Praise (1998)

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Released 22-Nov-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Trailer-2
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Novel; CD
DVD Credits
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 90:30 (Case: 97)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By John Curran
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Peter Fenton
Sacha Horler
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music Dirty Three


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    You can have your ID4s, your JPs and your EP1s, but ever since I vowed never to watch VHS again, I have wistfully passed Praise in my local video store, bemoaning, as always, the reluctance of distributors to release arthouse movies on DVD, let alone Australian arthouse movies. With the entry of Siren into the Region 4 fray, at least one of my moans has been extinguished: one of my favourite novels starring the former frontman of one of my favourite bands, and a soundtrack by Dirty Three no less... suffice it to say, I was positively wetting myself when this movie was released.

    Andrew McGahan's 1992 semi-autobiographical novel won rave reviews worldwide. Here was literary grunge: for me, an accompaniment to albums by the likes of Crow, Sebadoh and PJ Harvey, Praise charts a year in the life of its protagonist, Gordon. Having quit uni after coming to Brisbane from his family's farm in the country, he works in the bottle shop attached to his local, but only enough to pay the rent on his dingy room in a boarding house filled with old men, and for his pouch of tobacco and half-case of beer. Disillusioned, disenchanted and disenfranchised, he lives from drink to drink, cigarette to cigarette, consciously contemplating his own decline with a bizarre fascination that's easy once you get the hang of it. That is, until he gets a phone call from Cynthia.

    Cynthia, with a taste for the drink that outstrips even Gordon's, and a desire for sex that to him is frightening in its intensity, literally commands Gordon out of his stupor. Covered in eczema that bleeds almost incessantly, she hits Gordon with a force that his lethargy finds difficult to cope with, and when the L word starts being bandied about, things start to get interesting. Even more interesting is when the object of Gordon's lifelong infatuation, Rachel, turns up on the scene.

    McGahan penned the screenplay himself (and won an AFI award for his troubles), and whilst keeping the real, (genital) warts and all tone of the novel, the movie becomes a little less about Gordon and a little more about "Gordon and Cynthia", but nonetheless retains the sense of likeable pathos and wry, angsty humour of the text. The movie drips with the banality of life, and while there is no major, defining out-of-the-ordinary moment for Gordon and Cynthia; their relationship slowly ignites and disintegrates, but where Praise is aimed is at the very nuts and bolts of their relationship: the mundane grind of the everyday on two people seemingly hell-bent on their own destruction.

    By now, you may be wondering exactly what there is of value here, but I'll lay it out for you: Sacha Horler (Soft Fruit) as the sexually predatory Cynthia and debutante Peter Fenton (formerly of Crow) as the lethargic Gordon deliver stunning performances at opposite ends of the sexual spectrum, and they inject their roles with such realism and feeling that although it is difficult to sympathize with the characters, director John Curran (also his feature debut) ensures that we are always involved and caring about them. Brilliantly lit and photographed by Dion Beebe (Holy Smoke), we are given an at times uncomfortable and sometimes painful window into the lives of the two lead characters as their relationship runs its almost inevitable course.

    Nominated for a total of 10 AFI awards, Praise really hit some sort of spot with me, and although virtually ignored by much of the movie-going public on its limited theatrical release, it is a document of a relationship worthy of recognition for its sadness, beauty and the wonderful skills and craft on show.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.79:1 (measured), and despite the lack of 16x9 enhancement, Siren have managed to produce a superbly detailed and clear transfer. Frankly, I was a little apprehensive as to what the video quality would be like when I slipped this DVD into the player, but I need not have worried.

    Generally, the transfer was quite sharp and detailed, with the clouds of cigarette smoke almost always present throughout the movie swirling beautifully, and every detail of Cynthia's various skin blemishes on display. There was absolutely no low-level noise to speak of and shadow detail in this darkly lit movie was superb: every detail intended by the makers could be seen, including some stylistically-induced grain in a couple of scenes.

    The colours used throughout the movie were deliberately muted: pale oranges, yellows, browns and washed-out blues (the colours of a suburban Brisbane summer) were the order of the day, but occasionally, when the action moved outdoors, there were some beautifully vibrant greens of the flora and blues of the sky.

    Aside from the occasional film artefact in the guise of a white speck (and a small scratch at 2:21), no other transfer defects were apparent, and this was very pleasing indeed, although the transfer wasn't really put to the test with much in the way of items usually causing film-to-video artefacts.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Once I got used to the inherent limitations of a Dolby Surround encoded soundtrack (the only one available), I realized that this wasn't a bad mix at all. Sure, it was front-heavy as can only be expected, but the soundstage was nice and wide, and the sound generally was well-detailed.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times, with the odd exception of a couple of lines delivered when the characters were in quite an emotional state. Audio sync was not an issue whatsoever.

    The majority of the original score was provided by Dirty Three, a name familiar to fans of the Australian indie scene. Consisting of Warren Ellis' wailing violin, a guitar and drums, the main theme used is that from a track called I Remember A Time When You Once Used To Love Me; together with the rest of the soundtrack, it complements the onscreen action perfectly.

    Being a Dolby Surround encoded mix, I didn't expect too much from the surrounds, but I did expect a little more than was given. Although they nicely complemented the score, and occasionally made me jump when a certain rear-to-front "whoosh" effect was used, I was hoping for a little more in the way of ambience, or at least a little more volume for those ambient sounds reproduced.

    Although the subwoofer wasn't overly necessary in this dialogue-based production, it was occasionally called upon to support the lower end of the score as well as to provide the odd effect like when Gordon winds up his Kingswood.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A very small range of extras that would have been greatly enhanced by at least some form of commentary.

Menu

    The menu features a static shot from the cover of the DVD, with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround encoded excerpts from the score playing. For some reason, these do not loop, however, when returning to the main menu from a submenu, a different excerpt starts.

Sneak Preview

    Presented at 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Surround encoded sound, this 1:22 minute teaser trailer plays up the humour of the feature. It is of decent quality.

Theatrical Trailer

    This 1:36 effort is presented in a similar manner and is of similar quality to the teaser above.

Profiles

    Short, but reasonably comprehensive biographies for producer Martha Coleman, John Curran, Andrew McGahan, Peter Fenton, and Sacha Horler.

Novel

    A listing of awards won by the novel upon which the film was based.

CD

    Very basic details of the soundtrack album, accompanied by one of its songs.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

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

    This is an all region release: I assume that the only difference will be formatting, so purchasing a PAL version would obviously be the way to go.

Summary

    Praise is one of the better Australian movies of recent times: beautiful cinematography coupled with excellent direction and a couple of stunning performances from the leads do justice to an award-winning novel. Despite being slightly let down by the lack of 16x9 enhancement, a lightweight extras package, and the use of a Dolby Surround encoded soundtrack, this is an excellent DVD presentation subject only to the deficiencies of the formats used for the sound and video.

    A welcome entrant into the Region 4 marketplace, Siren will get my hard-earned dollars if it continues to release quality titles like this one. Now if only they'd give us 5.1 and 16x9 enhancement...

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Anthony Curulli (read my bio)
Thursday, November 16, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D608
SpeakersFront: Yamaha NS10M, Rear: Wharfedale Diamond 7.1, Center: Wharfedale Sapphire, Sub: Aaron 120W

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