Oleanna (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (14th September 2018).
The Film

Based on his own controversial and incendiary stage play about a young college student who accuses her much older professor of sexual harassment, David Mamet’s riveting drama features two grandstand performances from leads William H Macy (Fargo, Magnolia) and Debra Eisenstadt. Now more relevant and provocative than ever, Oleanna is both a reaction against the plague of political correctness, and a powerful, yet teasingly ambiguous, plea for tolerance between the sexes.

Video

An arrogant academic (William H. Macey) who is on the verge of getting his tenure is confronted by a particularly vulnerable and obtuse student (Debra Eisenstadt) about her poor grade and the fact she gets little out of his lessons. Afterwards she twists what he said and did to make it look like he assaulted her and offered her an “A” grade in exchange for “meeting him”. In this way he also didn’t cover himself with glory and did behave in an unprofessional way by - from his perspective - offering her a higher grade immediately but only if she attend after class sessions to embed the classroom learning.

This film never once escapes it’s photographed stage play origins, alas; and, I found it rather maddening because the false accusation of sexual harassment is one of the great threats any educator can face.

Being an educator myself I did have a teensy bit of empathy with him and completely understand his frustration at such an obtuse pupil. Especially when she misunderstands and ultimately turns it all against him. But, he shouldn’t have been so unprofessional. Her grade should have stood as it was and then offered the after class tuition to all struggling pupils.

I found this grim, depressing and rather tedious ... and worthy. And, neither character was very sympathetic so found it hard to care. In any case this has great relevance today given the current “Me too” business and is guaranteed to start post film debate.

Ignoring my personal view on the film, this is yet another knockout Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films. It hasn’t always been an easy film to see, but this disc is likely to be the definitive way for home viewing for the foreseeable future; until someone does a 4K UHD release.

This is a richly shot, colourful film with a palette that emphasises browns, golds and yellows and is naturally warm. It’s about 99% interiors and as such was made in a very easily controlled environment as regards lighting. The look is luminous and velvety with plenty of detail on all focal plains when intended. Mamet also has the DP using shallow focus very well to draw specific parts of the frame into crystal clarity and throw everything else to a blur, to draw attention to specifics. The transfer handles this adeptly and the encoding job by David Mackensie and Fidelity in Motion is as good as can be.

They’re working from an excellent 2013 master provided by MGM and supervised by Gary Teetzel. Grain is ever present but fine rarely becoming noticeably course and obviously the encoding handles it evenly and smoothly.

Black levels are very deep and rich with no evidence of crush; contrast is supportive. Being an interior lensed film means the control of the conditions under which it was made was absolute and I also suspect this had a supportive production schedule, with no cost or corner cutting. A valuable record of the 1992 stage production, very carefully crafted.

I believe that this is a world-wide Blu-ray exclusive and I can’t see it being bettered visually. The aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (European flat standard) is most unusual for an American production from the 1990s.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.66:1 / 89:55

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

I was very surprised to find that this was a mono film. Especially being an American film from the ‘90s; by this point I thought only Woody Allen was recording sound in mono. This is as good a mono track as I’ve heard with excellent fidelity and being dialogue heavy, it’s always crystal clear with no hiss or distortion. The score is minimal and never intrudes. Being a photographed stage play the subtitles for the hard of hearing are essential.

Extras

“Power Play with William H. Macy” featurette (17:24)
“The Understudy with Debra Eisenstadt” featurette (11:09)

The two key players discuss the importance of the film, the play, the controversy; both were part of the original production. Macy the main lead and Eisenstadt was the understudy to Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon (who scored the film). Eisenstadt also goes into her career in some depth.

Theatrical Trailer (2:04)

Modest trailer highlighting the key moments.

Oleanna Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (10 images)

Brief collection of production stills; nothing remarkable.

32-page liner notes booklet by Rebecca Nicole Williams, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Essential. No more need be said, especially for a controversial subject and film like this.

Overall

A difficult film to appreciate for some, a masterpiece for others; judge for yourself. What isn’t at all in dispute is this film’s (and the original play’s) ability to be the centrepiece of discussion and debate. Which side of the fence do you fall on?

The disc is going to be a must for fans; picture and sound are as good as can be shy of 4K and 5.1 sound (but why would you on the latter?). The extras are choice but could’ve been more extensive; perhaps a commentary from two diametrically opposing viewpoints? Or, at least two separate commentaries highlighting the two positions. Perhaps a featurette on the real legal cases that led Mamet to write the piece in the first place. Still, a nice package overall.

The Film: C+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.