The Criterion Collection presents Miranda July’s debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
The film was shot in high-definition and I assume those source files were the source for this new master. For a mid-2000 high-definition presentation I was shocked by how good it ends up looking, as the quality could be hit-and-miss during the period. Detail is very good, even in longer shots, and textures look rather natural. Colours can be very bright and vivid, with pinks and reds sticking out. Black levels also look pretty good most of the time, and shadow detail isn’t too bad. There are darker shots where the blacks can be a little murky, looking grayish, but they’re still pleasing on the whole.
The digital photography itself does end up introducing problems that are just a byproduct of the technology of the time. Those same dark shots can look a bit noisy, and in other sequences there can be the occasional shimmer on tighter patterns or some banding in backgrounds. There are also a couple of shots that are taken from the main character’s own digital camera, which is an average consumer model of the time, and the POV shots for these moments do look blockier and noisier than the rest of the film, but this is (of course) intentional. These artifacts are pretty minimal, though, and outside of these instances the image is surprisingly clean, and it is, again, one of the better looking high-definition films of the period I’ve seen. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Where this disc really sells itself, though, is in the supplements, and I must say this is a damn good special edition for the film, going above and beyond what was more than likely called for. The release starts off with a brand-new interview between Miranda July and Lena Dunham, running a whopping 51-minutes. I know there are those turned off by Dunham and were disappointed to see she was involved in this release, but it’s going to be very unfair for anyone to come into this with any preconceived notions because this does end up being a great interview. Dunham, who was inspired by the filmmaker, is there to ask questions about her career and film, and lead us through the archival material July has stored in her home/office. Outside of maybe one comment (about July’s hair, which July is even taken aback by) I think Dunham steers the conversation in good directions as the two talk about her life in high school, her performance art, how it developed through the years, and then how that led to her Miss Moviola/Joanie 4 Jackie project, a sort of chainletter-video service she set up to connect women filmmakers (this will get covered more in the features later), which Dunham admits she submitted to but never heard back (with July looking a bit stunned at that revelation). She then talks about developing Me and You and Everyone We Know, which includes discussion around work at the Sundance Director’s Lab, casting the film, working with IFC, and then finally distributing it. Laced throughout is archival material of some of her live performances, footage from some of her films (and films from the Joanie 4 Jackie project), and random stuff, like casting footage she filmed of her moving-guy (who ultimately wasn’t cast). Going through her archives of physical material and memorabilia proves to be quite a bit of fun, too. It’s a rich interview and I think anyone who is a fan of the film or July’s work will enjoy it.
Following that interview is a short 10-minute video put together by July, called Open to the World. In it she documents the group effort she and others put into setting up a pop-up store in the middle of a Selfridges store in London for a multi-faith charity. The goal was to gather together second-hand items representing the different faiths and cultures to both sell (to raise money) and to show (in an artistic manner) to raise awareness. The video shows the planning that went into the store (right down to the shopping bags), sorting through the items, and then the finished pop-up.
Criterion next digs up some footage filmed by July during her trip to the Deauville American Film Festival in France in 2005 and edited it together here. Entitled July Interviews July, it features footage of May first (as the title suggests) interviewing herself, talking about her multimedia performances beforehand, the characters in her film, and the film in general. She may have shot this as a lark (she never actually did anything with the footage, and it sounds like this is the first time it’s being shown) but it ends up being a half-decent discussion about the film and her previous work. From here, though, she then ventures out and films the area, talking to random people, and asks a question like “what is your biggest regret?” and there are a couple of answers that hit a bit hard. It’s a really good inclusion.
