Judge Gordon Sullivan just became a teetotaler.
"Things in New York are about to go down the toilet…"
The 1980s saw a weird surge in low-budget, exploitation style films tackling real-world political problems. Troma's Toxic Avenger preached the evils of nuclear waste, while They Live took a hard look at Reagan-era conformity, and they weren't the only ones. Though perhaps less coherent as a political argument than its brethren, Street Trash combines a film about the plight of the homeless with a few threads about Vietnam (which contributed significantly to the homeless population) into the best movie about tainted liquor you'll probably ever see. Doubling down, the excellent Street Trash: Special Meltdown Edition (Blu-ray) offers an improved hi-def presentation that will make most fans want to upgrade.
Facts of the Case
An oblivious liquor store owner finds a case of Tenafly Viper, and since it's old, he decides to sell it for only a dollar a bottle. This brings the local homeless population by in droves, and things appear to be great. Great, that is, until one by one the bums discover that anyone who drinks Viper melts away in seconds, leaving a colorful pile of goo as the only evidence of their existence.
It's hard to put my finger on what makes Street Trash a great film. It's certainly not the things that make most films great. There's very little plot to the film, and what plot there is comes only in fits and starts. It's not the characterization, which is mostly full of broad strokes—"types" who show up to get killed or further the threadbare plot.
The main reason Street Trash is great is because it's unhinged. The premise is head-scratchingly odd, and it moves from visually-inventive set piece to visually-inventive set piece without taking much of a breather in between. Bums melt, penises fly through the air, and lots of hooch is consumed. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does keep the 102-minute film compelling in ways that other, more timid films can't match.
The film is also a fascinating time capsule. I missed the crazy days before the Disney-fication and gentrification of much of New York City, and few films of the 1980s document the transition like Street Trash. Though by 1987, the rebirth of Wall Street was firmly underway, Brooklyn was still a kind of Wild West where urban facelifts had yet to penetrate. Watching Street Trash is like watching a piece of history—most of these locations are probably gone now, or unrecognizable. More importantly, NYC's rough-and-ready image gives the film a feeling of authenticity that Hollywood would pay millions of dollars for today. There's little need for set dressing this far away from Manhattan, and the graffiti-strewn cinder block structures give Street Trash a raw, unvarnished quality that makes the backdrop of the film as interesting as the story it is trying to tell.
I thought the two-disc Meltdown Edition DVD was amazing—and it was, for 2006. Now we've got Blu-ray, and it was worth the wait. Synapse even pushed the release date back to address some restoration issues, and honestly I couldn't be happier with this 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Taken from the original camera negative, Street Trash looks amazing on Blu-ray. The most important thing to note are the colors. Meltdowns occur in gloriously bright, almost neon shades, and those colors really pop on this disc. Detail is also strong, revealing itself in the excellent grain structure and texture of the vintage bricks of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Even the negative itself seems to be in great shape, with very little wear and tear to speak of. This is an amazing restoration of a cult classic. The DTS-HD audio options aren't quite as impressive, but that has more to do with 1980s limitations than this disc. Fans get the option of an original mono soundtrack or a 5.1 remix. Both sound okay, but not spectacular. Even in the original tapes I doubt there's much dynamic range to work with, leaving both tracks sounding a little limited. They're both totally listenable, though, with a decent balance between dialogue and the score.
Extras are ported over from the previous DVD release, with two additions. The start with a pair of commentaries. The first features writer Roy Frumkes, and he spends a lot of time detailing all the ideas surrounding Street Trash and its genesis. The second commentary takes a more technical approach with director James Munro, who discusses a lot of the decisions that went into the making of the film. It's a little drier than Frumkes' take, but fans will want to hear both. The real centerpiece of the release, though, is The Meltdown Diaries, a two hour documentary directed by Frumkes (who has also helmed The Dead Diaries project). It interviews pretty much everyone involved in the project and gives a great sense of what it was like to be involved in the film. Jane Arakawa, who couldn't be nailed down for the filming of Diaries does get a short interview here film in the ensuing years since that previous DVD edition. The original short, also called Street Trash, on which the film was based is included here as well. There are also a handful of deleted scenes (new to this edition), a teaser, and a trailer for the film to round things out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Street Trash is not high-class cinema (literally or figuratively). It's not politically correct, nor overly concerned with narrative or characterization. There's nudity and gore and violence aplenty as well. Chances are even the most cursory glance of the cover art and title will give viewers a pretty good idea if Street Trash is right for them.
If you've somehow missed Street Trash for the last twenty-five years, there's probably a good reason. However, if you're a devotee of this odd little cult flick, then this newly minted Meltdown Edition Blu-ray belongs in your hands. Though the extras don't really get an upgrade aside from an extra interview, the upgrade sound and video make this one worth the double dip.
Goofy, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.