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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Vanya on 42 Street [Blu-ray]


(Louis Malle, 1994)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Channel Four Films

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 599



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

Runtime: 2:00:27.845

Disc Size: 45,887,097,174 bytes

Feature Size: 35,323,809,792 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps

Chapters: 23

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: February 28th, 2012



Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• New documentary featuring interviews with André Gregory, the play’s director; actors Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith; and producer Fred Berner (35:42 in 1080P)
• Trailer (2:14 in 1080i)
• Liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Steven Vineberg and a 1994 on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin





Description: In the early nineties, theater director André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. This experiment in pure theater—featuring a remarkable cast of actors, including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—would have been lost to time had it not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. Vanya on 42nd Street is as memorable and emotional a screen version of Chekhov’s masterpiece as one could ever hope to see. This film, which turned out to be Malle’s last, is a tribute to the playwright’s devastating work as well as to the creative process itself.



The Film:

A table, some chairs, many shadows reaching out into the unseen depths of an abandoned theater, and a long night of truth-telling.

These are the elements of "Vanya on 42nd Street," a film which reduces Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" to its bare elements: loneliness, wasted lives, romantic hope and despair. To add elaborate sets, costumes and locations to this material would only dilute it.

The movie is the result of a five-year theatrical experiment.

Excerpt from Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times located HERE

The actors and spectators for "Vanya on 42d Street" make their entrances casually, drifting into one another at the New Amsterdam Theater and making idle conversation. That chitchat has evolved into Chekhov almost before a movie audience is ready to notice. By the time the viewer fully apprehends the grand, cavernous scale of this crumbling theater or the naturalness of the actors, the performance is under way. This is bare-bones Chekhov, though it is hardly Chekov without cachet.

Under the direction of Andre Gregory, this version of "Uncle Vanya" (filmed simply yet enthrallingly by Louis Malle) has a significant pedigree. Evolving over a period of years as a workshop production, and available only to small, select audiences, it developed the inevitable mystique, which is only heightened by Mr. Malle's participation. With Wallace Shawn in the title role and memories of "My Dinner With Andre" as a quirky, dazzling collaboration by these principals, "Vanya on 42d Street" has a lot to live up to.

Excerpt from Janet Maslin at the NY Times located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The film is sparse and the image quality - thick, rich and grain-infused. Vanya on 42nd Street looks wonderful on 1.66:1-framed Blu-ray for those who can appreciate textured, authentic, film-like visuals. Colors are frequently seen as bold pastels. The low-level lighting does not produce extensive noise - although it exists. This Blu-ray has consistent, appealing 16mm (shot on Super 16) visuals that you easily become accustomed to. This probably looks exactly like the film Vanya on 42nd Street and it advances handily beyond SD - for those who can recognize and appreciate the prevalent grain and flat, glossless image.














Audio :

Criterion supply a linear PCM 2.0 channel track at 2304 kbps. As you could appreciate the film-cum-play has no effects worth noting - and 'dialogue' is the name of the game. This vérité audio is occasionally scattered, flat, unremarkable but exports minor depth in a couple of instances. In short it seems faithful to its limited roots. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked - like all Criterion BD discs to date.


Extras :

Supplements consist of a Criterion-made documentary from 2011 entitled Like Life: The making of Vanya on 42nd Street featuring interviews with André Gregory, the play’s director; actors Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith; and producer Fred Berner. It runs 35-minutes in 1080P covering the rehearsal process, playing for an audience, Louis Malle and the 'end process'. There is also a trailer and the package contains a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Steven Vineberg and a 1994 on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin.



I wasn't very receptive in my initial viewing of Vanya on 42nd Street. I did some research, persevered and took another 'screening'. It becomes surprisingly easy to forget the lack of costumes, props or appropriate backdrops. You can really focus on the dialogue and appreciate the impressive performance art involved. This was quite a unique presentation and one I intend to revisit - as the mood resurfaces. As usual Criterion's Blu-ray transfer appears faithful and the glossless, warm image, exposes the film's raw qualities as distinctly as a cinema viewing could. This is a rare treat - one we can recommend to those open enough to embrace its earthy, artistic qualities. Certainly recommended! Most will be highly impressed with what Vanya on 42nd Street offers... if you allow it. 

Gary Tooze

February 26th, 2012



About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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