Three weeks ago, Olive Films sent out a press release linked to March as Women’s History Month. The point was to highlight 24 “female-created or female-driven” films in the company’s DVD and Blu-ray catalogue.
Like Criterion and Kino, Olive licenses classic and obscure older films, often made by Hollywood studios, and releases them on disc. Unlike those better-known companies, their discs tend to be pretty stripped down, with little or no extras. But they’re releasing films on Blu-ray that no one else is releasing, and that’s worth paying attention.
I decided to take advantage of this promotion to look at and review two Blu-rays of films that should be more available. This is the first of those reviews.
Baby It’s You
John Sayles’ third feature as a director was also his first for a major Hollywood studio (Paramount). The studio interference was so horrifying he swore not to do it again. Despite the interference, he managed to create an exceptional teenage romance.
He didn’t make the usual feel-good comedy about discovering the wonders of sex just before high school graduation. Baby It’s You is more of a drama than a comedy, and the second half of the film follows the main characters after they’ve left high school behind them. And where they go is very much determined by where they were born in the American class system.
Jill (Rosanna Arquette at the start of her career) is comfortably middle-class, Jewish, and the daughter of a doctor. She wants to be an actress, and her parents are supportive. It’s pretty clear that even if she fails in her pursuit, she won’t go hungry. She can always change majors at college.
But then she meets Albert, although he prefers to call himself Sheik (Vincent Spano). He’s the Italian-American son of a garbage collector. He’s a spiffy dresser, and clearly cares for Jill. But he’s also something of a juvenile delinquent, constantly getting in trouble with the teachers. There are unsettling questions about how he can afford those clothes.
After graduation, Jill goes to Sarah Lawrence College. After getting expelled, Sheik has to get out of town fast.
Keep in mind that Baby It’s You was made in 1982 and released early in ’83. This was the golden age–so to speak–of teenage sexploitation comedies. Porky’s, The Last American Virgin, and Valley Girl all came out in the early ’80s. You can understand why Paramount didn’t like what Sayles delivered.
Although made in the ’80s, Baby It’s You is set in 1967. That was the year that the 1960s became what we think of as “The Sixties.” Once in college, Jill blossoms as a sort of hippie, smoking pot, wearing wild clothes, and enjoying casual sex.
But as hip as she and her friends think they are, they’re really exclusive, spoiled brats. In one heart-breaking scene, a very drunk Jill tells her new friends funny stories about this crazy high school boyfriend who called himself “Sheik.”
Sheik has no access to Jill’s world. He doesn’t even like the current music. He worships Frank Sinatra and dreams of escaping poverty by becoming a singer. But it’s clear that he’s fooling himself. He doesn’t know the first thing about becoming a professional singer.
One advantage of making a studio movie: You can afford to license songs. Sayles uses a lot of hits from the mid-60s to create mood and set the time.
He also uses some anachronistic Bruce Springsteen songs. Surprisingly, they work, helping to define Sheik’s character. Besides, just like Jill and Sheik, Springsteen was a New Jersey high school student in 1967.
Baby It’s You is a bittersweet tale of opposites attracting, creating a love affair that can’t last. When it comes to class differences, love seldom conquers all.
How It Looks
Olive Films gives Baby It’s You a very good but not exceptional transfer. The images are sharp with a bit of film grain, and the colors seem accurate.
Nothing to shout about, but nothing to complain about either.
How It Sounds
I have not been able to determine what kind of soundtrack was on the original 35mm prints. My guess is that it was mono.
The Blu-ray comes with a lossless-compressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. I tried it with and without Dolby Surround decoding, and decided that it sounded better without. As near as I can tell, the dialog and sound effects are mono, but much of the music is in two-track stereo.
It sounded just fine.
And the Extras
There are no extras, which is a pity. John Sayles is a master at commentary tracks.