My Personalized Criterion: The Daytrippers

It's always great when a top label announces a fancy new edition of a film you like.  But there's nothing like those times when a top label announces a fancy new edition you've been anxiously waiting not just years but literally decades for.  Yes, Criterion is adding 1996's The Daytrippers to their collection; and I don't know if I anticipate it being a big seller for them.  This one feels like it was crafted just for me.  But I guess I'll let you guys pick up a copy, too.  You know, if you're cool.
The Daytrippers is one of those darlings of 90s east coast independent cinema like Clerks, Poison and Walking and Talking.  Some of those have endured the test of time better than others, so despite my very fold memories, I was a little worried how this film would hold up.  Happily, watching this new edition, it plays even better than I remembered it.  The ensemble cast, some of whom were just getting their start here, is on absolute fire: Hope Davis, Stanley TucciParker Posey, Liev Schreiber, Anne Meara, Pat McnamaraCampbell Scott (who also executive produced), and a charmingthird act appearance by Marica Gay Harden.  It's a perfectly comic premise: Davis suspects her husband, Tucci, who's working late in the big city, is cheating on her, so she gets her parents to drive her into the city to confront him.  So it's a road movie, it's packed with brilliantly realized characters, and by the final act, it actually develops into an affecting drama - but without ever losing sight of its comedy.
Writer/ director Greg Mottola, may not be a household name, but he's a respectable name in comedy.  He directed Superbad and episodes of Arrested Development, though Adventureland is the only other film he wrote as well.  But I'd say this, despite its low budget and lack of studio polish, remains his masterpiece.  I've only just learned that James L. Brooks was a silent partner on this one based on his love of the script (at one point he offered to produce the whole thing), but considering its ideal blend of wit and unsentimental heart, it makes perfect sense.
The Daytrippers debuted on DVD back in 2000 from Columbia Tri-Star.  It was barebones and fullscreen, but in those days it seemed like only a matter of time until a special edition upgrade rolled around.  Those were the days, back when DVD was huge but its best years were still ahead of it, and lots of people cared.  But generic, fullscreen discs (Metrodome's 2003 release in the UK was no better than Columbia's, and neither was the Australian one from Magna Pacific later that year) seemed to be all this film was destined for.  Probably.  I still to this day have never been able to get the full deal on a 2006 French triple-feature[left] from TF1 called 'Deauville, Vol. 2: Americain,' which bundled Daytrippers up with Denise Calls Up and Loved.  The back of the case says it's widescreen, but doesn't specify if that actually applies to all three of the films or what.  I spent hours and hours over years and years sending out unanswered emails, poking around online, pestering online shops, etc., but could never get any confirmation one way or the other.  Sellers didn't want to open the shrink-wrap to check, which I fully understand, but good luck offloading those suckers now that they've been rendered utterly obsolete by Criterion's brand new 4k restoration, special edition blu-ray.
2000 Columbia Tri-Star DVD top; 2019 Criterion BD bottom.
Daytrippers was shot on 16, with a lot of handheld to boot, so it's always going to look a little rough around the edges.  But watching Criterion's new blu is a whole new experience for all of us who've only gotten to see this film on TV/ VHS/ DVD.   First of all, it's widescreen, and it's a substantial difference going from Columbia's 1.30:1 to 1.85:1.  The matting shaves a little off the top and bottom, which was always dead space anyway, and reveals a whole ton on the left and right.  Mottola talks on this DVD about how, with his limited resources, he decided right from the beginning to focus on actors and writing rather than production values and glamorous photography.  And yeah, there are scenes, like the party in the loft, where the staging feels clunky and cheap.  But for the first time since The Daytrippers played in theaters, the cinematography looks deliberately composed.  Priority may have been given to the dialogue and performances, but this wasn't all run and gun, just putting the camera wherever it took to get the story in the can... which honestly, is the impression the fullscreen version always gave.  Someone genuinely cared and here it shows.
And it's not just the aspect ratio.  The new color correction really makes Parker's outfits pop and make each location more distinct.  As I mentioned above, Criterion's given us a fresh 4k scan, which their booklet tells us is "from the 16mm A/B original camera negative."  16's naturally grainy, but it looks refreshingly clear here.  And that's not to suggest DNR or anything along those lines; when you get in close, grain is distinctly captured.  Fine detail is, you know, as good as it's ever gonna get, considering.  But the compression is strong, preventing the digitized pixelation of grain that Crtiterion's run up against a time or two before.  Blacks are uncrushed, too.

Like the picture, the audio track can be a little rough, some scenes ADR'd but still retaining plenty of native recording captured on New York streets.  But it's a clear enough stereo mix that it never distracts or annoys, with Criterion bumping it up to lossless DTS-HD.  Both editions also include optional English subtitles, though the DVD also offered Spanish and French.
And if that wasn't enough, Criterion laps around Columbia only to pass by and leave it in the dust again in the special features department.  The DVD only gave us a couple bonus trailers and a insert to list the chapter stops.  But the blu-ray nails it with two lengthy featurettes.  One is a three way discussion with Mottola, Posey and Schrieber, which is both humorous and informative.  They even call Campbell Scott on the phone for a few bonus anecdotes.  Then things get a little more serious for an in-depth talk between Mottola and Davis.  Next is an audio commentary with Mottola, producer Steven Soderbergh (who mostly moderates, though he throws in one or two memories of his own) and editor Anne McCabe, which is good, but rarely pays attention to what's on the screen and features Mottola repeating a lot of stories verbatim from the interviews.  So good, but could've been better.  There's also an early student film by Motolla on here, which is silent and pretty much only of interest as a historical artifact for serious Motolla fans.  He provides an audio commentary for that, too, though, which works as a nice little history of the director (did you know he worked on Day Of the Dead?).  He mentions another student film that he made later, which wasn't silent and apparently audiences found funny enough that it lead to him getting professional work.  I wish they would've included that one instead of this one, but oh well.  Criterion at least seem to have given that a thorough 4k restoration, too, because it looks great.  And anyway, besides all that, Criterion includes an attractive 12 page, fold-out booklet with notes by The New Yorker's television critic Emily Nussbaum.
So yeah.  I suspect quirky independent comedy may not pack quite the authoritative heft one normally associates with "important" Criterion films.  But for me, this and War and Peace are their two most exciting releases of the year, and I hope it's indicative of similar titles we may see restored in 2020.

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