Speaking Parts Review

Speaking Parts followed two years after Family Viewing, retaining the services of three of its principal cast and score composer Mychael Danna. Its budget augmented by funding from Italy and the UK (Film Four International), it was Egoyan's first feature in 35mm, and began a long collaboration with DP Paul Sarossy. The smoother grain brought about by the jump up in film gauge from the 16mm of the two earlier features enables Egoyan and Sarossy to really play with the differing textures of film and the video material which features so largely in the storyline, the latter often shot so close up that the lines are clearly visible. Once again, modern technology – not just video (note the use of an answering machine late on) – is used to isolate as well as to bring together, sometimes both at the same time. The latter features in the film's most memorable scene, where a videoconference link is used for what would now be done online and be called cybersex. (This brought about the 18 certificate that Speaking Parts bore on its cinema release – it's a 15 now.) Sex, Lies and Videotape would be an appropriate title if not already taken.

Video is also a repository of memory, as Clara (Gabrielle Rose) sits at a video memorial wall, replaying footage of her brother, who donated a lung to save her life and died as a result. This story is the source of her script, but video can of course be erased and taped over, and this becomes a battle between her and the film's director (Roger Hemblen) for control of this story. Clara is not pleased by the rewriting of her past and takes desperate action. (It's not hard to detect some deadpan satire of mainstream film and TV on Egoyan's part here.) Meanwhile, Lisa (Arsinée Khanjian), a hotel worker with a fixation on colleague Lance (Michael McManus), who has sidelines as a gigolo and a film extra – and who applies for a role in the film based on Clara's script – which leads her to After Dark Video, run by Eddy (Tony Nardi), where she obsessively takes out films where Lance makes an appearance. (The video store seems wall to wall Hollywood blockbusters, but Egoyan gets in his shout-outs for Canadian cinema. Videos of The Brood, Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and Jean-Claude Lauzon's Night Zoo are prominently displayed next to Eddy's counter, and he recommends The Decline of the American Empire to Lisa at one point.) Eddy has a sideline making wedding videos, and Lisa assists him...with disastrous results as in her hands a video camera becomes a weapon.

As that will indicate, Speaking Parts is a film of many layers and strands, Egoyan negotiating his intricate plot with assurance. Visually, this is a jump in sophistication, with Egoyan introducing his characters in a series of wordless tableaux vivants: it's a full seven minutes before a word iof dialogue is spoken.

There are those who found Egoyan's earlier works a little on the chilly side: I was one, not seeing Speaking Parts on its cinema release or TV showings, starting with The Adjuster and not being converted until Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. While the emotional register of Speaking Parts is more cool than not, that's deceptive. Egoyan's story is not a case of convolution for its own sake: all the stories are rooted in the characters' emotional isolation, needs and pain. Speaking Parts is hugely impressive and one of Egoyan's major works.

The Blu-ray

1989 was rather too early for many non-mainstream films to have a British VHS release, so this Blu-ray and DVD from Artificial Eye marks the first time that Speaking Parts has been able to buy for home viewing in the UK. It was the Blu-ray which was received for review, and affiliate links above refer to that edition. For links for the DVD release, go here.

The Blu-ray transfer is a solid one, in a ratio of 1.78:1, opened up slightly from the original 1.85:1. The colours seem true to a general cool palette, blacks are solid and shadow detail is good. The video footage looks much more low-def, but that's obviously intentional.

Speaking Parts was released in cinemas with a mono soundtrack, which had become quite rare by 1989. Given that, the film has a complex sound design, involving sound effects, Danna's score and diegetic music. It comes over well enough in the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix on this Blu-ray, but you can't help wondering why a LPCM 2.0 track could not have been provided. As usual with Artificial Eye and other distributors too, no hard-of-hearing subtitles are provided for this English-language film.

As with Artificial Eye's previous Egoyan releases, there are no extras.

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