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Mala Noche - Criterion Collection
Mala Noche - Criterion Collection
Actors: Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge, Nyla McCarthy, Sam Downey
Director: Gus Van Sant
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
NR     2007     1hr 18min

With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant's debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant's hometown of Portland, Oregon, t...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge, Nyla McCarthy, Sam Downey
Director: Gus Van Sant
Creators: Walt Curtis, John J. Campbell, Gus Van Sant
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 10/09/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/1985
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1985
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 18min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Art house release from 1985 too long unavailable
simpcity | 08/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Mala noche is a 'bad night.' Skid Row in Portland is full of bad nights for the central character, a clerk in a pocket packet store. Sweaty, sexy Mexican kids come to the store for booze and cigarettes. One in particular throws him over into a sea of lust and unrequited love.

Who is a 'bad knight' and who is a knight in shining armor is never really resolved. The clerk tries to teach the Mexican day laborer to drive, but maybe he just wants to get away on the road in the Dodge Dart, icon of all things PNW.

Gus Van Sant produced this in 1985, the same year he produced the music for his William S. Burroughs CD Elvis Of Letters. The 'sensual despair' that haunts nearly every Van Sant film was forged in these Portland days of the Director.

I saw this film just once at a film festival in Seattle when it first came out, and I have ached to see it again, if for no other reason than to reflect on it in light of the subsequent druggie Road pictures [Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho] and the more recent 'fictu-mentaries' [Elephant and Last Days].

Hats off to the Criterian volk for releasing this film. Not all may like it; some will find it brief and coarse, and yet those qualities are what so powerfully animates the film."
Anastasia | USA | 09/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When I was 14 I saw 'Drugstore Cowboy' for the first time and it made me look at film and life in a different light. I fell in love with Gus Van Sant's unjudgemental view of life and his affection for fringe people and vowed to see all of his films. I recently saw a bootleg of 'Mala Noche' and think it's his masterpiece filled with the themes that would become universal in all his films; lonely fringe characters, longing, alienation, etc.

I can't wait for this disc!"
Gus Van Sant's Auspicious Debut
Cubist | United States | 10/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant's feature film debut and an early example of what would become known as New Queer Cinema in the 1990s. More significantly, it was the first film in an informal trilogy set in Portland, Oregon that would also include Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho - Criterion Collection. One can see, in retrospect, Mala Noche as the thematic blueprint for these two other films: a fascination with street life and the characters that inhabit it - hustlers, store clerks and street kids.

The film has a gritty look thanks to the murky black and white cinematography of John Campbell (who would work with Van Sant again on My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) that suggests film noir (with skewed angles and everything filmed in shadows) but because it's a Gus Van Sant film there is a Beat poet vibe as the characters reside in cheap, run-down apartments, seedy liquor stores and the grungy, rainy streets of Portland.

Tim Streeter does an excellent job as Walt, the quintessential Van Sant protagonist cursed with too much self-awareness. He has street smarts and an endearing romantic streak that the actor conveys so well. Streeter has a real presence - you can't take your eyes off him - that makes him interesting to watch. Aside from a guest spot on 21 Jump Street - The Complete First Season and an appearance in a Sam Shepard play, he has done no other film or television work which is a real shame because he showed such promise with Mala Noche.

Because Mala Noche was Van Sant's first film, it has a rough-around-the-edges feel and a certain vitality and energy that was carried through his two other Portland films but seemed to disappear once he dabbled for awhile in Hollywood. Fortunately, his recent trilogy of death-obsessed films, Gerry, Elephant: A Film By Gus Van Sant, and Last Days sees a return to his looser, more experimental roots.

"Gus Van Sant Interview" is a typically low-key extra that features the filmmaker talking about a variety of topics, including his early filmmaking effort and how it led to making Mala Noche. The director talks at length about making the film with his own money and with a very small cast and crew.

"Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet" is a 1995, hour-long documentary by animator/filmmaker Bill Plympton about Curtis. The poet describes himself as "a kind of jerk-off poet therapist," reads his work and offers observations about life in a very colourful way.

Also included is a "Storyboard Gallery" with copies of the boards that Van Sant used while filming.

Finally, there is a trailer."
Early Van Zant
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 10/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Mala Noche"

Early Van Zant

Amos Lassen

"Mala Noche" is Gus Van Zant's first feature film and it gives a hint of what the director will later give us in his movies. Made on a very tight budget, it is a wry and perceptive look at obsession and unrequited lust. Shot in black and white, the film looks at Portland, Oregon's skid row where handsome but cynical Walt (Tim Streeter) passes time by selling cheap wine to panhandlers. Walt had something for Latinos and he eventually becomes both fascinated by and infatuated with Johnny, a 16 year old illegal immigrant who is at times friendly and at other times abusive. Walt becomes frustrated that Johnny will not have sex with him so he becomes a sex toy for Johnny's handsome friend, Roberto. This is one of the films that have come to define what we call New Queer Cinema.
Visually, even with its graininess, the movie is special. Van Zant waxes lyrical and his highly romantic style that he used here for the first time has gone on to become one of his trademarks. Almost as soon as the film begins, we can feel the danger in Walt's longing but his lust so consumes him that he is unable to resist. Using the themes of desperation and the power of sexuality and emotion, the film takes the viewers and the characters on a journey down the road of unnerving behavior and instability. The sub-culture of illegal immigrants which includes both immigration authorities and the will to stay alive gives us an atmosphere that these are the rules that life must be played by. The male immigrants act with reckless abandon and they are sexually unavailable. Because they are so overtly masculine, Walt finds them that much more alluring and he is even willing to pay to have sex just to get a small f taste of what these men are like.
The movie actually tells two separate stories--one the lust of Walt for Johnny and the other is the story of Portland and the randomness of life. Portland is no more than a small town that has outgrown itself. It has a seamy underside with many people barely eking out an existence. Van Zant looks at the marginalized people of the city and shows how they differ from everyone else. The movie seems to be set in that period of time known as twilight which can also describe a state of mind and it seems to be a fragment of a larger existence.
The acting is excellent. Streeter gives a brilliant portrayal of Walt and beautifully shows how he is a victim of his own desire. Walt's delusion is amiable and funny. All is not perfect here, however. There are moments of confusion and randomness and of tragedy but every shot of the camera is crafted with delicacy and style and any inconsistencies eventually work themselves out.
Van Zant as an openly gay man has been honest about his sexuality yet this is his only feature with an overtly gay storyline, Both "My Own Private Idaho" and his segment in "Paris Je Taime" allude to a gay subplot but "Mala Noche" delvers one with no apology. The movie depicts everything with realism and the movie gives us an ethereal beauty not often seen in cinema.