Home Video of the Week: Virginia Is for Lovers: Criterion’s Something Wild

From the first beats of David y Celia’s “Loco de Amor,” which accompany a shot of the early morning New York City skyline, it’s very clear that Something Wild  (1986) is not your average film. This song, much like the rest of the film’s musical accompaniment, becomes part of the diegetic and non-diegetic architecture. It begins on the outside and ends up in the main story—in this circumstance, a boombox on a passing character’s shoulder. This song, David Byrne’s first Latin-pop hybrid, and the concept that the skyline changes from dark to light and water/nature to city/metropolis set up the entire film, which is, in fact, the texture of the characters of Charlie and Lulu, and their story. Using the aural backdrop, which is a chaotic mix of reggae and pop, Americana and Latin, punk and New Wave, Something Wild is a film that posits the question: Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?

Director Jonathan Demme calls Something Wild an “attempt to marry screwball comedy with film noir,” and this description can’t be more apropos. With its quirky dialogue and offbeat character portrayals, one might say that Something Wild has qualities reminiscent of something directed by Howard Hawks, such as Bringing up Baby (1938) or Ball of Fire (1941) perhaps. However, as the film moves forward, and the mood and tone darken significantly, it relinquishes all comedy…and yet not the screwball? It becomes screwball noir. The darkness pervades, and yet the beautiful underlying characters that you have come to enjoy don’t disappear. Charlie (Jeff Daniels) and Lulu (Melanie Griffith) are now woven into a different patch of the quilt, but the blanket is still whole. Featuring cameos by John Waters and John Sayles, the first film performance of Ray Liotta, and a soundtrack that is as idiosyncratic and lovable as the film’s characters, Something Wild goes exactly where you think it won’t, but does so in such a way that you simply can’t get enough of it.

The Criterion Edition of Something Wild was released in May of 2011, and it’s really quite beautiful. It was supervised by director Jonathan Demme and director of photography Tak Fujimoto, who took some care putting it together. A brand-new high-definition digital transfer, it was telecined from a 35mm interpositive, struck from the original camera negative. Any bits of dirt, dust, scratches, splices, flicker, or other artifacts were removed manually. Of equal importance, especially for a film as music-dependent as this, is that the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic track.

The disc has two interview tracks on it: one from director Jonathan Demme and one from writer E. Max Frye. Demme discusses casting choices, revealing that he had considered Kevin Kline for the part of Charlie Driggs. He also states that there really was no question about Melanie Griffith playing Lulu (Brian DePalma’s Body Double (1984) had sold him, solidifying the neo-noir influence, once more)—she just was Lulu. Writer E. Max Frye, among other things, discusses the genesis of the film. Living in the East Village, he said, you see a lot. One night he saw a couple in a bar—a business man and a girl covered in tattoos—and thought: What could bring two such different people together?

The only thing that I would have like to have seen on this disc would have been a commentary track, especially since the Demme interview makes it so abundantly clear that he adores Something Wild. The stories that he tells and the lengths that he went to in order to make the film happen, both aurally and visually, are obvious. But does the lack of a commentary track ruin my enjoyment of the disc? Not in the slightest. I am perfectly content to just sing along with X and the Feelies. However, it would have been a lovely addition to the wonderful interview tracks and the fantastic booklet with David Thompson’s essay.

In total, Criterion did a lovely job with this disc. There’s really nothing I like better than being back in the arms of this film. When I watch Something Wild, I become engaged with my favorite punk-rock fairytale with teeth. It’s simply one of the best stories of opposites-attract out there—my ultimate screwball noir. And for a gal who’s a little on the wild side herself, I’ll take this kind of different/daring/dangerous film any day.

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