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Mala Noche (The Criterion Collection) (1985)

Tim Streeter , Doug Cooeyate , Gus Van Sant  |  NR |  DVD
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate, Ray Monge, Nyla McCarthy, Sam Downey
  • Directors: Gus Van Sant
  • Writers: Walt Curtis, Gus Van Sant
  • Producers: Gus Van Sant
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: October 9, 2007
  • Run Time: 78 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,337 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Mala Noche (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Product Description

With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant's debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant's hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant. Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating time capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director's work.

The first thing that strikes you about Mala Noche is the raw, beautiful cinematography--a high-contrast black-and-white that captures the gutters of Portland, OR, like the setting of a long-lost film noir. Next, you'll be struck that the narrator, a convenience clerk named Walt (Tim Streeter), rhapsodizes about his love for a young Mexican hustler named Johnny (Doug Cooeyate) without guilt or fear--perhaps reflecting the rare occasion of a movie by an openly gay filmmaker (Gus Van Sant, making his feature film debut) based on an openly gay autobiographical story (by Portland poet Walt Curtis). Though the movie doesn't have much of a plot--basically, Walt alternately tries to woo Johnny and his friend Roberto Pepper (Ray Monge), gaining little more than a suspicious, combative friendship and some fervid but isolated sex--but the rough but engaging flavor of the storytelling gives the movie momentum and a rich charm. The Criterion edition features two splendid extras: First, a low-key, unpretentious interview with Van Sant (who notes that the movie had the spontaneous and low-tech spirit of the Dogme 95 movement, though made several years earlier); and a ramshackle, pugnacious documentary by Portland-born animator Bill Plympton (I Married a Strange Person!) about Walt Curtis, who proclaims himself a "jerk-off poet therapist." If there is a Portland aesthetic, this compilation captures it. --Bret Fetzer

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars art house release from 1985 too long unavailable August 7, 2007
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Mala noche is a 'bad night.' Skid Row in Portland is full of bad nights for the central character, a clerk in a pocket packet store. Sweaty, sexy Mexican kids come to the store for booze and cigarettes. One in particular throws him over into a sea of lust and unrequited love.

Who is a 'bad knight' and who is a knight in shining armor is never really resolved. The clerk tries to teach the Mexican day laborer to drive, but maybe he just wants to get away on the road in the Dodge Dart, icon of all things PNW.

Gus Van Sant produced this in 1985, the same year he produced the music for his William S. Burroughs CD Elvis Of Letters. The 'sensual despair' that haunts nearly every Van Sant film was forged in these Portland days of the Director.

I saw this film just once at a film festival in Seattle when it first came out, and I have ached to see it again, if for no other reason than to reflect on it in light of the subsequent druggie Road pictures [Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho] and the more recent 'fictu-mentaries' [Elephant and Last Days].

Hats off to the Criterian volk for releasing this film. Not all may like it; some will find it brief and coarse, and yet those qualities are what so powerfully animates the film.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gus Van Sant's Auspicious Debut October 10, 2007
By Cubist
Mala Noche was Gus Van Sant's feature film debut and an early example of what would become known as New Queer Cinema in the 1990s. More significantly, it was the first film in an informal trilogy set in Portland, Oregon that would also include Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho - Criterion Collection. One can see, in retrospect, Mala Noche as the thematic blueprint for these two other films: a fascination with street life and the characters that inhabit it - hustlers, store clerks and street kids.

The film has a gritty look thanks to the murky black and white cinematography of John Campbell (who would work with Van Sant again on My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) that suggests film noir (with skewed angles and everything filmed in shadows) but because it's a Gus Van Sant film there is a Beat poet vibe as the characters reside in cheap, run-down apartments, seedy liquor stores and the grungy, rainy streets of Portland.

Tim Streeter does an excellent job as Walt, the quintessential Van Sant protagonist cursed with too much self-awareness. He has street smarts and an endearing romantic streak that the actor conveys so well. Streeter has a real presence - you can't take your eyes off him - that makes him interesting to watch. Aside from a guest spot on
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Van Sant's first, and not his best. July 28, 2009
Before Gus Van Sant assumed the role of indie figurehead with earnestly progressive biopics and earnestly plotless art-house fodder, he made low-budget films about marginal people with risky lifestyles. There were three of them: Mala Noche (the first), Drugstore Cowboy (by far the best), and My Own Private Idaho (watchable, but already starting to lose the plot). Mala Noche is about a grungy grocery store clerk who becomes attracted to, and wants to be accepted by, a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Van Sant's use of black-and-white in this film was largely dictated by budget constraints, but it effectively uses darkness to make the city look dangerous. The use of shadow may have been influenced by underground photography, e.g. Larry Clark's Tulsa; another apparent influence is Coppola's Rumble Fish. The camerawork is dynamic, with frequent cuts that create a fragmented sensation. Much of the score, especially in the first half, contributes to that disconnected feeling with monotone, droning acoustic guitars (this style is straight out of Rumble Fish). The depiction of the sex scene is quite creative (and was later reused in My Own Private Idaho): the camera coyly shows close-ups of skin, with extremely quick cuts that make the images look abstract.

The weakest aspect of the film is the occasional narration.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting early effort by van sant October 26, 2007
mala noche is a very good example of low budget film at its best.. it is absolutely gorgeous black and white cinemetography and it takes on material that most directors would probably shy away from... Based on a book of the same title it really maintains a unique beat inspired flavor and brilliantly captures the longing that the main character feels..
It is very rough edged but that is part of its charm.. This is the first example of a truly gifted and unique director... I have recently heard people talking about the racism in this movie... but please don't make the mistake of thinking the film is racist just because a character in it has these particular tendencies... so often artists are criticized for this when in fact they are telling a story... it is clear that the main character in this movie has certain cultural views that i for one would disagree with but the movie does not really show this in a positive light so much as just show it.. and who can say that realism is offensive?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 22 days ago by virgilio e. hoffmann
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
It wasn't one of my favorites but it was ok.
Published 3 months ago by Richard Goenaga
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb movie
A great film based of the work by Walt Curtis. For new filmmakers, it shows how excellence can be achieved on a shoe-string budget.
Published 15 months ago by BOS-DCA
2.0 out of 5 stars Everyone has to start somewhere
While the themes of this movie may be interesting: unrequited love, etc. I couldn't get past the awful film stock, poor, no make that horrible lighting and crappy sound. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Chet Fakir
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Traces of Gus Van Sant
MALA NOCHE is a low budget, grainy black and white film from 1986 by the estimable director Gus Van Sant and has been considered important enough to include in The Criterion... Read more
Published on December 4, 2010 by Grady Harp
5.0 out of 5 stars simply life
Low budget movie of a great realistic and performing value provides a usual for some "life-style" story of teen-adult affairs in Portland, OR, of 1985 (filmed in Los Angeles). Read more
Published on January 18, 2010 by Michael Kerjman
1.0 out of 5 stars TERRIBLE
Published on September 12, 2009 by Jorge Puig Torres
5.0 out of 5 stars The best first feature ever made
This is without doubt the best debut feature film ever made. All the quirky genius and gentle, eccentric brilliance of Van Sant's later works are here in full force. Read more
Published on May 16, 2009 by J. Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars mala noche
excellent, a prelude to his next great film
the black and white film is wonderfully eerie
Published on August 11, 2008 by bigboyone
5.0 out of 5 stars Very original
My only complaint is that the movie is in black & white. But very original and honest portrayal of illegal immigrants, gay issues & so forth. Read more
Published on January 2, 2008 by M. Kline
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