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Introduction
I was first introduced to the actress Liv Tyler in 1995 when a friend by the name of Brad got me hooked on a small comedy by the name of "Empire Records". While the movie quickly became one of my favourite films at the time (I'd go on to watch it between 15 and 20 times that summer) the thing that interested me most was this young actress who played Corey. Her name was Liv Tyler and she bore a striking resemblance to a girl I had a crush on at the time. As the school year was ending and the thought of not seeing the girl again for two months entered my mind "Empire Records" became like my saviour as I could always watch it and think of her. That movie and Liv got me through the summer of eighth grade.  Since then Liv has always been one of my favourite actresses, one whose film's I'll see regardless of poor reviews or uninteresting story lines. While I haven't liked all her work the good far outweighs the bad and every time I see Liv I can't help but think of the other girl who, as an interesting side note, has gone on to be a fashion model in Europe gracing countless magazine covers and even doing a photo shoot with Estella Warren. The next year a film by the name of "Stealing Beauty" came out and starred Liv, and while I didn't see it in the theatre (due to it's "R" rating) I eagerly awaited the videotape release. Again due to it's rating I had problems renting it and basically had to resort to illegal means to acquire a copy. It's through this that I met one of my best friends who at the time took a small fortune from me to get me a VHS copy of this film. Although it never really connected with me back then, it's always had and always will have a special place in my collection. Now that I've aged a few years and my tastes have significantly matured and with the film coming out on DVD, I thought it was time to revisit "Stealing Beauty".

Stealing Beauty
Film
19 year Lucy Harmon (Liv Tyler) is not your everyday American girl. She's a virgin and the daughter of a wealthy businessman and has longed for information about her mother for as long as she can remember. Sadly her mother has recently passed away and she is at a crossroads in her life. Her mother, a writer spent a great deal of time living in the hills of Tuscany in Italy. Hoping to learn more about her mother and herself she convinces her father to send her to live with the Grayson's who are old friends of the family, and who happen to own the land were her mother composed most of her poetry. She travels to Tuscany under the guise that her father wants to have artist friend Ian do her portrait even though we find out that the father doesn't even like his work. Upon her arrival she meets all the people who live in the village including Miranda (The Mummy's Rachel Weisz), her husband, entertainment lawyer Richard Reed (D.W. Moffet), Diana (Sinead Cusack) and of course Ian (Donal Mccann). She quickly settles in and enquires about the whereabouts of Christopher Donatii (Joseph Fiennes) and his friend Niccolo, the boy who she shared her first kiss on her last visit four years ago. She is told that they are off in Turkey and were expected back last evening but did not return. She is then shown to her room and told that a terminally ill writer and old friend Alex Parrish (Jeremy Irons) is staying in the next room. They quickly bond over some 'special' cigarettes and Alex begins to look out for the young Lucy who is not only looking for answers about her mother, but also herself. The folks living in the small villa are all to eager to help Lucy find a mate presenting numerous options including trying to set her up over AOL. She goes about the other quest on her own by questioning old friends her of her mother including Alex and Carlo Lisca, a man who had a one night affair with her mother.

At the core of "Stealing Beauty" there are two fundamental plot elements and only when they are put together does the true meaning of the story begin to come to the forefront. Lucy, the 19-year-old virgin, is naive about life, she's lived a sheltered life and she wants to begin to experience love and passion the things her mother wrote about the most. Even if she doesn't know it at first she's looking for a suitor, someone to make her feel whole and to allow her to experience new things. At the start it seems that she wants to know more about her mother who recently passed on but in fact she is more interested in finding answers to questions that she has regarding the identity of her father.

