THE CURBSIDE CRITERION: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Put the Blu ray in the Basket

(We here at Hammer to Nail are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week, our “The Curbside Criterion” continues where HtN staff can trot out thoughts on the finest films ever made. Today Brad Cook enjoys the Criterion Blu ray release of Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs with a nice…nope. Not gonna do it.)

Remember when movies could be nationwide cultural events? Maybe it’s the “Get off my lawn!” in me, but it feels like our culture has become so fractured that, aside from perhaps a new superhero or Star Wars release, few films tear through our national psyche and leave touchstones in their wake.

Who doesn’t instantly know the origin of phrases like “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti,” even if they’ve never seen The Silence of the Lambs? I don’t recall any recent Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards giving us anything that iconic, but before you rev up your engines of indignation, let’s look at this passage from Amy Taubin that opens her essay included in this new Criterion Blu-ray:

“When Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs opened in theaters on Valentine’s Day 1991, it was clearly one of those rare movies that are at once of their moment and ahead of their time. Many years later, it remains both of those things.” Okay, to be fair, many Best Picture winners don’t dent our national psyche the way this movie did, so maybe the kids can hang on my lawn.

Also: What an awesome counter-intuitive release date by MGM. “Hey, honey, how about dinner and a movie for Valentine’s Day? There’s this new film with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins that apparently involves lambs or something.”

If you haven’t seen this film, I urge you to do so now. Drop whatever you’re doing – flee your kid’s Little League game, quit your job, leave your wife in the middle of giving birth – and watch it. Then come back and join us for a discussion of the bonus features found on this new double-disc Blu-ray edition from Criterion.

Criterion originally released The Silence of the Lambs on laserdisc in the mid-90s and then put out a DVD in 1998. Both editions had, among other things, a commentary track with director Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas. They were recorded separately, which was a smart move because it keeps the proceedings moving at a fast pace and ensures that there’s a constant flow of information.

It’s always been a highly regarded track that never found its way into subsequent home video releases from MGM, which caused that 1998 Criterion DVD to jump in value on eBay. Fans will appreciate its inclusion here, especially the ones who resisted paying exorbitant prices for the earlier Criterion disc.

Most of the rest of the bonus features were ported over from the two-DVD Collector’s Edition released by MGM in 2007, as well as their later Blu-ray edition, but I’m not 100% sure that everything found on those platters is here too, so you may want to hold onto those discs. However, there are a pair of new items, both of which are found on the first disc:

 

  • An 18-minute interview with film critic Maitland McDonagh, who talks about not only Hopkins’ seminal interpretation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter but also Mads Mikkelsen’s version on the Hannibal TV series. She also puts the character in the context of serial killers from film history, including as far back as Fritz Lang’s M.
  • A big batch of deleted material running 38 minutes total. While some of it was previously available, there’s much more than was found in prior home video releases. Much of it is comprised of alternate takes and little moments trimmed from scenes, so there’s nothing that screams “This should have been left in the film,” but it’s still interesting to watch. It concludes with three minutes of bloopers that help take the edge off.

On the second Blu-ray, we find:

 

  • Page to Screen (42 minutes): This 2002 episode from a Bravo TV series examines the movie’s journey from Thomas Harris’s novel to Ted Tally’s script. Peter Gallagher hosts the proceedings, which includes interviews with Tally, aforementioned former FBI agent John Douglas, and others. Harris, who is notoriously reclusive, does not appear, but Gene Hackman does pop in briefly to talk about his original involvement with the film.
  • Inside the Labyrinth (67 minutes): This tenth anniversary documentary features Taubin, Demme, Foster, Hopkins, Tally, producer Ron Bozman, studio executive Mike Medavoy (from now-defunct Orion Pictures), and others looking back on the film. Demme was a protégé of Roger Corman, who has a cameo in Silence and shows up here to talk about it.
  • Understanding the Madness (20 minutes): If you’re hoping to become an amateur Clarice Starling and delve into the twisted minds of serial killers, this is a good primer on the subject. It features several retired FBI agents talking about their profiling techniques. There’s no mention of the deep state, but this was created in 2008, before Obama turned the FBI into his personal attack apparatus. (Calm down, I’m just being snarky.)
  • Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster (53 minutes): Created by Laurent Bouzereau, who has put together some great documentaries about classic films, this is a beginning-to-end look at the making of the movie, complete with some interesting bits of trivia. Imagine a version of The Silence of the Lambs with Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery. Now try to un-imagine it.
  • Scoring “The Silence” (16 minutes): Composer Howard Shore talks about his approach to scoring the film and how he used the music to complement what was happening on screen.
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette (9 minutes): This is one of those featurettes that were created way back when to hype movies for theater owners without really delving too deep into them. It’s worth watching as an historical artifact, though.
  • Storyboards (5 minutes): This includes a big batch of storyboards with musical accompaniment.

The standard-issue Criterion booklet included here has the aforementioned Taubin essay as well as Thomas Harris’s introductions for new printings of The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon and an interview with Jonathan Demme published in Film Comment in January 1991, just as the movie was about to premiere. There’s also an introduction written by Jodie Foster last November.

– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)

 

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