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Old 11-19-2006, 09:52 AM
Scored: 9
Views: 11,230
Default Clean, Shaven

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: November 19, 2006

Released by: Criterion Collection
Release date: 10/17/2006
MSRP: $29.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes

inline ImageAlthough the horror genre is one of the least respected of all genres, it paradoxically is the most studied and dissected critically. One of its most discussed facets, no doubt because of all the media attention lobbied towards the effect of movie violence on child development, is the notion of subjectivity. Peeping Tom was controversial because the act of murder was paralleled with the act of shooting a movie. Jaws and Halloween were both criticized for their voyeuristic use of first person murder as a means for identifying with an ironic threat to society (be it a shark or a young child). Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer met much critical dissonance for its at times for evoking pathos towards a madman. All these films, in one way or another, build on filmís ability to transfix the minds of its viewers into the subject matter projected. They know an audience will commit to the material they watch, and in a way theyíve tricked the audience into stepping inside the mind of someone they would otherwise abhor.

Lodge Kerriganís Clean, Shaven takes the subjective work done in the horror genre a step further by not only making the audience identify with a schizophrenic, but also by making the audience ask why? Why does cinema have this power to allow its protagonists a spot inside us as we watch, and more importantly, why are we so complacent to let it do so? In the way the film stylistically adopts the tortured mind of a schizophrenic it doesnít give us many narrative answers. But it asks questions, and important ones. The Criterion Collection finally gives this little 1994 Sundance discovery the critical consideration it deserves in this new DVD. Lather up, lets cut through this provoking gem.

The Story

inline ImageA man enters a car. He had to break through the window, but yet he has the keys to drive it. Is it his, or is it stolen? He sees a little girl out his windshield and promptly gets out of the car. The sounds of punches are heard as audible screams of the child are heard on the soundtrack. A dog looks on. Did this man just kill a little girl unprovoked? He places a large, heavy garbage bag in his trunk and drives away. He tapes off the rearview mirror and covers his windows with tabloid-filled newspaper. Any trace of reflection he destroys, shattering its reflexivity to the ground like the shattered glass of his car window. He is a man deeply disturbed. We donít know why, we donít know how, but we feel his disconnect.

inline ImageHe tunes his radio, but the sounds never reach cohesion. Instead we get static, as evangelical rhetoric melds with the fuzz of a jazz station. We hear the solemn emptiness of the rural maritime locals he explores, but still we donít know why. He holds a carton of milk where the mug of a missing girl can be seen. His gaze seems always towards young girls, whether it be looking at photos in a library or peering out the windshield of his car. He finally meets a girl on a swing set who he claims is his daughter. Together the two go off to the beach where they play. It is only a moment of solace in an otherwise tortured existence.

inline ImageHe says he has transmitters (of what origin, who knows) lodged into both his brain and his fingernail. He digs them out with a razor, resulting in scabbed aberrations all over his flesh. Thereís no question heís insane. A investigator follows closely his tracks, taking samples of his hair and the fingernail he left behind. He waits for the man to strike, but is the schizophrenicís manic external, or only an internal state of mind. Is this man with an affinity for looking at young children really a threat to society, or only to himself? Who is he? Why is he doing this? You wonít find an answer in the movie, but youíll likely find one in yourself.

inline ImageMuch has been said about Clean, Shavenís disturbing subjectivity in the way it externalizes a schizophrenicís mindset into sound and image. Indeed, Lodge Kerrigan crafts an impeccably atmospheric mind piece, where the intent of the story and the character matter less than the intent of what he is feeling. Through beautifully ordinary, empty and austere images of open fields and small town decay, Kerrigan evokes a feeling of a life unfulfilled. As the main character sits at a rest stop, a bulldozer sits in a bed of concrete as crumbled as the protagonistís state of mind. The sound design gives a haunting weight to the imagery though, as household sounds, the crumpling of paper, the gristle of a shave or the fuzz of radio interference all help to suggest a lack of convergence in Peterís (Peter Greene) life. As a mood piece, the film is one of the most effectively crafted of its kind, so aloof, uncomfortable and tired that when it finally goes to bed you feel its last conscious breath. But it is not just content with being a subjective venture into the mind of a schizophrenic. No, Kerrigan goes for much more.

inline ImageThe film, contrary to most dissection, is not an entirely subjective one. Unlike, say, Taxi Driver, which sticks unflinchingly with its protagonist, there are several scenes here without the presence of Peter. These scenes, and the entire film, may solely be about Peter, but they arenít always inside Peter. It follows the investigator with a similar subjectivity it does Peter, and again it does so with the little girl who may in fact be his daughter. It only does so, however, much after the audience has become grounded in Peterís character. Kerrigan stays unavoidably with Peter for the first twenty minutes in a bid to make sure the audience commits to their protagonist like they would with good guy Schwarzenegger in an action movie or Freddy in a horror movie. We empathize with Peter because, well, that is what you do in a movie. A movie is about a person, and as a viewer who experiences the events with that character, you must also invest in him. So when Kerrigan starts to follow the investigator, the unconscious need to follow the protagonist is disrupted. This movie has allowed us inside Peterís brain, why is it now letting us get inside another?

