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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Q&A with Jarmusch, in which he responds to questions sent in by fans
  • Original documentary on Mystery Train's locations and Memphis's rich social and musical history
  • On-set photos by Masayoshi Sukita, and behind-the-scenes photos

Mystery Train

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh, Nicoletta Braschi, Elizabeth Bracco, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Tom Noonan
1989 | 110 Minutes | Licensor: Mystery Train, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #521
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: June 15, 2010
Review Date: May 27, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Aloof teenage Japanese tourists, a frazzled Italian widow, and a disgruntled British immigrant all converge in the city of dreams-which, in Mystery Train, from Jim Jarmusch, is Memphis. Made with its director's customary precision and wit, Mystery Train is a triptych of stories that pay playful tribute to the home of Stax Records, Sun Studio, Graceland, Carl Perkins, and, of course, the King himself, who presides over the film like a spirit. Mystery Train is one of Jarmusch's very best movies, a boozy and beautiful pilgrimage to an iconic American ghost town and a paean to the music it gave the world.

Forum members rate this film 7.3/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Jim Jarmuschís Mystery Train gets a much needed upgrade on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion, the release completely topping MGMís rather crummy DVD. The film is presented here in the aspect ratio of about 1.77:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

The transfer itself is perfect without one noticeable issue. The image is crisp, colours look perfectly balanced and saturated (Screamin' Jay Hawkin's amazing red jacket looks beautifully rendered here,) detail is incredibly high, grain is noticeable but not heavy, it retains a very film-like look, and it doesnít have any noticeable artifacts. I also didnít notice an instance of edge-enhancement anywhere in the film. And the fact itís so clean may have a lot to do with the bitrate found throughout the film; checking it every once in a while it was in the high 30s, usually around 35mbps, and it looks all the better for it.

The only problems evident are in the source itself, which still has some specs of dirt and little black marks that appear in what is otherwise an incredibly clean print. Past that the transfer looks stunning, one of Criterionís best on the format.

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.

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AUDIO

The lossless mono track offers quite a bit of range and oomph, a bit of a surprise for a small indie film made over 20 years ago. Dialogue is clear and sharp, but itís the music that most impresses, with excellent fidelity and crystal clarity. It sounds very striking, has no damage present, and never comes off hollow or distorted.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion disappoints a little in this area of the release, with a small selection of supplements that donít even make the 2-hour mark, but theyíre at least strong.

Repeating a similar feature found on Criterionís DVD for Jarmuschís Night on Earth, we yet again get a Q & A with Jim, where the director responds to a number of questions sent in. After an introduction that involves going over newspaper headlines for the day, mentioning the earthquake in Haiti and then jumping to an article on Avatar, he moves on to the questions. My intent was to actually list names and the questions being asked, but Jarmusch butchers so many of the names I just couldnít do it (and this is no criticism against Jarmusch since Iíd probably butcher them, too, one of the key reasons Iím not going to list them.) At any rate some of the questions asked involve casting, where he stands on ďPerkins vs. PresleyĒ, which Elvis (Army, fat, young, Vegas, etc.) is his favourite, the soundtrack, certain members of the cast, whether Tom Waits (whose voice appears as a DJ on the radio) is reprising his character from Down By Law, filming in Sun Studio, Screaminí Jay Hawkins, and many other areas of the film. But heís not just limited to this film, even taking questions for other films, or general questions like one about his film viewing habits (whether he researches them or not before viewing or whether he actually watches supplements on a DVD.) Some questions he answers briefly, and other he answers with great detail. He also takes on some humourous ones, like a question where heís asked if he can introduce the writer to Winona Ryder, and he also takes a slight swipe at the MGM DVDís subtitles. This is in place of a commentary track (which Jarmusch has no interest in doing) and itís actually a great idea, and quite a bit of fun, more fun than a commentary at least. Though it might not cover Mystery Train in as great as depth as some may like, itís still an informative and entertaining feature. In total it runs about 70-minutes and is divided into 35 chapters.

For the next feature we unfortunately only get an 18-minute excerpt from Screminí Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me, a 2001 documentary about the performer. The excerpt included focuses on the relationship between Hawkins and Jarmusch, which began when he was working to get the rights for I Put a Spell on You, which he played in Stranger Than Paradise (repeating what he says in the Q&A section of the disc.) The two also talk a bit about his performance in Mystery Train, the red suit, and the number of plums Hawkins had to eat over multiple takes, plus a funny anecdote about Hawkins wondering if he should take Henry, a cigarette smoking toy skull he used when he performed, with him while shooting. Thereís also some great footage of Hawkins performing mixed in here, and Hawkins also recalls meeting Elvis Presley very early in the singerís career. Itís actually a fantastic segment and itís quite unfortunate and disappointing Criterion couldnít or wouldnít include more of it here. And though presented in 1080i, it looks like the source is actually video in a lot of cases, so the video looks a little rough.

Memphis Tour is an exclusive 17-minute documentary made by Criterion that revisits the area of Memphis where the film was shot. The doc revisits some of the locations, including the diner and Sun Studio (the hotel was torn down, apparently uninhabitable and dangerous even during filming.) It even visits other areas of Memphis not used in the film. Various people involved in some way with the production give little history lessons about Memphis (about Memphisí economic woes, Martin Luther Kingís assassination, Sun Studio, and Stax Records) and even share some memories from the shoot (like hitting the prostitution business financially during the shoot.) Included as interviewees are production assistant Sherman Willmott, Novella Smith Arnold, who handled casting in Memphis, and then DíArmy Bailey and Marvell Thomas, who both played pool players in the bar in the last part of the film (Marvell is also the son of Rufus Thomas, who has a cameo in the film.) It was interesting to see the locations from the film now, looking as though theyíve been cleaned up significantly, and I especially enjoyed the more historical aspects of the doc. It was also nice to have a documentary from Criterion that is more than a talking-heads piece. This supplement is presented in 1080p.

The remaining supplements are photos, including a collection of Polaroids taken during the shoot, including some by Cinque Lee. The photo gallery then includes a number of photos taken during filming that were then used in a photo book that accompanies the filmís release, beginning with a text introduction by Jarmusch taken from the book. Itís a good sized gallery, which includes photos of a good chunk of the cast and crew posing. Thereís even a photo answering the question whether Hawkins eventually did decide on taking Henry with him.

Dennis Lim has written an essay on the film, included in this releases booklet. Also in the booklet is a piece by Peter Guralnick, who talks a bit about the film, but more about the music presented in it. Itís a short booklet but an excellent read.

In all the material is at least good, great in fact and itís all worth going through, but value-wise it leaves a little to be desired. At the higher price point (as is the simultaneous DVD release) I guess I would have expected more.

6/10

CLOSING

The supplements are great but it still feels slim. Past that, though, Criterion just hits it out of the park in the video and audio department; the high-definition transfer on here looks incredible, almost flawless, and for that alone itís worth picking up their new Blu-ray for this incredibly fun and cool film.


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