight in crafting two powerful female protagonists, both of whom feel distinct and real even before their talented performers bring them to life. An all-timer of a debut picture, a contemporary genre classic, a passionate romance, and feminist to boot? The Matrix may have made them world-famous, but Bound ought to be the Wachowskis' calling card.
Bound had a number of movie posters, most of which were not very good -- it's not a film that summarizes cleanly into a single image. However, the art from Olive's previous Blu-ray was probably the best of them, featuring Corky and Violet in the apartment while all the dollar bills are strung up. For this Signature Series edition, Olive has prepped new art, using a red, white, and black motif and featuring a black-and-white image of Violet and Corky embracing. It's a stylish image, complete with the nice touch of the title mimicking the three-dimensional shadow-cast treatment from the movie's opening credits. The same key art graces both the outer, rubbery matte slipbox and the sleeve inside a transparent Vortex Blu-ray case, with blood red monochrome images of Corky and Violet and Caesar gracing the reverse. The booklet again gives the title the 3D treatment, with a Guinevere Turner essay on the inside and that one good poster image in black-and-white on the back cover. In a final nice touch, Corky's labrys tattoo graces the spine of both the slipbox and the sleeve.
The Video and Audio
Olive is advertising this as a "new high definition digital restoration," but the packaging offers no further details on what that restoration entailed. Unfortunately, this is likely because Olive didn't have the resources to go all the way back to the original negative, and the results are somewhat underwhelming. Comparing the 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer here to the one offered on Arrow's UK edition from a couple of years ago, there is little improvement in terms of grain structure (visible but not refined), fine detail (good but not great), print damage (minor but frequent), or depth (adequate). The new Olive transfer appears to have had the contrast bumped up (note: I played this on two different players, and the severity of the contrast was wildly different on the 4K UHD player), and colors may be a touch more vivid. However, pause the film at almost any moment and a surprising amount of compression artifacts are noticeable. On the whole, the transfer is more than watchable, and looks largely similar to both Arrow's effort and Olive's previous disc, but the flaws here are a little more frustrating given Olive made the "new restoration" a selling point. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which some may find disappointing given other editions have offered a 5.1 DTS-HD MA option, but it's a step up from Olive's lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track from their previous edition, and it sounds perfectly fine, rendering the movie's stylish score and the dialogue with a pleasing clarity and dynamism. English subtitles are also provided.
This edition of Bound contains both cuts of the film, the 108-minute R-rated version and the 109-minute Unrated version (personally, I've only watched the Unrated version, which is presumably the director's cut of the film), which are offered to the viewer via separate main menus. On both film menus, one can access a nice assortment of identical supplements, both new and old.
First up, there is an archival audio commentary featuring Lana and Lilly Wachowksi, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, editor Zach Staenberg, technical consultant Susie Bright, and eventually, Jennifer Tilly, who shows up late about halfway through. Given the Wachowskis rarely speak about their work, this commentary track is a nice little gem, filled with humor both dry (the Wachowskis) and effervescent (Tilly). This was ported from the US DVD edition from Republic Pictures (note: since the commentary is years old and was recorded before the Wachowskis came out, it uses their deadnames).
The bulk of the video extras are archival as well, ported from Arrow's excellent UK edition (which was my go-to until this was released). They include "Femme Fatales" (26:53), with Gershon and Tilly reflecting on the casting process and working with one another, "Here's Johnny!" (10:03) with Christopher Meloni chatting about his role as the hotheaded gangster, and "Modern Noir: The Sights & Sounds of Bound" (29:25), which features cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis discussing the style of the film. All three of these extras are very warm and highly entertaining, and well worth a look. The only shame is that Olive seems to have droppped Arrow's fourth featurette, "Hail Caesar!", which sat down with Joe Pantoliano about his role in the movie. It's listed on the package, but does not appear on the disc.
Finally, Olive has added some new extras to supplement the existing ones. "Part and Parcel" (7:10) finds title designer Patti Podesta outlining the development process behind the film's clever opening credits sequence. As one can guess, there's only so much for Podesta to say about a sequence that only lasts for a few seconds, but she has warm memories of collaborating with the Wachowskis on the day when it came time to film the sequence, as well as thoughts on the finished product. Finally, "The Difference Between You and Me" (17:45) gathers film and gender studies professors B. Ruby Rich and Jen Moorman to discuss Bound's neo-noir as a genre, how Bound reinvents film noir tropes further, its progressive and transgressive gender politics, and the movie's place in the lesbian film canon. It's a fascinating little look at the film from an outside perspective and both participants are engaging and enthusiastic.
An original theatrical trailer for Bound is also included.
Bound is a near-perfect gem of a film that holds up to repeat viewings and absolutely deserves to be mentioned alongside Blood Simple and Shallow Grave when discussing knockout neo-noir film debuts. It's also a seminal queer picture, and important to modern film history in being the debut picture of the Wachowski sisters, who would go onto make the revolutionary Matrix trilogy (and other underappreciated gems like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas). The half-hearted treatment of the film on American home video (Republic's non-anamorphic DVD release in 2001, and then nothing until Olive's barebones Blu-ray and DVD releases in 2012) has been frustrating, and with this new Signature Series release, that injustice has been mostly corrected. The missing Joe Pantoliano interview and disappointing new presentation keep it from perfection, but this Signature Series edition is very highly recommended. on the strength of the film itself.
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