inline ImageThe fact that it is not entirely subjective is what makes the film rise above your usual psychological thriller. It is easy to empathize with the protagonist, however sick they are, because that is a fundamental foundation of the power of cinema. What is tougher is to make the audience step outside the invisible fourth wall of cinema and look back on themselves. Kerriganís Clean, Shaven makes us, the viewer, question why we so freely assume the identity of those in the films we experience. It is a tricky film too, because it jerks the audience in a number of other manners. It plays on our assumptions that because we hear the sounds of screaming and punching on the soundtrack, and because we associate schizophrenics with violence, that we automatically assume that Peter has killed a small girl. In the way the film hides facts, in the way it makes us switch subjectively between Peter and the investigator, in the way it plays on our assumptions towards character stereotypes, it demands us to become more enlightened as filmgoers.

inline ImageWatching a film is not merely witnessing the telling of a story. It is much more than that. It is the momentary surrender of consciousness for ninety minutes as the aspirations and surroundings of the protagonist become more important than our own. We let these characters into ourselves, we become Michael Myers or Peter Winter, and essentially think nothing of it. Lodge Kerrigan wants us to question why we do this so easily, and more importantly, what kind of effect does this have on our lives. His Clean, Shaven is a short film, but its questions are long and challenging. It offers the immediate visceral gratification of seeing a man gouge out his own fingernail, but the notion that we identify with his schizophrenia is a much scarier image.

inline ImageThere is a lot going on in this little provocateur, the sound design immaculately layered and the fragmented story a riddle to decipher, but the best thing about Clean, Shaven is how it reveals just how much is going on inside of us whenever we watch a film. What we do, who we identify with and why, and for a film to pose such questions in such a short time and with such raw power it deserves to be seen. A shave may only be skin deep, but with this film Lodge Kerrigan gets deep down into our collective impulses on why we go to the movies and more importantly what kind of presuppositions we need consider when we do go. Clean, Shaven cuts deep, blunt and raw.

Image Quality

inline ImageCriterion presents the film in the problematic 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but thankfully opts for anamorphic windowboxing rather than a full frame letterboxing of the picture. Good thing, too, because the quality of this image is great, with the picture clean of specs and shaven in sharpness. The 16mm grain structure comes out nicely, although at times the sky backdrops and other single color terrains come off a little lacking in detail. Still, the film was made on a dime and never obtained much distribution, so for it to come out looking as good and immaculate as it does here is a real testament to Criterionís near perfect track record of its video transfers. Another winner.


The filmís original English mono mix is all that is included here, as per Criterionís policy. The filmís sound design is near untouched by any other film, the fullness of the mix even making itself evident in its single channel. It is a rarity, both before and since, for a film to have so many aural levels packed into a single track, but Clean, Shaven does, and it sounds great in this faithful mix.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageProving that Criterion is much higher in thinking than any other company when it comes to the quality and variety of its supplements, Clean, Shaven comes with a multitude of enticing additives. My favorite extra is the inclusion of the filmís entire soundtrack (seventeen tracks; the first eleven the clean mixes, and the last six culled from the movie) playable either via menus or downloadable on your computer as MP3s. Considering the sound mix is so effective, this alone should sell the disc to any fan of the film or of moody (non-)soundtracks. The next big extra is a commentary with Kerrigan and Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh is no stranger to the Criterion commentary, and does a commendable job of keeping up conversation and really probing Kerrigan on his thought process, from how he deals with child actors to how he goes about conceiving of a film. For anyone interested in making their first big movie, this is a must listen, as both Kerrigan and Soderbergh delve into the little eccentricities of what a good director needs to do to succeed. The entire track is informative and even academic, but laced with Soderberghís dry wit so as to never come off as pretentious.

A nine-minute video essay by critic Michael Atkinson is included on this release as well, with Atkinson pointing out much of the metaphor of the film. While I personally donít think Atkinson probes deep enough into his insights, he certainly opens the film up to a more enlightened interpretation. The thoughts in his essay are helpfully crystallized by simultaneous shots from the movie. Another essay on the film is included in written form in the liner notes, this time by Dennis Lim. The disc is rounded off with a really creepy minimalist trailer that makes it look like Last House on the Left. While it may not be two discs with multiple commentaries and featurettes, Criterion knows just how much to put into their discs so as to not overstay their welcome but still provide a satisfying array of insight into the film at question.

Final Thoughts

Clean, Shaven is a haunting little film, not only because its story of a schizophrenic trying to find his daughter is lyrical and unsettling, but also because it demands the viewer to think. It shaves off the invisible wall of cinema, revealing behind the frame the reflection of the viewer. The image here on this transfer is clean enough to evoke reflection as well, and the layered sound design comes off perfect as well. The supplements are varied and essential, especially the inclusion of the filmís noteworthy soundtrack. A must see for any fan of psychological cinema or anyone who has ever questioned the power of the moving image.


Movie - A
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B+

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 19 minutes
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter stops
  • English mono
  • English subtitles

  • Commentary with director Lodge Kerrigan and Steven Soderbergh
  • Video essay with critic Michael Atkinson
  • Soundtrack, playable on the DVD or downloadable as MP3
  • Theatrical trailer

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Old 11-19-2006, 08:35 PM
The Eighth Samurai
Nice review, this a personal fave of mine, and very cool to see it reviewed here. Seeing the announcement of this being released by Criterion over the summer was a pleasant surprise.
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