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The Silence of the Lambs: The Criterion Collection

Who would have thought that a film about a face-eating serial killer could sweep the Oscars? That's what happened in 1992, as the breathtaking moral flamboyance and cinematic classicism of The Silence of the Lambs earned it Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay statuettes — only the third time that such a sweep has happened. Since it's solid theatrical run and historic Oscar-night, and despite the disturbing nature of its subject-matter, Silence has entered the language and fabric of society. FBI student Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is summoned by psychological profiling division chief Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) for a special assignment: She is to visit conviced serial killer Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in a Baltimore criminal asylum for an interview. But Crawford is fishing for info about a new serial killer, "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine), who inexplicably skins his victims corpses. Despite their vast differences, Starling soon forms a bond with Lecter, who may be fond of the young FBI agent but still manages to manipulate events in his favor. For all of its suspense, you come away from The Silence of the Lambs with a sense that more has happened that is actually there. Director Jonathan Demme and scenarist Ted Tally orchestrate an elaborate feat of misdirection wherein characters are talked about so much, and over such eerie music (by Howard Shore), that by the time they appear we are terrified — even when they are just standing there. In collaboration with noted cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, Demme also carefully laces the film with interesting visual thematics, in particular the intimacy of extreme close-ups where characters who speak to each other look directly into the camera, in violation of long term classical Hollywood codes. And despite its gruesome content, the film is fun to watch, and to revisit every now and then. Criterion's DVD edition, basd on their 1996 Laserdisc, features an excellent vido transfer. The early chapters are true to the desaturated, sometimes dark look of the film, and they grow richer later on with glowing reds and oranges — particularly in chapters 18 and 19, when Starling sees Lecter for the last time. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is good rendering as well, although with just a few rear directional effects, mainly to highlight the music. As is the custom of Criterion, the disc is filled with extras, although some of them are illusory. The best additions are the deleted scenes and the commentary track, in which director, writer, stars, and the FBI agent John Douglas all have fascinating, enriching things to say about the film. There are seven deleted or variant scenes, storyboards, and a rather useless selection of quotes from the FBI manual, as well as textual excerpts from a book about serial killers. There is no trailer, isolated film score, or subtitles. Also includes a four-page booklet in the keep-case. Word on the street has it that all the Criterion discs of Orion movies (RoboCop, Silence and so on) will be out of print soon. That is double incentive to pick up this DVD while there is still a chance.
—D.K. Holm

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(Editor's Note: This disc is now out of print and is considered a collector's item.)

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