Johnny (David Thewlis) is a frenetic and destructive outsider who tears through the lives of others like an emotional tornado. On the run from Manchester, he seeks sanctuary with his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp) in London, where he immediately targets her vulnerable housemate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) with his unique blend of predatory charm.
From there he embarks on a nocturnal odyssey across the city, dragging other disaffected souls into his orbit as he spirals towards his own personal apocalypse. Mike Leigh’s Cannes-winning film is a masterful, controversial, and totally unforgettable exploration of society in free-fall at the tail end of Thatcher’s Britain.
Naked has been newly remastered by the BFI National Archive and is available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Sourced from the 35mm original camera negative, the British Film Institute has conducted a new 4K restoration for Mike Leigh’s Naked and are now presenting it here through a new Blu-ray edition, delivering the film on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The disc is locked to region B and North American viewers will require players that can playback region B content.
Though I was happy with it at the time, Criterion’s original 2011 Blu-ray has admittedly not aged all that well. Coming from an older master (almost certainly the same one used for their 2005 DVD edition), grain comes off very chunky and blocky, leading to noise and a very weak level of detail.
BFI’s presentation (which is in a slimmer ratio compared to Criterion’s 1.85:1 ratio, gaining or losing information around the frame) provides a far sharper, far cleaner picture, with a more film-like look. Film grain is significantly finer here but is rendered far better and more naturally, which is also carried on into the shadows of the film’s darker scenes. Fine object detail, whether it be on dilapidated exterior walls or in the foliage of some in-door plants, is much clearer, with textures within a scene looking cleaner. Even the fuzz on Johnny's jacket leaps out.
What’s going to probably throw many off is how different the colours look here in comparison to Criterion’s. In an included interview on this disc, Leigh and director of photography Dick Pope talk about the look of the film and experimenting with the bleach-bypass process on the film elements (after seeing 1984 and a couple of Terence Davies' films), which retains the silver in the emulsion and gives the picture a monochromatic, high-contrast look. Criterion’s presentation—sourced from a 35mm interpositive—doesn’t have this look, and apparently Pope wasn’t pleased with that.
Supervising this one, Pope has applied that skip-bleach look, and he seems to be far happier with this presentation judging by his comments in that interview. Since the process is rarely done with the original negative (it’s usually done during the creation of the interpositive or internegative as to not damage the original elements) the colours have more than likely been adjusted here digitally, with the notes stating “[t]he new colour grading reproduces the film’s original bleach bypass process, referring to an original 1993 release print held in the BFI’s collection.” Memories of Murder had a similar thing done to it for its 4K restoration, though with mixed results. I have no doubt that director Bong Joon-ho did use the bleach-bypass process for the film during its initial release, but recreating it for that restoration (as presented on Criterion’s disc) did give the final image a bit of a phony, digital look. Essentially, despite my finding the presentation decent in the end, it didn’t look like it was accomplished through any sort of photochemical process.
Thankfully, that’s not the case here, the finished look coming off more organic. The image does lean greener in hue in comparison to the Criterion presentation, but it suits the look Pope and Leigh are going for, and the green is not as heavy as what ended up being layered over Bong's film. Naked now has a blown out, high-contrast monochromatic look, coming off far colder against the Criterion, and it is more than suiting for the film. Blacks can come off a bit darker but shadow details are still present and are rendered a little cleaner. Some night scenes, or early morning scenes also look darker or bluer on top of that, but again it looks how I might expect it to look.
So yes, it looks very different compared to Criterion’s, but based on Pope’s and Leigh’s comments in the included interview this is more than likely how it’s supposed to look: contrasty, grainy, and drained of colour, Pope feeling it has the “punky” vibe he was going for. And it’s been pulled off nicely, with BFI’s sharper scan and cleaner encode delivering it all in a rather stunning manner.
BFI includes two audio tracks, both in English: the original 2-channel stereo soundtrack in lossless PCM, and a remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. Both are fine, presenting excellent clarity and depth, dialogue and the film’s score (by Andrew Dickson) showing superb fidelity and range. I liked the 5.1 track, though, and may just stick with it in the future. The film is talky to say the least, dialogue keeping to the fronts, but I liked how the score was spread out through the environment with nice, subtle use of the lower frequency. I found it very effective.
BFI also includes a “descriptive audio” soundtrack.
BFI have thrown together a nice little special edition here, starting things off is an audio commentary featuring Leigh and actors Katrin Cartlidge and David Thewlis. It edits out any mention of it, but this is the same commentary found on Criterion’s DVD and Blu-ray editions, recorded originally in 1994 for their LaserDisc. Outside of the mention of Criterion being cut out the track does sound to be the same otherwise. I suspect the three have been recorded together (though it’s possible some of Leigh's comments come from a separate recording) and there is a lot of discussion around the improvisation process that Leigh employs with his actors, allowing them to work out the general story and scenarios, though he clarifies nothing is improvised onscreen; everything is developed before cameras roll. This leads to discussions between Cartlidge and Thewlis about developing the characters and relationships, and they get into what sound like the unwritten rules when working on Leigh’s films, like how they can’t discuss their characters as actors, only discovering details about the other’s character through normal character interactions. They also had to put a lot of studying in for their characters, Thewlis having to read the books Johnny would have read himself.
Leigh talks about all of this as well, but he spends most of the track going over technical details, talking about the performances, and addressing reactions and criticisms around the film. He even shares some amusing production stories, like when the police had to come in when, during the initial improvisations, Thewlis and Ewen Bremner broke out into a fight on the street, all in character of course. Also amusing, it sounds as though Bremner and Thewlis really did have a hard time understanding each other. The track (which I hadn’t listened to in about 10 years now) is probably one of the best pieces around how Leigh develops the film with his actors and is a must listen if one hasn't done so yet.
Also here, as with the Criterion edition, BFI includes Leigh’s 17-minute short film, The Short & Curlies, starring Thewlis, Alison Steadman, Sylvestra le Touzel, and Wendy Nottingham. Compared to Naked it feels like a light, fluffy comic bit, though for this viewing it had a gloomier feel. The story kind of focuses around the awkward relationship between Thewlis’ character and a pharmacist (chemist) that he's trying to woo over. Their interactions are awkward, even painful in a variety of ways (like, for starters, how Thewlis’ character has to insert unfunny punchlines in every conversation), but the characters are so vividly fleshed out, from their disappointments to their hang-ups, despite nothing direct ever really being said.
Wonderfully, it looks as though the film has also received a new restoration and is presented in high-definition, unlike Criterion’s. Sadly, Leigh’s commentary from that release hasn’t been ported over.
BFI then throws in a few unique supplements, starting with a Q&A featuring Leigh, conducted at a screening of his film All or Nothing at the National Film Theatre in 2002. Taking questions from the audience (presented as text since they’re inaudible) Leigh talks about how he develops his films, the look of them (where he does bring up the bleach-bypass process), and whether Hollywood stars have ever approached him. In answer to the last question he explains he deals with such instances with “extraordinary diplomacy” (though he admits there are certain actors he’d probably be able to work with).
Through that feature, which runs 45-minutes, Leigh talks at great length about his work and the development process that goes into each one, but Naked gets no mention, Topsy Turvy, High Hopes, and, of course, All or Nothing receiving airtime. To fill in for that BFI then includes a new interview featuring Leigh and director of photography Dick Pope discussing the film. It’s here that Pope talks a little about the new restoration, the film’s intended look, and the experimentation that went into it before the two discuss shooting the film, capturing the performances, and the critical and audience reactions to it. They also look back on the film as a time capsule of London in the 90’s, even covering what happened to some of the locations. It’s a great little reflection on the film.
BFI then closes the disc off with a new trailer advertising its restoration, along with a self-playing image gallery featuring production photos and posters from a handful of countries. BFI also includes a booklet featuring an essay by Caitlin Quinlan on the film’s structure, its toxic male characters, and how the film handles the two lead women in the film. This essay is then followed by an essay by Lou Thomas on how Leigh has presented London in his films. Notes around the disc’s supplements, written by Vic Pratt, close it off.
It might not be as packed as Criterion’s, but I found the supplements still provided a wonderful level of insight into Leigh’s development process and this film’s production specifically, Criterion’s old commentary still being especially good.
BFI’s new edition delivers some great supplementary material along with a far cleaner and sharper looking presentation in comparison to Criterion’s 10-year-old edition.