ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Something Wild (1986) Blu Ray (The Criterion Collection)
Wild thing, you make my heart sing
Jeff Daniels plays Charles Driggs, a New York executive who spots a flamboyantly exotic woman (played by Melanie Griffith) in a deli during his lunch break. After he leaves the place she comes after her, claiming that he hasn’t left any payment for his meal. She manages to seduce Charles into going for a ride with him, during which she introduces herself as Lulu. She has a clear delinquent streak and seems hell-bent on turning over his impeccably ordered business schedule, throwing out his pager, robbing the till of a liquor store and persuading him to check into a roadside hotel for kinky sex. Despite his initial protests, however, it is clear that part of him is happy to go along with this unconventionally attractive lady.
The pair go on a full-blown road trip together whereby she manages to pass him off as her husband in order to keep up a respectable appearance in front of her mother and then, later on, a high school reunion bash. Unfortunately, just as he starts to genuinely fall for her, an old boyfriend named Ray (played by Ray Liotta) arrives at the party. It soon becomes clear that he wants her back - and is more than prepared to use violent methods to do so.
Watch a trailer:
An archetypal 1980s mix of genres
Something Wild is one of those offbeat, freeform genre-blending cult movies that’s so uniquely 1980s; see also the likes of The Blues Brothers, Repo Man and Streets of Fire. Funnily enough, it was directed by Jonathan Demme who has dabbled in various genres throughout his career, usually with superior results. He cut his teeth in the 1970s making exploitation flicks for Roger Corman (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama) and, since then, has made comedies (Melvin and Howard in 1980), a Talking Heads rock concert film (Stop Making Sense in 1984), thrillers (The Silence of the Lambs in 1991) and dramas (Philadelphia in 1993). Something Wild kind of leans towards all of these at various points in its runtime as well as fitting into the road movie and high school reunion sub-genres.
It was also a notable movie in the careers of its three main stars. It was Ray Liotta’s first major screen role as well as being a significant step up in the then-rising careers of Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith. All three were nominated for Golden Globes. All three are great here; the uptight and mildly nerdish Daniels clicks perfectly with the irresistibly unabashed Griffith. Liotta, meanwhile, makes for a brashly charismatic antagonist with a terrifyingly wild propensity for violence; the frenzied vigour with which he smashes walls and room fixtures here is method acting at its best.
Although the overall premise is somewhat far-fetched there’s a certain “just go with it” fantasy feel to the film as well as its spot-on observations about how the most strait-laced of people have a subconscious desire to break loose of societally-imposed constraints. That draw of the woman or man who’s exciting but not good for you is a prevalent theme here; both Griffith’s and Liotta’s characters are certainly that type. On the other side of the coin, there’s an innate, subconscious craving amongst the more worldly-inclined to corrupt the innocent by delivering forbidden fruit.
Something Wild amply delivers on such promises via its freewheeling and sensual nature. It’s not long into the runtime before Griffith’s character has handcuffed Jeff Daniels to a motel bed, stripped off her ethnic-y dress and smeared her cherry-red lipstick down his bare chest. The film has a colourful look courtesy of Stephen J. Lineweaver’s exuberant production design (even the hotel wallpaper looks insanely flamboyant in the world created here) and Tak Fujimoto’s beautifully warm cinematography. The film’s pace is unhurried during the first half but climaxes in a frantically violent action sequence.
While there are various new wave pop songs so typical of this era incorporated into the soundtrack (courtesy of the likes of Talking Heads, Big Audio Dynamite and Fine Young Cannibals), music is incorporated into the film in various unexpected ways. During one scene at a gas station, we see four men rapping in the background, whereas during the end credits we linger on Sister Carol East performing a rendition of Wild Thing by The Troggs on a New York sidewalk. There are a lot of cameos here, ranging from distinctive character actors Tracey Walter and Charles Napier to cult directors John Sayles and John Waters.
It’s a movie very much like its central Melanie Griffith character. It’s all about having fun and ensuring that the viewer which it takes along for the ride does too. It succeeds admirably.
Runtime: 113 mins
Dir: Jonathan Demme
Script: E. Max Frye
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Margaret Colin, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, John Sayles, John Waters, Sister Carol East
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This Criterion restoration has been supervised by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and approved by director Demme. The colour and detail are eye-searingly great and come about as close as it is possible to defining the words “eye candy”. Skin tones and textures are warm and vivid, lending the proceedings a suitably earthy feel. The DTS-HD soundtrack sounds equally spectacular and flawlessly restored.
The booklet contains an excellent essay entitled Wild Things by written David Thompson which examines the film’s playful genre blend as well as delving a little into Jonathan Demme’s wider career.
Interviews with Jonathan Demme and E. Max Frye
During his highly entertaining interview Demme discusses the factors that drew him to Something Wild, the filming advice that he adopted from his mentor Roger Corman and his decision to use source music rather than a conventional soundtrack. He also reveals that he had real difficulties in casting the part of the film’s antagonist Ray because none of the actors who came to rehearsals managed to scare him. This changed when Griffith recommended Ray Liotta who was attending her acting class at the time.
Screenwriter Frye reveals that the story was inspired by an occasion when he saw a man in a suit flirting with a woman with tattoos and piercings in a bar. He also mentions that he was genuinely awed to see Melanie Griffith wearing a wig which resembled the hairstyle of 1920s film actress Louise Brooks, whom he is a big fan of.
A trailer rounds out the extras.
Something Wild is a 1980s film which is well worthy of rediscovery. The restoration is wonderful and while there aren’t as many extras as there are on other Criterion releases the quality level is good enough to make up for the lack of quantity.