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Case Number 09048

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The Essential Egoyan

Next Of Kin
1984 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Family Viewing
1987 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Speaking Parts
1989 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Calendar
1993 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Zeitgeist Films
Reviewed by Judge Kerry Birmingham (Retired) // April 13th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Kerry Birmingham takes comfort in knowing that Canadian sex lives are just as screwed up as American ones.

Editor's Note

Our review of Next of Kin (Blu-ray), published July 25th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

Four stories of relationships crazier than yours, written and directed by Atom Egoyan.

Opening Statement

It would be vaguely insulting to brand a filmmaker like Atom Egoyan with the euphemistic-sounding adjective "idiosyncratic;" it's probably more accurate to say that the man is just plain weird. Fortunately for Egoyan, the provocative auteur behind last year's psychosexual drama Where the Truth Lies and celebrated films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, genuine weirdness is a trait both honored and encouraged in independent film circles. Helping his case immensely is that he's genuinely talented, with a distinct point of view that's clear even in the four early efforts included here. That point of view just happens to involve issues of privacy and identity, media pervasiveness, unconventional families, protean sexuality, and incestuous overtones.

Like I said: weird. Bring it on.

Facts of the Case

In Family Viewing, Van (Aidan Tierney) lives with his emotionally remote father (David Hemblen) and his stepmother (Gabrielle Rose)…with whom Van happens to be carrying on an affair. Discovering that his father has been taping over home videos from his childhood with homemade porn, Van decides to take drastic measures to ensure the kind of family he wants. Van's visits to his elderly grandmother's hospital room put him into the orbit of Aline (Arsinee Khanjian), a phone sex operator whose mother shares a room with Van's grandmother and also happens to be involved with Van's father. Van plots an outlandish scenario with Aline to bring his family—or the best parts of it—together.

Next of Kin finds aimless slacker Peter (Patrick Tierney) looking to escape from his wealthy but oppressive family. A chance encounter at a therapist's office leads him to discover an Armenian family searching for their long-lost son, given up for adoption twenty years earlier. Deciding to pursue something new, Van decides to get away from his family…by trying theirs. Peter's impersonation gets unexpected reactions from both his "new" family and himself.

Set mostly in the confines of a Toronto hotel, Speaking Parts follows brooding Lance (Michael McManus), working in housekeeping with a gigolo role on the side, as he tries to jumpstart his acting career with an actual speaking role. Lisa (Khanjian), meanwhile, is so infatuated with Lance that she obsessively watches the films in which he—briefly, silently—appears. Both of their lives are shaken up by Lance's meeting with a beleaguered screenwriter (Rose) and the startling events that relationship puts into motion.

In Calendar, an anonymous photographer (Egoyan himself) and his unnamed wife (Khanjian again, his real-life spouse) travel to their historic homeland, Armenia, to take photographs commissioned for a calendar. Marital tensions are exacerbated by the trip, during which the wife becomes entranced by their shared ethnic history even as the photographer feels alienated from his heritage and his increasingly distant wife

The Evidence

It doesn't take more than a couple of viewings of any random selection of Egoyan's films to figure out that he's fascinated with a few select topics: families, sex, media, and the interaction of any or all of those. Taken on their individual merits, each of these films would be considered quirky aberrations at best; taken as a whole, they document Egoyan's pubescence as a filmmaker. This collection, covering material from his 1984 debut Next of Kin (not the Swayze one) through 1993's largely improvised Calendar (1991's The Adjuster is conspicuously absent), is like watching your child grow. Egoyan may have his preoccupations, but he knows enough about his own work to nurture those obsessions and let them get richer from film to film. The fact-vs.-fiction absurdities found in Next of Kin lead logically to the voyeuristic devices of Family Viewing, which lead to the blurred realities of Speaking Parts and Calendar, where the camera is both a shield and an ultimate arbiter of truth. It's not a long stretch from there to the more potent emotional truths Egoyan expertly uncovers in Exotica and, more impressively, The Sweet Hereafter and Ararat. Egoyan might waver in the execution of some of these films, limited by budgets and experience, but his steady rise in confidence and proficiency as both writer and director is evident. In watching these movies within days of each other, you can palpably see Egoyan finding a voice and incrementally finding a better way to articulate it. Calendar, the most recent film in this collection, is also the weakest, but its economy of style and narrative is approached with such surety in the ideas involved that the viewer can forgive the film as a failed experiment that's none the less daring for it…dull, but daring. It's this strengthening of craft that's fun to watch. Egoyan assembles much of his stock cast (Hemblen, Rose, Khanjian) over the course of these movies, and as he strengthens his support network, so the movies are made stronger. Egoyan's stylized (read: stilted) dialogue and constrained characters eventually become as natural in his vision of the world as the omnipresence of the camera and the mercurial taboos of sex.

Egoyan, admirably, provides commentary for each and every film, despite his obvious and vocal discomfort. In between self-conscious second guessing of his own commentary, he does provide interesting details on the films, eschewing more technical details for thematic and character commentary, obviously of more importance to him. Egoyan often seems ashamed, as if feeling guilty over his narrative obsessions, but this doesn't stop him from trying his best to explain how the ideas fit together. The accompanying interview segments, cribbed from Canadian TV, repeat much of the same information as the commentaries but are otherwise equivalent to a particularly engaging film school lecture. Behind-the-scenes footage from Next of Kin and Family Viewing is interesting but inessential, as are the deleted scenes from Speaking Parts. Calendar receives the most extensive attention, including the surprisingly weighty making-of "Formulas for Seduction" and a brief essay/slideshow of filming locations (the "calendar" images). Family Viewing, sharing a package with Next of Kin, includes three of Egoyan's early shorts: 1979's Howard in Particular, Peepshow (1981), and Open House (1982), all of which suffer from some film school-induced misguided experimentation but show the director's obsessions in their nascent stages, curiosity pieces for fans. Each film includes the same, slightly outdated biographical and filmographic information and obligatory photo galleries.

Every film appears unrestored and in its original full frame aspect ratio, with period sound. There are neither pretty pictures—get used to constant scratches and grain—nor sounds; everything looks and sounds like that damned decade (the '80s) from which it was spawned. A little work from Zeitgeist on the technical front would have been nice, but that these films exist on DVD at all, let alone with so many substantial extras, is a small miracle in itself.

Closing Statement

Egoyan's work could charitably be called esoteric and self-indulgent, but the director's solid vision carries him through even the more outlandish (and pretentious) twists in his stories. There's nothing slick or even remotely commercial about any of the movies included here, but they remain important early milestones in the career of an important, talented, and very bizarre voice in independent film.

The Verdict

If Egoyan is feeling guilt over anything, it has nothing to do with the quality of this collection. Case dismissed.

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Genres

• Cult
• Drama
• Independent

Scales of Justice, Next Of Kin

Video: 65
Audio: 75
Extras: 90
Acting: 70
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Next Of Kin

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Next Of Kin

• Commentary by Atom Egoyan
• Biography/Filmography -- Atom Egoyan
• Behind the Scenes footage
• Photo Gallery

Scales of Justice, Family Viewing

Video: 65
Audio: 75
Extras: 93
Acting: 75
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Family Viewing

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Family Viewing

• Commentary by Atom Egoyan
• Biography/Filmography -- Atom Egoyan
• Early Short Films: "Howard in Particular," "Peepshow," "Open House"
• Behind the Scenes footage
• Photo Gallery

Scales of Justice, Speaking Parts

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Speaking Parts

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Speaking Parts

• Commentary by Atom Egoyan
• Biography/Filmography -- Atom Egoyan
• Interview with Atom Egoyan
• Deleted Scenes with Commentary
• Image Gallery

Scales of Justice, Calendar

Video: 75
Audio: 80
Extras: 94
Acting: 75
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Calendar

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Calendar

• Commentary by Atom Egoyan
• Biography/Filmography -- Atom Egoyan
• Interview with Atom Egoyan
• "Formulas for Seduction" Documentary
• Photo Gallery with Essay








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