Importing Larry Clark's Magnum Opus, Bully

There are other films called Bully, but this one from 2001 is the good one.  And there are plenty of other Larry Clark films, but this is the great one.  This has been high on my list of titles I've been dying to upgrade to HD since the blu-ray format debuted.  And given that this is an explicit, controversial indie film with some possibly tricky music rights issues, I was beginning to worry the day would never come.  But I guess Santa read my letters, because it finally came out this winter.
Kids is his most (in)famous work, but Bully is his masterpiece.  Larry Clark enters the world of true crime here, and it's a genre to which he's particularly suited.  His determination to document the grit and dark side of American youth adds authenticity and life to a true story that keeps him focused and driven, where his other films tend to meander.  The genre helps him and he helps the genre; it's a shame he doesn't make a ton more of these.  His casting, as always, is first rate.  Whether they're great actors or just naturally embodying their roles, everybody is exceptional in this, even the small roles.
That said, Clark's proclivities maybe steer him a little wrong.  I don't think it would be unfair to say Clark has a preoccupation with underage sex and drugs.  It can be charming (see his remake of Teenage Caveman), but it's always distracting.  Even before his films, his photography books were famous for that.  And this film does come off as over-sexed, especially in the first half.  And yes, these kids are supposed to be over-sexed.  The real girls had been involved in underage prostitution, one was a teenage mother married at seventeen, and the the fact that these kids are all wasting their lives in self indulgent behavior.  That's the point, and it's a good one.  But the constant leering camerawork just plays as exploitive, and when they're getting into stuff like dripping candle wax on each other's naked bodies, it starts to feel like late night Cinemax rather than reality.  It starts to hurt the film, but luckily as the plot kicks into gear it pulls Clark away from his nonsense and things get more and spell-bindingly dramatic: the advantage his other films lack.
Lions Gate released as a new release DVD in 2002.  In 2023, Studio Canal released it France as a BD/ DVD combo-pack.  I've seen some confusion online, because of how the DVD packaging labels their disc as the "Theatrical Version."  It's become pretty common for a film to have a theatrical version and  an uncut/ unrated version, leading some to worry that the DVD is cut.  In this case the theatrical version is the uncut version, and that's what's on both the Lions Gate and Studio Canal discs.  There was a cut down R-rated cut that cuts out a little of the sex, but both of these releases are completely uncut.
1) 2002 Lions Gate DVD; 2) 2023 SC DVD; 3) 2023 SC BD.
The jump in quality from DVD to BD isn't so dramatic because Lions Gate DVD, despite being old, is actually pretty good.  It's anamorphic widescreen, not interlaced, and seems to be using the same master as the new Studio Canal discs.  Just looking at the two DVDs, there's barely any difference at all.  The AR has been adjusted from 1.847:1 to exactly 1.85:1, but that's a virtually imperceptible difference of a couple pixels.  The colors are slightly improved, too... notice the sky in the first set of shots is truly blue on the SC disc, but has a reddish hue on the LG.  Then, of course, the actual jump to HD does give slightly sharper edges and you can make out tiny detail (compare the posters on the wall in the second set of shots) a little more clearly on the blu.  So it's a solid upgrade, but not an exciting/ impressive one, because again, the DVD was already pretty damn good.  On the other hand, this was shot on 35, and a 4k remaster could probably look even better, but this is not that.

And audio-wise, it's a bit of a trade off.  The DVD had a lossy 5.1 with optional English subtitles.  The BD has a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 with no English subtitles.  It also has a French dub and yes, fully removable French subtitles.
It's technically a trade-off in the extras department, too; but I would say Studio Canal thoroughly wins this round.  Lions Gate starts us off with some decent stuff, though, including about half an hour of on-set interview clips with Clark and the cast.  They're fine but pretty short and superficial.  There's also an isolated music track, a gallery (of the real people) and the trailer.  Oh, and an ad for the soundtrack.

Studio Canal, sadly, has none of that, not even the trailer.  It also has two features which might be nice for French audiences, but leaves us foreigners out in the cold: two interviews with French critics.  One is a nine minute intro, and then there's a longer, 40-minute interview with somebody else.  There are no subtitles or English-language options, though, so I have no idea what they're saying.
What puts SC's release back into the lead, though, is the hour long 'making of' documentary, which is actually pretty terrific.  There's lots of shaky, handheld footage on set, capturing the filming and questioning all the producers, which is already better than Lions Gate's interviews.  But then it goes further, interviewing cops and lawyers involved in the original case, getting their first-hand opinions of the real crime and its participants.  And then, more impressively still, things get really candid.  We see a fight on location between the actors that any normal 'making of' doc would cut out to protect everybody involved.  Cast members talk about their real histories of abuse and damaged childhoods.  And then Brad Renfro gets arrested, and the movie takes a fascinating detour into that, showing us local news reports, asking Brad what really happened and even filming the entire process of the producers meeting with the bail bondsman.  This is a fascinating viewing experience in and of itself.
So is this worth upgrading to?  Yes, I'd certainly say so.  But there's another edition coming soon from Umbrella in Australia purports to be even better.  It's probably using the same master, but has the 5.1, isolated score, optional English subtitles and replaces the French experts with English speaking ones, in addition to having the documentary, plus some fancy packaging swag if you get it direct from Umbrella's site.  Either way you go, though, the exciting news is that the wait for Bully to come to blu is finally over.


  1. It would be great if they could isolate Larry Clark's comments from Marc Maron's WTF podcast as a special feature. Talk about candid. That guy rules.