An Angel at My Table: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Janet Frame seemed to have born into tragic circumstances. She was the middle child in a troubled family, a household that was always in financial peril. Her father worked for the railroad and her mother cared for four daughters and a son. Her childhood was a series of painful events, leaving her emotionally unstable and socially troubled. This would of course impact her in later years, as she would stay within herself more often than not, but she did find solace in writing. She loved poetry, writing and reading the prose, her one escape from an otherwise miserable existence. As she pours herself into her writing in school, her work is noticed, but in the way one would hope. Instead she is deemed to have deep emotional issues and is sent off to Seacliff, a mental hospital known for cruel practices. Frame would spend eight years inside the walls of Seacliff, thanks to a misdiagnosis and suffered hundreds of electroshock therapy sessions. But even in such dark conditions, a ray of hope would shine in, but would it be enough to save her?

I am open minded when it comes to most movies, so while An Angel at My Table didn’t seem to be my cup to tea, I gave the film a spin. The movie is based on the life of Janet Frame, a New Zealand author who would endure much pain and torment, but would emerge as an international literary success. I don’t usually like these biopics and this one didn’t hold much interest for me, but I kept an open mind. Jane Campion’s direction is very visual and that holds up here, to the point of minor confusion in some instances. The film is broken down into segments, covering major periods on Frame’s life and while that approach is expected, Campion does so in an inconsistent fashion. I found the start to be good, the middle was too slow, and then the final chapter really came across well. In the end, I wasn’t impressed by this film as a whole, though two thirds of the movie were well crafted, I think. While I didn’t rave over the movie itself, Criterion’s disc is quite good as usual, so if you’re interested, An Angel at My Table is recommended as a rental.

Video: How does it look?

An Angel at My Table is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This film was produced on a rather low budget, on low end stock, with the intention of television broadcast. If you’ve ever seen 16mm blown up for theatrical use, then you know it doesn’t often look that good. Criterion has given us a new restored version though, so as expected, the movie looks terrific. I counted on much grain and softness, but that isn’t the case. Instead, the image is quite clean and has a lot of depth, impressive work. The colors look vivid and bright, while black levels are consistent as well. This is another great visual effort from Criterion, but by this point, can’t we pretty much bank on their excellence?

Audio: How does it sound?

I didn’t expect much from the included soundtrack, but the new Dolby Digital 5.1 option really comes through. Now I don’t mean powerful presence, but the soundtrack does supply atmosphere and in the outdoor sequences, that really comes across. You feel like you’re outside, thanks to surround presence that seems natural and immersive. The dialogue is clean and clear too, so no vocals are lost or overpowered here. I can’t forget to mention the music, which isn’t powerful, but sounds good in this track. In case might need them, this disc also includes optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

A ten minute featurette is brief, but makes the most of the short duration, including a look at the film’s success at various festivals. An audio interview with Jean Frame is also included and helps give perspective, as we hear her story in her own words. Jane Campion is joined by actress Kerry Fox and cinematographer Stuart Drysbough in an audio commentary track, which proves to be solid. It has to be a task to cover this almost three hour film, but the trio is talkative and little silence is heard. The three provide three different perspectives on the production, which adds variety and really enhances the track. This disc also includes some still photos, six deleted scenes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc Scores