‘Ghost World’ Lands on Blu-ray for the First Time with a Fantastic Criterion Edition

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Ghost World

At the dawn of the 21st century comic book movies weren’t the pop culture phenomenon that they are today. In 2001, a comic book movie found its way onto movie screens that didn’t feature feats of heroism or characters in spandex (or at that time, black leather to avoid the silliness of spandex). Terry Zwigoff, who had made waves with his documentary about artist R. Crumb, stayed in the realm of underground comics by collaborating with comic writer and artist Daniel Clowes on adapating Clowes’ comic Ghost World. What happened was a movie that perfectly captured its time and place, a slice of life that stayed on the fringes. Though it would secure an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, Ghost World wasn’t exactly a hit upon its release. But the movie endured as a cult favorite and is finally landing on Blu-ray as it’s exalted into the Criterion Collection with an expansive special edition that honors the movie and long lasting cult impact.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school. They have no plans for college but to simply enter the work force and begin their lives free from institutionalized education. One day, the two young women discover a missed connection personal ad in the back of their local weekly newspaper, and they call the number to set up a date as a prank. They watch in amusement as Seymour (Steve Buscemi) arrives only to be stood up. Guilt soon takes hold of Enid and she strikes an unlikely friendship with the somewhat eccentric Seymour, who has a passion for old records and antiquated ephemera. As Enid becomes closer and closer to Seymour, a distance grows between herself and Rebecca.

The character of Enid is a meticulously crafted character that doesn’t always make the best decisions but it’s easy to understand why she makes those decisions. As well as Zwigoff and Clowes have crafted the character on paper, the performance of Thora Birch gives a real sense of life to the misanthropic teen. The worldview that espoused in Ghost World is entirely channeled through Enid and wouldn’t work on the astounding level it does without the depth that the character is provided.

The story of Ghost World as written by Clowes and Zwigoff is a coming of age story that is unlike anything else ever made, and Clowes has no problem greatly diverging from the story’s comic book origins. Here is a story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world, but it just so happens to be a world that she doesn’t particularly care for. Her father (Bob Balaban) tries in his own quietly inept way to guide his daughter towards college and employment to no avail, and when Enid does attempt to find gainful employment it doesn’t work out too well.

Ghost World takes place in a world that is very different than the one that we live in today, and the movie came out right before one of the major turning points of modern history. Social media and the internet are not a major factor in this world, nor is the threat of international terrorism. Despite taking place in a different world, Ghost World doesn’t feel alien or out of place in a modern context. That, for the most part, is due to the antiquated nature of Seymour, who collects old 78 RPM records and artifacts from the time when Laurel & Hardy were the world’s comedic superstars. A blend of old and new leaves the film with a timeless feel, one that emphasizes that no matter what significant changes society undergoes people are pretty much the same.

So much of the comedic potency of Ghost World comes from the eccentrics that populate the movie’s world. Enid is forced to attend a summer art class in order to get her diploma, and the class’ teacher Roberta Allsworth (Illeana Douglas) is one of the movie’s standout oddballs. She presents the class with her experimental film Mirror, Father, Mirror which is just as good as it sounds, and she uses her bubbling personality to inspire her students. That inspiration takes its most memorable form in the creation by a student, simply a tampon in a teacup. Enid’s friend Josh (Brad Renfro) works at a convenience store where is boss (Brian George) is constantly feuding with a mulleted redneck customer Doug (Dave Sheridan). All of these characters are eccentrics that don’t feel like created characters but slices of life, and there’s a loving sense of mockery from Clowes and Zwigoff that never borders on mean-spirited.

Previously unavailable on Blu-ray, Ghost World gets the all-out treatment from the Criterion Collection with a gorgeous 4K transfer of the film. On top of that, though, there’s just so much more to this expansive edition, including a lengthy documentary where Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch, Illeana Douglas explain the making of and legacy of the film as well as audio commentary with Terry Zwigoff, Daniel Clowes, and producer Lianne Halfon. There are also deleted scenes, essays by Howard Hampton, Zwigoff, and reprinted excerpts from Clowes’ comics. This is another astounding set from the Criterion Collection that goes above and beyond what fans of Ghost World would want in a long-awaited Blu-ray edition.

Ghost World as a comic and movie endures because it taps into a sensibility that is equally broad and specific. As someone who has always felt like an outsider, I can vividly recall seeing the movie for the first time and feeling like someone put how I felt about the world in a movie. There’s an honesty to the film in its look at societal trends and the slow-growing distance that occurs in childhood friendships that doesn’t require a misanthropic worldview to be cinematically effective. Both Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff are still working and bringing their unique worldviews to the page and screen, but none have captured the moment as perfectly as Ghost World. It’s just one of those rare movies where everything perfectly comes together, and now it has a Blu-ray edition where everything comes perfectly together.

Ghost World
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

One of the great films of the early 21st century, Ghost World lands on Blu-ray with its unique worldview and a deluxe edition from the Criterion Collection that honors this cult classic.

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