In general I'm a fan of coming of age stories as I can usually relate well to the inner struggle that goes along with finding oneself, the trials and tribulations that occur along the way so to speak. However "Stealing Beauty" fails to excel in capturing this time in Lucy's life. First off the film runs one minute shy of two hours and in places feels like an eternity. I saw this film when it first hit video in late 1996 or early 1997 at the young age of 15 and I couldn't really relate to it. Now as I'm older I can understand the message of the film, but it still a very slow moving picture. At the end of the picture although Lucy does go through some emotional changes nothing has really happened. She learns the truth about her mother and father and she does experience the physical aspect of a relationship but is she all that changed? I don't think so. Another problem that plagues the film is it's overly serious tone. While material like this should be tackled in a serious dramatic approach there is no harm in injecting moments of comedy to lighten up the sombre mood. I'm not looking for any sidesplitting jokes, as they would seem out of place, instead all that is needed is a few comedic lines that could bring a simple smile to the viewers face once in awhile.

Up until this film's release Liv Tyler was probably best known to the world as the girl alongside Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith's music video "Crazy" (a band fronted by her father Steven) or as the closet speed freak Corey in "Empire Records". Basically an unknown she was hand picked after a large New York/Los Angeles Casting call by the film's director Bernardo Bertolucci. This is the role that made Hollywood stand up and take notice of her acting talents. Liv is Lucy in that they both share somewhat of the same back-story. Liv immerses herself in the role and really gives a powerful performance despite the lacklustre material she is given. Jeremy Irons, who has played his share of perverse characters, does take a small turn for the better as the terminally ill writer falling in love with Lucy despite the age difference. This is yet another "Lolita" like role for the actor who similarly falls for young Dominique Swain in "Lolita". Rachel Weisz best known for her role in both "Mummy" films plays a smarmy, scheming woman here and is generally quite good. Joseph Fienne's also shows up in an early performance here and is quite good in his small role.

"Stealing Beauty" isn't entirely a bad film, as the acting is good and the visuals are amazing. It's just that I expected more as the film is directed by accomplished filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci. Bertolucci, who up until this point had focused on creating large-scale epics like "The Last Emperor" and "Little Buddha" as well as "The Last Tango in Paris", is unable to translate his success to a small-scale picture. The pacing is slow at the best of times and there is never really a whole lot going on. Days come and go but nothing seems to be progressing. At nearly two hours, this film seems like three and even though I'm a fan of Liv Tyler's work I did glance at the wall clock an unusually high number of times. A bunch of scenes that have little to do with the actual plot just seem to be randomly inserted here and there to pad the runtime, even though the film should lose some scenes rather then gain them. Although there is one scene that deserves special mention and that is a scene where Liv Tyler's character is rolling around in the grass with a young girl. This scene shows the similarities and innocence that Lucy (19) and a girl of not more then 12 share. More scenes along these lines would have gone a long way to improve things. Also plaguing the movie is the fact Bertolucci tries to make it erotic and sensual and doesn't quite succeed. The nudity in the film doesn't seem to serve a real purpose and in a way seems strangely out of place.

Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty is still well worth watching for it's beautiful imagery, and exceptional performance from lead Tyler. Just with the talent involved the film could have been so much more. At two hours it's serves as a way to take you out of the big city and into the lovely Italian countryside but not all that much more. Though not without it's flaws this film garners a moderate recommendation based on its imagery and acting alone. Sadly the story could still use some work.

Stealing Beauty
Video
Fox are a studio that when they are on their game are tough to beat in terms of image quality. In fact I'd hazard to say that along with New Line no other studio is producing transfers of such a high quality. Their recent release of "Moulin Rouge" is one of the best-looking transfers I've seen, period, and that's saying quite a lot. For this DVD edition "Stealing Beauty" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, which like almost all of Fox's releases is enhanced for 16x9 displays. Set amongst the lovely Italian countryside my expectations for the visuals were high, and luckily aside from a few minor issues Fox don’t disappoint. The lushness and beauty captured by director of photography Darius Khondji (Seven, The Beach, Evita, upcoming "Panic Room") is amazingly recreated on this disc. Colours are sharp and well defined, the grasses are green, water aqua blue, and the old buildings look as if they were built centuries ago. Depth and clarity is excellent aside from a few intended soft focused shots. Problems were few and far between with little to no edge enhancement occurring. The biggest issue I had which was more annoying and distracting then the edge enhancement was the presence of a number of dust specks on the film. These waste no time in appearing as there is one or two quick "blips" during the opening titles. It's too bad a cleaner print could not have been used as these taint an otherwise excellent picture. It's almost like your looking out a window into the countryside but the window isn't perfectly clean. Aside from that this is a very nice job from Fox on a catalogue title.

