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Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599 (as part of “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films”) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 21, 2015 by  



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Louis Malle’s final film “Vanya on 42nd Street” shows his love of theater and his desire to show it on the big screen, but also a film that shows a dedication of friends coming together for their love of theater and seeing their small project turned into a film.  Featuring wonderful performances and a story that is relevant today, “Vanya on 42nd Street” is a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection’s “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray box set.

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599 (as part of “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films”)

YEAR OF FILM: 1994

DURATION: 119 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:66:1 aspect ratio, Color, English Stereo, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015


Directed by Louis Malle

Based on the play “Dyadya Vanya” by Anton Chekhov

Play Adaptation by David Mamet

Screenplay by Andre Gregory

Produced by Fred Berner

Associate Producer: Alysse Bezahler, Beverly Karp

Music by Joshua Redman

Cinematography by Declan Quinn

Edited by Nancy Baker

Production Design by Eugene Lee

Art Direction by Daniele Perna

Costume Design by Gary Jones


Starring:

Phoebe Brand as Nanny

Lynn Cohen as Maman

George Gaynes as Serybryakov

Jerry Mayer as Waffles

Julianne Moore as Yelena

Larry Pine as Dr. Astrov

Brooke Smith as Sonya

Wallace Shawn as Vanya

Andre Gregory as Himself

Madhur Jaffrey as Mrs. Chao


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.

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French filmmaker Louis Malle will be known for directing masterful works such as “Elevator to the Gallows”, “Lacombe, Lucien”, “Au Revoir Les Enfants”, “The Lovers”, “Zazie dans le metro” to name a few. In 1982, in what would be considered an unlikely collaboration between the filmmaker and writers/actors Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, would create the critically acclaimed film “My Dinner with Andre”.

The three would unite once again in the 1994 film “Vanya on 42nd Street”, a film which would be Louis Malle’s final movie before he succumbed to lymphoma the following year.

Which started out as an interpretive performance on Anton Chekhov’s play “Uncle Vanya”, a group of talent would come together to work on a voluntary basis to learn and understand Chekhov’s work.

The film was shot and staged in the (at-the-time) abandoned  New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street in New York City and after rehearsing on and off for a year, Malle and Gregory decided to document the play as it was developing.

“Vanya on 42nd Street” is a story about a love triangle as Vanya (portrayed by Wallace Shawn) and Dr. Astrov (portrayed by Larry Pine) fall for Professor Serybryakov’s (portrayed by George Gaynes) younger wife, Yelena (portrayed by Julianne Moore).

Vanya, the brother of Serybryakov’s first wife, runs a rural estate for him with the help of Sonja (portrayed by Brooke Smith), daughter of Serybryakov’s first wife.  He can not understand how Yelena would have a relationship with the older Professor.

But things become rocky between everyone when the Professor announces that he will be selling the rural estate with the hopes of making good money from the sale of the property which Vanya, his mother and Sonja are currently living in.


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VIDEO:

“Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio). The film features a good amount of grain and because it was shot with a super 16mm, has a good amount of grain and clarity is quite evident for this film in HD as skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep and no signs of DNR or any problematic issues such as scratches, jitter, etc.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Supervised by director of photography Declan Quinn, this new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the original Super 16mm camera negative A/B rolls and the 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using Image Systems’ Phonix MTI’s DRS.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599” is presented in English LPCM 2.0 stereo. Dialogue is clear with no sign of hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic audio tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599” comes with the following special features:

  • Like Life: The Making of Vanya on 42nd Street– (35:43) A documentary produced in 2011 featuring interviews with actors Andre Gregory, Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, Brooke Smith, Lynne Cohen, Larry Pine, George Gaynes and producer Fred Berner.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Vanya on 42nd Street”.

EXTRAS:

“Vanya on 42nd Street – The Criterion Collection #599” comes with a 22-page booklet which includes the essay “An American Vanya” by Steven Vineberg and “The Discreet Charm of Vanya” by Amy Taubin.


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With Louis Malle’s commitment to bringing theater to the big screen, “Vanya on 42nd Street” is rather intriguing because it originally was a project started by actor/director/writer Andre Gregory of bringing his acting friends together and working on Anton Chekhov’s 1899 play “Uncle Vanya”.

A play about the wasted life of individuals and discovering it too late, the film is actually the group of actors working on the play but for the camera.  While the performers act, you can watch Andre Gregory and the audience watching on stage while they perform and  watch the amazing performance of Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, Jerry Mayer, Lynn Cohen, Brooke Smith, Madhur Jaffe and Phoebe Brand.

Of course, Louis Malle’s version is much more modern than its Russian intellectual counterpart from the late 19th century.

For those who appreciate theater will find “Vanya on 42nd Street” to be entertaining but the storyline which was published in 1897, remains relevant today as many people get caught up with their work or problems and are unable to live their lives and realize things a little too late.

Vanya, who loves Yelena, can’t understand why he didn’t pursue her ten years ago, before she married the elder Serebryakov. All he has done is raise the estate for his friend, the professor Serebryakov but becomes more angered at himself for not pursuing love, but then to find out that the man he once looked up to, is now planning to kick them out by selling the estate.

The professor’s daughter from his first wife, Sonja, has dedicated her whole life in raising the estate, alongside with her Uncle Vanya but not once has her father said “thank you” or shown her any love.  All he does is anger her and not understanding her feelings.

As for Dr. Astrov, like Vanya, being the cultured men of their area, their bitterness towards life have made them focus on work and nothing else, until he is also attracted to Yelena.

And as for Yelena, she knows that by being with the cultured and wealthy professor, despite that she has no love for the elderly man, she had always loved Dr. Astrov, but because of his work, she was never important to him and now it’s too late.

The Blu-ray release features wonderful clarity and while only the opening shows the talent outdoors, the majority of the film is shot on stage.  Many close up shots and Malle’s attention to bringing theater to the big screen one final time (Malle would die of lymphoma the following year).

Lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and a featurette with the majority of the talent discuss working on the film and with the director.

Overall, Louis Malle’s final film “Vanya on 42nd Street” shows his love of theater and his desire to show it on the big screen, but also a film that shows a dedication of friends coming together for their love of theater and seeing their small project turned into a film.  Featuring wonderful performances and a story that is relevant today, “Vanya on 42nd Street” is a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection’s “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray box set.

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