The American Society of Cinematographers

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Die Hard 4
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Notes on a Scandal (2006)

1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)

Dolby Digital 5.1

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $29.98

Zoe Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal is such an internal piece of literature that at first glance, it might not seem well suited to the screen. Yet in the hands of a gifted team of actors and filmmakers, it became one of the most affecting and entertaining films of 2006, a character study with the intensity of a thriller.

Notes on a Scandal tells the story of Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), an aging, lonely teacher who is captivated by her school’s new hire, the attractive and warm Sheba (Cate Blanchett). Sheba’s life, which includes a husband (Bill Nighy) and two children, seems to have everything Barbara’s lacks. When Barbara learns Sheba is having an affair with a pupil, she is overcome with jealousy and anger, and becomes determined to use the situation to her advantage.

These characters constantly reveal new facets of themselves right up until the final scene. The broad psychological range of the piece is expressed and elaborated upon by the cinematography of Chris Menges, ASC, BSC (Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Dirty Pretty Things), which conveys both the intimacy of the relationships and their harsh collision with the outside world when the scandal explodes. Throughout the film, Menges subtly manipulates point of view, giving the images a layered, multidimensional perspective. For example, he often works handheld to evoke an immediate, documentary-style sensibility, yet in those same rough compositions he lights Blanchett with a soft, glamorous approach that reflects the way Barbara sees her.

Richard Eyre, the film’s director, has observed that Menges is in love with the human face, and every image in Notes supports this claim; it’s a film of great surface beauty, and Menges’ method often comments ironically on the ugly behavior at the story’s center. His lighting and framing are subtle and precise, and the cinematography strikes a careful balance between subjectivity and distance that allows the audience to consider the moral implications of the content without being alienated by it. It also allows the perspective to shift dramatically; early scenes link the viewer to Barbara’s point of view, and later, the scope of the tale is expanded to present the perspectives of Sheba and her husband as well.

This DVD features a luminous transfer that displays Menges’ palette in all its varied glory. The Dolby 5.1 mix provides an added dimension to the community portrayed in the story, as the rear channels evoke a vivid sense of English street life. Eyre provides an illuminating commentary track that covers every facet of the production. His narration is supplemented by about 30 minutes of featurettes that include interviews with Eyre, Heller, screenwriter Patrick Marber, and the actors. These documentaries, which include nine short “Webisodes” from the movie’s promotional Web site, contain many insights into the movie’s content and form; the only downside is that there’s some repetition, with the same information from the making-of featurettes repeated in many of the Webisodes. However, since the filmmakers are so articulate this is a minor complaint.

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