Bound: Olive Signature BD Review (originally published 2018)
A chance encounter between an ex-con named Corky (Gina Gershon) and a mysterious woman named Violet (Jennifer Tilly) ignites a torrid affair between the two women, who soon plot to steal $2 million in laundered mob money and pin the blame on Violet’s mafioso boyfriend, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). (From Olive’s original synopsis)
In certain circles, Bound is remembered as the ‘dry-run’ for the high concept ambition that was screenwriters-turned-directors Lana & Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999). Stories may vary – Matrix series producer Joel Silver claims it was an audition piece for investors, while the Wachowskis themselves claim that they wanted their directorial debut to be a modest picture – but mainstream history seems to remember this smaller, self-contained exercise in neo-noir as a footnote on the road to superstardom. In the decades since The Matrix (which, in case you didn’t do your math, turned twenty this year), the pair has had some big ups and downs. Among the ‘ups’ are positive re-evaluations of the initially panned Matrix Reloaded (2003) and Speed Racer (2008), but Bound has remained in the background, garnering credit for its LGBTQ representation (including a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Wide Release Film) and not much else. This is a good time as any to acknowledge that the Wachowskis’ first film deserves mention alongside their latest, despite its smaller scale, lack of industry-changing special effects, and decidedly simpler ambitions.
It’s easy to forget that film noir had a minor resurgence in the ‘90s, because so much of that revival was colored by perfunctory Pulp Fiction (1994) cash-ins. For every Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, 1995) and L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997), audiences were stomached the mediocrity of a half-dozen 2 Days In The Valleys (John Herzfeld, 1996) and U-Turns (Oliver Stone, 1997). The Wachowskis avoided dreadful attempts at “Tarantinoesque” dialogue – the true nadir of the era – opting instead for updated versions of classic pulp character interactions. This helped Bound to age better than other ‘90s neo-noir, but their diligent attention to technical detail and rhyming imagery is what really set it apart from flash-in-the pan attempts at chasing Pulp Fiction’s trends. It’s not so much that they used completely modern techniques, but the style they employ has a thoughtful, timeless quality that extends to production and costume design. The only particularly dated technique is the very ‘90 and very literal flashes of white used to signify flashbacks (à la Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive, 1993).
This timelessness actually includes the same-sex love story, which was considered so edgy at the time. In 1996, lesbian leads were seen as, at best, a socio-political statement and, at worst, a gimmick. Now, the choice feels so natural, despite the filmmakers obviously playing with romantic stereotypes and drawing attention to the relationship with double [i]entendres[/i], because the film is rarely concerned with framing Corky and Violet’s attraction as a subversive act in and of itself. From a genre standpoint, Bound upends stereotypes from an even broader point-of-view. Besides its lesbian love interests, it actively subverts the concept of the femme fatale by giving us a happy ending and promise of a healthy, lasting relationship. When compared to the films that the Wachowskis mention as their greatest inspirations – specifically Billy Wilder noirs, like Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Ace in the Hole (1951) – this unequivocally sentimental conclusion, complete with a flagrantly appropriate Tom Jones song and sealed with a kiss, is its most transgressive act. The Wachowskis even toy with their audience’s ingrained concept of feminine betrayal in these types of stories when those aforementioned flashbacks hint at inevitable treachery (ex, Corky’s bound and gagged state implies that Caesar has discovered their plan, which further implies that Violet has either turned on Corky or that she is already dead). For the record, the Wachowskis have since expressed that they somewhat regret the flashbacks and found them unnecessarily convoluted – there’s plenty of reasons to suspect Violet, given the acknowledged duality in Tilly’s performance. They mention the structural frame was added late in editing, which may explain the comparatively clumsy execution.
Bound was practically born into this world as a beloved, pseudo-cult favorite, but its treatment on home video has been mediocre at best. It was released at the very beginning of DVD’s lifecycle and towards the end of distributor Gramercy Pictures’. Stateside, the first DVD was made available from Republic Pictures, who had just that year stopped all production, and who would be bought out by Paramount Home Video a year later. That disc included the unrated extended cut, but was non-anamorphic. Other countries also put out non-anamorphic discs, aside from Paramount in France and Pathe in the UK. Olive finally got the rights from Paramount in 2012 and gave the film its Blu-ray debut, followed by a UK BD from Arrow in 2014. Both discs were fine – obviously better than non-anamorphic SD – but there was plenty of room for improvement.
