Though she went on to create a string of brilliant films, Jane Campion will always be remembered for her stunning debut feature, Sweetie, which focuses on the hazardous relationship between the buttoned-down, superstitious Kay and her rampaging, devil-may-care sister, Sweetie—and on their family’s profoundly rotten roots. A feast of colorful photography and captivating, idiosyncratic characters, the tough and tender Sweetie heralded the emergence of this gifted director, as well as a renaissance of Australian cinema, which would take the film world by storm in the nineties.
Jane Campion’s debut feature Sweetie gets a surprisingly early upgrade to Blu-ray, presented with a new 1080p/24hz hi-def transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc.
Criterion’s original DVD had a pretty impressive standard-def transfer but the hi-def one found on this Blu-ray manages to still outshine it, even though I suspect it’s really the same transfer that was downscaled for the DVD. The original DVD was pretty clean with only some minor noise noticeable and a strong amount of detail. The upgrade here is even cleaner and sharper, much more film-like. Other than a couple of moments where there looks to be some noise in darker areas of the screen the image never waivers, and delivers a high level of detail throughout. Film grain remains intact and is noticeable but never overly so. The film’s bright and creative colour scheme is rendered perfectly without a hitch, and blacks remain deep and inky without any loss of detail.
Again, like the DVD, there are only some minor blemishes remaining but the print looks to have been cleaned up substantially. In all, even though the DVD managed to look pretty good, this Blu-ray offers a stunning upgrade in the video department.
Sweetie has an incredible sound design, almost dreamy or ethereal and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track delivers it beautifully. Dialogue is clear, sticking mostly to the center but does spread between the fronts, but it’s the use of music and sound effects which really makes the track shine. Harmonies that occur throughout sneak around to the rear speakers, moving subtly but naturally between them, and sound effects do the same. It’s such a subtle track you almost don’t notice it, but you’re constantly surrounded with music or effects and it really manages to draw you in. On top of that the track is crystal clear, one of the cleanest tracks I’ve yet heard from Criterion.
Really just a gorgeous presentation, managing to be even more effective than Criterion’s solid Dolby Digital presentation on the DVD.
Everything from the original DVD makes its way over to the Blu-ray, starting with the audio commentary by director Jane Campion, cinematographer Sally Bongers, and co-writer Gerard Lee. Campion and Bongers open the first 30-minutes or so of the track (why Lee is missing initially I’m unsure, the two women promising he’ll show up eventually) and spend a good portion of their alone time talking about the techniques used in the film including the editing and the framing, which can apparently be attributed partially to the fact Bongers is afraid to move the camera. Once Lee shows up the focus shifts primarily over to the writing of the film and the basis of the two protagonists, who are based on Lee and Campion, a couple at the time, to some extent (though Lee says that since the film is ultimately through Campion’s eyes, and the character of Louis, who is based on Lee, has been skewered a bit from how he wrote him, and probably represents how Campion saw Lee). They also examine the characters, the motivations, and things people have taken from the film (like a scene where some saw the possibility an incestuous relationship had taken place, though I do like Campion’s explanation for the scene.) Not too surprisingly the track is heavily technical and the participants are more concerned about the actual production, but it’s an incredibly engaging, surprisingly loose (occasionally funny) commentary that’s worth listening to if you’re fond of the film or Campion’s work in general.
Following this is Making Sweetie, a 23-minute conversation between actresses Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston. The two carry on a fairly lively conversation about the making of the film, from when they first joined the cast to the release at Cannes (where the film was unsurprisingly met with “boos”). They talk in great detail about the specific blocking of sequences, and the limitations they faced because of Campion’s vision, and unsurprisingly they were shocked with how the final film turned out (they admit they didn’t really understand it while filming). They also talk a bit about the Australian film industry then and now and then the acceptance of the film in Australia and abroad (it was apparently far more popular outside of Australia.) It’s actually a very breezy and funny piece, and it offers an extension to the commentary track.
Criterion next includes a 3 short films by Campion, starting with the 9-minute An Exercise in Discipline: Peel, which follows a man, his son, and the boy’s aunt on a road trip of some sort, which explodes into a fairly ridiculous battle of wills after the boy discards of orange peels out the passenger window. It’s an interesting look at a dysfunctional family, with some intriguing camera shots and framing, creating an almost unnerving experience at times. The 12-minute Passionless Moments is probably my favourite of the three, a rather humourous, clever and quick look at ten people and the meaningless moments that most take for granted but seem to be important, maybe even defining to the people within the film. And then finally there is the 26-minute A Girl’s Own Story, which is more narratively driven than the other three, focusing around a group of school girls in the 60’s and their experiences which I won’t really spoil here. Decent though still manages to feel a little long, but again the photography and style are a sign of things to come from the director.
We then get an archival interview of sorts from 1989 (looking to have been made for an Australian film school) between Jane Campion and critic Peter Thompson, under the heading Jane Campion: The Film School Years. Here, for 19-minutes, Campion talks about her love of making films (which doesn’t feel like work) and talks about her short features. Brief, with some nice analysis, but Campion comes off very passionate and makes the interview a much more engaging affair than it probably should be.
Next is a production gallery featuring about 40-50 photos from the production. It has a weird set-up that I’ve never seen before: While you can flip through the photos using the arrow keys on your remote it will actually automatically flip to the next photo after 5-minutes. Looking into it further it appears to be set up as a 3 hour and 45-minute video segment. Not sure why it’s set up like this but I can’t see much of a purpose for it.
The disc then closes with the film’s 2-minute theatrical trailer. The booklet then looks to have the same essay by Dana Polan on the film and Campion’s work in general.
I would have expected deleted scenes but we still get a very engaging set of supplements for the film, all of which offer a unique look into the making of the film, and Campion’s development of her technique through her shorts which would lead up to Sweetie.
Surprisingly great Blu-ray release. I was shocked Criterion announced this one as an upgrade so soon but it really is a great edition. The picture is marvelous, one of the best from Criterion, and the incredible audio presentation really catapults one into this weird and unique (and maybe even wonderful) film.