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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Girlfriend Experience [Blu-ray]


(Steven Soderbergh, 2009)




Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: 2929 productions & Extension 765

Video: Magnolia Home Entertainment



Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:16:57.362 / 1:16:33.964

Disc Size: 41,273,172,484 bytes

Feature Size: 19,120,459,776 bytes

Average Bitrate: 28.10 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 29th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video






DTS-HD Master Audio English 2977 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2977 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps



English (SDH), Spanish, none



• Audio Commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Actor Sasha Gray
• Unrated Alternate Cut
• HDNET: A Look at The Girlfriend Experience



In the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, Chelsea is an ultra high-end Manhattan call girl who offers more than sex to her clients: companionship and conversation -- "the girlfriend experience." Chelsea thinks she has her life totally under control -- she feels her future is secure because she runs her own business her own way, makes $2000 an hour, and has a devoted boyfriend who accepts her lifestyle. But when you're in the business of meeting people, you never know who you're going to meet.



Comment: 7

I can see why The Girlfriend Experience has a certain appeal to some major league critics like Roger Ebert and Mike LaSalle (10/10), but that Amazon users are less enthusiastic (6/10).

It was twenty years ago that writer/director Steven Soderbergh stepped onto the stage with his documentaryish Sex, Lies and Videotape which featured Andie MacDowell and a young and pretty James Spader. Since then Soderbergh has ventured from the meandering Kafka (1990) through the noirish Out of Sight and The Limey (1998 & 99), the ever popular Erin Brockovich which upped the acting credentials of the ever popular Julia Roberts, and the artfully constructed Traffic (both in 2000), through the excessively mainstreamed Oceans movies, and now more or less back to the feel of SL&V with The Girlfriend Experience.

While both the early and latter films have a direct, voyeuristic look to them, there is also a deliberate self-conscious attempt to have it both ways: artful and artless, where even the apparent carelessness of the photography (to wit, the vivid exposure of the video in the private jet or the dramatic underexposure and curious focus work in various restaurants in the new movie) are actually carefully worked out to appear vividly overexposed and carelessly underexposed. Of course, it does invite us to sort out why he goes to all the trouble, and each viewer will come to his or her conclusion about whether or not the insight is worth the effort. On the other hand, perhaps you might respond only on an emotional level. I am generally put off when artifice overpowers the emotional experience or gets in the way of a connection to it. It’s what many critics said of Francis Coppola’s One from the Heart, but funnily enough, my reaction was quite different in that case.



Besides Soderbergh’s overt manipulation of image, there is his frequent and clever manipulation of the time line. By now, audiences should be quite used to the device, no longer requiring so much as a “3 days earlier” to help them out. Such road signs might even work against Soderbergh’s plan.

As I see it, the challenge for the filmmaker here is to make interesting a story about someone with almost no affect. It’s not that the actress (porn star Sasha Grey) who appears in almost every scene, is incompetent or unavailable. Quite the contrary. She’s probably exactly the right person for the part, since her character requires a certain vagueness of expression, of circumscribed interaction with others such that her clients are able to project whatever they need onto her in order to feel they got their money’s worth. And she doesn’t come cheap.

Chelsea is a very well paid “escort” who has been in business for a couple of years now and is always looking for ways to improve her product – or at least, the manifestation and promise of same on her website. To this end, she pays consultants and on occasion offers her service to obtain endorsements. Her clients are, for the most part, successful highly paid businessmen. Chelsea dresses fashionably and is often picked up in a limo. The pair might go to a nice restaurant or a movie or both, very likely followed by sex, which, unlike hooker sex, more resembles a night with a girlfriend. They talk business, perhaps as it relates to the final weeks of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, and she offers benign, uncommitted comment. Do these men not have such “real” girlfriends” or wives in their lives, we ask ourselves? Do we identify with or wish to be in the shoes (or out of them) of either?

One thing, though, Chelsea has a boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos), for some while now. Over a year. Should we see their relationship as “open” or “permissive”? She describes what they have as a “committed relationship.” In any case, how do they really feel about each other, and how do they manage the feelings and the various rationalizations that go with such an arrangement? They have certain rules about what is or is not OK, especially as it pertains to Chelsea’s behavior with her clients. Talk about trust issues!.


This is the MRQE Metric score and graph for this film. The graph works on a five-point scale, from A – F. The MRQE Metric is the weighted average of a full breakdown of critical grades.


Image: 8/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


The Girlfriend Experience on Blu-ray is one of those problematic movies, processed to the point where, if there were artifacts, it probably wouldn’t matter. Many of the scenes are seriously over- or underexposed, with hardly any shadow information or blown out all to hell. Some scenes have their focus point so far beyond the main action that we wonder if it is being shot by amateurs; then, suddenly, the focus slips forward to the protagonists. There are scenes whose more conventional appearance is evidence that there is no problem with the transfer after all. Wherever we are, the artsy presentation is consistent with the scene. For example, the footage in the private jet is always deliberately overexposed, processed to pump up the color saturation. The perceived effect is that the footage is shot on a camcorder by one of the passengers (though the predictable result would have been the opposite: i.e. auto-exposure would have resulted in underexposure of the interior of the cabin due to the massive amount of stray light coming in from the side windows.) In those “underexposed” interior scenes where, it is as though we just happened on the scene and our eyes are still unused to the dark. Why does Soderbergh shoot these scenes the way he does? I leave that exploration to you.


All that said, I can’t say that I was aware of any unintended manipulation, artifacts, enhancements, noise or DNR. In short, the Blu-ray image is likely very much as imagined by the filmmakers.
















Audio & Music : 9/8

The DTS-HD MA audio mix with its highly differentiated acoustics, especially for dialogue, gets high marks from me. Each space requires, and receives, a different vocal canopy. Music, right from the opening drone, is compelling and immersive. There are numerous subtle and identifiable ambient cues - in restaurants, on board the plane, at dinner, out on the street. But . . . there is this nagging concern for me that, while the audio seems natural, if a little heightened, the image is drastically manipulated. It’s worrisome to me that they should be in such dynamic opposition to each other.


Operations : 7

The disc loads quickly following a brief set of three skippable previews for other R-Rated Magnolia films. The chapters are neatly presented in sizable “widescreen” thumbnails. There’s only one extra feature (the commentary) plus a connection to BD Live to clutter the frame.




Extras : 5

Magnolia’s Blu-ray disc offers an Alternate Unrated cut, and there is an additional off-world featurette to be found at HDNET. But the bonus feature of most interest is the commentary with the director and lead actress. For the most part, Steve manages the commentary in the form of an interview of Sasha, asking her about how she felt about this or that aspect of movie making, or her research for the part, or her own career. It is generally unrelated to the scene at hand. The commentary can therefore be listened to usefully without having to watch the movie, which saves an hour so bulb time on my projector.


Recommendation : 7

Steven Soderbergh has never made a movie I’ve wanted to see more than once – until now. And I will see The Girlfriend Experience again, if for no other reason than to confirm my bearings and try to find its heart and what, if anything, is behind Chelsea’s eyes. The film is that seductive at any rate. The image is highly manipulated at times, but it appears to be what is intended. Audio is clear and seductive. Recommended for the adventurous film buff.




About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

The LensView Home Theatre:





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