I’d never heard of A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints until one lazy weekend afternoon when I was browsing On Demand and picked it because I like Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBoeuf, and it totally blew my mind. The style of storytelling is so non-linear it’s confusing at times, which on its own is not entirely innovative, but couple it with ultra-realistic writing and directing, and some of the best acting in the business, and this is what you get. I remember thinking when it was over, “what the fuck did I just watch?” But this is the kind of film that sticks with you, and I found myself continuing to think about this film months after I’d watched it.
The good people at First Look Studios were kind enough to let us review a copy of the special edition DVD, and in watching it again I began to understand why A Guide was so impactful to me. This is the kind of movie that only comes along once in awhile, and is often overlooked – because it isn’t “Hollywood” enough, or doesn’t have an expensive publicist – but it won the Special Jury Prize and the Directing Award at Sundance in 2006, as well as various others at festivals like Venice and Flanders International… but that doesn’t really give you an idea of what this film is. It’s like being caught in a train wreck at the circus – you never really know how to feel about it. But that’s what makes A Guide so incredible. Not only is the acting so superb you’d think this was a documentary, but Dito Montiel’s directing, Eric Gautier’s cinematography, and Jake Pushinsky’s editing make for a style of guerilla filmmaking one doesn’t often have the pleasure of experiencing.
By far the best feature on the special edition DVD is the feature commentary track by director Dito Montiel and editor Jake Pushinsky. Besides learning a lot about what went into the making of the film and why certain editorial decisions were made, Montiel is such a pleasure to listen to. He’s just so real and down to earth and downright charming. Even during the toughest, most intense scenes in the film, like when Antonio punches a little kid in the eye, or Dito’s father Monty has a stroke, Montiel finds something to laugh about dealing with shooting that scene.
One editorial decision that was made during the making of A Guide, which you learn about in the feature commentary, as Montiel puts it: “One thing that we really tried to go with, with this film … sort of like when someone dies, yeah you can show them in a puddle of blood, but what’s happening to the people around him? You know, because if the guy gets killed, he’s dead. So, ok he’s dead, what’s happening to him? I don’t know he’s dead … What’s happening to the kid who just shot him, what’s happening to his friend, what’s happening to his brother who’s watching him die?” I think this is part of the film’s genius – because he’s right, what do we care about the kid who just died? He isn’t going anywhere. What matters is how his death is affecting the people around him. This lack of exposition, to me, is refreshing in an age when American cinema feels like it has to shove meaning down our throats because we as viewers are too stupid to understand otherwise.
Aside from the commentary (obviously my favorite part of the DVD), the bonuses include a 20-minute making-of documentary, which is fun and informative – dealing a lot with the casting of the roles and how Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., became involved – an alternate opening and several alternate endings (my favorites of which were the bookstore scenes and the “fireflies” scene), deleted scenes with a director commentary on/off feature, Montiel’s Sundance Labs rooftop scene, trailers for the film, a brief interview with the real Monty, a Young Laurie audition that I didn’t really understand the point of, and previews of other First Look films coming to DVD (I’m intrigued by The Dead Girl). As far as these features go, I enjoyed the deleted scenes and seeing a little more of the characters’ interaction, but I could have used a little more explanation with the director’s commentary about what these scenes would have accomplished in the film and why they were ultimately cut. The Sundance Labs scene is interesting – seeing Dito Montiel himself act in a scene that eventually ended up in the film – but with the director’s commentary turned on felt a little like a Sundance Labs commercial.
The overall appearance of the DVD itself is exactly what one would expect – gritty and grungy. It looks great and fits the feel of the movie. Over the top menu, “New York Groove,” which Montiel was very proud to get into the film, plays on a simple blue-stained loop with black and white scaling graphics. Simple, but stylish. The presentation is elegant, refined, and beautiful, while still being harsh and gritty, just like the film itself.
The special edition DVD of A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is a must-have for lovers of this film, if only for the feature commentary track. For those who love stylized, innovative guerilla film, this is one to add to your collection.
Here is the trailer for A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints