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Criterion Gets a Life During Wartime (2010)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 18, 2011 • Start the Discussion!

For the first time, a film by Todd Solondz is getting the Criterion treatment. This is Life During Wartime (2010), one of the most exciting movies to come out last year that very few even noticed on its limited release. Now everyone has a chance to catch up with it as well as the characters from Todd Solondz’s most controversial film Happiness (1998). That’s right: Life During Wartime is Happiness 2! Now have Bill, Trish, Joy, Helen, Andy and the rest of the gang gotten along after ten years? Not surprising, they’re worse now than before.

Yes, Andy is still dead. Solondz just brings him back as a ghost to haunt his ex-girlfriend Joy. What luck Joy has!

At first glance, it appears that the designers at Criterion had their work on the DVD’s front cover handed to them. The final illustration and design of the original Life During Poster promotional poster by Akiko Stehrenberger was already at their high level of quality. All that was needed was to slap on that big C and set it to Screen. Before its theatrical release, I wrote about the process that the Life During Wartime movie poster went through to come to this.

That is until I found this on Akiko Stehrenberger’s bio:

Her illustrated poster, Life During Wartime, garnered press as well, which she recently adapted and illustrated the cast for the Criterion Collection DVD. She was deemed “Poster Girl” by Interview Magazine, and Creative Review published a 20 page zine of her illustrated movie poster work for their January 2011 Monograph series.

So Miss Stehrenberger has illustrated the whole cast? This could mean that either on the back cover (unlikely since Criterion’s designers are too savvy for that) or inside the booklet, we’ll get to see all of the caricatures envisioned by Stehrenberger. Much like how Daniel Clowes (writer and illustrator of Ghost World and Wilson) rendered these sensitive misfits for the original Happiness poster.

The cast of Happiness (1998) from left to right:
Cynthia Stevenson (Trish Maplewood), Camryn Manheim (Kristina), Jared Harris (Vlad), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Allen), Lara Flynn Boyle (Helen Jordan), Louise Lasser (Mona Jordan), Dylan Baker (Bill Maplewood), Jane Adams (Joy Jordan), Jon Lovitz (Andy Kornbluth), and Ben Gazzara (Lenny Jordan)

The cast of Life During Wartime (2010) from left to right:
Allison Janney (Trish Jordan), Michael Kenneth Williams (Allen), Shirley Henderson (Joy Jordan), Ciarán Hinds (Bill Maplewood), Ally Sheedy (Helen Jordan), Renée Taylor (Mona Jordan), Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens (Andy Kornbluth)

Had Solondz mixed and matched the cast, Life During Wartime would have looked something like this:

A still from Paul Dinello’s Strangers with Candy (2006).

Last August, an Interview with Todd Solondz conducted by the SF360 (San Francisco Film Society) goes a little into his collaboration with Daniel Clowes.

SF360: Your films are compared to graphic novels. Were they an inspiration for you?

Todd Solondz: No, I mean I learned about Dan Clowes’s work at some point. It may have been right after Happiness that I learned about Dan Clowes, but of course that was when I got him to do the poster. But I didn’t know him at the time.

SF360: Was there a shock of recognition when you saw his work?

Todd Solondz: Well, I think he’s great, I love him, and I got to meet him through this process. And I love Ghost World and Terry Zwigoff, all of that. They came to the screening last night. But I don’t know what inspired me—my life, watching TV eight hours a day when you’re eleven years old. It seems just a little affected or false to say it’s because I was reading Dickens and Proust or watching Truffaut and Godard, which I really didn’t learn about until much later.

The Original “Life During Wartime” Poster

The Criterion “Life During Wartime” DVD Cover

Back on March 16th, the good people at Criterion offered Todd Solondz fans an opportunity to ask him a question in a segment called Ask Todd, which is one of the DVD’s Special Features. I can’t believe I missed out on that one!

Criterion Disc Features

  • New digital transfer, supervised and approved by director of photography Ed Lachman (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
  • Ask Todd, an audio Q&A with director Todd Solondz in which he responds to viewers’ questions
  • Making “Life During Wartime,” a new documentary featuring interviews with actors Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy, and Michael Kenneth Williams, as well as on-set footage
  • New interview with Ed Lachman
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Sterritt

Life During Wartime (Spine #574) will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 26th.

This is very special considering that all of Solondz’s previous films have been released on bare-bones DVDs. Remember the so-called re-release of Happiness as a part of the Lion’s Gate Signature Series in 2003? All Lions Gate Films did was repackage the old Trimark/Vidmark DVD from 1999 with a new cover. Not only did the widescreen remain non-anamorphic, the main menu included the Trimark movie trailers of Slam (1998) and Another Day in Paradise (1998) complete with the Trimark logo… on a Lions Gate Films DVD. Ouch!

Again, that was back in 2003. Have you seen the latest DVD jacket for Happiness? It’s the same as the 1999 Trimark one, only the designer lost the high-res file and slapped on a fuzzy print-out of the Daniel Clowes illustration. It’s really disgusting. I swear, they must have found the first small GIF file on Google Images and blown it up without so much as a Bicubic Smoother. Very tacky, Lions Gate!

Ah! Much better!


HAPPINESS (1998) Trailer

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