In the July/Dunham interview there was a lot of talk about the Sundance Director’s Lab, particularly how she was accepted, what it was like, and how it helped her develop the film. Criterion presents six scenes that July filmed there, which would (more-or-less) make their way into the film. The opening scene is very different here (it would have involved July’s character doing her performance piece with another woman) and it also appears that the central love story was supposed to take place between two people that worked at the store. It’s fascinating to watch (especially when we see her experimenting with camera movements) but the absolute best part about this feature is the fact all of the footage comes with an optional commentary by July. In it she covers those plot points that changed and talks in extraordinary detail about the creative process that went into developing the story and film, along with the experience in doing the Lab (she also did a writer’s lab and talks a little about it). But I was so fascinated by her comments on her reasoning for some of the changes, and just the level of thought she put into every character, making sure they all appeared to live in the same world. Some will even recognize that the actor in the John Hawkes role is Pat Healy and may be be surprised he didn’t end up being cast (which probably would have been a shame since Hawkes is so good in the film). July explains the reason she didn’t cast Healy and it was simply because he seemed too “put together” no matter what, so that led to her looking elsewhere (the line “do I look okay to you guys?” certainly wouldn’t have had the same effect). It’s a good feature overall but I thought the commentary was one of the best things on this disc (loaded with great stuff) and it’s an absolute shame that she didn’t record one for the film.
Criterion ports over 5 deleted scenes that also appeared on the original MGM DVD, looking to be upscales. Running over 6-minutes in total they’re very quick sequences, one involving Robby pooping in the yard (of course), a couple of scenes around a child clothing model (a plotline completely excised from the film), and then an extended/alternate scene around the “grenade role play” in school. Criterion then includes two short films directed by July: The Amateurist (1998, around 14-minutes) and Nest of Tens (2000, around 27-minutes). The Amateurist is an odd but kind of comical bit or performance art where July’s character explains her observations of an “amateur” (also played by July) she is surveilling over video. It’s what I expected it to be, and it showcases July’s sense of humour (“tenderness is not my job.”) The other is a bit more straight-forward, at least narratively, and can be seen as a lead-up to Me and You in that it interconnects (rather roughly) four storylines.
This then leads up to one of the more interesting sections on the disc, which covers July’s Joanie 4 Jackie project she started in 1995 after moving to Portland, OR (it was originally called Miss Moviola). She talks about this project with Dunham in the interview but it gets covered here a bit more thanks to a 16-minute documentary from 2006 (directed by Shauna McGarry). In a desire to connect women filmmakers and get their work out there (before YouTube) the idea came to July to have women send in their films to her so she could then copy them onto VHS tapes in various collections and then send them back out to those that submitted them, something like a “chainletter.” This apparently went on for years, with screenings for these films also happening, up until around the time of Me and You’s release. Criterion also includes four of those films here. The 3-minute Dear Mom (directed Tammy Rae Garland), features a woman (that I’m going to assume is Garland playing herself) practicing how she’ll come out to her mother before just giving up, which is then followed by the lengthier (and hypnotically edited) The Slow Escape, directed by Sativa Peterson, which reflects on the disappearance of a woman in Peterson’s town of Winslow, AZ (like in the Eagles’ song “Take it Easy” as she points out) and how her family may have been linked to the crime, at least in a small way. There is then a two-parter directed by Karen Yasinsky, running 12-minutes in total, called No Place Like Home # 1 and #2, which is an impressive bit of stop-motion that (I think) represents a woman’s escape to a fantasy world. Finally there’s Gigi (from 9 to 5), a go-for-broke go at a Hollywood musical about one woman’s usual work day. It runs around 8-minutes and was directed by Joanne Nucho. I was disappointed there were only four in the end, and it would have been great to get more around the series of tapes and the promotional materials used, but at the very least most of this appears to have been archived online. It’s an interesting project and I’m happy Criterion put in the effort to dig more into it here, going as far as including some of the films.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer, and then Criterion includes an actual booklet, a 40-page one at that! It has a very insightful essay offering an artist’s perspective on the film, written by New York artist Sara Magenheimer, which is then followed by another loving essay about the film (almost achingly so) by Lauren Groff.
I really wish July did a commentary for the film, as the sampling we got from the Sundance Lab footage was great and I think I could have listened to her talk about the film for a lengthier bit of time. But outside of that Criterion has probably put together about as perfect a special edition for the film as possible, covering the film, July’s work, and her chainletter project in a staggering amount of detail. It’s a beautifully put together set of features and about as solid an introduction for any newcomer to the filmmaker. 10/10