(aka 'Bad Night')

Directed by Gus Van Sant
USA 1985


  With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant's debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant's hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant. Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating time capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director's work.


Theatrical Release: June 19th, 1987

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DVD Review: Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC

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CLICK to order from:

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 407 - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 1:17:51 
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.59 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s 

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0) 
Subtitles English, None

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Gus Van Sant interview (24:53)

• Walt Curtis, the Peckerneck Poet: a documentary about the author of the book Mala Noche, directed by animator and friend Bill Plympton (1:03:16)
•  Storyboard gallery
•  Original trailer edited by Van Sant (1:30)
•  Liner notes with new essay by film critic Dennis Lim  

DVD Release Date: October 9th, 2007

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 22




This dual-layered Criterion DVD is pictureboxed transferred (see our full description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). It is coded for Region 1 in the NTSC standard. The transfer is progressive and in the original 1.33 aspect ratio. The audio is original English mono and there are optional English subtitles. NOTE: burned-in subs exist for infrequent non-English dialogue (Mexican-Spanish) - see example below

Considering the economical appearing roots (made on 16mm for an incredible $25,000) of the film production the image quality (restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Gus Van Sant) is excellent. the restoration process may have boosted the black levels to some degree but overall it maintains its grittiness and detail is wonderfully sharp.

Supplements include a 25 minute interview with Gus Van Sant (I can't recall seeing him interviewed before). It is very laid back and the director talks of his roots- he's an intriguing and 'grass-roots'. The BIG supplements is the hour long 'Walt Curtis, the Peckerneck Poet' - it is a documentary about the author of the book Mala Noche, directed by animator and friend Bill Plympton. It is quite unusual and very 'indie' - I didn't particularly enjoy watching this but appreciate what their intent was - some may find it kind of cool. Then there is a storyboard gallery which amounts to some fluff in my opinion and the original trailer edited by Van Sant running a minute and a half. Finally, there are some good liner notes (14 pages with black and white photos) with new essay by film critic Dennis Lim.

NOTE: There appears to be an error on the part of Criterion - from their blog HERE 'It's been one of those weeks. First we learned we'd made a mastering error on our Mala Noche edition. Mala Noche is mostly in black and white, but about twenty-three minutes in, there are three color shots that total ten seconds and twenty-two frames. In our version, they appear black and white. No one caught it. '

Criterion will replace this disc if you are so inclined: "Please don't send the whole package, just the Mala Noche disc in an envelope. Send your disc to the Criterion Collection, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY, 10003, and mark it "Attn: Jon Mulvaney."'

'Unique' might be the operative word. It's shot in a kind of modern film-noir evocation although no real homage is present. I think Mala Noche may be a film that grows fonder with age. I only just watched it so I may warm further in the future. It's surprisingly a lot to take in - morose- humorous - comparisons to Stranger Than Paradise are appropriate. Yeah - worth seeing for sure.    

Gary W. Tooze



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Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 407 - Region 1 - NTSC


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