|My Left Foot (Special Edition)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 16 August 2005|
“My Left Foot” is a fantastic film with an inspiring story, a pleasing group of characters, portrayed with Oscar-winning performances. This “Collector’s Edition” DVD also has one of the dirtiest and most dated-looking transfers of any movie I’ve ever seen that was made less than 40 years ago. The long and short? Good movie, poor technical DVD.
The story focuses on the real-life events surrounding Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), a Dublin, Ireland man who was born with severe cerebral palsy that left him with physical control over only his left foot. One of 20 children born to his mother (Brenda Fricker) and father (Ray McAnally), Christy struggles not only with himself but also to make an impact in a large family. Though his siblings take good care of him, he is generally looked upon as something of an idiot by many, including his father. Eventually the young Christy (Hugh O’Conor) learns how to write by picking up chalk with his left foot and drawing on the floor. After captivating his family by spelling out “mother,” the senior Brown finally seems to accept his son, carrying him into the local pub and introducing him to the other patrons.
We now come to Day-Lewis’ excellent performance as the 17-year-old Christy (though it must be said that O’Conor is also extremely effective). Christy is shown to play soccer in the street, participate with his brothers when they play spin the bottle with local lasses, as well as taking a part in drinking at the local pub. After professing his love for a girl who does not return it, Christy goes through some dark times before being pulled out of it by his mother, who introduces him to Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), a specialist in working with those with cerebral palsy. Eileen helps Christy to improve his speaking abilities and encourages his already adept ability to paint with his foot. Christy eventually becomes known as a painter, but after again enduring unrequited love, he sinks back into despair. Once again, it is his mother who pulls him back from the brink. With a new lease on life and a new focus and purpose, Christy sets about to write of his life experiences.
Though the film looks very dated, it has those timeless attributes that make it worth seeing for anyone. Day-Lewis won an Academy Award for Best Actor and Fricker won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. In addition, the role really solidified Day-Lewis’ reputation as a fine, intense and committed actor. The script by Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan, as well as Sheridan’s direction, is straightforward and does not descend at any point into schmaltzy overindulgence. Instead, all the characters are presented in a manner that truly makes their lives seem both ordinary and extraordinary, which all lives truly are. Though a simple story with relatively few locations, “My Left Foot” never drags and in fact seems to move at a brisk pace. Overall, it is an Academy favorite both because of its tone, subject matter and execution.
Miramax is putting out a few Collector’s Editions lately, but some of them are simply rehashed older films with few real improvements. This DVD sadly is no exception, both in terms of lack of quality bonus features and an entirely substandard digital remastering of picture and sound. “The Real Christy Brown” uses interviews with the filmmakers, as well as old footage of the real Christy Brown. It discusses who Brown was and the nature of cerebral palsy. There is a wealth of found footage here that is used with great results. It is especially gratifying to watch this segment before the film, because it underscores the power of the story and the performance of Day-Lewis. Though the DVD contains some newer interviews, there are no appearances or commentary with any of the main actors besides Hugh O’Conor, and none with Sheridan or Day-Lewis. This is a big detraction from the overall rating and mostly disappointing.
The early part of the film is very dirty, though the dirt is on the inside of either the telecine lens or the original lens, because none of the dirt moves. This eventually goes away, but there are still streaks here and there and swimming bits of dust, as well as bits of dropout. It’s really a shame that the print looks so worn out. It is crisp, but it also has many flaws, so that the crispness brings out even more of the nicks, scratches and spots that abound throughout. This is supposed to be an all-new transfer, and I struggle to think what the VHS or DVD looked like the last time I watched this film. Clearly, though this might have been a remastered picture, there was little done to try to restore the original print. Restoring original prints, especially the negative, is time-consuming and expensive, but it presents the viewer with a superior product and also means that the film itself will last longer. The sound is not much better, and I’m not quite sure why they remixed the sound onto Dolby 5.1. Some of the production sound and subsequent looping is so poorly recorded that the new mix does little but enhance the frustration I feel at the original sound. Though a great film in terms of direction, writing and acting, this is not exactly a technical masterpiece, though there is no need for it to be. Regardless, whoever was in charge of remastering this DVD should also have looked up the word “restore,” as well as “remaster.” There is little point in remastering either picture or sound that has deteriorated to the extent that it must also be restored without doing a restoration.
If anyone already owns an earlier version of “My Left Foot” on DVD, that person is pretty safe to simply keep that copy, because this edition really adds nothing much to what came before. However, for those who have not seen this fine film and the remarkable performances it contains, go buy or rent whatever copy you can get your hands on.