Plot: What’s it about?
Walt Curtis (Tim Streeter) works in a store, but he wants to be an author, though the process has him flustered. His writing isn’t the only source of frustration in his life either, as he has become smitten with Johnny (Doug Cooeyate). Johnny is an illegal immigrant who arrived in Portland by train, no short journey from his native Mexico. Walt tries to connect with Johnny, but he is turned away time and again. This leaves him frustrated, but undaunted in his quest to capture Johnny’s affections. Johnny doesn’t ignore the advances however, as he keeps Walt just close enough to exploit the interest, but never too close. Johnny accepts gifts and handouts from his suitor, but even money cannot buy his true affection. Walt is unable to get close to Johnny, but he does end up being intimate with Pepper (Ray Monge), another of Johnny’s sidekicks. As time passes and the lives of the men continue to complicate, what will become of Walt and his near obsession with Johnny?
This film has never had an official home video release, but now fans can experience Mala Noche in official, up to snuff edition, thanks to Criterion. This was the debut feature film from director Gus Van Sant and while it isn’t his best work, you can see the spark and passion even in this first effort. Here we can see the seeds of Van Sant’s style sown, especially in terms of visuals, so it is cool to see how he has evolved in his approach since Mala Noche. The movie is raw, but it works in favor of the material and feels like it was inspired, at least in part, by the work of Jim Jarmusch. Even so, Mala Noche is a unique and obviously very personal project, one that is able to overcome its budget limitations, at least for the most part. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it does have some moments and it is worth a look, if just to see how Van Sant’s career began. Criterion’s treatment is solid as always, so if you’re interested, by all means give Mala Noche a rental.
Video: How does it look?
Mala Noche is presented in full frame, as intended. This is an impressive transfer, with a restored image that defies the film’s age and budget. The print looks pristine, with no grain or debris to mention, though the visuals do come off a touch soft, but that is unavoidable. The detail level is more than decent however, so this is by no means overly soft. The contrast performs well also, so the black & white visuals can shine. Not much else I can say here, another terrific presentation from Criterion.
Audio: How does it sound?
There just isn’t much to discuss here, as the included mono option is good, but won’t turn any heads, of course. This is a dialogue driven movie and that means mono is more than adequate, no real problems seem to surface here. I heard no hiss or distortion of any kind, which is good news with a low budget film like this one. No errors in terms of dialogue either, which is crucial and all, since this is a movie dominated by dialogue, to be sure. This disc also includes optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The best of the extras is Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet, which runs just over an hour and follows Curtis through his personal and creative routines. This is basically just Curtis on showcase, as he takes the camera crew around his town and lets them inside his creative process. So not much in terms of narrative or drive, just a chance to see Curtis in his native element. This disc also includes a substantial interview with Van Sant, some storyboards, and the film’s theatrical trailer.