Kino Lorber // 1996 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 24th, 2013
A good monster is a terrible thing to waste
You can say a lot of negative things about Kevin Smith if you're so inclined (I'm not, but the point still stands). One thing you can never, ever take away from him, though, is that he has never left a man behind. He started out in the Jersey suburbs before making it big with Clerks. Although he's hardly Hollywood royalty, no one would blame him for downplaying his New Jersey roots -- and yet he hasn't. He's kept the same stars for many of his Askewniverse films, kept working with the same DP for almost everything, and when we had a chance to make a TV show, he cast his old Jersey buddies Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson. More evidence of that dedication appears with Drawing Flies. Co-director Malcolm Ingram was covering the Mallrats production as a journo, and handed out a script that lots of people liked, including Smith and his producing-pal Scott Mosier. Released in 1996, Drawing Flies was the first View Askew Productions film to not be written and directed by Smith. Lost for many years but now Kino Lorber has resurrected the film under its Horizon label for the excellent Drawing Flies (Blu-ray) Anniversary Edition.
A set of Canadian slackers are hanging out, living welfare check to welfare check, smoking and drinking most of it. When they're about to be evicted, one of their number, Donner (Jason Lee, Chasing Amy), lures the rest of them out into the woods with a promise of a stay in his father's cabin. There is no cabin, and the group finds themselves at a crossroads trying to survive in the woods.
Drawing Flies is likely to appeal to two groups of viewers. The first are fans of Jason Lee. Though he started out as a skateboarder and only gradually got into movies, My Name Is Earl proved hugely popular. Drawing Flies is only his second starring role after Mallrats and before the triumph of Chasing Amy. It's obvious even in this low-budget comedy that Lee has star quality and would go on to do greater things. Though the other actors are fine in their roles, Lee is the star of this vehicle and he gives his story a surreal edge that makes the film more than a typical mid-nineties indie comedy.
The other group that Drawing Flies is going to appeal to is Askewniverse fanatics. If you've seen every Kevin Smith movie and can quote all the dialogue, chances are you've seen Drawing Flies as well, or will want to. In either case, Drawing Flies (Blu-ray) Anniversary Edition is aimed at you. Fans of the Askewniverse who haven't seen the film before will get a kick out of spotting Smith regulars (Jason Mewes) as well as those who only had a few key roles but where rarely heard from again (Carmen Llywelyn, the girl who made out with Joey Lauren Adams in Chasing Amy, and Renee Humphrey, Trish the Dish from Mallrats).
Drawing Flies (Blu-ray) Anniversary Edition, however, is aimed at those who've seen the film, and it is chockfull of View Askew goodness. First, the 1.66:1/1080p transfer is sourced from elements thought lost. The black-and-white image is solid, with decent detail for a 16mm feature, and good black levels. Contrast is pretty steady, and this is as good as a low-budget flick from 1996 is gonna look. The DTS-HD 1.0 mono soundtrack does a fine job, but it's limited by the source. Dialogue is clean and clear, but don't expect much dynamic range.
Extras are where things get interesting. There was a DVD release of Drawing Flies ten years ago, and it was pretty full. Ported over from that disc are the two commentaries: one features co-directors Malcolm Ingram and Matt Gissing along with producers Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. This one sticks to the technical side of things, discussing the perils of low-budget filmmaking. The cast commentary gathers the Jasons (Mewes and Lee) alongside Renee Humprey and Carmen Llyewlyn (who was at the time Carmen Lee, married to Jason Lee). This one is a bit goofier, with the cast trading stories and straying far from the topic of the film. Even if we don't learn as much about the film as we could, the sense of camaraderie that the flick generated is impressive to hear. Also ported over are a set of deleted scenes and outtakes that include some good bits along with stuff that was better left on the cutting room floor. We also get a 2002-era introduction to the film by Smith and Mosier alongside a new intro from Smith and Mewes. Also new to this edition are interviews with Mewes and Gissing, along with a new photo gallery. The film's trailers are also included.
What if you're not a Lee or Smith fanatic? Well Drawing Flies is an offbeat comedy from the mid '90s when it seemed like anyone with a script could shoot an indie feature. It definitely cashes in on the slacker-era craze for characters who go aimlessly about their business, and its sense of humor reflects a lot of diverse influences. For today's audience, this is more of a curiosity than a film likely to be viewed as entertainment. Watching it now, it's hard not to see how young everyone looks. As a viewer, I'm inured to the youthful appearances in Mallrats and Chasing Amy because of their familiarity. However, with Drawing Flies the characters are fresher, and that means many of the actors, Jason Lee and Jason Mewes in particular, look like baby versions of themselves.
Despite its obscurity, Drawing Flies is an indie comedy that earns more than a few laughs, even if it's of more historical than contemporary interest. With that said, you'd never know it by the excellent Drawing Flies (Blu-ray) Anniversary Edition, which combines a fine transfer with a host of old and new extras. It's worth an upgrade for those holding onto their out-of-print DVD copies, and worth at least a rental for fans of Kevin Smith or Jason Lee.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes