The Virgin Suicides
With this debut feature, Sofia Coppola announced her singular vision, exploring the aesthetics of femininity while illuminating the interior lives of young women. An adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s highly acclaimed first novel, The Virgin Suicides conjures the ineffable melancholy of teenage longing and ennui in its story of the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, stifled by the rules of their overprotective religious parents—as told through the collective memory of a group of men who were boys at the time and still yearn to understand what happened. Evoking its 1970s suburban setting through ethereal cinematography by Ed Lachman and an atmospheric score by Air, and featuring a magnetic performance by Kirsten Dunst, the film secured a place for its director in the landscape of American independent cinema and has become a coming-of-age touchstone.
The Criterion Collection upgrades their release for Sofia Coppola’s debut feature The Virgin Suicides to 4K UHD, presenting the film on a dual-layer BD-66 disc in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation with HDR10 utilizes the same 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original negative that was the basis for Criterion’s previous Blu-ray and DVD editions. Criterion also includes a second standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc providing a 1080p presentation for the film alongside this release’s special features. As far as I can see this bonus disc is the exact same one used for the previous Blu-ray release.
As evidenced with Criterion’s prior Blu-ray edition the restoration looks wonderful, no damage to speak of outside of footage that intentionally has a home movie look applied to it, definition dropping a bit and featuring some scratches and marks. Outside of those few moments the image is always crisp, clear and highly detailed, with every fine little detail and texture rendered gorgeously to the screen.
It’s a surprising title for Criterion to release on 4K, and on first glance it’s fair to think that there isn’t that much of an upgrade over the Blu-ray, but where the improvements/upgrade ultimately show is in the rendering of the film’s colours. When I revisited the film on the Blu-ray I was surprised by how much bolder the film’s colours are rendered, that release delivering some unbelievably intense reds, oranges, blues, greens, and more, all depending on the scene, and putting the old Paramount DVD’s colours to shame. Here they have been taken up yet another notch thanks to HDR10’s wider colour gamut and we get far more range in those reds and oranges, and I’d even say in the blues and greens. I also found sblacks that maybe came off a little murky in places in the old high-def presentation come out richer and deeper here with better shadow detail, vastly improving the look of the blue-tinted scene where Kirsten Dunst’s character wakes up alone on a school football field. Every instance of colour in this film, from the interiors and costumes to the filters applied throughout, looks far richer with smoother blending. The image really is a stunner in this respect.
Interestingly HDR was only applied to utilize the wider range of colours with no desire to enhance the highlights, the MaxCLL topping out at 106 nits and the MaxFALL limited to 68, all in the range of any standard presentation. Because of this nothing comes off “hot,” so to say, and the image can look darker in places compared to the standard high-def presentation. But this isn't at all an issue and is in fact still an improvement because, as mentioned previously, the black levels are cleaner with wider range in the shadows, so all of the details within them end up coming out a little clearer than they did in the high-definition presentation.
Concerns have come up online over compression, and though it’s there in screengrabs I can’t say the issue translated to any noticeable problem when viewed on a television. I thought the film’s very fine grain was rendered well, keeping a mostly natural look, and no significant digital artifacts popped up. In the end I still thought this new 4K presentation delivered a terrific photographic look and, much to my surprise, it ends up offering a superb upgrade over Criterion’s previous Blu-ray.
[SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc and converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes. Due to technical difficulties screen grabs could only be taken from the first 46-minutes of the film.]
As they did with the Blu-ray edition Criterion includes a 5.1 surround soundtrack presented in DTS-HD MA. The film is not a loud one, but it does have an interesting sound mix thanks to Air’s score and 70’s soundtrack, the latter of which can get incredibly loud. Air’s score is adeptly mixed between all five speakers with a subtle use of bass in the lower frequency, bringing a lingering quality to the track. Range is impressive between the lows and highs, and distortion is never an issue. Dialogue is clear and sharp and there are no instances of damage. Very effective when all is said and done.
