Subconscious Cruelty (R2 DVD)
Reviwed by Johnny Butane
Starring Brea Asher, Ivaylo Founev, Eric Pettigrew
Directed by Karim Hussain
Released by Sazuma Trading
Very few movies made in this day and age are able to attain the cult status that Subconscious Cruelty has. Made over the period of almost a decade, this semi-anthology film that faces down many common taboos to attempt to give an insight into what makes us human and what drives our obsessions is near legendary in some circles. Since it’s completion in 1999, it’s faced all manner of censorship issues in countries all over the world, being banned from some places and awarded from others.
Finally, the Austrian company Sazuma Trading has given the film a beautiful, fantastically done DVD release that not only makes the film look and sound as good as possible, but also gives so many extras and behind the scenes information you feel like you were a part of making it.
First off, let’s look at the little things that make this DVD so well done. When you first put in either disc one or disc two, after the Sazuma title graphic sequence you’re given the option for either German or English. This isn’t for just the film or the audio, it’s for the entire menu presentation, all the text interviews, everything. For anyone that watches DVDs from other countries on a regular basis you can appreciate what a great option this is. It’s really a no-brainer if you want cross appeal for your DVD release, but this is the first time I’ve seen it done.
Once you’re into the actual menu itself, you also get the option to turn off the menu transitions, which as you know can be kind of annoying when you’re jumping around the disc a lot. Again, it’s a little thing, but something I’ve never seen done before and shows how important the DVD experience is to Sazuma.
Disc One features the uncut and uncensored version of the film (with an intro by Hussain), presented in it’s original full frame 1.33:1 transfer, with the option for a "letterbox" 1.66:1 version, as well, the latter of which is encoded in Ultrabit. Both of them look great, certainly far better than the old VHS copy we had, despite the fact it was shot on 16mm. The audio is an impressive 5.1 surround mix that breathes more life into the film than I had thought possible from a simple audio enhancement. The original 2.0 stereo mix is available as well, with subtitle options in English, German, and Dutch.
Disc Two is where the DVD really shines, though. The most prominent feature is the 77-minute making-off featurette "A Subconscious Cruelty Christmas", created for the Japanese distributors of the film. This documentary gives a look at the long and involved process that went into making the movie itself, featuring interviews with most of the principle cast, including the "sister" from the second part of the film, who is a lot more centered than I expected given what she went through in the movie. The doc is broken into chapters detailing the creation of almost every section of the movie, featuring interviews with producer Mitch Davis and director Karrim Hussain, who is more than happy to detail his incredible obsession with getting the film done and how he treated the finished version once it was completed. At one point he tells the story of a huge winter storm in Montreal when pipes were frozen all over the city. The only person he knew with a working shower was a friend on the other side of town and, rather than be parted from the many reels of film that made up the finished version of Subconscious Cruelty, he loaded them into a military bag and carried them with him over to his friends house on foot. If that’s not obsession, I don’t know what is.
Also featured is the short film producer Mitch Davis directed prior to Cruetly, "Divided Into Zero" with an introduction by the director. It’s a 33-minute film that details the surrealistic life of a child killer, showing his 70-year life span and how he ultimately becomes the evil creature that tortures children. This is not something for the weak minded, as it’s very easy to take the wrong way, so I recommend reading the text interview done with Mitch in which he explains his motivation behind making the film first. Ultimately the film was a way for him to tell a story of addiction without the usual trappings. Watch this at your own risk.
There’s also a 12-minute making of featurette for "Divided" consisting of camcorder footage shot by someone on the crew during the film’s creation. Not really all that insightful, but it makes for a complete package. A trailer and some clips from Davis’ earlier short films as well round out this sub-feature.
"La Dernire Voix" ("The City Without Windows"), a short film co-directed by Hussain, is another bonus, shot in 2002 as a sister film to his second feature, Ascension. It’s a subtle sci-fi tale about a future in which all the windows in a city disappear and it rains non-stop. Essentially a story of the importance and futility of human communication, "Windows" is a cool little film that shows how much Hussain has matured since Cruelty, both as a filmmaker and a story teller.
Finally we have an unreleased audio track, coming in at 9-minutes, a photo gallery, and the Rick Tremble comic strip review of Subconscious Cruelty, originally featured in the Montreal Mirror but more readily available in the FAB Press release Rick Trembles’ Motion Picture Purgatory (review). Inside the over-sized DVD package is a booklet called "Transgression & Redemption?", which is a essay-like study of the works of Hussain and Davis written by Marcus Stielegger that gives even more insight into the minds behind Cruelty.
No matter what your opinion of the movie might be (personally it seemed like an over-pretentious art film to me at first, though I view it in a different light now that I’ve seen all the extras on this disc) this DVD is worth owning if you’ve got even a mild interest in it. The disc gives a very complete and well-rounded vision of the filmmaker and producer who have been at the forefront of the controversy surrounding it, and Sazuma has done a simply fantastic job of delivering the complete story from beginning to end from the mouths and actions of those who made it. This release is a great example of how DVD should be done, and because of it I can’t wait to see what Sazuma comes out with next.
For more on Hussain and Davis' production company, Infliction Films, be sure to visit their official site here!
4 1/2 out of 5
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