The literature on the back of the box (and advertising) doesn’t specify anything about a new scan (2K, 4K, or otherwise), it merely states that this is a new digital restoration. This fits, because this new 1.85:1 transfer hasn’t really managed to rend any more detail from the material. The improvements they’ve made relate to color range and dynamic balance more than anything else. The new image is darker in parts, but this is offset by brighter highlights. The darkening occasionally leads to crush in the heaviest blacks, but, overall, appears to fit the mood that the Wachowskis and cinematographer Bill Pope intended. Hues are slightly warmed-up and reds in particular are more vibrant than their 2012 counterparts. The old transfer is slightly noisier, though I think the remaster has been too heavily scrubbed, leaving viewers with a choice between either too much fuzz or kinda DNR’d grain. Both transfers also exhibit over-smoothing throughout wide-angle gradients. This isn’t super noticeable while the footage is in motion, but you can plainly see what I’m talking about in the actresses’ faces in the second screen-shot(s). I could complain about the edge haloes and hot spots, but these aren’t really much of a problem. Also, for your notes, there are two versions of the film on this disc – unrated and R-rated. Olive has not used seamless branching.
Olive has made a more substantial upgrade to their older disc’s audio by replacing the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track with an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The film was released in the post-digital 5.1 era, but was a lower-budget title, so it was mixed for pro-logic systems. There are some slight distortive qualities to the dialogue, but I can verify, as a fan who has seen the film about a dozen times, that the most noticeable instances have always been present on home video presentations (I don’t know why). Incidental sounds follow suit, sometimes with a slight hiss, but the ‘designer’ effects work is crisper and neatly balanced between the stereo channels. The ‘ghost’ center channel doesn’t bleed out too awkwardly, either. I hadn’t previously noticed, but Don Davis’ score has quite a bit in common with his Matrix compositions, especially the extended dissonance that occasionally sits in place of melodic themes. The music is rich when necessary, even without the benefit of a discrete LFE channel.
Commentary with the Wachowskis, technical consultant Susie Bright, and actors Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, and Gina Gershon – This track has been available with almost every DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, except for the completely bare-bones original Olive disc. The Wachowskis themselves put in a good effort, but are a bit awkward (this is seemingly why they never did another commentary), while the cast and Bright offer plenty of amusing anecdotes.
Part and Parcel (7:10, HD) – Title designer Patti Podesta chats about her career and crafting/producing the brief, but memorable opening titles.
The Difference Between You and Me (17:45, HD) – Film and gender studies professors B. Ruby Rich (UC Santa Cruz) and Jen Moorman (Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts) break down the noir & neo-noir genres, gender politics within noir/neo-noir, the Wachowskis’ artistic flourishes and references, lesbian sex in mainstream movies, and the ways Bound bucks all of those traditions (all in a much more coherent and condensed manner than I just did…). The featurette ends by retrospectively exploring elements of the film with the knowledge that the filmmakers are/were trans women.
We Know How This Ends – A text essay by screenwriter/actress Guinevere Turner (writer/star of Go Fish and screenwriter of American Psycho).
Here’s Johnny! (Arrow Video/Red Shirt Productions extra, 10:03, HD) – An interview with Christopher Meloni, who recalls throwing himself into the pre-TV-stardom role.
Femme Fatales (Arrow Video/Red Shirt Productions extra, 26:53, HD) – Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly separately discuss the casting processes/controversies, working with first-time directors, ignoring their agents, preparation, and challenges.
Modern Noir: The Sights & Sounds of Bound (Arrow Video/Red Shirt Productions extra, 29:25, HD) – A catchall interview featurette with cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis. Not surprisingly, the discussion sticks mostly to technical aspects.
Originally, Olive was going to also include the Arrow-produced Hail Caesar interview with actor Joe Pantoliano (it’s even listed on the box I reviewed), but they could not, likely due to rights issues.
Bound is an important entry in the LGBTQ cinematic canon and ground zero for almost every vital aspect of the Wachowskis’ career. But it’s also a skillfully crafted and arrestingly sweet deconstruction of noir tropes that stands alone on these merits. Olive’s Signature re-release outpaces the company’s earlier disc with an uncompressed audio track and bevy of new & old extras. The new transfer is a small step up, but there’s still room for improvement, assuming another company has the means to rescan the original negative. Until that day, this release is recommended.
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