As with all of Criterion’s 4K editions up to this point the 4K disc does not include any video supplements, all of them offered up on the included standard Blu-ray disc that also features a 1080p presentation for the film. This disc appears to be the exact same disc from the 2018 Blu-ray edition and the features again start with the 26-minute making-of called Revisiting “The Virgin Suicides.” Yet again, the short documentary features interviews with director Sofia Coppola, actors Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett, and cinematographer Ed Lachman. Lachman doesn’t get a lot of screen time, his comments limited mostly to how he and Coppola captured the final look, with the rest of the piece is evenly distributed between the other participants. The film interestingly sounds to have come about almost by accident for Coppola, who adapted the book to a screenplay for fun after hearing there was already a film version of the novel in the works. It sounds as though she did it just to see if she could do it and to also help visualize how she would adapt the book herself. Despite no interest in becoming a director she ended up sort of falling into the project after all previous efforts to adapt it fell apart. From here she starts talking about the adaptation process where she chose what themes from the novel she would focus on and how she wanted to translate specific visual from the book that struck her (a half-eaten sandwich on the stairs gets mentioned a few times in the supplements on this release). The two actors talk about their characters and each other (Hartnett admired Dunst’s keen understanding of the film, something he feels he lacked at the time), before recalling some humourous moments that stick out to them, including Hartnett commenting a bit on his wig in the film. It feels a bit short, and it’s a shame that Kathleen Turner and James Woods didn’t/couldn’t participate, but it’s a great reflection on the film.
The novel’s author, Jeffrey Eugenides, next pops up to share his thoughts on the adaptation and explain what it’s like, as an author, to see your work put up on the screen. I get the sense authors usually dislike seeing their work adapted (the changes grate them) though Eugenides realizes the two mediums are different and that adaptations will veer off from the source, especially when it is being filtered through the director, likening a film adaptation to the “dream” a novel would have. He makes interesting comments on what a film adaptation does for the original source, like how once a film comes out any future readers will more than likely picture the actors in the film as the respective characters in the book, but the film and novel are still very much separate. His influences for the novel come up (not surprisingly the characters in here are based on actual people) and he comments on the film, its differences, and what he admires about it (he was a big fan of Hartnett, whom he feels embodied Trip Fontaine to an perfect degree). Eugenides appears briefly in an archival feature on here, mentioning a few of the same things but I found this a very discerning discussion on adaptations from the author’s perspective.
Still the best feature on here is a video discussion with writer and Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson. The film—and eventually the novel—had a huge impact on Gevinson when she first saw it in the eighth grade, leading her in 2012 to create her own little Fanzine about it (in the days of the internet she felt a physical item, typed up and complete with photos, suit the nostalgic nature of the film). Between reading passages from it, where she cemented a lot of her feelings and thoughts on the film, she explains how the film captured what she was going through at the time and how specific themes resonated with her. She even recounts the imagery that stuck out to her, including that sandwich that gets mentioned elsewhere in the features. I was disappointed initially when the supplements suggested a lack of academic material, but Gevinson contribution more than fills in the gap nicely, even with a brisk 13-minute runtime.
Coppola’s 1998 short film Lick the Star is also included. The 14-minute film does work a bit as a lead-up to The Virgin Suicides, the young director feeling not only to be finding her voice but to also see whether she can actually pull off making a movie in the first place. It focuses on a group of girls and a plan to get back at the boys in the school, though it uses this fairly dark plot (it involves rat poison) to instead look at the politics and/or resentments that come up in various groups/cliques at school, which leads to the group turning on the “leader.” The film is a bit rough but assuredly made, encompassing that same ghostly quality found in The Virgin Suicides, though in black and white. Impressively, outside of some minor mold stains, this has been thoroughly restored and looks shockingly good here.
The rest of the on-disc supplements initially appears on the Paramount DVD. The 23-minute Making of “The Virgin Suicides” is here, which is a better-than-average studio produced making-of made by Sofia Coppola’s mother, Eleanor. James Woods and Kathleen Turner show up here, with Woods obviously enamored by both the film and the young director, and we also get footage of Eugenides and Hartnett talking about Trip. Also here is the music video for Air’s “Playground Love”, directed by Sofia and Ramon Coppola, and it’s the best video I’ve seen about a chewed-up piece of gum looking for love (it also fakes behind-the-scene footage of the production). 2 trailers close the disc, and the included insert features an excellent essay by Megan Abbott on Coppola’s directorial debut and the adaptation from the book.
Yet again it may not look like a lot of material has been included here (and I’m still a little surprised there’s no commentary) but it’s all especially well made with Gevinson’s contribution elevating things quite a bit.
The film’s colours receive a remarkable boost thanks to the improved range offered up by this 4K presentation.