The Passion of Darkly Noon
Described by critic Mark Kermode as an "extraordinary filmmaker" and "one of the UK's most imaginative talents", visionary British director Philip Ridley followed his sensational debut The Reflecting Skin with another surreal incursion into the dark heart of the 'American dream' in The Passion of Darkly Noon. Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) is the sole survivor of a military-style attack on an isolated religious community. Stumbling through a forest in a daze, he is rescued by the free-spirited and enigmatic Callie (Ashley Judd). Darkly finds himself feeling strange new desires for Callie as she nurses him back to health... only to watch her jump into the arms of her returning mute lover Clay (Viggo Mortensen). Lost in the woods with only his fundamentalist upbringing to make sense of his unrequited passions, Darkly soon descends into an explosive and lethal rage. Now available for the first time worldwide on Blu-ray™, Ridley's talent for spellbinding, hallucinogenic dream imagery is on full display in a glittering new transfer of his most formally inventive and electrifying film. The mesmerising soundtrack includes two songs co-written by Ridley for the film, "Look What You've Done (To My Skin)" performed by Gavin Friday and "Who Will Love Me Now?" performed by PJ Harvey.
Arrow Video presents Philip Ridley’s second feature, The Passion of Darkly Noon, on Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 2K restoration performed by Arrow, which comes from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative.
I’m familiar with Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin but I must confess I had never heard of The Passion of Darkly Noon before Arrow hinted at releasing it (and I had to take a triple take when I looked at the cast). I didn’t have high expectations for the presentation but wow, did Arrow ever go all out on its restoration, with the film looking as though it could have been filmed within the last few years.
The film has a very warm look, pushing the yellows to a point where they look closer to gold. It’s a pretty intense look (and intentional as Ridley confirms on the included commentary) and I’m impressed at how well the digital encode handles it; details don’t get lost and the colours and objects never appear to bloom. This ends up causing other colours to take on the more yellow-ish, warmer look, but they’re still saturated well, and this lean doesn’t appear to harm any other aspects of the presentation. Black levels are strong, rich and inky for most of the film, but the intensity of the ending, which is loaded with reds and more bright yellows, seems to crush them out a little bit, though it could be inherent in the original photography.
The image is also incredibly sharp and highly detailed. Most of the film takes place in the woods, and all of the trees and vegetation are cleanly rendered in both close-ups and long shots, never faltering in this regard. Film grain is present and rendered cleanly, aiding in the clarity of the image. The film is also, much to my surprise, free of damage. Considering the general obscurity (despite the stars in the film) I figured the materials would have been in horrible condition but they are in excellent condition and it looks like if there were any blemishes they’ve been cleaned up.
It’s a stunning looking image, handling the intense look without issue. It’s a gorgeous restoration and final presentation.
Arrow includes two audio tracks: a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround track and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation. I listened to the 5.1 surround track and only sampled the 2.0 one.
The film has a very intriguing electronic score that manages to take full effect of the surround set-up. Notes and beats bounce around between speakers to great effect with incredible clarity and depth, and the score also has some impressive highs without coming off edgy or screeching. Dialogue sticks mostly to the fronts, panning cleanly when needed, and is clear and intelligible with excellent fidelity. There are a handful of action scenes, but the most intense moments occur during the climax, and it gets loud and does offer some great surround effects.
Comparing a handful of moments the 2.0 track also sounds fine itself, I just found the surround track more immersive and creative in its mix.
Arrow does a wonderful job giving the film its due through a nice selection of special features. Following an isolated score (that apparently features unused bits, which I’m sure it does, but I couldn’t really pick them out) is a new audio commentary by writer/director Philip Ridley. Ridley goes over the film’s production history, covering how the idea came to be, getting the production together, casting, and filming, but he spends most of the time explaining the reasoning behind the choices he made, from the film’s yellow colours to his choices in framing. He also explains story elements that aren’t explicitly stated in the film, just hinted at (for example he likes to imagine that there could be some apocalyptic scenario going on outside of the film’s central, isolated setting), how he dealt with his limited budget and still get what he wanted (for the most part), and then how the film’s score was developed. It can be a wee-bit dry in places, but I was a little bewildered by the film upon first viewing it and Ridley’s comments helped me better understand what he was doing with the film.
To further aid in decoding the film Arrow also provides a new video essay by James Flower called American Dreams: Inside the Mind of Philip Ridley. The essay offers an overview of Ridley’s work, from his art to writings, plays, and then his three films, with the focus primarily on The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon. The common denominator between the two films in this case is that both take place in America (though one was filmed in Canada, the other in Germany) and both look at the violence seething underneath, with Passion having (obviously) a focus on religious fundamentalism (I wasn’t surprised to learn how Noon’s backstory in Passion was based on the Waco stand-off). The feature is a well edited analysis on the common themes and the use of imagery in the film (which also spends some time look at Ridley’s work since).
Arrow has then recorded a number of interviews with members of the film’s crew, including cinematographer John De Borman (about 22-minutes), editor Les Healey (about 16-minutes), and composer Nick Bicât (about 20-minutes). Though they’re all dryly edited all three do offer interesting details on how each collaborated with Ridley in getting the desired look, feel, and sound for the film. Though details about getting the film’s “hot” look, and how the film was edited (with temporary music) do prove interesting, Bicât’s contribution on the process that went behind the score was the more fascinating of the three.
Arrow then, interestingly enough, ports over a special feature from Soda Pictures’ release for The Reflecting Skin called Dreaming Darkley featuring interviews with Ridley, Bicât, and Viggo Mortensen, with the three covering their collaboration after The Reflecting Skin. Though Ridley and Bicât cover things well enough in other features on the disc, the two do cover more about the music in the film, and Mortensen talks about his character and his preparation that went into being a mute. I’m surprised Arrow bothered to go to the trouble to get this feature, which was made for another film for another label, but I appreciate its inclusion all the same.
The disc then closes with pre-shoot music demos, three samplings of music recorded early in to development (not the same as the finished product) by Bicât and played on location while filming to provide the cast and crew with the appropriate mood. Arrow also includes the film’s theatrical trailer and an image gallery loaded with production photos and home video art, from VHS to Blu-ray. Early printings also come with an O-slip and a booklet, the booklet featuring a lengthy essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, which covers all three of Ridley’s films.
Though it’s a shame Arrow didn’t get new interviews with any of the cast, they have still put together a solid set of features for this edition. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the film but I do have a far better understanding of what Ridley was working to accomplish and can appreciate it on that level.
It’s an odd film, and one that was probably doomed to be forgotten, yet Arrow has gone out of their way to save it, giving it a stunning presentation and a rich set of features.