Whit Stillman’s Barcelona makes its Blu-ray debut through Criterion, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K scan of 35mm A/B original camera negative, and was supervised by Stillman and cinematographer John Thomas.
Of Criterion’s Stillman titles (which includes this title along with Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, with all three available on their own or in Criterion’s box set A Whit Stillman Trilogy) this is easily the best looking one. Both Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco look to come from older scans (though I think Metropolitan still holds up rather well) where this one looks fresh and new: the opening shot of the city of Barcelona is fairly breathtaking all on its own. From there the image remains stable and sharp, retaining a very film-like quality throughout. The most scenic film in Stillman’s trilogy, long shots of the various landmarks throughout the city and the open country side are all highly detailed, delivering natural looking textures and excellent depth. Black levels are decent, though look washed in a handful of interior scenes, but a majority of the darker interiors are easy to see and the details still show through in the shadows.
I don’t recall any damage popping up and colours look bright and perfectly saturated, the red outfits that pop up here and there looking to be a pure red without any rendering issues or noise present. The encode itself is also very clean, cleanly presenting the film’s grain structure, which gets a little heavier in darker scenes but blocking isn’t evident; it looks natural.
In the end the film looks like it could have been made today. It’s a very bright, vibrant looking image with a great amount of detail. Though Warner has actually been knocking quite a few of their transfers out of the park lately (their Blu-ray for Strange Brew is one of the more wonderful surprises to come from them) I somehow doubt they would have put in the exact same care we see here without Criterion’s involvement. It looks excellent! 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Warner Bros. released the film on DVD back in 2002 in a modest but decent special edition, featuring deleted scenes, a commentary, and then other material that was standard for the time (featurettes, production notes, etc.) That disc was then discontinued and the film was then only made available through Warner’s manufactured-on-demand Warner Archive Collection, but without any of the special features. The original DVD could still be found through various third-party sellers, but at inflated prices. Judging by how Warner treated the film (a fate not exclusive to this title sadly) it seemed unlikely they were interested in any sort of new edition and/or Blu-ray, something Stillman has been trying to get out.
Fans of the film can rejoice as Criterion jumps in and saves the day, not only bringing it to Blu-ray with a top-notch digital presentation but also carrying over most of the supplements from the old Warner DVD and then adding a few of their own.
From the original DVD comes the same audio commentary featuring director Whit Stillman and actors Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols, recorded in 2002. Stillman talks about his work at a film distributor in Spain led to him learning about filmmaking, but also about how that period (and the film An Officer and a Gentleman) influenced this film. He also offers some context to the film’s story line and the time period, talking about terrorist attacks and the general feelings toward NATO in the country. The other two pop in to share their own stories (like how Nichols met his wife in Spain while shooting the film) or to add more levity to the track (this has been pretty much Eigeman’s thing throughout all of the tracks). There’s also a few amusing little trivia bits, like the fact they were able to borrow costumes from other Castle Rock productions, including Dangerous Liaisons and A Few Good Men, which helped in costs, and we also hear more about certain plot points that were trimmed down, including more involving terrorists. Stillman has a very dry wit, which I’m sure turns many off, so one’s mileage may vary, so to speak, when listening to his tracks, but I did rather like this one, finding it engaging and entertaining, and I’m very happy Criterion has carried it over. I was initially disappointed they didn’t record a new one, but this one is actually just fine.
Criterion then adds a new scholarly supplement, a new video essay by film scholar Farran Smith Nehme, who examines Stillman’s trilogy comprised of Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco, and Barcelona. I admittedly wasn’t Stillman’s greatest admirer and have usually been lukewarm to his films, but I think I’ve been beaten down a bit going through all of Criterion’s releases, coming to enjoy them more: I really enjoyed Barcelona this time around, a film I initially thought of as “okay.” But this feature may have finally completely beat me into submission as I had the sudden urge, after viewing it, to go back and watch all three films together (though I haven’t actually gotten around to that). Nehme simply lays out the timeline of the films, does point out how some characters do cross over, and gets into detail about the common theme between each film, which is simply youth and that time period on one’s young life that pretty much determines the rest of it. She also focuses on how Stillman fleshes out his characters through dialogue and pulls a few scenes from each of the films to examine, even paying special attention to that Lady and the Tramp bit from The Last Days of Disco. Though only 21-minutes it’s a nicely done, in-depth analysis of the three films.
Criterion next pulls in a 5-minute making of featurette found on the original DVD, which, typical of this type of material, plays more like an advertisement, but at least includes a few interviews, focusing on the film’s time period and location. Criterion also carries over four deleted scenes running 3-minutes, and an alternate ending, running over 4-minutes, that does change the tone of the film. The deleted/alternate scenes also have an optional commentary featuring Stillman, Eigeman, and Nichols, and they give an idea why the scenes were cut. The backstory behind why the ending was changed, though, is probably the more interesting aspect, involving the reaction of Rob Reiner. I agree they probably made the right choice, at least in terms of setting the tone of the film, which up to that point—and despite one incident I won’t spoil—was fairly light and breezy.
The deleted material looks to be directly ported from Warner’s DVD, looking to be an upscale, and the source materials come from a fairly worn out work print, so it’s unfortunately not in the best shape, but all of the material is still watchable.
Criterion then brings in a number of interviews with Stillman, conducted over various programs throughout the years. They first include a 5-minute excerpt from a 1994 episode of Today, featuring Katie Couric interviewing the director about his then-new film, Barcelona. They talk a bit about why it took so long since Metropolitan to make his second film and any possible concerns he may have in this small film being released during the summer, when the bigger blockbusters were being released.
It was a fine enough interview for what it is, though it was obviously done more just to promote the film. Much better is a 24-minute excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show, recorded in 1991 after the release of Stillman’s first film, Metropolitan. I found this to be one of the more rewarding features on the disc as Stillman focuses more on the first-time experience in directing. He of course touches on this in his commentary tracks for his films, probably more-so in the track for Metropolitan, but it seems more insightful here, more than likely because it’s so fresh in his mind. He talks extensively about everything he had to learn, including the very basic rules in filmmaking, and they also discuss the critical and financial success of his first film and what the future holds. Though Barcelona was still just a thought at this point, and the feature maybe makes more sense as a supplement for Metropolitan (I’m guessing at the time of that DVD/Blu-ray release Criterion was unable to license this material) I thought it was a great addition here, maybe one of the better features to be found in all of the Stillman titles Criterion released.
We then finally get a 13-minute interview with Stillman from The Charlie Rose Show, which was conducted in 1994 around the time of Barcelona’s release. This adds on nicely to the other interviews, Stillman talking about what he learned about film while working at a film distributor in Spain and getting into more detail about the difficulties he still had financing his second feature, despite his first being a big hit. This involved him having to go from studio to studio, eventually going back to New Line (who distributed his first film) until Castle Rock stepped in. Altogether the three interviews nicely round off Stillman’s road between Metropolitan and Barcelona, and the lessons he learned over the years.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and the included insert features a new essay by Haden Guest. It’s short, but he goes over this film and the other two in the trilogy, as well as Stillman’s appeal. Not carried over from the Warner disc are cast biographies and notes, but in the age of IMDB and the like those no longer serve a real purpose I guess.
With all of that material, which is all quite engaging, this is easily the best edition for a Stillman film Criterion has released. It offers a rather solid production history, goes into a lot of detail about Stillman growing as a filmmaker, and even offers a nice analysis of the trilogy of films. It also saves all of the substantial special features lost from Warner’s original DVD. 8/10