Something Wild (1961)Overview -
A complex exploration of the physical and emotional effects of trauma,Something Wild stars Carroll Baker, in a layered performance, as a college student who attempts suicide after a brutal sexual assault but is stopped by a mechanic played by Ralph Meeker—whose kindness, however, soon takes an unsettling turn. Startlingly modern in its frankness and psychological realism, the film represents one of the purest on-screen expressions of the sensibility of the intimate community of artists around New York’s Actors Studio, which transformed American cinema in the mid-twentieth century. With astonishing location and claustrophobic interior photography by Eugene Schüfftan, an opening-title sequence by the inimitable Saul Bass, and a rhythmic score by Aaron Copland, this film by Jack Garfein is a masterwork of independent cinema.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
'Something Wild' is the kind of picture that may have been directed by Sidney Lumet or written by Tennessee Williams. There is a documentary authenticity amidst the streets of New York City that the film captures very well and which Lumet would have much appreciated. A lot of the film takes place inside the basement apartment of an auto mechanic and contains hard-edged dialogue between two people that Williams may have wrote. Director Jack Garfein and his then-wife Carroll Baker financed 'Something Wild' and got United Artists to handle domestic distribution. Garfein and Baker were part of the famed New York Actors Studio and studied under the legendary acting teacher, Lee Strasberg. The screenplay is co-written by Garfein and Alex Karmel, both of whom adapted Karmel's 126-page novel, 'Mary Ann' (1958). For many years, 'Something Wild' was unavailable and rarely broadcast on TV. The Criterion Collection has released a deluxe edition of this forgotten classic, providing viewers with a chance to see an examplar of Method Acting.
Baker portrays Mary Ann Robinson, a college student who late one night while walking home from school, is attacked and raped by a male assailant lurking in the bushes. Mary Ann suffers both physical scars and psychological wounds from the incident but tries to go on with her daily life. She doesn't divulge any details to her mother, Mrs. Gates (Mildred Dunnock), or father-in-law, Warren Gates (Charles Watts). One day, Mary Ann walks the streets in a dreary daze and contemplates plummeting off the Brooklyn Bridge and into the river. She is rescued by Mike (Ralph Meeker), a seemingly kind soul who escorts her to his apartment to rest. Little does Mary Ann realize that Mike also has major social problems of his own and restricts her from leaving his basement apartment. Mary Ann and Mike confront each other during several tense scenes that bring out their internal feelings and emotions. Garfein and his cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan keep the camera claustrophic in Mike's abode as Mary Ann must make life-altering choices.
Baker and Meeker both deliver excellent performances. The interior scenes between them are long and exhausting to watch. The film features a haunting and eerie score by Aaron Copland that heightens the emotional impact.
The following text appears in Criterion's enclosed twelve-page leaflet:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management."
Criterion presents 'Something Wild' in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this MPEG-4 encoded BD-50. MGM released the movie some years ago on a DVD-r and the unrestored print was presented in 1.33:1. This new HD transfer by Criterion blows the MOD disc out of the water with a nearly perfect transfer. Film grain is still present and grayscale is outstanding. Blacks are pretty deep and contrast is very good. There is only a vestige of dirt but this is the best the film has looked since its 1961 premiere.
Criterion also provides notes about the audio restoration:
"The monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm original soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX."
The LPCM Mono track retains much of the bustling New York streets and crowd noise. The lossless mix is crisp and dialogue usually sounds intelligible. Copland's score blares across the front channels when music reaches a crescendo. You won't detect too many anamolies on this restored track.
Criterion has also supplied optional English SDH.
- New conversation between Garfein and critic Kim Morgan (26:47, HD): a new video interview shot exclusively for this Criterion release in which Garfein talks to Morgan about the Actors Studio, how 'Something Wild' originally came together, and the recent reappraisals of his work.
- New interview with actor Carroll Baker (15:01): this audio-only interview with Baker finds the actress reminiscing about the challenges that the role of Mary Ann presented to her, among other topics.
- 'Behind the Method,' a new interview with scholar Foster Hirsch on the Actors Studio’s cinematic legacy (20:56, HD): historian Hirsch delves into origins of Method Acting and why 'Something Wild' should be regarded as a landmark in American indepedent cinema.
- Master Class with Jack Garfein, a 2014 recording of one of the director’s world-famous lectures on acting technique (38:19, HD): here Garfein instructs a class of aspiring actors and has them demonstrate some exercises. Garfein wrote a fairly recent book titled 'Life and Acting: Techniques for the Actor' (2010).
- PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O’Malley: a lengthy piece O’Malley wrote on 'Something Wild' accompanied by several behind-the-scenes stills from the movie's production.
Criterion has brought a lost classic to Blu-ray that was one of the earliest examples of the American independent film movement. Fans of Lumet's adapation of Eugene O'Neill's 'Long Day's Journey into Night' will want to check out 'Something Wild' (1961). Criterion delivers beautifully restored picture and sound along with some informative extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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