And Just In Time for Pride

In which Norm revisits the sizzling energy of the Wachowskis' BOUND in Criterion's beautiful new 4K restoration.

And Just In Time for Pride

I am still deep in the vortex of watching every movie produced in the last eight to ten months as the programming cycle hits its most crazed, but I’ve been using my downtime – such as it is – to catch up to some very impressive catalogue titles released over the last few weeks. And for right now, let’s focus on Criterion’s perfectly positioned release of one of the most rightfully beloved queer thrillers ever made: Bound

When Bound opened in the fall of 1996, after a run through the festival circuit that included a stop at TIFF, it was hailed as a revelatory neo-noir for placing two women at the center of a twisty, dangerous thriller narrative, challenging the concept of the femme fatale by leaving us wondering who’s using whom. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know that’s not even the right question to be asking: The Wachowskis are telling a different story entirely.

It's not that Gina Gerson’s confident Corky and Jennifer Tilly’s hesitant Violet don’t have incandescent chemistry; even nearly thirty years later their intensity seems to have its own gravitational pull, eradicating everything around them. And it’s not that the movie doesn’t deliver its share of conflicted anti-heroes turning the tables on shifty, selfish assholes: The script follows the backstabby examples set by films like Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep to the letter. The Wachowskis clearly grew up on all this stuff the same way the Coens did before them, internalizing the rhythms and tropes and building something new on top of them.

No, the real twist to Bound is – spoiler warning – that there is no twist at all, that Corky and Violet are exactly who they say they are all along, and the relationship that forms between them is one that’s as genuine, mutual and lustful as it looks. For all the betrayals and reversals and risks they take to spring Violet from her miserable marriage to a mobbed-up scumbag Caesar (Joe Pantoliano, of course), and relieve him of a couple of millions dollars of some other asshole’s money, Violet and Corky are also learning they can trust each other with their hearts as well as their lives.

That wasn’t something we saw too often, back in the day; we were used to Blood Simple and After Dark, My Sweet and Red Rock West and True Romance, where nihilism was a key element of neo-noir swagger. (Okay, things worked out for Clarence and Alabama in True Romance, but only because Tony Scott changed the ending.) The Tarantino knockoffs doubled down on posture and usually left everyone dead by the time the credits rolled; Bound gives Corky and Violet their happy ending not because it up-ends expectations, but because the two of them fucking earn it.

Criterion’s new release is built on a new 4K restoration of the unrated international cut of the film, and it’s a beauty, bringing out details and textures in Bill Pope’s sultry, murky cinematography that I haven’t seen since that first press screening. And you’ll want to stare: Bound is a sumptuous production on a tiny budget. The Wachowskis drew comparisons to the Coens for their meticulous control of the image and sound, and a lot of that is due to their clean visuals and retro styling choices. Caesar and company’s boxy suits read more ’40s than ’90s, while Violet and Corky’s wardrobes reach back to the mid ’50s and late ’30s, respectively. It all suits the genre. It all flows.

For the supplements, Criterion gathers extras from every previous release of the movie and adds “Pipeline to Seduction”, a video essay from Christina Newland, and a very thoughtful booklet essay by cultural critic McKenzie Wark. The audio commentary was recorded for the LaserDisc, and it’s a really engaging one, assembling the Wachowskis, Gershon, Tilly, Pantoliano, editor Zach Staenberg and technical advisory Susie Bright to discuss every imaginable aspect of the picture. The retrospective featurette “Modern Noir” dates back to Arrow’s 2014 UK special edition, as do the interviews with Gershon and Tilly (paired), Joey Pants and Christopher Meloni; an interview with title designer Patti Podesta and a conversation between critics B. Ruby Rich and Jen Woorman come from Olive Films’ 2018 Signature Edition.

I can’t imagine there’ll ever be a more comprehensive release of this film, so .. look, just buy it. It’s on sale and everything. And, again, happy Pride.

Bound is now available in a 4K/Blu-ray combo and a BD-only release from the Criterion Collection, both editions are currently available at a deep discount at Barnes & Noble in the US and Unobstructed View in Canada.

Coming real soon: American Gigolo, Mute Witness, Purple Rain and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut all got very nice 4K upgrades over the last few weeks. And there’s a new Ghostbusters movie, too. But first I need a nap.

Subscribe to Shiny Things

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.