Ghost World
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Ghost World

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There seems to be a growing trend with independent films. It appears to be a backlash against the insipid teen films all too prevalent with theaters today. This new trend encompasses movies that, although they are primary concerned with teenagers, present themselves with a balance of serious drama, wit, and comic relief. At the vanguard of such films is without a doubt ‘Ghost World’. The origins of the story are contained within a popular underground comic, more accurately, keeping with the parlance of the media’s devotees, a graphic novel. Some may think this is merely a light hearted story similar to those contained in the dime comic book we all kept in a box under our beds. There is nothing cartoonish about this film. This is a story that would be most accurately categorized as a coming of age tale. The assignment of this genre may be the best available, but it falls short of accurately capturing the essence of the plot and convey to the audience the substantial emotional intensity infused within the story. It is this strong connection with the epitome of our humanity that has made this film an enduring classic. This fact has recently been recognized by its pristine 4K re-mastering and induction into the lauded ranks of the Criterion Collection. This selective distributor has been bringing many of the most influential examples of the cinematic arts to discerning collectors.

The plot follows a pair of teenage girls, two girls Enid (Thora Birch) and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) as they leave high school behind and drift into adulthood. Both girls, particularly Enid, are the type of person that does not have to ‘be cool.' They see themselves as calm, intelligent and in many ways above their peers. This being said, they don’t come off as stuck up, rather they have an inner confidence in spite of some underlying insecurities. Rebecca is trying to get on with her life. She has gotten a meaningless job in a coffee house and has gotten used to boys and men always hitting on her. Enid, on the other hand, is beginning to feel left behind. She still rebels against the ever-present pseudo intellectual people that populate the world. Bored and possessing no certain plans the girls read a personal ad where a man is desperate to meet with a young woman he passed a while ago. The girls call the man, Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and watch as his hopes are dashed when the girl does not show. Enid is interested in how this person lives, and they follow him to his apartment. In turn, Enid goes to a weekly swap meet where Seymour sells old records. She buys an old delta blues album and finds herself enthralled with it. A friendship develops with Seymour as the one with Rebecca drifts apart. Enid is determined to find Seymour, a woman. It appears that by curing his loneliness can somehow help her cope with her own. While watching this film, I found certain scenes difficult because they invoked a sense of empathic awkwardness. One of the most compelling aspects of the film is its ability to remind the viewer of their teenage years, particularly the disconcerting, post high school angst of facing life as an adult. It is natural to attempt to repress these moments, but this movie is exceptionally well crafted, allowing you to revisit them but simultaneously able to enjoy the experience thanks to the separation of time,

Thora Birch is excellent in this film. At times it is almost an extension of her role in American Beauty. She is the young girl who feels out of place with almost everyone, her best friend being prettier than her and getting all the male attention, yet possessing the intelligence and wit to overcome this and grow as an individual. Birch has made the transition from child actress to young adult far better than most. She lives in her role, creating a character that the audience has to feel. In a few scenes her expletive laced language shocks poor Seymour, but there the words are not used for shock value but demonstrate how the differences in vocabulary mirror the differences in their lives. It is the acting of Ms. Birch that makes it so believable that these two can hope for a deep friendship. Your mind never drifts to the over used older man/younger woman trap that any mainstream teen movie would impose on the audience. In many ways, her performance here reminded me of Adrienne Shelly in Hal Hartley’s classic ‘Trust.' Two incomplete peoplemanage to develop a link with each other that manages to complete each of them. As always Buscemi shines in his role as Seymour. This actor has two distinct careers, one as a mainstream character actor, and the other as an independent leading man. While he succeeds in both worlds, I have always enjoyed his Indy roles more. With these films, this actor has a much better setting to display his talent. Here, his Seymour is on the face pathetic, but there is depth to his character. Much like his role in his own ‘Trees Lounge’ he shows a man that is living a quiet life of desperation that finds everything around him changing. Illeana Douglas plays one important secondary character. She is Roberta, the teacher of Enid’s remedial summer art class. She is politically correct to the nth degree. A pseudo free spirit that cares less about art than the ‘statement’ it should make. In all the cast here is wonderful.

Terry Zwigoff directed this tale of everyday life. He is not a well-known’ director, titles like ‘Crumb’ a biography of the hippy cartoonist R. Crumb, and ‘Louie Bluie’ a documentary about a blues singer. Like Seymour Zwigoff is into blues, old records and this shows in his understanding of his characters. Zwigoff co-wrote this film with the creator of the comic, Daniel Clowes. Together the two nail the story making it compelling and entertaining. Zwigloff’s style as a director is not as straightforward as it may appear in the first viewing. Watch this movie over a few times and the little details will start to hit you. An infection here or prop there but the synergy they provide the film will add to your experience. There is a pervasive darkness that infuses the film serving as the foundation of the principle characters. Typically a movie about teenagers ends with high school graduation. For Enid and Becky, that event was the star of a new chapter. Rather than a point in life to celebrate, uplifted by successfully navigating the four treacherous years of high school they discover that little of what they learned during that period prepared them for undertaking the harsh realities of life. The Criterion Collection release preserved the film precisely as the director untended as noted in the press release and liner notes the director personally approved of this edition. The subtitle nuances provided by the director Terry Zwigoff wayrealized through the imagery. The set design and costuming juxtapose a sense of realism juxtapose a sense of realism with the visual artistry that brought the graphic novel to life, not until the meticulous restoration work performed for this release preserved the artistic integrity and author’s vision as the story migrated to the high definition format of a Blu-ray film. Even if you posseses the previous edition you should investe and enjoythis upgrade. Don’t be disappointed that the disc lacks the full multi-channel audio. The presentation of this movie the medium is in the message, not the presentation.

bulletNew, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by writer-director Terry Zwigoff, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
bulletAudio commentary featuring Zwigoff, comic-book creator and screenwriter Daniel Clowes, and producer Lianne Halfon
bulletNew interviews with and actors Thora Birch and Illeana Douglas
bulletExtended excerpt from Gumnaam (1965) featuring the Bollywood musical number that appears in Ghost World’s opening title sequence
bulletDeleted scenes
bulletAn essay by critic Howard Hampton!

Posted 2/16/02            04/26/2017

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