Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Three DVDs of C.R.A.Z.Y.

So there are at least three different editions of Jean-Marc Vallée’s film C.R.A.Z.Y. on DVD: there’s the standard edition, a collector’s edition and a Blu-ray. Why this is important is that to fully appreciate its array of special features you would need all three of them.

The standard edition is the only DVD that comes with the audio commentaries, which includes ones by Vallée, the sound designer Martin Pinsonnault and production designer Patrice Bricault-Vermette, and two other featurettes C.R.A.Z.Y. sur le plateau and C.R.A.Z.Y. à Venise. The Collector’s Edition and the Blu-ray share many of the same special features: Making of featurettes on the director Jean-Marc Vallée, the producer Pierre Even, and with the actors; along with separate featurettes Émile’s audition, Visual effects, Filming in Morocco and deleted scenes. With the difference between the two is that the collector’s edition comes with a special booklet and the Blu-ray has the best image quality out of all of them. I’ll elaborate more fully on these special features later.

But that’s not all. To best appreciate the Jean-Marc Vallée’s film there are some great books that elaborate on its meaning. First off there’s the C.R.A.Z.Y scénario (Éditions Somme Toute) with the script, one of Vallée’s rare essays (a manifesto on his filmmaking) and rare photographs from the production. Secondly Robert Schwartzwald’s new study on C.R.A.Z.Y. as part of the Queer Film Classic series. And finally Vallée’s early film professor Yves Lever’s book L’analyse filmique (a valuable resource for a young Vallée when he was becoming a filmmaker). This last book might be the most important of them all because it attempts to get to the essentials of Jean-Marc Vallée’s art: the mise en scène.

Isn't this not what Vallée, Pinsonnault and Bricault-Vermette are actually trying to articulate throughout their audio commentaries? And what makes their behind the scenes stories so fascinating is how it either shows or describes the creation of filmmaking into the mise en scène.

If Jean-Marc Vallée is a private filmmaker – reluctant to take away from the experience of watching his films by talking about them; and annoyed by the repetitive nature of promotion (usually with uncaring film critics) – then these commentaries and featurettes show him at his most open: generous, filled with energy and emotion, and willing to do anything to protect his vision.

But then why is it necessary to divide these features throughout different DVDs? I first heard of the collector’s edition through the standard edition audio commentary where Vallée mentions the deleted scenes (which aren't included). But if you only owned the collector’s edition then you wouldn’t have access to his audio commentary. Something about this situation just doesn’t make sense.

I would propose a couple of reasons for these complications: among the nine full-length features in his oeuvre (and among these only six that he acknowledges as his films) there is only two of them with audio commentaries: C.R.A.Z.Y. and Wild. Apparently Vallée recorded an audio commentary for Café de flore, which was never included on the DVD release. His newest feature Demolition doesn’t even include an audio commentary. 

So those who are  sympathetic would acknowledge that he’s busy with an average of one feature every year and now two upcoming television series for HBO (Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects) or say that Vallée, just like Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen, is reluctant to discuss his own films as he prefers them to speak for themselves, which I feel must be partly true as he describes himself more as a filmmaker by nature instead of necessarily a public speaker. But then why the mix-up of the special features on the C.R.A.Z.Y. DVD, not include the Café de flore audio commentary, or not have one for Demolition (which I’ll review in a future post)?

Is it a mismanagement or a lack of interest by the DVD vendors? Unfortunately, this would be my guess… A simple enough job and effort could have gave these recent masterpieces a commentary by Vallée, which would be of value and interest for years to come. A missed opportunity…

On the C.R.A.Z.Y. special features:
- The idea of stars in the sky have an important place in Vallée’s cinema. The four-point star of his production company, Crazy Film, is described as being influenced by his ‘lucky star’. This four-point star would appear as a tattoo on Raymond in C.R.A.Z.Y. and as a reoccurring symbol in Café de flore (which ends with a character looking up and saying ‘It’s written in the stars’). And Dominique Fortier, whose Du bon usage des étoiles Vallée is planning to adapt, is already thanked in the credits of C.R.A.Z.Y.
- Vallée has already described C.R.A.Z.Y. as a film-prières, so then it's not surprising to hear him cite Pasolini at the beginning of his own making-of. Just like how his earlier film professor Yves Lever was cast as the priest in Liste noire in these special features he discusses his reasons for playing the priest as a "lesson in humility." His dialogue as the character is especially important for the story such as after Raymond's passing, “Even in the face of death, we’re willing to stake that the affirmation to live is stronger, as it comes from God.” An essentially religious and spiritual filmmaker. Michel Côtée talks about how 150 candidates auditioned for the role but how Vallée finally chose himself (‘He’s got connections!’).
- The somewhat forgotten French filmmaker Bertrand Blier is an important reference for Vallée (Merci la vie being a staple of Lever’s syllabus). Early on in interviews Blier is regularly cited and described as great; and supposedly Les valseuses was the film that got Vallée into cinema. Perhaps his film that’s most in a Blier tradition is Loser Love for its frank portrayal of sex, aggression and transgression (an omitted film in most of his filmographies, its New York setting anticipates that of Demolition by 15 years; and it themes of domestic violence and a lengthy sociopath confession at its end connects it to his upcoming Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects).
- On the editing process (which quite a few of these are included in the deleted scenes) Vallée says, “One must not be scared to get rid of the start and ending of scenes that are too long in one’s movies.”
- Music references are in abundance in C.R.A.Z.Y. and Vallée’s films in general: The John Lennon death Time magazine cover to transition to the eighties, the Janis Joplin t-shirt Zach wears; Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis are character influences; Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. Zach (though it’s never shown) is a DJ in the film…
- Not that it’s much discussed or referenced directly in the film but Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist seems like a big influence on the story’s structure: Zach has to travel abroad to Jerusalem (actually Morocco, near where Welles shot Othello) where Jesus walked to be able to find peace at home… This self-discovery journey can be seen in all of Vallée’s subsequent films. (On the subject of imagined Vallée adaptations, after this summer’s The BFG, Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World seems like it would be a great fit for him).
- So many important details of the mise en scène are nearly invisible: a character walking with his back-turned, posters that you can’t really see, personal belongings that provide historical context etc. Their unconscious value make the films a lot richer and full of meaning. Vallée’s audio-commentaries are extremely helpful to make sense of all of these details.
- François Boulay wrote a part of his life for Vallée around the time of Liste noire which forms the bases of C.R.A.Z.Y. But apparently it’s one of Boulay’s friends that was ashamed and experienced queer guilt which really inspired the inner struggles of Zach and the structure of the film. Vallée would also add many of his own family memories to the film.
- The behind the scenes of the filmmaking is incredible as it provides the reverse-shot of the many stories of Vallée’s unique filming approach. The footage of Émile Vallée and his brother Alex and even their mother Chantal Cadieux show up in them which give it a home movie quality. Vallée’s extremely animated on set and his outfits change to reflect the type of scene he's filming.
- Vallée had a bad first week on the set of C.R.A.Z.Y. He was sick, impatient and horrorfied after having been forced to do some budgetary scene cuts the previous week. After a week or so of filming, and with the footage really working out, the crew eased up.

I could go on – I mean it, I really could! – but I’ll leave the rest of the discoveries to anyone willing to check out these amazing special features. More of Jean-Marc Vallée’s films on DVD should be as rich in supplementary material!

Bon cinéma,
David Davidson

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