Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Pedro Almodóvar’s colorful and controversial tribute to the pleasures and perils of Stockholm syndrome, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is a rambunctious dark comedy starring Antonio Banderas as an unbalanced but alluring ex-mental-patient and Victoria Abril as the B-movie and former porn star he takes prisoner in the hopes of convincing her to marry him. A highly unconventional romance that came on the spike heels of Almodóvar’s international sensation Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, this is a splashy, sexy central work in the career of one of the world’s most beloved and provocative auteurs, radiantly shot by the director’s great cinematographer, José Luis Alcaine.
Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! makes its North American Blu-ray debut through Criterion’s new dual-format edition, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1. The dual-layer Blu-ray presents a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer and the included dual-layer DVD holds a standard-definition version enhanced for widescreen versions.
Almodovar’s film is bright and colourful and both the Blu-ray and DVD handle this aspect very well (the Blu-ray more so, particularly in the reds and oranges, which are plentiful.) The colours are vivid and bold, nicely saturated and completely natural. Blacks are fairly good, with a few details crushed out in some of the darker scenes, but as a whole they’re decent. The level of detail is strong in every scene, particularly close-ups, and film grain remains, which gets heavy in a few places. The print is in excellent condition and looks to have been thoroughly cleaned, and I don’t recall any sort of blemish.
Despite the DVD being a little fuzzier in comparison, all in all the new transfer, on both the DVD and Blu-ray, gives the film a vibrant shot of life.
The film’s 5.1 surround track nicely serves the film and Ennio Morricone’s score quite well. Dialogue is mixed a bit low but still audible, and the surrounds nicely handle music and some ambient noise, even if the film remains quite front heavy. Range isn’t very dynamic, but the track is far from flat and volume levels are mixed well.
A bit disappointing, though, are subtitle translations. Within the first 19-minutes there were three glaring issues I noticed with lines like “That society’s membership card,” “Kids, I have to talk you,” and finally “First take off your mask and let me see me your face.” I didn’t notice any other questionable translations after this but the ones I noticed were fairly glaring.
Criterion starts off the supplements with a new 28-minute documentary Untied! Reflections on Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, featuring interviews with Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar, production manager Esther García, cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, and actors Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles León, and Rossy de Palma. It’s a simple but fairly entertaining and informative feature, covering the progression of the project, which had fairly intriguing beginnings that can be traced back to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! experiencing great “financial ease” thanks to the success of that film. Almodóvar talks about the story and the characters, with both Abril and Banderas talking about their respective parts, while everyone goes over the look of the film, what it was like working with the director, and share their own stories from the set, as well as problems (the tape used on Abril’s mouth caused cold sores for example.) For what it is—a talking heads piece—it’s fine and gives a decent overview of the production, but isn’t much more than that.
Surprisingly a better feature turns out to be an older 2003 video (shot for a previous DVD edition I assume) featuring Pedro Almodóvar and Antonio Banderas talking to one another about their work with each other and the success of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down which the two address as the film that launched Banderas’ career in America. This feature felt more personal, where the previous one felt more sterile and by the book, probably not helped by the fact everyone was recorded separately. With the two together you get a far more fun interview, with Almodóvar seeming to be more open and amusingly crude. The two also get into great detail about the various controversies this film (and others the two worked on) experienced, bothered by the fact that some sex and nudity will cause such an uproar, but horrific violence doesn’t. It’s an entertaining and enlightening conversation between two old friends, with both promising to work together again (they of course would with The Skin I Live In in 2011.) A nice addition, all too short at 25-minutes.
Also surprisingly good is an interview with Sony Pictures Classics co-founder Michael Barker, who offers a wonderful history on his working relationship with Almodóvar and the distribution of his films. He covers their history from Orion Classics picking up Women on the Verge… to his most recent offerings, Barker also explaining what draws him to his films. He also covers the fun he has in trying to distribute them and the joy he would experience in knowing he was able to get the director’s films to a new audience. I was expecting a studio stiff but it’s a rather energetic 15-minute interview.
Criterion then includes a fun feature with a 4-minute video montage presenting the cast singing the then-Spanish-hit Resistere during the film’s premiere party. The disc then closes with the film’s Spanish theatrical trailer. The included booklet features an excerpt from the film’s press book where Almodóvar writes about the film and its subject, followed by a discussion between critic Kent Jones and director Wes Anderson about Almodóvar and his ranking amongst such filmmakers as Bergman and Buñuel. The booklet closes with the reprint of an interview done with Almodóvar just as production on the film began. The whole booklet is an excellent read.
It’s a small set of supplements and the lack of academic material, or more material on the controversies around the film (as mentioned in some of the features it was one of the films that ushered in the NC-17 and is still controversial to this day after a teacher found themselves in trouble for showing it in class not too long ago) seems somewhat surprising, but I enjoyed going through what we do get.
The supplements are enjoyable enough but the bright and colourful transfer makes the release a must for admirers. I’m hoping Criterion gets the chance to release more of the director’s work.