NOTE: Subtitles that were supposed to be included during scenes with Italian dialogue have not been included. It remains to be seen if this will be fixed on later pressings of the disc.

Audio
Stealing Beauty is a film I discovered for the first time on VHS and one that I've never had the chance to play back in Dolby Pro Logic even though I've had the tape sitting here in one form or another since before it was commercially available to rent. At the time I didn't have a Pro Logic receiver to play back the track, and once I got one I had moved on to bigger and better things. My memories of the film's soundtrack from the last time I watched it (probably over 2 years ago) had it as a fairly quiet drama, so imagine my surprise when I sat down and the opening title sequence blares through my speakers. By the time of this film's release in 1996 Dolby Digital had become pretty much standard but still wasn't used on every single release, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this disc offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as the film comes from "Fox Searchlight" a small 'art' division of 20th Century Fox. As previously stated the disc contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes in English and French (Stereo). From the opening scene, which has Liz Phair’s “Rocket Boy” blasting as Lucy arrives in Italy on a train, the film's soundtrack provides a very rich and rewarding experience. All aspects of the soundtrack are presented with excellent fidelity and accuracy. Dialogue is easily heard amidst the minimalist yet sweeping score by Richard Hartley and the alternative rock music soundtrack comes through pounding. LFE use is limited to a few short scenes but when used it does have a forceful presence. The ambience is nicely provided by the surround speakers making it really feel like your vacationing in the Italian countryside. Fox provides a very strong audio presentation where I wasn't expecting one.

Extras
Fox, the studio who brought us two of 2001's biggest special editions in "Planet of the Apes" and "Moulin Rouge", also put out a number of back catalogue titles with minimal special features during the past year. Although it would be nice to live in a world where every disc has mounds of bonus features, the reality is that for some films either the material isn't there or it simply isn't cost effective. Still Fox knows better then to just slap the feature on a disc and release it and provides some fairly standard bonus features here.

"Featurette" is a 7-minute making of "Stealing Beauty" which takes a brief but still interesting look at the making of the picture. It basically only scrapes the surface as it does contain a fair bit of movie footage. In addition to the movie footage there are short interview clips with stars Liv Tyler, Jeremy Irons, Rachel Weisz, D.W Moffet and director Bernardo Bertolucci. Some amusing and insightful titbits are given including comparisons between Lucy (Liv's character in the film) and Liv's real life experiences. A fairly short, promotional piece about the film.

The advertising gallery for the film includes the film's international theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen as well as 3 full frame TV spots.  

Also included are "Fox Flix" trailers for "Ever After", "French Kiss", "Love Potion #9", "Never Been Kissed" (all 1.85:1 non anamorphic widescreen, "Object of My Affection", "Romeo and Juliet" (all 2.35:1 non anamorphic widescreen) and "Say It Isn't So", "Someone Like You" and "Where the Heart Is" (Full Frame). All trailers feature Dolby 2.0 audio.

Stealing Beauty
Overall
There was no questioning when this disc was announced that it would earn a spot in my ever-growing DVD collection. Even though the film has its problems, it still contains some excellent work from Liv Tyler and some beautiful visuals of the Italian countryside an area that I probably will never visit in my life. As for the disc Fox has done a nice job with the audio mix and, to a lesser extent the video transfer, and does include some basic supplements. With a suggested retail price of $19.99 and liable to sell for even less in most retail establishments, Liv fans will be more then happy with this disc. Those who have yet to see the film would be best to give "Stealing Beauty" a rent.  Despite my misgivings about some elements of the film there's enough here to give this disc a recommendation especially at the $19.99 price point.


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