There’s nothing quite like the excitement I feel when I pop in a film I’ve never heard of and walk away not only happy to have seen it, but downright thrilled to be able to count myself amongst the precious few to have done so. Such was the case with the little known 1993 Australian import, Bad Boy Bubby, a film that ruled the festival scene over a decade ago, but was so encumbered by red tape and litigation that it sunk like a stone before even reaching the Americas. Blue Underground introduced me to this fantastic film a few years back, when they released it on DVD for the first time in America. Now, Bubby comes to Blu-ray!
Bubby (Hope) is a thirty five year old, socially retarded man who has been locked up in his mother’s basement since birth (she has convinced him that the air outside is poison, and even dons a gas mask when she goes off to gather food and supplies). He speaks only by repeating words and phrases he has heard, but his eyes communicate so much more.
His relationship with his twisted “Ma” is an abusive, incestuous, and humiliating one. For example, when Bubby asks his mother why the feral cat that is now his pet didn’t die in the poisonous air outside, she tells him that it’s because cats don’t breath, and begins to suffocate Bubby to illustrate her point. When his mother goes off to shop, Bubby decides to test his mother’s theory with some cling-wrap and the cat, and the results are expectedly tragic. However, this is a man who possesses the mind of a child, and death, to him, is such an abstract concept that he is completely unaware that what he’s done is undoable, so he goes on caring for the cat as if it’s due to wake up at any time.
When Bubby’s estranged “Pop” turns up, Bubby is too overwhelmed by this man’s presence to question just how it is he has survived out there in the poison air. His mother, meanwhile, openly accepts him back into her life, and, for Bubby, this means he has been replaced. His father is now doing all of the things for his mother that he used to do, and Bubby feels jealous, alienated, and also enraged as it also becomes evident that his mother has lied to him about what lay beyond the apartment door. So, after a night of abuse at the hands of his drunken parents, Bubby elects to “cling-wrap” the both of them, to see what lay beyond the door.
What happens next is both outrageous, exhilarating, and even a bit sad, as Bubby not only discovers what he’s been missing, but questions if he was ever intended to see any of this at all.
Director Rolf de Heer’s disarmingly funny and twisted character study is an example of “experimental” cinema that is truly experimental. The film features 32 cinematographers- an idea that originated back when de Heer thought this would be a film he’d shoot with no budget, and, therefore, have to film on a sporadic basis. He figured that he would have to hire a different cinematographer every time he would be ready to shoot again, so he wrote the script around this idea, embracing the prospect of different visual styles as it would help to present each of Bubby’s new experiences in a fresh way. While the financing did come through, de Heer still opted to stick with his original idea, and the results are staggeringly effective. The film begins with a dingy, grey look that evokes thoughts of prisons and dungeons. When Bubby first steps out of the basement, the streets are dark, wet, and misty, creating a surreal dreamlike quality. When Bubby discovers love, the skies are fire red, and warm. It’s a brilliant concept, and is used to its fullest potential here, creating a film that is not only thematically complex, but visually complex as well.
Rolf de Heer had another nifty trick up his sleeve with the use of a binaural sound recording system. Most of the film’s audio track was recorded using two tiny, high sensitivity microphones attached to both sides of star Nicholas Hope’s head, just above his ears. This results in the audience hearing things the way that Bubby hears them, from the gentle sound of wind blowing in his hair, to the cacophony of a crowded pizza bar, and is an immersive technique that truly draws us even further into his world.
Of course, the look and sound of a film can only carry it so far, especially in a movie that is focused on one character. Nicholas Hope, an Australian stage actor/musician, turns in an amazing performance as Bubby, careening between moments of childlike gentleness, animal rage, and a quiet lucidity. The gentle Bubby doesn’t think there is a place in this world for him, so he adopts the crass and aggressive identity of “Pop” when faced with situations that threaten him or those he cares for. The shift in character is abrupt, alarming, and wonderfully executed, especially when “Pop” inadvertently becomes the de facto front man for a bar band, and the Bubby and Pop personalities clash on stage in a moment of true, unbridled pathos.
Blue Underground brings Bad Boy Bubby to Blu-ray (wow, say that five times fast!) with a very solid 2.35:1 transfer that boasts surprising depth and clarity, rich and vibrant colors (which grow more vivid as the film moves forward, representing Bubby’s acclimation from his sheltered existence to this “new world”), and fine detail. Occasionally there is a softness to the image, and grain is apparent throughout, but the picture quality is a noticeable improvement over Blue Underground’s already excellent DVD transfer.
I received a notice from Blue Underground that review copies of the disc featured a faulty Dolby TrueHD track, but I’ve been assured that this would not be a problem at the retail level, so fear not Dolby fans; it won’t be an issue for you. The second track, in 5.1 DTS HD MA, sounded crystal clear, with wonderfully nuanced dialogue and solid separation. This is a front heavy mix, and, having seen the film several times, I didn’t expect to be caught up in a whirling dervish of surround effects, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way the film’s sound effects were implemented. There are nice little subtleties at play, here, and, overall, the mix has an organic quality that’s right in step with Rolf de Heer’s innovative recording techniques.
Supplemental features are carryovers from the previous DVD release, and are all presented in 480p SD. We get an interview/featurette entitled Christ Kid, You're a Weirdo, in which de Heer talks about his somewhat maverick approach to making the film, an interview with Nicholas Hope in the Being Bubby featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer. We also get a short film, Confessor Caressor , that stars Hope, and, ultimately, led to his being cast in the role of Bubby. While I’d have loved some new features, especially a commentary track, those new to the film will appreciate what’s assembled here.
Bad Boy Bubby is a challenging film, filled with images that may shock and offend (especially during the movie’s very disturbing first thirty minutes), but the pay-off is one of the most enchanting, funny, and touching “coming of age” films one will ever see. I applaud Blue Underground for choosing to bring this one to Blu-ray over some of the more obvious titles in their catalog, and I think the decision will pay off, as this is exactly the sort of film adventurous Blu-ray fans have been waiting for. This is a brilliant, expertly made movie that is truly like nothing you've ever seen, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.