How to Make an American Quilt (1995)

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Released 11-Jun-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 111:54
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jocelyn Moorhouse

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Winona Ryder
Anne Bancroft
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Nelligan
Alfre Woodard
Maya Angelou
Kate Capshaw
Dermot Mulroney
Johnathon Schaech
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    How To Make An American Quilt is quite a charming film. Being largely set amongst sunny Californian orange orchards, there is a wonderfully warm feel about the cinematography, and an excellent (largely female) ensemble cast who make the most of the poignant story and genteel script. The flowing direction of the piece is the work of Australia's own Jocelyn Moorhouse.

    Winona Ryder plays Finn Dodd, a recently betrothed twenty-six year old Berkeley postgraduate student who is trying to finish her Masters thesis - for the third time. Finn decides to spend the summer at her Grandmother's house, leaving her new fiancé, Sam (Dermot Mulroney), to continue the renovations on their home. Ostensibly she is going there to get some peace and quiet, but in reality she is looking for something more. The film follows Finn's mental quest for clarity on her role as a woman and reassurance about her future as a wife.

    Her Grandmother Hy (Ellen Burstyn) and great-Aunt Glady (Anne Bancroft) are the mainstays of the Grasse quilting bee, a group of like-minded women who spend their time making beautiful quilts. In the USA, quilting is close to an art form and some quilts can be worth considerable sums of money, but the film gives the impression that the quilts created by this group are much more about companionship than money. Finn has largely grown up around these older ladies, since her mother, a divorced hippie, couldn't control her wanderlust for long enough to provide a stable home. This is the place where, surrounded by the love of this extended family, Finn feels at her most secure.

    Finn soon finds a suitable diversion from her writing when a chance meeting with a handsome young stranger, Leon (Johnathon Schaech), tests her fidelity and reinforces her doubts about marrying Sam. As the summer unfolds, Finn watches as the ladies design and sew the panels for her wedding quilt. The theme of the quilt is where love resides, and each of the panels reflects the life and loves of its creator. In a series of vignettes, the formative experience of love for each woman is retold - each of them providing a slightly different different perspective on the true meaning of love. Amongst the many stories, we learn the reason behind the enmity between Hy and Glady, details of Anna's (Maya Angelou) one true love, the cause of Sophia's (Lois Smith) bitterness and the origins of Constance's (Kate Nelligan) affair with (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Em's husband . Before the summer ends, and Sam returns, Finn must decide for herself what is important in her own life, and whether or not to proceed with her wedding...

    How To Make An American Quilt is not quite a classic, but it is very good. The theme is simple - how love affects us in different ways, and how we deal with the consequences - but it is still a thought-provoking piece. The mini-stories feel a little too short and perhaps the film might have had more impact by developing fewer of them with more depth. Less is more, as they say. Nevertheless, the excellent cast all put in performances of the highest calibre. Most of the performances are wonderfully subdued - there is a strong air of melancholy which pervades the piece, and more than a hint of sadness in many of the stories. It won't quite have you reaching for the tissues, but it is touching nonetheless. The cinematography is frequently beautiful and the ambience of each flashback story is conveyed flawlessly. Well worth a rental, and for fans of any of the main cast, this may be worth adding to your collection.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality of this transfer is very good indeed, with an almost tangible warmth from fully saturated colours which radiate from the screen.

    The film is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. This video transfer is usually razor sharp and is free from significant grain. Colours are very well rendered and and fully saturated, with the use of many primary colours and rich yellows and golds lending a warm feel throughout. There is a real depth and clarity to this transfer, with skin tones looking very natural, and some of the garden scenes looking like an impressionist painting. There is the merest hint of colour bleeding from Finn's red jacket during Chapter 24 but this is too minor to be a distraction. Black levels are solid and deep with very satisfactory shadow detail.

    The transfer is free from noticeable MPEG artefacts. There is no aliasing or shimmer present. Edge enhancement is really quite minor, which is good going for such a sharp transfer, but it can be seen from time to time (for example at 35:30 or 80:41) if you look closely. Telecine wobble is not evident.

    The transfer is relatively free from scratches and specks and this lack of significant film artefacts, coupled with the beautifully rendered colours, helps to make the film look fresh and clear throughout.

    I sampled the English (for the Hearing Impaired) subtitles and found them to be legible, well timed and very close to the on-screen dialogue at all times.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, but I could not detect the layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The overall audio transfer is clean, clear and understated.

    The English audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 kbps.

    The soundtrack is very clear and is without any noticeable flaws. There are no clicks, pops or hiss even during the quieter periods. Dialogue is always clear and I noticed no issues with audio sync.

    The musical score was composed by the highly regarded Thomas Newman (Road to Perdition, Erin Brockovich) and is a subtle, generally melancholy affair with piano, strings and woodwind. Various contemporary tunes crop up from time to time, and these are in keeping with the period in which the various sub-stories are set. The sound from the front speakers is well dispersed and provides a generally spacious feeling to the front soundstage.

    As might be expected for such a dialogue-driven piece, the surrounds are subtly - but appropriately - used to carry the musical score and to provide some minor ambient effects such as splashing in swimming scenes and birds chirping in the orchards.

    The subwoofer is only lightly used. It may carry some general bass depending on your sound system set-up, and only draws attention to itself during the windstorm which blows through in the final reel. Here it contributes a necessary aura of power to the sudden tempest.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are minimal extras on this DVD.


    The menu consists of a silent photograph of Winona Ryder in pensive mood. It allows you to either play the movie, choose audio and subtitle options, jump to one of thirty chapter stops or play the trailer.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented fullscreen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps and running for 2:30.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this film movie appears to be very similar to our own, albeit with a minor change to the aspect ratio (it has a 1.75:1 transfer). There appears to be no major reason to prefer either version, although the original aspect ratio and PAL transfer probably nudge the Region 4 version ahead by a nose.


    How To Make An American Quilt is a warm, touching film. Winona Ryder puts in a solid enough performance to avoid being outshone by the stellar ensemble cast. This is an ideal film for a rainy winter's night, where the gentle pace, poignant stories and wonderful colours will warm the cockles of your heart. The fairly slow pace and occasionally predictable vignettes prevent it from being a true classic, but it's close enough to provide a very pleasant evening's viewing.

    The video quality is very good - it is sharp, colourful and clean.

    The audio transfer is subtle but evocative and is free from major defects.

    There are minimal extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-47P500H 47" Widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
Winona Ryder to star in Sequel... - Dark Lord (Bio? We don't need no stinkin' bio!)
No sequel, - John Maher