Mommie Dearest (1981)
|Year Of Production||1981|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (66:19)||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Programme|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Frank Perry|
Paramount Home Entertainment
Howard Da Silva
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Mommie Dearest is an adaptation of the tell-all autobiography of Christina Crawford, adopted daughter of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. In her book, Christina describes years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of her crazy and obsessive adoptive mother; and the film takes the choicest, most bizarre and horrifying moments from that book, and makes a film of them. That’s all it is, really; there are scenes between the outrages, but they’re deadly dull. Their only purpose is to get us from The Hair-Cutting Scene to the Meat Plate Scene to the Rose Clipping Scene to the Scrubbing Scene to the Boardroom Scene to the Soap Opera Scene. Oh yes, and the Wire Hanger Scene. Wire hangers! Oh, how they’ll stick in your memory. Each of these sequences is quite compelling to watch; you’ll stare in mute horror, unable to tear your eyes away. It’s like slowing down to look at a car accident. But this isn’t your modern-day, gritty-telemovie kind of horror. It’s elaborately baroque, weird as all get out, campy and creepy. As soon as you see Joan at Christina’s birthday party, wearing the same puffy Bo Peep costume as her daughter, your nose will start to wrinkle. Later on, there’s so much awfulness going on that the little details almost get by you – like why the heck was Joan’s adoptive son, Christopher, strapped into his bed? Huh? What was all that about?
Joan Crawford is played – and played perfectly, at least for this kind of film – by an absolutely terrifying Faye Dunaway. She may be over the top; so far over, in fact, that if the character were a man, the only possible actor for the job would be Jack Nicholson in a Batman or Witches of Eastwick mood. But it is that very extremity of performance that makes this film worth anything at all. Snarling and screaming, or simply controlling those around her through sheer force of painted-on eyebrows, Dunaway is unforgettable. Maybe not good. But definitely unforgettable. Christina is played as a young child by the actually-quite-good Mara Hobel, who goes through hell on screen and has been rewarded with not much of a career, and as a teenager and young adult by the merely adequate Diana Scarwid, who gets throttled half to death but has done rather better in the years since. Pretty much everyone else involved is a forgettable hack.
While it reaches for quality at times – the marvellous opening montage of Joan’s brutal beauty regimen, for instance, or the Kubrickian symmetry of the shots featuring Joan on her staircase – Mommie Dearest is a trashy film. Good it’s not, but it is probably worth seeing: once and never again. You’ll be able to share meaningful looks with other survivors of this multiple Razzie award-winner any time the phrase ‘wire hangers’ crops up. And when people complain about Nicholson or Pacino going over the top, you’ll be able to tell them what overacting really is.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, slightly cropped from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.
The image is fairly sharp, except for a rather blurry shot at 41:40, and is devoid of low level noise. Shadow detail can be a problem, however – several scenes are very dark, such as the exterior at 4:22 or the Wire Hanger Scene at 56:39. The detail is there, kind of, but you won’t see it unless your lights are way down and you have reasonably good equipment.
Colours are plentiful and bright – often a little too bright, I thought. Some elements are obviously meant to glare, like the jarring red of Dunaway’s lipstick and fingernails, but others may not be so intentional – the blue pool chairs at 21:10, for example. There is no colour bleeding, however, nor any other colour artefact.
Aliasing and moire patterning are recurrent problems, if not show-stoppers. Christopher’s checked shirt at 37:45, and the blinds at 46:20, the roof at 70:56, and more are affected. The film was otherwise free of noticeable MPEG artefacts, and there were no film-to-video artefacts. But grain was omnipresent and significant, somewhat muddying the image. And a brace of small flecks and scratches didn’t help, either.
The subtitles were readable, fairly accurate and well-placed.
This is an RSDL disc, with the layer change well placed on a scene change at 66:19.
There are six audio tracks: a default English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448Kbps, and a set of English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 192Kbps. I listened to the English 5.1 track, and sampled the rest briefly.
Dialogue was consistently clear and easy to understand, without hiss, clicks or dropouts. There were no problems with audio sync.
The somewhat intermittent score is by the great Henry Mancini, but it’s far from his best work. Other than a particularly hideous bit of merry-go-round music at 14:40, none of it sticks in the memory – and there’s really very little of it. Most of the film goes unscored. What music there is comes cleanly and clearly from the front speakers, with some always directed to the surrounds.
That’s almost all the information the surrounds get, however; there are a few clatters and rustles, but otherwise this movie could almost have jettisoned everything but the centre channel.
When the producers remixed this soundtrack to 5.1, they seem to have decided – quite appropriately, in my opinion – not to make much use of the surrounds, but rather to simply separate the dialogue from the music and background noise. Thus, although there are several scenes that focus on Martin’s use of his sense of hearing, none of these are turned into surround-sound showpieces. This is quite acceptable in such a low-key film.
The subwoofer can just about go to sleep – I noticed no significant use beyond the tiniest assistance to the main channels.
|Surround Channel Use|
A pair of very basic bonus features is all we get.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;
The video quality is acceptable, if a little grubby.
The audio quality is reasonable, but there’s not a lot going on besides dialogue.
The extras are minimal and uninformative.
|DVD||Sony DVP-NS730P, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES|
|Speakers||Jensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer|